Place of Origin: Rajasthan, India
Date: 19th Century
Overall Diameter: 630mm (24 ¾ inches)
Originally presented as a diplomatic gift from India to the family of a Japanese ambassador, this black-painted leather shield may be related to a group produced by a single workshop in Rajasthan (see further discussion below).
Borders of thick black-and-gold paint adorn the shield’s upturned brim, from which majestic floral splays in gold rise and intermingle with foliage in verdant green- and crimson-coloured paint. Four steel bosses, equidistant from one another, are attached to the shield’s centre and cut to convey the repeating Devanagari characters which translate as ‘MA’ – perhaps initials of an individual involved in the shield’s manufacture, or of the armoury that produced it. A central painted panel en suite with those that extend from the shield’s brim completes this object’s charming decorative schema. The reverse face of the shield is fitted with a small red cushion, to which are attached the iron suspension rings and fabric straps originally used to secure the wearer’s arm in place.
It is difficult to pinpoint the present shield’s precise origins, though a group of examples preserved in the Royal Collection Trust may provide some guidance, particularly with respect to the colour palette and floral decoration (see RCINs 37945, 11348, and 38090). As is explained in the case of the first shield just cited: “This Japanese-influenced style of decoration may have been inspired by seventeenth century Indian shields that were sent to Japan to be decorated with lacquer by Portuguese merchants based in the Indian subcontinent. These were subsequently presented as diplomatic gifts in India. The Prince received several examples of these Japanese-inspired shields decorated with similar designs suggesting that they were made in one workshop.” Whilst the floral patterns of the present shield are not precisely similar to those from this group, it may be that our own example represents a style inspired by them, as its decoration comprises floral motifs with a largely similar palette of gold, red and green painted on a black ground.