MAHARANI DHAL (SHIELD)
Place of Origin: Mewar, India
Date: 18th century
Overall: 612MM (24 INCHES)
A monumental and possibly unique Rajput leather dhal (shield). The shield’s impressive size is matched well by its striking depiction in black-and-gold paint of a complex and eye-catching procession which trails busily around the shield’s decorative center. The piece is more striking still for the fact that a large proportion of the procession is made up of Royal and courtly women.
A set of stairs, painted three-dimensionally so as to convey a sense of depth, lead up to a palace entrance and provide a starting point for the procession, which in turn travels anti-clockwise along the shield’s main surface. Beneath the stylized architectural features that follow, attendants holding parasols and standard-bearers help to identify the turbaned lady on horseback just ahead of them as royalty. Dozens of accompanying females, all wearing turbans and some carrying weapons and shields, travel both on foot and on horseback towards an ascetic who sits under a tree. From there, the procession becomes male; and it appears that the artist has not bestowed the male figures with the same prominence that he has given to their female counterparts. They are less individualized and packed more closely together. It is also not clear who the leading male is: a Maharana or Maharajah is missing from the male half of the procession.
Surya the sun god insignia of the Mewar royal court occupies the center of the shield, radiating rays of sunshine within an outer circular border of small flowerheads. Around this central panel are four domed, gilt-copper bosses, the surface of each chased with floral patterns. Fantastic animal scenes sit between the bosses: three each depict tigers bringing down a camel, boar and buffalo; and the fourth conveys an elephant that jostles with a ram. The style of these depictions is more realistic than that seen on similar shields: the artist has added shading to the animals’ frames with fine black lines and in so doing rendered them vivid and lifelike. A velvet cushion-pad, the pile now gone, is fitted to the back of the shield with replacement brocade handgrips.
A direct comparandum is not currently known to us, but a shield in the National Museum of Delhi depicted by Pant is similar in theme and construction. Another was sold by Christies, New York in 2008.
Private American collection
 G.N. Pant, K.K. Sharma, Indian Armours in the National Museum Collection, New Delhi National Museum, 2001, p.88, no.77.