MAHARANA DHAL (SHIELD)
Place of Origin: Mewar, India
Date: 18th century
Overall Diameter: 530MM (20.75 INCHES)
Andrew Topsfield, honorary curator of the Ashmolean museum (after retiring as keeper of Eastern Art in 2016) coined the term ‘tamasha painting’, or ‘pictures of public spectacle’, when talking about a group of known Rajput paintings that display the king’s ritual acts. Several are known; and now this leather shield can be added to that group. The shield has been painted with painstaking detail in gold on a black ground, and the subject matter is near identical to one in the National Museum of Delhi, which depicts Maharana Sangram Singh II on a royal hunt.
Many of the paintings referred to by Topsfield share elements with the shield presented here. One example – a painting of Maharana Sangram Singh II in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Felton bequest 1980 AS92-1980) – depicts a kind of cage from within which hunters could safely shoot at their prey. In the painting, the hunters’ cage has been vacated, and the bait, a buffalo, left free to roam. In this shield, we also see buffalo used as bait, and a cage within which the Maharana and four hunters remain, the Maharana extending his musket through the cage and shooting at a tiger. In the same painting referenced above, a tiger which has been shot by the royal party is placed on an elephant’s back. On our shield, the seated Maharana watches as a tiger is similarly lifted onto the back of an elephant.. He is identified as king by his kalgi (turban ornament), solar emblem and parasol, which are both held up behind him.
Another painting which includes a hunting cage is preserved in the San Diego Museum of Art, and depicts Maharana Jagat Singh II shooting a tiger from within the cage whilst his attendants (and royal insignia) wait by the banks of the river.
A third painting illustrated by Pratapaditya Pal again shows Sangram Singh II, and the use of a hunting cage, but also has other parallels with the shield in discussion due to its multiple depictions of the Maharana. The shield similarly uses a palace as a starting point to tell the story of the hunting party, and soon after the Maharana has left the palace, he is first seen on his horse witnessing a tiger killing a deer. Next, he is shown sat upon a raised platform shooting at deer. As we continue anti-clockwise around the circumference of the shield, we see the Maharana mounted on his horse again, looking backwards at a partially undressed lady who bathes a lake. The Maharana is then shown shooting at a tiger through the hunting cage mentioned previously. Now that the tiger has been killed, we see the maharajah switch from horseback to elephant, presumably tired from the day’s hunting, as he appears to supervise the dead tiger being mounted onto the back of another elephant. Lastly, he forms part of a grand procession which leads back to the pictured palace where attendants and ladies await the successful royal party.
Surya, the insignia of the Mewar royal court, looks out from the shield’s centre surrounded by a band of bright sunrays. Around this central panel are four gilt-copper domed bosses, the surface of each chased with floral patterns, and the edge pierced and cut into a decorative border. A later silk brocade cushion-pad with straps, through which the wearer would place their hand, is fitted to the back of the shield.
As well as the close comparadum in the National Museum of Delhi cited earlier, the David Collection in its recent publication, Fighting, Hunting, Impressing – Arms and Armour from the Islamic World 1500-1850, depicts a similar shield from their collection, although the subject matter appears to be Mughal rather than Rajput. Another was sold by Christies, New York in 2008,
American art market
 G.N. Pant, K.K. Sharma, Indian Armours in the National Museum Collection, New Delhi National Museum, 2001, p.88, no.77.
 Joanna Williams, Kingdom of the Sun – Indian Court and Village Art from the Princely State of Mewar, 2007, p.130, no.14.
 Andrew Topsfield, Court Painting at Udaipur, 2001, p.193, no.172.
 Pratapaditya Pal, The Classical Tradition in Rajput Painting, 1978, p.120-121, no.37.
 See pp.198-199, cat.no.89