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Bhutanese royal guard shield

Place of Origin: Bhutan

Date: 19th Century

Overall: 470mm

Reference: 517

Status: Available

Full Description:

This nineteenth century shield is of the distinctive two-tone type carried by the Bhutanese Royal Guard. Its quality and detail are far superior than most surviving examples, suggesting perhaps that it was commissioned for a high-ranking officer within the royal guard troops. Made from animal hide, the centre’s glossy dark black lacquer finish, sets a charming contrast with the bright, red-lacquered everted border.

Mounted with four rounded brass bosses, each surrounded by a geometric fretwork band around the edge and top sections that are elegantly chased with spiralling cloud patterns. At the crest of the shield is a silver-coloured ad-chand (half-moon) with a gilt-copper surya (sun), the pair symbolising upaya (method) and prajna (wisdom). Centrally anointed with a red tilak dot, this mark was supposed to imbue the dhal with protective luck.

On the reverse, a well-preserved leather cushion retains its original bold green trim and metal fastenings on the four corners, securing two leather straps with red, plaited leather inserts - another remarkable detail not commonly found on most guards’ shields. Wrapped delicately around these holders, is a long-wearing strap, weaved in a vibrantly coloured, striped traditional Bhutanese fabric.

Comparable shields can be seen in a photograph dated 1905, carried by the bodyguards of Ugyen Wangchuck, who went on to become the first King of Bhutan.1

A similar shield is also kept in the Royal Armouries, Leeds, UK, currently on display in case 2 in the Oriental Gallery (No. XXVIA. 107); and another in The Metropolitan Museum 2which is also published in the pioneering work ‘A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in all Countries and in all Times. Together with Some Closely Related Subjects’, Stone, George Cameron Stone, Portland, Maine: The Southworth Press, 1934, pp.53,


Art market USA


1Christian Shicklgruber & Francoise Pommaret, Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods, 1998, pp. 225.

2, inv. no. 36.25.630 - Stone, fig.69, p53.


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