Cane Shield with Iron Struts
Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 14th-16th Century
A cane shield from Western Tibet with applied ironwork struts, similar shields have been found in an excavation of Tsaparang, the capital of the ancient Guge Kingdom. Only slightly domed, it is formed from a continuous spiral of bound cane. The outer surface has black painted diamonds with highlights of red, the painting now partly obscure and worn, the structure of the shield is in superb condition, with only small losses to some rattan binding, it is a heavy and substantial shield.
In the centre a large three-stepped iron boss, radiating from it are four iron trident shaped struts, each with a snake-like or arrow-like head. Each quarter created by the tridents is divided further with a short straight strut with the same shaped finial, hooked over the perimeter of the shield and terminating about half the distance from the centre of the shield. The rear is fitted with two large iron suspension rings, joined with a twisted piece of leather to form a handle.
We can compare the ironwork to a Tibetan arm guard, cat.no.34 in this publication, and also a group of Tibetan leather boxes, see Anninos (2010), p101-117. Anninos dates the boxes with similar struts to the 15th-17th centuries.
The obvious and deliberate arrangement of two separate iron struts laid upon each other to form a trident deserves at least some comment; while widely perceived as a Hindu symbol, for Buddhists it symbolises the powers derived from mastery of the three channels of the yogi subtle nervous system that yogis visualise in their mediations as a ball of energy fibres wound around a blue central spinal channel, and illustrates that in art and the decoration of functional Tibetan objects religion and spirituality are never far away.
A similar shield is in the Royal Armouries collection and can be viewed online: