Examination of  a  Medieval parade shield from northern Europe

Medieval parade shield

This painted parade shield was made in the fifteenth century and its shape and construction are typical of other examples made at the time. However, the high quality of the carving and painting sets it apart.

It has a wooden core which appears to have been carved from a single block of wood, along the tangential section. This would be a wasteful and therefore expensive method of production. The wood is now in poor condition but has been tentatively identified as wood from an Acer species such as maple, field maple or sycamore, which must have been well-seasoned before carving. The wooden core was then covered with a layer of canvas, and leather coating applied to both sides.

The shield was prepared for gilding and painting in a manner very similar to that of a traditional northern European panel painting, with a double ground of chalk (calcium carbonate) bound in animal glue applied to the leather. A thin reddish coloured layer, containing hematite (iron oxide), was then applied across the face of the shield as a preparation for the gold leaf. The artist sketched out the initial design freehand, using charcoal or black chalk and reinforced these lines using a black pigment suspended in a liquid medium. In the figure of the lady, changes have been made at this underdrawing stage to make her more alluring and feminine.

The pigments used on the shield are typical of fifteenth century Europe. They include azurite, lead tin yellow (Type 1), vermillion, madder lake, copper greens, lead white and charcoal black, all bound with an oil binding medium.

The painting has been economically but skilfully painted. The artist has applied relatively few layers but has achieved an intense effect, as can be seen in the rich velvet brocade of the woman’s dress (the pattern is commonly seen in fifteenth century paintings) and the knight’s armour. The deep velvet colour has been achieved by a mixture of vermillion, madder lake, azurite and a little lead white. The painter then scratched into the paint while it was still wet revealing the gilding below (similar to the scraffito technique), and finally applied a tiny lead tin yellow highlight on one side.

The knight’s armour is painted using various mixtures of charcoal, lead white and azurite to create the effects of light and shadow on armour, with scratching into the highlights giving the illusion of light reflecting sharply off the armour.

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