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Dr Woodward's shield

 

Diameter: 35.500 cm
Weight: 1250.000 g

Bequeathed by Dr John Wilkinson in 1818

M&ME OA 4710

Enlightenment: Archaeology

    Dr Woodward's shield

    France, about AD 1540-50

    A shield that prompted a satire

    According to tradition, this embossed iron buckler was discarded from the Royal Armouries at the end of the reign of Charles II (1660-85). John Conyers then sold it to the physician and antiquary Dr John Woodward of Cambridge in 1693.

    The shield is illustrated with scenes from ancient Roman history. In 390 BC an army of Gauls led by Brennus invaded Rome. After a long siege of the Capitoline Hill, the Gauls agreed to leave Rome in return for a payment of one thousand pounds in weight of gold. But the Romans objected to the weights used by the Gauls, which were heavier than standard, causing Brennus to throw down his sword in anger. In response, the Roman leader Camillus raised an army which drove the Gaulish invaders from the city.

    The shield depicts Rome being burned by the Gauls and gold being weighed for the ransom. These scenes follow descriptions by the ancient Roman writers Livy and Plutarch so closely that Woodward believed that the shield was made at the same time as the events depicted, rather than being a later illustration of the texts. Woodward published a treatise outlining his theories in 1713. This immediately prompted a satire by Alexander Pope on the follies of antiquarianism, The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. The satire was produced by the Scriblerus Club, a literary group formed in 1713 to satirize 'all the false tastes in learning'. Its members included Pope and Jonathan Swift.

    The true origins of Dr Woodward's shield remained the subject of much debate throughout the eighteenth century. In fact it is now believed to have been made in France in the mid-sixteenth century.

    K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

    J.M. Levine, Dr Woodwards shield: history, (Berkeley; London, University of California Press, 1977)

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    Life and training of embroiderers, £8.99

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