- Parade shield
- Unknown Artist / Maker
- Italy, probably Milan
- c. 1550 - 1559
- Medium-carbon steel, gold, copper alloy and silver, embossed, false-damascened, chased, blackened, gilded and formerly silvered
- Height: 67.3 cm
Width: 55.1 cm
Weight: 4.11 kg
- European Armoury III
- Henri II, King of France was a harsh, war-like ruler. He fought major wars against Germany, Italy and Spain and persecuted mercilessly anyone in his kingdom who practised the new Protestant faith. He loved all warrior pursuits, especially hunting and jousting. It is not at all surprising then that he also loved arms and armour and all the other trappings of knighthood. He had many very extravagant armours, and numerous equestrian portraits survive showing him wearing them. Like most of his contemporaries he also commissioned incredibly elaborate armour and weapons for purely ceremonial uses, particularly parades and festivals.
This work, one of the King Henri II's princely parade shields was probably made in Milan, most likely in 1558 or early 1559. The artist has skilfully embossed and chased a complex pseudo-historical scene onto its surface, and then painstakingly decorated it with silver and gold. It represents an event from the Punic Wars, fought between the Romans and the Carthaginians of North Africa. The Roman general Scipio Africanus, seated in the lower right foreground, is accepting the surrender of the City of Carthage after the Battle of Zama, fought in 202 BC. The city keys are being offered to him by a female personification of the city itself, while the winged figure of Fame, bearing a trumpet, stands between them, a putto or winged cherub at her feet carrying the palm branch of Victory.
This scene appears to be an elaborate commemoration in Classical guise of the surrender of English-held Calais to the French in 1558, a victory of great symbolic value to Henri. Calais had for hundreds of years been England’s foothold in France, so its capture was considered a major French triumph. The connection with Henri is emphasised by the interlaced crescents and barred ‘D’ device of Diane de Poiters, the King’s mistress, at the top of the shield. The D’s also form a double H, the personal monogram of the King himself. The same double-monogram appears in the grasp of a putto embossed on a helmet made for Henri around the same time, now in the Musée de l’Armée, Paris (H.143). The workmanship of this helmet is almost identical to that of the Wallace Collection shield, suggesting they were made as a set.