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Attributed to Eliseus Libaerts (active 1561-1569)

Parade shield ('The Cellini Shield') mid-sixteenth century

diameter 58.4 cm, depth to point of boss 19.1 cm (diameter) | RCIN 62978

Queen's Guard Chamber, Windsor Castle

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  • The shield is of blued steel, convex to the front and formed with a three-piece central boss terminating in a conical spike. The turned edge is counterfeit damascened in gold with fleur-de-lis in ‘basket handles’ (anse de panier). The edge is followed by forty-eight brass lining-rivets with domed heads. Decorated with concentric bands of exceptionally crisp embossing and very delicate counterfeit-damascening of silver and gold.

    The second and fourth bands are each embossed on a matted ground with a series of radiating oval ‘mirrors’ framing central bosses and linked to one another by a pair of parallel lines framing a radial rectangle. Each boss is counterfeit damascened with silver and gold in a central quatrefoil flanked by symmetrical arabesques. There are forty-eight bosses in the second band and twenty-four in the fourth. The colours of the metal are counter-changed in alternate bosses.

    The third and widest band is embossed with four panels of equal size divided by four radiating herms, each flanked by two S-scrolls of strapwork. Two of the herms are female with foliate arms and two are male, their arms confined by the strapwork. The four scenes, which are crowded with realistically proportioned people exceptionally well rendered, represent four episodes from the life of Julius Caesar: the Battle of Dyrrachium when Caesar's armour-bearer cuts off the arm of his assailant; the defilement of Caesar's robe by the blood of the sacrifice; the Battle of Pharsalus and death of one of Pompey's generals; and the head and ring of Pompey brought to Caesar on his arrival in Egypt.

    The inscription, in gold counterfeit-damascening around the outer band, attributes the fall of both Pompey and Caesar to ambition, than which 'there is no more terrible evil'. It reads '+ AMBITVS HIC MINIMVZ MAGNAM CAPIT AMBITIONEM / QVAE REGNA EVERTIT DESTRVIT IMPERIA / SVSTVLIT E MEDIO MAGNI VITAMQVE DECVSQVE / POMPEII EVEXIT CAESARIS IMPERIVM / CAESARIS IN COELVM MITIS CLEMENTIA FERTVR / QVAE TAMEN HVIC TANDEM PERNICIOSA FVIT / ANNVLVS EXCIT EI LACHRYMAS CERVIXQUE RESECTA / POMPEII HINC PATVIT QVAM PROBVS ILLE FORET / IN SACRIS DOCVIT VESTIS CONSPERSA CRVORE / HVIC PRAESAGA MALI TALIA FATA FORE / SI VIRES IGITVR SPECTAVENS (sic for SPECTAVERIS) AMBITIONIS / NON GRAVIVS VIDEAS AMBITIONE MALVM +' (‘This tiny boundary holds boundless ambition which overthrows kingdoms and destroys empires. It destroyed both the life and the glory of Pompey the Great. It elevated the power of Caesar. The gentle clemency of Caesar is lauded to the sky, though in the end it was fatal to him. The ring and the severed neck of Pompey brought tears to Caesar’s eyes. From this it was clear how good a man Pompey was. The robe, spattered with blood during sacrifice, presaging evil for him, revealed that such would be Caesar’s fate. If, then, you look at the strength of ambition you would see no more terrible evil than ambition’.)

    The fifth band, which forms the base of the central boss, is decorated with silver strapwork against a background of very fine gold arabesques.

    The spike is decorated proximally, in gold and silver, with rays diverging from the centre, alternately flaming and straight tipped with fleurons, and all on a gold-dotted ground. The rim of the spike and the turned edge are decorated in gold with fleurons in ‘basket handles’ (anses de panier). The narrow bands separating the main bands are all delicately counterfeit.

    The rear of the shield is covered with red plush over felt and fitted with four later iron rings for the attachment of brasses, set in gilt-iron quatrefoil washers. Originally the shield would have been lined, probably with richly embroidered silk, and almost certainly it would have had its own travelling box.

    Tests undertaken by Dr Alan Williams show its microhardness to vary in the range 117-46 VPH. It is formed of an extremely soft iron with some slag-inclusions but almost no carbon content.

    Text adapted from Arms and Armour in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen: European Armour, London, 2016

    The shield is one of the finest examples of a group of embossed, and in many cases counterfeit damascened, parade armour made for the French court in the middle of the sixteenth century. Its superb quality gave rise to its traditional attribution to the great Italian goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) and to the supposition that it must have been a gift to Henry VIII from Cellini's patron, King Francis I of France (1494-1547). However since at least 1862 - when the shield was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum - this association with Cellini has been rejected.

    It is instead more likely that the shield was made for Henri II (r. 1547-59), either in France by an unknown hand or in Antwerp by the goldsmith Eliseus Libaerts, who is known to have produced comparable pieces. The style and theme of its decoration echo those of a similar target bearing the King’s monogram and devices, and those of an armour formerly in the old French royal armoury, now believed to be the King’s. Its design can be attributed on stylistic grounds to the engraver and medallist Etienne Delaune (1519–83), who worked for Henri II.

    The shield was noted in England in 1783, when Horace Walpole (1717-97) saw it at Buckingham House hanging over the chimney 'in the low gallery above the Stairs', where the King kept his collection of drawings and medals. Walpole described it as 'a shield of bronze and Silver exhibiting the battle of Pharsalia excellently executed by Benvenuto Cellini' and stated that it was a present from John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1713-92), who had been appointed tutor to the young George III in 1755.

    At Windsor Castle by 1842, where it became item no. 2033 in the North Corridor Inventory.

  • Medium and techniques

    diameter 58.4 cm, depth to point of boss 19.1 cm (diameter)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Round parade target

    The 'Cellini' Shield

    Large round parade target