Parade Wheel-shaped shield

Francesco Negroli’s Workshop

Milano, second half of 16th century

Material: Engraved and gilded Iron

Size: 57 cm diameter

review by gherardo turchi

Ancient and quite rare parade wheel-shaped etched shield with gildings, manufactured in one of those masters armourers’flourishing workshops which were working in Milan during the sixteenth century.

Over the sixteenth century, the main original dictates regarding wartime taste changed considerably, due to the relevant changes about the military and social environment in European high aristocratic classes. The war was no more a hard consequence of the human mind, from which people’s eyes had to be taken away, but it became a tangible reality, being all territorial conquers since the fifteenth century on, conducted just in front of the reigns gates; the battles then took place no more in far distant fields hidden to the public eye and all social classes had to be accustomed to and  be aware of that.

Being a warrior was thus an added value to men’s pride to be shown in public.

At the very beginning of the sixteenth century,  European masters armourers became aware of this change and started working more and more on defensive decorations outfits, the so-called “parade-made”, those arm suits that were rarely used in battles due their high cost, but were often worn in public events by aristocrats and military high officers.

The defensive outfit thus became a new and wide field in which engravers, goldsmiths and embossers could work and refine their art, putting together Hephaestus’ art and the nobler jeweller’s craft.

Defensive outfits and armour suits production in Milan aroused a great deal of interest in Europe and was particularly appreciated by the old continent sovereigns due to its wealth of details and the refinement with which those works were being made. The majority of masters armourers got together in one street of Milan, still today called Via Degli Spadari, into which workshops like those of Missaglia, Negroli and Piccinino families set up their age-old luck.

We suppose that it was just into one of those workshops that the master armourer who created this work was trained.

This assumption is proved by comparing the decoration on this shield, which is similar to some other examples exhibited today in some of the greatest museums around the world and attributed to Francesco Negroli, who was the brother to the better known Filippo; he was appreciated and well known for his art in engraving iron and the way he used the etching technique.

It looks likely that this wheel-shaped shield was manufactured by one of Francesco Negroli’s trainees, due to the fact that Negroli’s workshop was widely attended by trainees who became with the time great masters armourers themselves and the similarity in decoration.

This shield was surely part of a bigger defensive outfit, including the complete armour suit, and has fourteen, alternatively placed segments in its central part: seven of them are engraved with phytomorphic motives bearing cartouches supported by caryatids and surmounted by helmets. In their inside part, some rampant crowned dragons stand out on a golden background; seven of them are decorated as war trophies, such as armour frontal parts, shields and drums, standing out on a golden background.

All fourteen segments converge toward the centre into a big engraved flower, from the centre of which an iron rhomboidal shaped spike is rising.

The external sheet, also divided into seven segments alternated with flowers, is engraved with drums, weapons and leaflike circles decoration, all of them standing up even more on the gold plated background; it is then further framed into another golden brass rivets sheet.  

The central part of the work shows six golden brass rosettes, which were being used in the past to support the shield grip inside, usually leather made, nowadays lost.

This work is in a very good conservative condition and represents important evidence of the decorative taste and the magnificent art of masters armourers in Milan during the sixteenth century.

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