This elegant shield of parade, formerly in the Rotschild collection and now in the collection belonging to the businessman Luigi Marzoli, falls in the category of circular shields used in the 16th century. This particular shield owes its name to the use ad pompam vel ostentationem, which had to symbolize wealth and power for its owner. It seems more like an art piece rather than a shield to be used in battle. Together with prestigious armours, this shield was used only in rare occasions where the aristocrats of the time gathered to celebrate an important event.
This object is expensive because of the rich and damascened decorations carved in relief. It probably dates back to the luxury armour production which spread from the fourth decade of the 16th century. In this period, the producers of armours began to create, together with war armours, also pieces decorated with scenes from historical events and the classic mythology which symbolized the legitimacy of the power held by the aristocratic class, exerted both through arms and a right that had ancient roots.
The images and the archaic style were derived from engravings, largely diffused, of mannerists followers of Raphael and Giulio Romano. In the majority of cases, these were a mixture of different iconographic sources that were attentively juxtaposed to create a well-balanced picture.
The shield, a single piece, bears a date and a signature. The year 1563 can be seen on a plate hanging on a log on the right hand side of the main scene. The year corresponds to the period when Milan and other cities such as Brescia and Lodi reached the hegemony in the production of arms and armours within the European market. This work has been created in a workshop of Milan, probably by Bartolomeo Piatti (? – died between 1582 and 1586), a member of one of the most famous families of armourer in the city. On the external band of the shield, on top of the centre, there is a small palm bearing the initials BP/F, which can be interpreted as Bartholomeus Piatti fecit. In the central part of the shield, slightly convex, is pictured The Triumph of Bacchus. The god, bearing a crown of vine leaves, is sitting on a sumptuous carriage pulled by two lions. He is surrounded by four satyrs and three bacchantes playing the cymbal and the trumpet, bearing baskets full of grapes.
The scene moves on a grassy soil, with plants and rocks minutely described, including an abandoned vase. On the background there is a port city, surrounded by walls and located on the far end of a stretch of sea crowded with boats. The goddess of Victory is flying towards the procession, and she is carrying two laurel wreaths. Above her, with human faces, appear the winds, the moon and the sun.
Around the main scene there is a large embossed band decorated with masks, animals and monstruous satyr-like figures, all interspersed with leaves and small vegetal candelabra.
The shield is notable also for the technical ability with which it has been shaped: bronzed, in relief, stamped and decorated with gold. The decoration in relief is minutely detailed, damascened with silver and gold. This research of contrasts is reflected on the dark and smooth background of the shield opposed to the golden details in relief. As the light moves on the metal surface, the image seems to become alive. The other side of the shield is covered in red velvet, fixed with a system of rivets and washers accompanied by delicate decorations in gold: on its outline there is a band with leaf racemes and, around the central rectangular soft section, a series of S-shaped leafy motives. The delicate velvet cover, after a 2010 restoring, was put back into place with a new system aimed to ensure a perfect mechanical hold and the best preserving conditions at the same time. The supporting bands are for the most part a result of the restoring work. Apart from the precious armours from the 15th century and the first examples of fire arms created on Brescia territory, the shield of parade by itself is worth a visit at the “Luigi Marzoli” Arms Museum because it is a unique piece of luxury arms production which started in 1540 to come to an end already at the beginning of the 17th century.
Bartolomeo Piatti (?) - Milano
Shield of Parade
With Embossed Mythological Scene
steel, gold, silver, textile, brass
diam. 57 cm
“Luigi Marzoli” Arms Museum