Achilles Shield – Dictionary of Silverware

Shield of Achilles 1821-22

Achilles Shield. A silver-gilt convex shield with a sizable central medallion depicting the shield of encrusted iron made by the god Hephaestus for Achilles at Troy, as it is described by Homer in Book 18 of the Iliad. The medallion, which depicts in high relief a figure of the Sun (Apollo) standing in a quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses), is within a broad border decorated with a continuous frieze.

Designed by John Flaxman

John Flaxman II created the shield between 1809 and 1818 at the request of the Prince Regent (1811–20). (later George IV). In 1821-3, Rundell, BRIDGE & Rundell’s Soho works cast four of these shields in silver, with William Pitts II’s chasing.

It wasn’t until 1817 that the final design was finished; Flaxman then, somewhat atypically, modelled and cast it in plaster. This shield was the first in a line of bronze and silver-gilt casts. It was finished in 1821, and at George IV’s coronation feast it was prominently displayed. Flaxman was believed to have been justly proud of his creation, which Rundells later referred to as a “masterpiece of modern art” and which many people regarded as one of the artist’s most significant pieces. For the Duke of York (now in the Huntington Collection in San Marino) and the Duke of Northumberland (now in the Al-Tajir Collection and the Earl of Lonsdale), further silver-gilt copies of the shield were created in 1821/2 and 1822/3, respectively (now National Trust, Anglesey Abbey). The Royal Collection houses an early bronze cast of the shield that was later silver plated.

Sources

Newman, H. (2000). An illustrated dictionary of silverware: 2,373 entries, relating to British and North American wares, decorative techniques and styles, and leading designers and makers, principally from c.1500 to the present. Thames & Hudson.

Philip Rundell (1746-1827) – Shield of Achilles – Royal Collection. https://www.rct.uk/collection/51266/shield-of-achilles

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