Fashion in the Age of Datini

Shields, Targets, and Pavises

This Trojan War romance shows the kit of the early 14th century, including triangular heater shields carried by horsemen and rectangular pavises carried by foot soldiers. Foundation Martin Bodmer, Bodmer 78 Historia Destructionis Troiae (Painted in Venice c. 1370) fol. 40r

Table of Contents


The late 14th century was a peculiar time in the history of shields in Italy: the old three-cornered shields had mostly fallen out of use, but a variety of shields were used by footsoldiers and for jousting. I don’t know of anyone who has worked out a typology. In England, shield seems to refer to the type which a fully armed knight traditionally carried, pavise to long heavy shields rested on the ground to provide cover against bolts and arrows, and targe or target to hand-held shields shaped or constructed differently than the knightly shield. As the old triangular shields fell out of fashion, French and German speakers started to call the shields used in jousting targes.

This Arthurian Romance shows jousting targets with a notch to hold the lance and an outward bend at top and bottom or side to side to guide the lance as it hits. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscript Nouvelle Acquisitions Français 5243 Guiron le Courtoise (painted in Milan around 1370/1380) fol. 22r

Most of the surviving shields from this period come from the Alps and southern Germany. Few lists of materials or descriptions of how shields should be made in late medieval Europe are known to me. Texts on making panels for painting are often helpful, since they were made similarly to shields and decorated by the same workers.

Jan Kohlmorgen examined 23 extant three-cornered shields dating roughly 1180 to 1422 (kohlmorgen-mittelalterlicher-ritterschild pp. 127-129). Of the 20 whose wood was identified, 17 (85%) were of linden (probably tilia x Europaea) and one each of poplar (populus sp.), alder (alnus sp.), and fig (ficus sp.) wood. It is good to know that the yellow poplar commonly sold in North America is liriodendron tulipifera not a populus sp. like Old World poplars. It has different properties.

The Paduan Bible Picture Book shows round targets or rotelle. In this period Italian rotella are characterized by four to six bosses on the face opposite the two or three pairs of arm straps on the back. They can be round or oval, flat, curved, or domed. British Library, Additional manuscript 15277 (painted in Padua around 1390/1400) fol. 78v

Wooden shields, pavises, and targets seem to fall into two families. One is made from planks glued side by side into a board which was shaved or carved to shape and then covered with rawhide, tanned leather, or linen cloth. This is good for curved or flat shields and was continually in use from the Iron Age to the 18th century. Another is made from thin laths bent over a form, glued several criss-cross layers thick, and then covered with rawhide, tanned leather, or linen cloth. This is good for domed shields and is best attested in the round rotelle of the 16th and 17th century. In both families, much of the strength comes from the hide or cloth stretched over the board and not the wood underneath.

Some shields had their faces reinforced with horn, antler, copper-alloy, iron, or steel. According to Enguerran de Monstrelet, the Seneschal of Hainault forbid the targets to be faced with iron or steel for a deed of arms in 1402.

More to come … have not yet obtained singer-setztarteschen-des-wiener-zeughauses

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Source Texts

Theophilius (compiled around 1120 possibly reworking older material) i.17-19 theophilius-de-diversis-artibus

John of Garland, Dictionary (Paris and Occitania, c. 1220) pp. 20-21 of garlande-dictionarius-tr-rubin

Scutarii prosunt civitatibus totius Anglie, qui vendunt militibus scuta tecta tela, corio, at auricalco, leonibus et foliis liliorum depicta. Shield-makers, who sell soldiers shields covered with linen, leather, and brass, painted with lions and leaves of lillies, are useful to the cities of all England.

Pseudo-Tallievent (probably compiled circa 1300) ch. 204

POUR FAIRE L'YMAGE SAINT GEORGE ET SA PUCELLE. Convient faire une grande terrasse de paste ou de legier boys comme celuy de quoy on fait les pavoiz ... TO MAKE THE IMAGE OF SAITNT GEORGE AND HIS VIRGIN. Make a large terrace of pastry or light wood (like that from which one makes pavises) ...

Text c/o Universität Giessen, translation c/o James Prescot

The Montpellier Liber Diversarum Artium (composed somewhere northern in the 14th century, manuscript from Italy around 1430) §2.1-2.3.1 paraphrases Theophilius i.17-19 but inserts another statement that shields are covered in the same way clarke-ed-liber-diversarium-arcium

Cennini (North Italian, circa 1400) ch. cviiii-cxxi cennini-libro-dell-arte

sacchetti-novelle 11 / LXIII on the man of humble birth who asked Giotto to paint his shield (direct link to a translation of the story) (Sacchetti died in Italy in 1400)

Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry IV, vol. IV, p. 224 Westminister, 5 May 1410: Commission to Richard Isak, ‘sheldmaker,’ to take glue, horns, hides and timber called ‘lynde’ and other necessaries for making certain shields for the king’s use, and to take also men of his mistery. (thanks Randall Moffett for the reference)

French Treatise on Military Costume (1446)

Item, les escuz à quoy on jouste en France sont faiz de bois premièrement dun doy espès, et nervez tant dedans que dehors dun doy espès ou moins ; et sur ladicte nerveure par dehors est couvert de petites pièces larges et carrées du grant dun point deschiquier de tablier, qui sont faictes dos le plus dur que len peut trouver, et le plus comunément sont faictes de cornes de serf endroit la couronne, de lendroit proprement de quoy len fait les noiz aux arbalestres. Item: the shields with which they joust in France are made, first, from wood of the thickness of a finger, and reinforced within and without for thickness of a finger or less; and the said reinforcement on the outside is covered with little pieces, the size and shape of the squares of a chess board, made of the hardest material they can find, and they are ordinarily made from stag horn taken near the crown, the very same material used to make nuts for crossbows.

Thanks Will McLean for the reference

Pavel Zidek alias Paulerinus, Liber viginti artium (Bohemia, died 1471) paulerinus-liber-viginti-artium-ed-hadravova-1 as summarized by Peter Finer auction in 2001:

Pavel Zidek recorded in his Liber Viginti Artium of 1413-71 (those are actually his dates of birth and death - ed.), that 'a pavise is made of wood, glue and pieces of canvas which are joined together as thoroughly as possible by glue and well interwoven by ligaments'. According to the herbal of Tadeas Hajek, published in Aventine in 1562, the wood used in making pavises was that of the willow-tree 'because of its stickiness and sinewed character'. A notable feature of the pavises produced in Bohemia was the high quality of their painted decoration. In Prague, there had for some years been a dispute between the shield-makers and the painters about who should apply this decoration. This was eventually resolved at some time before the middle of the 15th century when their two guilds merged into one. So highly valued were the products of the pavise-makers, that the City willingly accepted them in lieu of taxes and military service.
(1117) [S]CUTIFEX (in mg.: paweznik) est artifex faciens peltas (gl.: pawezy) (1118) et scuta (gl.: tercze) et pugios (gl.: puklerz) et parmas (gl.: sstity), cuius pelta fit ex ligno et bitumine et pannis lineis optime bitumine (1120) coapplicatis et nervis hinc inde retextis. Scutum vero ultra hoc habet (1119) ferramentorum et ligamentum presidia, pugio autem habet circumquaque ferramentum obrotunda cum [] A SHIELD-MAKER is an artisan making pavises and shields (gloss: targes) and bucklers and small shields (sstity), of which the pavise is made from wood and adhesive and linen cloths very well attached with adhesive and then re-covered with sinews. The shield, however, beyond this has an iron fitting and protection of straps, the buckler, however, has an iron fitting rounded all about with (text breaks off)

Thanks to Nathan Robinson on for quoting this (added 27 July 2022)

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Collections of Art

The back of this soldier's rotella has a mysterious radial pattern. Similar patterns are often seen on the face of shields from the Viking Age. Photo by Roland Warzecha (2020). Detail from Bernat Martorell, "Altarpiece of St. Vincent" (painted c. 1430), Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, inv. nr. 015797-CJT

Roland Warzecha, "Spanish & Italian 14th Century Infantry Shields," Dimicator Patreon (2020) (Catalan paintings from Barcelona)

William Baskerville, post to the "XV Century European Armour" Facebook Group (2022) (focused on the period 1450-1480 and on flat shields, thanks Matt Easton for the reference and Augusto Boer Bront for the photos). Here is a list of images from that post which I can identify:

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Research Literature

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Will McLean, "Shield Construction," Will's Commonplace Book (2009)

scott2978, "Medieval Shield Construction," The Armour Archive (2013)

Kristoffer, "Building a historical pavise," The Armour Archive (2016)

"Shooting a 1200 lb composite crossbow," Medieval Crossbows channel, (26 October 2016) {1:1 replica of a gilded pavise in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich - thanks T. Kew for the link and A. Bichler for the video}

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