The Shield of Achilles
From Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 1821.
The silver-gilt convex shield has a central medallion cast in high relief with Apollo in a quadriga, surrounded by stars and female figures representing the constellations. The broad border is cast in low relief with scenes of human life (a wedding and banquet, siege, ambush and engagement, harvest, judicial appeal, vintage, oxherds defending their beasts and a Cretan dance), within an outer border of stylised waves and a broad reeded rim.
The shield is a ‘reconstruction’ of the mythological shield made for Achilles by the lame god Hephaestus and brought down to Earth by Thetis (mother of Achilles), together with other specially forged armor. The shield was said to have been a mirror of the world of gods and men, within the ‘mighty Stream of Ocean’ and although Homer described its appearance in great detail, the precise relationship of the various elements was unclear.
The final design of the shield was completed in 1817, by John Flaxman, and delivered to the king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover, George IV.