HistoryWired About the Program Help Comments Smithsonian Institution
Excerpt of 1966 Conservation Report

No. 175,188

Acc. No. 34005

48 cm. h. x 55 cm. w., two thick layers of rawhide laced together with very narrow thongs which outline the painted elements on the face. In this respect this shield is atypical, as well as in the usage of rawhide instead of tanned leather. The painting is excellently drawn and painted in clear red, blue and white with a conventionally drawn crown surmounting the arms of Spain flanked by two columns and with scrolled leaves around the edge.

While the rawhide has warped and buckled from being wet and allowed to set, the painting is in good condition. This shield was undoubtedly made and painted by a professional and, being more expensive, belonged to a higher ranking officer or even a governor. Collected by Dmile Cranier, (Acc. 34005), prior to 1897. While his collection seems to have been mostly northern Plains ethnological material, this shield is said to have "been found near Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1869." Probably found in a private home or in a Pueblo kiva where some have been (and are) kept as symbols of enemy power.

This shield is constructed of two thick layers of "rawhide" sewn together with narrow thongs which form patterns on the surface.

The upper layer of hide is painted in red, blue, and white. Microscopic examination reveals traces of bright yellow under a brownish strip inside the borders of the four central panels. The pigments are presumably oil base: they are not water soluble. Much paint is missing and the remainder is in many places tenuously adhered and flaking.

The shield is in the form of two "C"s with touching tips. The body of the specimen is severely warped and contorted. The surface is cut and scratched, probably due to physical wear, and split in several places. To the reverse side are attached, at the top and bottom center, two small sections of leather, presumably supports for the thongs which were held by the bearer.


Excerpt from 1960 Report on Western Material at the Smithsonian

Military Equipment
The shields were made of three thicknesses of rawhide laced together with narrow 1/8 inch strips of rawhide. In this particular specimen the lacings outline the Spanish coat of arms painted on the surface of the shield. I might add that only the officers' shields and possibly the high ranking non-officers' shield were painted. The shields of the private soldier were not painted: they were plain leather fastened together in the same manner as described, and in New Mexico at least, were sometimes circular and unpainted.

This form of shield (adarga) came with Cortez into Mexico during the early part of the 16th century. It was a form borrowed from the Moors, who were perhaps some of the best light cavalry in the world at that time, and after whom the Spaniards patterned their arms, horse gear and methods of fighting. The other system of fighting which the Spanish used was that which developed in Europe through the use of heavy plate armor. The Arab style of fighting and riding was known as "jinete." The European style of riding was known as riding "estradiota." Briefly the differences were that a man riding the Moorish style rode with his legs bent from the knee and guided his horse by the pressure of his knees. That was also known as riding with a short stirrup. The "estradiota" style was riding with a long stirrup. In other words , the legs were extended straight down and sometimes outward. This system was brought about by the use of the heavy armor. By the 18th century both styles were well established among the Spanish and the highest compliment that could be rendered by a Spanish nobleman was to say that he rode "en ambas silias," indicating that he was proficient in the Moorish style with Moorish weapons as well as in the European style with European weapons.

In fighting in Moorish style the adarga was used (the word is derived from the Arabic, adargar, which means to cover or protect). The shields during the 16th century were brought in from North Africa. They were made of leather and were roughly heart-shaped, wider at the top than at the bottom. The Spanish at times made them in the same style but with wood covered with light plates of armor or leather.


Related Images

Side view of shield showing convex shape which protected its bearer
Side view of shield showing convex shape which protected its bearer
Detail of shield front showing the narrow thongs that outline painted elements
Detail of shield front showing the narrow thongs that outline painted elements

Start HistoryWired | About the Program | Help | Comments

Smithsonian Institution | Terms of Use | Privacy