Battersea Shield – Celtic Art
The Battersea Shield is a bronze covered wooden shield decorated in the Celtic La Tène style from about 350–50 BC.
The overall design consists of twenty-seven framed studs of red glass ‘enamel’ (opaque red glass) in four different sizes. The largest is set at the center of the boss.
The dominant metalwork relief forms on the shield are the palmette and interlocking S-motifs. Stylistically, the La Tène-style decoration makes it probable that it was made in Britain because of the use of a specifically British form of central circular shield boss.
The Battersea Shield is made of several different pieces, held together by rivets concealed under the decorative elements. It is decorated with repoussé decoration, engraving, and enamel.
The bronze within the compartment forms a sort of swastika, thought to have been associated with good luck and also “solar energy.” This symbol was known as the whirling sun in ancient times. Enamel was a Celtic specialty and reflected the use of red coral inlays.
The bronze sheet is too thin for adequate protection in combat, and the shield shows no signs of battle damage. Most likely, the shield was a status symbol or a votive offering. As a votive offering, it would have been cast into the river.
The Battersea Shield is one of the most significant pieces of ancient Celtic Art found in Britain. The decoration is in the typically British Celtic La Tène style, consisting of circles and spirals. There are 27 small round compartments in raised bronze with red cloisonné enamel.
The Battersea Shield was dredged from the bed of the River Thames in London in 1857, during excavations for the predecessor of Chelsea Bridge.
In the same area was also found large quantities of Roman and Celtic weapons and skeletons in the riverbed, leading many historians to conclude that the area was the site of Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Thames during the 54 BC invasion of Britain.
However, Archaeologists believe that the shield was a votive offering, which probably predates the invasion and was not used in battle during the Roman invasion.
Celtic Art is associated with the peoples and cultures that spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from pre-history through to the modern period.
Celtic Art includes the art of ancient peoples whose language is uncertain, but which have cultural and stylistic similarities with speakers of the Celtic languages.
Celtic Art covers a vast expanse of time, geography, and cultures. Archaeologists generally use “Celtic” to refer to the culture of the European Iron Age from around 1000 BC onwards, until the Roman conquest and the changes brought about by the Roman Empire.
Art historians typically begin to talk about “Celtic Art” only from the La Tène period, from 5th BC onwards.
La Tène Style
About 500 BC, the La Tène style, named after a site in Switzerland, appeared rather suddenly, coinciding with some kind of societal upheaval that involved a shift of the major centers in a north-westerly direction.
The central area where rich sites are mainly found is in northern France and western Germany. Still, over the next three centuries, the style spread widely, as far as Ireland, Italy, and modern Hungary.
In some places, the Celts were aggressive raiders and invaders, but elsewhere the spread of Celtic material culture may have involved only small movements of people.
Early La Tène style adapted ornamental motifs from foreign cultures into something distinctly new. It inherited a complex brew of influences including Scythian, Greek, and Etruscan, among others.
La Tène style is a stylized curvilinear art based mainly on classical foliage motifs such as leafy forms, vines, tendrils, and flowers together with spirals, S-scrolls shapes.
- Title: Battersea Shield
- Discovered: River Thames, London, 1857
- Materials: Bronze – 85% Copper, 10% Tin 5% Lead; Red glass ‘enamel
- Culture: Iron Age, c.350–50 BC
- Dimensions: Length: 77.7 cm; Width: 34.1–35.7 cm; Weight: 3.4 kg
- Category: Ancient Artifact
- Museum: The British Museum
The Battersea Shield
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Photo Credit: 1) British Museum / CC0; Paul Hudson from United Kingdom / CC BY (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)