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Roman shield decoration: advice needed

Discussion in 'vBench (Works in Progress)' started by rossbach, Jun 17, 2019.

  1. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

    Hello all,

    Enclosed a pic of a roman 3rd century ad legionary's shield. It depicts some kind of war god and is based upon artefacts found in the Dura Europos excavations.

    The drawings show the surviving shield and what is left of the original decoration. The other drawing shows an interpretation/reconstruction of the full decoration.

    I copied that more or less and made a sketch in white and dark grey oil paint. After I had acceptable dimensions I started blocking in the colours.

    Now the style I felt was best suited for that period is a rather simplistic one dimensional one. Based upon period drawings that I found, like murals for example. It is the same ikon like style you will find during the Middle Ages.

    Please bear in mind that the more expressive, realistic, three dimensional style you would find with Vermeer yet had to be developed. Russian decorative painters would probably produce something more flamboyant but one could question its historical accuracy.

    The decoration is not quite finished: face and arms need more attention. The blue background is glossy. I do that because it's easier to manipulate the oil paint when ding the actual decoration. Also the picture is rather pale. My Iphone makes better pics colourwise but I cannot upload HEIC files for some reason.

    So........ what are your opinions on this?

    Cheers Paul
    xx.jpg 9f0ff47d7448fae0b79dbb1933123815.jpg d3.jpg
    NeilW, MattMcK., Nap and 4 others like this.
  2. DaddyO A Fixture

    Lovely bit of work there Paul
    I agree that the decoration would be simple and not as 'decorative' as the later dark age styles and you've made a splendid job of it - I look forward to seeing the rest of the figure
    I love this period when different fabrics were becoming more widely used and there was much blurring between the main cultural groups giving a huge variety of clothing styles and colour ranges - I really must dig out that Byzantine figure and get it prepped ready for painting :)
    Oda, NeilW and rossbach like this.
  3. NeilW A Fixture

    I think it's easy to discount the level of sophistication in later Roman art (in this case C3rd CE). There are many examples of Roman painting which show a fair degree of proportion/modelling/shading (largely from tombs, mummy portraits and Pompeii, which of course is earlier C1st CE).

    Of course many of these are high status (been watching too much Timeteam) and paintings on shields and so on may not reflect the same degree of sophistication, but I suspect that they'd be rather more than just flat colouring (I assume the photo shows just initial blocking in).

    See below for examples (all paintings: mosaics have some modelling but the medium hinders it).

    On a slightly different tack I was interested to see the degree of curvature in the scutum (prettywell a full 180 degrees). Anyone know whether this is typical?

    Far more refs than you need, but here goes:

    Wikis worth a look: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_art







    https://www.alamy.com/portrait-of-a...nel-ancient-egyptian-roman-image60159276.html (very realistic)

    https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-m...1st-3rd-century-ad-thebes-egypt-96889895.html (more cartoonish)

    https://imgur.com/r/pics/1tWHr3T (what's he holding?)


    oldtrousers, Oda and Nap like this.
  4. NeilW A Fixture

    I also asked:

    On a slightly different tack I was interested to see the degree of curvature in the scutum (prettywell a full 180 degrees). Anyone know whether this is typical?
    Oda likes this.
  5. Oda A Fixture

    Looking very good so far.Totally agree with you as far as stylistic convention is concerned.Besides I do not think that any soldier ever in history could or would afford a Michelangelo to paint his shield.Most probably the men were doing it themselves or trusting the "talented" comilito among their numbers to do the job.So a one dimensional approach is not out of the question.I thionk at times these blazons could be quite crude too (if the "talented" one was not so talented indeed).

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  6. NeilW A Fixture

    Hi Oda,

    I certainly agree that few would have Michelangelo standard paint jobs and the best would be for elite troops' parade use, not everyday campaigning (but there again cavalry were often elite troops): ditto the medieval Germanic pavise etc).

    As far as I can see the evidence is for something between a flat/block coloured look and a crude, cartoonish attempt at perspective and modelling.


    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/9a/37/8f/9a378f0dce4a607fd80f16c6e4c43e18.jpg (recon)

    https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/439663982355130310/visual-search/?x=14&y=14&w=465&h=589 (seems an awful lot of conjecture in the figures/design, though the style is clear)



    http://www.imperium-romana.org/dura-europos-shield.html (recon of the scutum)

    https://romanrecruit.weebly.com/shield.html (this includes a very crude recon of the shield in question: compare with the above)

    https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/749708669196081458/ (again conjectural but seems quite likely).

    And much later pavise: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/490681321874630124/
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  7. NeilW A Fixture

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  8. MattMcK. PlanetFigure Supporter

    May I just comment that this conversation is why I love this forum: art, history, and art history alongside great miniatures!
    Nap, rossbach, Scotty and 1 other person like this.
  9. Oda A Fixture

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  10. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

  11. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

    Thank you for your reflections Neil, but who's thread is this?
    Oda likes this.
  12. MCPWilk A Fixture

    Shields were made of Roman plywood, the curved ones being made over a jig. Everything was hand made (literally manufactured - manu = by hand, factum = made), but whereas arms and armour would have been reparable in the main, I doubt the same was true of shields, although the boss may have been recyclable. In the circumstances I suspect that beautiful artwork on shields was more likely kept for the parade ground and functional artwork for the battlefield. Unfortunately apart from stonework, such as Trajan's column, there are no surviving shields, only bosses and the odd fresco, to help us. The same is equally true of the colour of tunics (red, undyed linen, white with a purple stripe for senior officers, blue for marines?).

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  13. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

    Generally what you say is correct. However there are a few shields for example from the Dura Europos excavations that had part of their decoration still preserved.
    Oda likes this.
  14. Ferris A Fixture

    Lovely work so far Paul. Very sharp.
    The reference pic suggests some more folds on the arms....but perhaps you just had not reached that stage yet.

    Agree with your stylized approach, although sometimes I consider it acceptable to embellish things somewhat just for pleasing the eye. Some shading and highlighting would not immediately require Michaellangelo, so should be plausible, I suppose.

    Looking forward to your progress.

    rossbach and Oda like this.
  15. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

  16. rossbach PlanetFigure Supporter

    Thanks Adrian. The folds in the arms have been taken care of this afternoon! Almost finished.
    When I started I decided to stick to te stylized one dimensional approach, following the reconstruction. Shading and highlighting is done. But the end effect is what you see in ikons and early medieval paintings. A simplistic decoration seemed more appropriate for a simple legionary:)
    The shadows and highlights you see in the drawing of the original shield found at Dura Europos are no subtle colour transitions like you see in high end Roman murals for example. They are harsh lines sometimes even without resemblance to the base colours. Also the figure as a whole outlined in black or red.

    I agree with you about embellishing. But the Russian School style would simply not look accurate here. This Russian decorative style is often masterfully executed but more often then not looks completely out of place. Sometimes even hiding a rather mediocre general painting of the figure.

    NeilW and DaddyO like this.
  17. MCPWilk A Fixture

    You are quite right, but the Dura-Europos scuta were from the 3rd century. There is precious little reference material available for the late Republican early Imperial legions.

    rossbach likes this.
  18. franceso sbarile A Fixture

    Hello people, very intesting discusion.
    In my opinion a different approach must be kept for operative shields wirh respect of celebrative ones.
    Dura europos is very likely a celebrative shield. The one subject of this tread, representing imo Mitra, a middle east god very diffused cult in roman army that time, could be operative, so the painting quality could be also approximate.
    Sorry for writing mistakes but my fingers are not suitable for smartphone keyboard.
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  19. NeilW A Fixture

    See Big Men Studios' 1/28th scale interpretation:
    LBM shield.JPG

    ...and others here:

    and here:

    And who'd have thunk it: it seems that the Notitia Dignitatum also contains a Ying and Yang design, pre-dating the earliest known use by the East/Taoism by several centuries
    Y&Y.JPG Y&Y2.JPG
    Oda and Nap like this.
  20. NeilW A Fixture

    Hi Paul,

    Trust that you don't mind my putting in my two pen'worth on this (and that it's not overkill :confused:)

    It will be interesting to see the final version: from what you say it will be as Franceso and I felt (something between a flat/block coloured look and a crude, cartoonish attempt at perspective and modelling) :)
    Oda likes this.

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