Southeastern Australian Broad Shield

Traditional Australian shields were used in skirmish warfare, guarding their owners from spears, clubs, and boomerangs. They vary significantly in design based on use and location, ranging from tall and ovular to narrow and wedge-like. This early broad shield from southeastern Australia shows the beautiful, swelling, hourglass shape typical to the Murray River region. Closely spaced ranks of waveform incisions decorate the full face of the shield, creating an optical sense of rippling and undulation that is interrupted only by a wide band routed across the center. The ends of the curved handle push through to the front of the shield, appearing as circles floating above and below the central band. The thinness of the form, along with the overall concave shape, recalls a dried leaf or bark, and the rich patina attests to its significant age. An old label, reading “Spear Shield – a very g[ood] specimen of Australian Aboriginal carved ornamental work,” is affixed to the rear of the shield.

The manna gum tree (Eucalyptus viminalis) was often used to make these shields, which are known by a variety of Aboriginal names including gee-am, kerreem and bam-er-ook. Stone tools and animal incisors were used to engrave the surface with intricate designs. While there is virtually no historic information on the significance of the patterns on southeastern Australian shields, it is possible they represent emblematic designs symbolic of the owner's group affiliation or personal dreamings, or perhaps the ancestral beings whose actions created the features of the Australian landscape during the primordial creation period known as the Dreaming.

This shield is an extremely rare and exceptional example of its kind, amongst the finest to ever come to market.

First half of 19th century
Wood
36 5/8” h
Provenance:
- John J. Klejman, New York
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, acquired from the above on May 29, 1968
#571
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