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KURDISH SHIELD (MERTAL)

Place of Origin: TURKEY

Date: Mid- to Late 19th Century

Overall diameter: 240mm (9 ½ inches)

Reference: 305

Status: Available

Full Description:

This pointed buckler (or ‘mertal’) is exceptionally rare, originally worn by Kurdish infantrymen and taking its essential design and form from well-known Ottoman examples.

The core of the shield is composed of wicker which has been covered with woven thread in green, yellow and red. A dense array of radial iron bars secures the core which is further adorned with a great number of copper-alloy domed discs and pierced coins used as washers where the bars attach to the edge and centre of the shield. Four of these iron bars have also been recurved into open oval frames which are filled with dyed cloth. This same variety of red fabric covers the spiked central boss which is decorated with further iron bars, discs, plaques chased to depict eight-pointed stars on a dotted ground, and a fluted central finial. The reverse of the shield is covered with brown fabric and fixed with woven leather straps attached at two ends with iron loops for suspension.

Precise comparanda are scarce on account of this object’s rarity, but its relation to other forms of Ottoman shields are clear. A kalkan preserved in the John Woodman Higgins Collection at Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts (Inventory Number: 2014.86), for example, shows the same colour-pattern applied to its thread, and the iron bars which extend from its centre terminate in the same raindrop shape as ours. Further examples of these shields are to be found in other media: a black and white photograph in Illustrierte Völkerkunde, in zwei Bänden (published 1922) shows a Kurdish infantryman equipped with his sabre (‘kilig’) and shield (‘mertal’),[1] and a porcelain figure (circa 1907-1917) in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, shows another Kurdish man with a pistol tucked into his belt and – on his left wrist – a buckler of similar size and design to our example. 

 

[1] Georg Buschan, Illustrierte Völkerkunde, in zwei Bänden, Strecker und Schröder, Stuttgart, 1922, p. 403.