shield making with Theophilius

shield making with Theophilius

Whitening Shields and Panels

a colour photo of a painted terracotta model of a Greek shield with the head of a god crowned with rays of light
Model shield from the ‘Tomb of the Erotes’ on Eretria (c. 350-250 BCE, not from a documented excavation). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 97.322

Xenophon once uses the verb λευκόω “to whiten” to describe how anti-Spartan Athenians made shields to fight the pro-Spartan oligarchs:

The Thirty thereupon retired to Eleusis; and the Ten, with the aid of the cavalry commanders, took care of the men in the city, who were in a state of great disquiet and distrust of one another. In fact, even the cavalry did guard duty by night, being quartered in the Odeum and keeping with them both their horses and their shields; and such was the suspicion that prevailed, that they patrolled along the walls from evening onwards with their shields, and toward dawn with their horses, fearing continually that they might be attacked by parties of men from Piraeus. [25] The latter, who were now numerous and included all sorts of people, were engaged in making shields, some of wood, others of wicker-work, and in whitening them (ἐλευκοῦντο).

Xen. Hell. 2.4.24-25

As I was studying Aeneas Tacticus before the conference on Stadtbelagerungen zwischen Ost und West (Innsbruck, 12-13. October 2023) I found a passage which helps interpret this one!

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Some Thoughts on Medlej’s “Inks and Paints”

Joumala Medlej, Inks & Paints of the Middle East : A Handbook of Abbasid Art Technology. Revised edition (Majnoura: London, 2021) GBP 20 https://majnouna.com/shop/books/

Inks and Paints of the Middle East is a practical summary of six Arabic treatises on making ink and paint dating from roughly 900 to 1400 CE (300 to 800 AH). Rather than translations, it provides illustrated descriptions of the different processes from making brushes and reed pens to gathering and grinding pigments to mixing them with each other and with binders. Endnotes discuss the scholarly details such as the sources for specific recipes (and some practical questions whether lead white pigment is safe to use, p. 115 n. 129). Most of these texts have never been printed or translated into a European language, or the existing translations and editions are inaccurate (few scholars are skilled in both medieval Arabic paleography and in the kitchen chemistry of making paint and ink).

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Some Thoughts on Lara Broecke’s Cennini

the cover of Lara Broecke's edition of Il Libro dell'Arte by Cennino Cennini
Lara Broecke, Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte: A New English Translation and Commentary with Italian Transcription (Archetype Publications: London, 2015) ISBN-13 978-1909492288

This summer I am reproducing some ancient shields, and since most face-to-face classes where I live are still closed, I am turning to the best possible teachers: Theophilius (fl. around 1100 CE) and Cennino Cennini (fl. around 1400 CE). Theophilius and Cennino teach almost everything you need to prepare a shield (or a panel) for painting.

The standard way to access Cennini is through three books published by Daniel V. Thompson around 1930 (an Italian text, a translation titled The Craftsman’s Handbook, and a practical handbook called The Practice of Tempera Painting). Lara Broecke has recently published a new edition, translation, and commentary of Cennini. These are thorough and scholarly and synthesize the past 85 years of art-technological research. If you want to know the chemical composition of Cennini’s gesso grosso plaster or giallorino pigment, look here. But Broecke distances herself from people who read Cennini as a textbook (pp. 1, 13, 305). Cennini was not a very good writer, his book may have been incomplete when he died, and none of the surviving copies of his work is a perfect representation of what he wrote. To understand why the old translations and editors of Cennini’s Book of the Art have the quirks which they have, lets turn to the Italian independent scholar Giovanni Mazzaferro:

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