Horseman’s Targe (shield) painted with the Figure of Saint George and with the Coat of Arms of the Town of Zwickau
German, c. 1450
Made in Germany
Possibly made in Zwickau, Saxony, Germany
Wood; gessoed linen; silver; leather; paint
Approximately: 27 × 16 1/2 inches, 7.9 lb. (68.6 × 41.9 cm, 3.6 kg)
Bequest of Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, 1977
Object Number: 1977-167-736
Gallery 246, Arms and Armor, second floor
One of the objects in the Kienbusch collection which immediately stood out was the Horseman’s Targe. While there are many other shields throughout the Arms and Armor galleries, this one caught my eye. The Horseman’s Targe is a shield which is decorated with a depiction of Saint George slaying the Dragon.
St. George was an early Christian martyr, who is today the patron saint of England and most notable for the legend of the Dragon. Set in Libya, a dragon was said to have terrorized the people until they offered sheep daily. When the Libyans ran out of sheep they were forced to give human sacrifices. As Saint George happened past the town, he saw the most recent victim, the local princess, as she waited for the dragon. With the sign of the cross on his shield he fought and captured the dragon. Due to his heroism, the entire town converted to Christianity (H. Thurston).
The scene is of the exact moment of triumph when St. George pierces the dragon with his lance. Although the encounter is the climax of the story, the saint’s face is so young, content, and peaceful. Through the depiction of St. George on the targe, a young knight would have an ideal image for a knight to emulate.
The figure of the saint in armor is surrounded by a decorative border and text. Surmounted by a coat of arms of the city of Zwichau, the heroic and pious actions of the saint are therefore associated with the city (Kienbusch Catalogue, 135). Three swans are placed against a gules (a heraldic color of red) background within the coat of arms. Within the silver and gilded decorative border is an inscription, hilf got du ebiges wort dem leib hie der selen dort hilf ritter (Help, God, thou eternal word, the body down here, [and] the soul up there, help, knight [Saint George])(Kienbusch Cat., 136). The text requests God to protect the knight, both the depicted St. George and the user of the shield.
The Zwichau targe captured my attention and I hope this post showed how interesting the small objects in the collection can be. If you are interested in seeing this object, stop by Gallery 236 in the Arms and Armor Galleries!
Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch. The Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Armor and Arms. Princeton University Press, 1963, no. 274, pl. LXXXVII.
Thurston, Herbert. “St. George.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 1 Jul. 2014<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm>.
Want to learn more? Check out:
The PMA’s page on the Horseman’s Targe:
Scholarly writing on shields from Zwichau:
Vladimir Denkstein. “Die Zwickauer Pavesen böhmischen Ursprungs”, Sonderdruck aus “Sächsische Heimatblätter”, Heft 9/1958, pp. 22-23.