Frontal Plate from a Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense)

Date: 16th–17th century

Culture: Tibetan

Medium: Iron, gold, silver

Dimensions: H. 16 1/4 (41.3 cm); W. 5 3/8 in. (13.7 cm); Wt. 1 lb. 10.3 oz. (745.6 g)

Classification: Equestrian Equipment-Shaffrons

Credit Line: Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gift, 2008

Accession Number: 2008.291


Most of the surviving Tibetan shaffrons are purely functional pieces of armor with minimal, if any, decoration. This outstanding example is one of the few exceptions to that rule. It is made up of two plates from the center of a shaffron, or head defense, that must originally have been part of an extremely elaborate set of horse armor belonging to a high-ranking Tibetan or Mongolian nobleman. It is the only known shaffron decorated in this style, with dragons amid scrollwork pierced, chiseled, and engraved on the thick iron ground and damascened in gold and silver. The same materials, techniques, and motifs are often seen (although usually on a thinner iron ground) on Tibetan saddle plates, ritual objects such as censers, and luxury items such as pen and cup cases and the reinforcing straps found on the entrance doors of important temples and monasteries. The only other known Tibetan shaffron with truly notable decoration (2004.402) is also in the Museum. That piece is worked in a completely different manner, however, with a textilelike pattern in gold and silver damascening on its flat iron plates.