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Art History        < Previous        Next >


Arms and Armor as Art


Today's Snack: In the Middle Ages all over Europe, figs and dates were a popular snack. Try some dried figs or dates with the pits removed. Or, if they are in season, try some fresh figs. If you can't find them in the grocery store, you can always have that wonderful cookie - Fig Newtons! And wash down with milk.





One round or oval paper plate

Decorative elements (short dry noodles, beads, dry beans, hardware nuts, etc.)

Sheet of aluminum foil (approximately 12" x 12")

Glue or tape

Rectangular strip of cardstock or cardboard (1-3" tall and 6-9" wide)



Topic Time Period: 600 - 1500 A.D.


Did you know that you can find swords and armor in an art museum?


Art museums have plenty of three-dimensional (3-D) objects to see - not just paintings. One category of 3-D art is "arms and armor." By "arms," we mean weapons - swords, axes and the like. By "armor," we mean protective gear and clothing that soldiers have always worn in battle.


From ancient times to more recently, artists have decorated the weapons and armor that warriors wear in battle, just like a clothes designer might decorate the hats, shirts, pants, and dresses that everyday people wore.


Some of these weapons and armor are preserved in art museums.


Most of the time, the decoration is made of animal designs, flower designs, and writing.


Artists could make weapons and armor look fancy and impressive by putting strips of gold or silver onto them and by attaching jewels and fur.


In the Middle Ages in Europe, a knight's equipment was usually his horse, bridle, saddle, spurs, hauberk (a long-sleeved shirt made of chains of metal), lance, sword, helmet and shield.


The most important pieces for the knight's protection were probably his helmet and shield.


Helmets came in many different shapes. Often, scholars can identify where a helmet comes from by its shape.


Now, think about what you know about shields. Have you seen one in a cartoon? Have you seen one in a movie or at a play? What did it look like? What shape was it?


The Middle Ages, also known as "Medieval times," lasted from about 500 A.D. until 1350 A.D. During that time in Europe, there were warriors from Islamic lands who conquered much of Europe. These warriors usually had metal shields that were round. You can make your own metal round shield. Here are the steps:


1.      Take a round paper plate and decorate the bottom side (the side that touches the table) in 3-D by gluing small decorative pieces onto it. For example, you could glue dry macaroni noodles around the edge to make a border. Or, try making an initial by forming the first letter of your name with beads. Many medieval soldiers had crosses on their shields, thinking that the Cross of Christ would protect them.


2.      Wait for the glued decoration to dry.


3.      Next, get a piece of aluminum foil that is bigger than the paper plate. Line up the center of the foil over the top of the center of the paper plate. With your fingers, press the foil down and around the glued decoration so that it fits snugly around the decoration. You should be able to see the decoration popping up under the foil (but be careful not to make any holes in the foil).


4.      Once you have pressed down around all the decoration, fold the edges of the foil onto the other side of the paper plate, so that you have a circular shield. Glue or tape the foil to the back of your shield so that it stays in place.


5.      Make a hand grip for your shield. Cut out a small rectangular strip of cardstock or cardboard, about 1 inch tall and 6 inches wide. Make a flap on each side of the grip by folding the ends in about one inch.


6.      Put your shield face down on a table, with the top of the shield pointing up. Glue each flap of the grip onto the back of the shield so that when you hold the grip, the shield protects your arm.


Enjoy your shield as a thing of beauty. Some kids like to play with them, and that's OK, too. Recognize that if you were a warrior back in the Middle Ages, it might save your life, and that would be beautiful, too!


By Susan Darst Williams Art History 04 2012




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