The Shield as a Poetic Screen: Early Blazon and the Visualization of Medieval German Literature

  • Haiko Wandhoff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


E laborately decorated shields are a remarkable literary motif that one finds in texts from antiquity, throughout the Middle Ages, and into the Early Modern period.1 The poetic device of shield-description reflects a social practice, for premodern warriors and knights not only valued their round or oval shields, usually made of wood, for protection, but also used them to indicate visually the social and genealogical status of their bodies that they shielded. Indeed it is in this context, as easily accessible visible displays of personal data, that painted shields became privileged objects of poetic representation. Rooted in the rhetorical technique of enargtia (evidentia), which was developed to bring before a reader’s eyes what is in fact merely a verbal report, rounded shields associated with significant bodies provided ideal graphic surfaces on which poets could project different kinds of visual data. The decorated shield thus executes what Murray Krieger calls the “ekphrastic principle” of literature, that is, the desire of the verbal arts “to do the work of the visual sign” and convert readers into eyewitnesses.2


Thirteenth Century Early Modern Period Epic Poetry Latin Literature Vernacular Literature 
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© Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel 2005

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  • Haiko Wandhoff

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