Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense)

16th–17th century
Tibetan or Mongolian
Iron, leather, copper alloy, shellac
H. 17 1/2 in. (44.5 cm); W. 22 3/4 in. (57.8 cm); Wt. 5 lb. 8.9 oz. (2520.3 g)
Equestrian Equipment-Shaffrons
Credit Line:
Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gift, by exchange, 2014
Accession Number:
Not on view
Tibetan shaffrons of any type are extremely rare. This example, despite its damaged condition, shows some distinctive features that are not found on any other known examples, particularly the decorative enframements encircling the eyes and the use of embossed plates representing the nostrils. These unique elements extend our knowledge of the variety that once existed in the decoration and construction of shaffrons and of Himalayan horse armor.
The ground of the shaffron is a shaped piece of leather with two openings for the eyes. Each eye openings is bordered by an iron frame in the shape of an eye with eyelashes in the form of pierced scrollwork all around the edges. At the bottom center of the shaffron there are a two embossed horseshoe-shaped plates, with similar pierced edges, representing nostrils. At the center of the edges on the right and left sides there is a flat triangular plate pierced with scrollwork and bordered with a copper alloy trim. There are traces of red shellac visible through the piercings of the scrollwork of the side plates. The design of the scrollwork on the eyelashes, around the nostrils, and on the side plates is enhanced by incised lines. Most of the remainder of the exterior leather surface is covered by rows of small square iron plates that overlap at their corners. Each plate has a dome embossed in its center and a hole pierced through each corner. The points of the corners where the adjacent square plates meet are each covered by a separate hollow hemispherical dome or boss. These bosses have a transverse interior bar, over which a leather lacing is threaded to sew the bosses through the leather ground and thereby secure the plates in place. The exterior edge of the leather ground is covered with a border of leather trim all around. There are three flat leather straps on the proper right side and the remains of three corresponding straps on the left side; these would have been used to tie the shaffron to a horse's head. The reverse of the leather ground is plain and uncovered, showing the pattern of the leather laces that by which the iron plates are stitched to the exterior. There is a section of leather missing from the ground at the top proper right of the shaffron. The shaffron is worn overall; several iron bosses are missing; the shaffron has been cut in half longitudinally up the center and stitched back together during its working lifetime, possibly to fit it to a horse with a smaller head than it was originally made for; originally there would have been a central longitudinal iron plate in the center, which presumably was removed when the shaffron was narrowed.
private collection (said to have been purchased in Lhasa, Tibet; from early 1980s–2014; sold to MMA).
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