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The Shield Of Achilles, By John Flaxman, R.A. Dedicated By Permission To The Universities Of Oxford And Cambridge. The Work Is Engraved By Permission Of Messrs. Rundell, Bridge & Co. By A.R. Freebairn.

RA Collection: Book

Record number



(Published London,: 15th. March, 1846,, By Mr. Freebairn, 23, Mornington Place, Hampstead Road. and by E. Gambart Junin & Co. 25 Berners Street, Oxford Street, and 51, Rue Aumaire, Paris. Deposè.)

Physical Description

[2] f., 7 pl., in a portfolio; 510×687 mm. (Oblong broadsheet).


[T.p.] - Description Of The Shield Of Achilles [from Homer] - [Plates].

Responsibility Note

All plates are signed by Flaxman, R.A. and Freebairn. Plates 1-3 and 6 are also signed as printed by McQueen.

Each plate carries the publishers' imprint of Freebairn and E. Gambart Junin & Co. (and the publication-date).

The title-page vignette (portrait of Flaxman) is signed as engraved from the original model by John Flaxman, R.A.


John Flaxman R.A. [Royal Academy exhibition catalogue] (1979), p.145-7; D. Irwin, John Flaxman (1979), p.194-202.

On Flaxman's influence as illustrator see the bibliographic notes on The Iliad Of Homer Engraved By Thomas Piroli From The Compositions Of John Flaxman ... 1793 and Compositions From The Tragedies of Aeschylus Designed by Iohn Flaxman (1795).

Summary Note

No publication-date appears on the title leaf, but that of '15th . March, 1846' is given on all seven plates.

This portfolio celebrated one of Flaxman's most famous works - a realisation in Neoclassical terms of the shield of Achilles described in Homer's Iliad. The design had been commissioned from Flaxman by Rundell and Bridge; and between 1810 and 1818 Flaxman provided twenty-four drawings and five models. The finished work, executed in silvergilt in 1821, was bought by King George IV and displayed at his coronation banquet.

Homer describes the shield of Achilles as modelled by Hephaestus from bronze, tin, gold and silver; and as showing the heavens, the earth at war, the earth at peace, and the Ocean surrounding all. Flaxman represents the heavens at the centre (Apollo in his chariot surrounded by the moon and stars), and the other scenes as a continuous narrative (not in separate compartments) - incorporating, in the Homeric order, a wedding procession, a town under siege, ploughing, reaping, the vintage with a boy singing, and shepherds defending their flock from lions. Homer implies the use of different metals and enamels, describing the vintage-scene, for example, as wrought in gold but with the grapes in black, the poles in silver and the ditch in blue; but these prescriptions were not followed by Flaxman and Rundell - from considerations of taste, craftsmanship or expense. Flaxman's design may be compared with that of Nicolas Vleughels, published in Volume V of Pope's translation of the Iliad (1720).

The text, the 'Description Of The Shield Of Achilles', presents Homer's ancient Greek text (from Iliad 18:477-607), followed by translations in English, German and French (by Pope, Voss and Bitaubé respectively).

The plates are captioned, and show parts of Flaxman's design, with a quotation from Pope's Homer. The title-page vignette is a portrait of Flaxman.

The original work remains in the British royal collection. A plaster cast (1827) may be seen at the Royal Academy.

Binding Note

The two loose leaves of text and seven loose plates are enclosed in a 19th-century portfolio of half black cloth over marbled-papered boards, one board carrying a label printed, 'The Shield Of Achilles, By John Flaxman, R.A. Engraved By Freebairn.'

Name as Subject


Mythology, Greek - Heroes - Trojan War - Shields (armor)
Greek poetry - Epics - Epic poetry - Greece
Goldwork - Silver - Metal-work - Shields (armor) - Great Britain - London - History - 19th century
Pictorial works - Great Britain - 19th century


John Flaxman RA, source artist
Homer, Iliad
Alfred Robert Freebairn, engraver, publisher
Ernest Gambart, publisher
William Benjamin McQueen, intaglio printer
University of Oxford, dedicatee
University of Cambridge, dedicatee
Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, source artist