Behind the Shield

Tintoretto – Venus, Vulcan and Cupid (1551)

It’s very tempting to start this story with an exclamation “But not everything was bad in the house of Venus and Vulcan!” The very same Tintoretto shows us that the couple also had their happy days, caring for each other, raising their kids, like all other kind people do.

Venus, for instance, was not always cheating on her husband; there used to be days when she event visited him in the office at his forge, despite all the mess around, poor sanitation and strong (volcanic) heat.

(Follower of the) Jan Breughel the Younger – The Forge of Vulcan

Some rumored, of course, that she was coming not exactly out of love the old husbad, but to convince him to craft a special shield (sic!) for her son Aeneas. An interesting nuance here is that Aeneas was the son of Venus, but not of Vulcan; at some point of her turbulent life Aphrodite had an affair with Anchises – who was not a just simple person, since led his ancestry almost from Zeus; but he wasn’t the god either, and neither was their son, Aeneas.

We know that Venus succeeded with her request, and that the shield was made after a while, and it even helped Aeneas to successfully fight in the Trojan War.

This shield did posses any special magical (or mirror-like) properties; but the story with  the goddesses and the shield starts acquiring a distinctive archetypal flavor at some point. For example, Achilles, another hero of the Trojan War, also got a special shield from his mother, the sea nymph Thetis.

The forge of Vulcan, and the Venus visit there was a very popular motif; besides many other values, it was allowing to show a whole lot of interesting stuff:Jan van Kessel – Venus at the Forge of Vulcan (1662)

Jan Brueghel the Younger – Venus at the Forge of Vulcan

Some of these artworks also show this above-mentioned shield:

Frans Floris – Venus at Vulcans Forge (1560)

I didn’t find yet a single work that would show a shield with mirror properties:

Georg Raphael Donner – Venus In The Forge Of Vulcan (1735)

Although some designs are rather unusual; on the relief by Donner we that the shield hanging on a wall looks like a face; and was really a shield? or an allusion to a convex mirror? or may be something else?

But more often these were ‘just shields’, although richly decorated:

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – (sketch for)  Venus and Vulcan (1765)

However, this particular shield has some similarity with the shield/aegis of Athena:

It was therefore strange to find a very old fresco, found in Pompeii, where Vulcan for makes for Venus (and her Aeneas) a large shield with reflexive, mirror-like surface:

Or was it the shield  for Achilles, requested by Thetis? Or may be Athena, for her Perseus?  

Read more about mirrors/shields, and the identities of their bearers – Of the Shields, and the Dragons & Demons (and also the previous story about Medusa, and a pivotal role that a mirror/shields played in her life – Of Medusa, and the (Mirror) Shields) .


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