The following description was prepared by William Gross:
Breastplates – ornamental metal plates or shields hung in front of the Torah scroll – are found in all Ashkenazi communities, as well as Italy and Turkey, but designed differently in each community. In most cases the breastplate is made of silver or silver-plated metal. In Italy the breastplate is shaped like a half-coronet and known as the Chatzi-keter, "half-crown." In Turkey, the breastplate is called a Tas, and assumes a variety of shapes – circular, triangular, oval, or even the Star of David. In Western, Central, and Eastern Europe the breastplate is called either Tas or Tziz; its function there is not merely ornamental: it designates which Torah scroll is to be used for the Torah reading on any particular occasion, with interchangeable plaques.
The most notable early breastplates, from 17th-century Germany and Holland, were either square or rectangular, but over time they became rounded and decorative, and bells or small dedicatory plaques were suspended from its lower edge. During this period, the design of breastplates was influenced by that of the Torah Ark and the parokhet (curtain) concealing it, featuring various architectural motifs, the menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), Moses and Aaron, lions, or Torah crowns.
One of the defining characteristics of Jewish ritual art from Galicia and Ukraine is the use of the contrast between open work in silver, either cast or pierced, and gilt silver background. This Torah shield is an excellent example of this style. Additionally, the use of animals, both real and imaginary, is another common feature of ritual art from these areas, the animals often representing Messianic symbols. The bear motif at the bottom center is copied from a printers' decorative device.
C | Columns
B | Branch
C | Crown
H | Heraldic composition | Supporters | Two griffins
H | Heraldic composition | Supporters | Two birds
S | Synagogue | Synagogue interior | Torah Ark
C | Columns | Columns with vine and clusters of grapes
B | Bear | Bear holding a shrub or branch