Heraldic Art ~ Arms from Ibberton Church, Dorset, circa 1475
About a year and a half ago, I purposefully walked into Copperfield’s Books in Sebastapol hunting for treasure. My sister Kris knows that no matter where we go, I’m inevitably going to drag her into a used bookstore. Thankfully, she has patience. I found a very worn out, unassuming book on the shelf– The Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks: Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers by W. H. St. John Hope, copyright 1913. I opened it up and saw that it was full of amazing colored plates, engravings, and hand-drawn images of heraldry and coats of arms, among other things. I’ve just finished preparing about ninety images for the Public Domain Images part of my web site. The introduction to the book is fascinating, so I though I’d share some of it with you over the next few posts.
Family Coat of Arms ~ An early roll of arms belonging to the Society of Antiquaries of London
From the Introduction, Mr. St. John Hope writes:
Heraldry, or armory as it was anciently called, is a symbolical and pictorial language of uncertain and disputed origin, which, by the beginning of the thirteenth century, had already been reduced to a science with a system, classification, and nomenclature of its own. The artistic devices known as arms, which may be formed by proper combination of the colours, ordinaries, and figures that represent the letters of this language, had each their significance, and soon came to be regarded as the hereditary possession of some person, family, dignity, or office.
The display of arms was restricted primarily to shields and banners, but occasionally to horse trappers and such garments as jupes, gowns, and mantles. Later on heraldry came also to be used ornamentally, either upon shields or without them, in all kinds of ways, in architecture and on monuments, on tiles and in glazing, in woodcarvings and in paintings, in woven stuffs and embroideries, in jewellery and on seals.
The colours used in heraldry are red, blue, green, purple, and black, or to give them their old names, gules, azure, vert, purpure, and sable; combined with the yellow of gold and the whiteness of silver. Orange was never used, probably on account of the difficulty of finding a stable pigment. It was soon found that for brilliancy of effect the use of gold or silver with a colour was preferable to that of colour with colour or metal with metal; two colours are therefore found together or superposed only under certain conditions, and the same applies to the two metals.
Imitation of two furs, ermine and vair, were also used: the one of white flecked with little black tails; the other of alternating oblong patches of white and blue, square at the top and rounded at the bottom, to represent grey squirrels’ skins. If vair were colored other than white and blue, the resultant was called vairy. There is also known a black fur with silver ermine-tails.
There were never any exact rules as to the particular tint of the colour employed, that being simply a matter of taste. Thus blue may range from a full indigo almost to Cambridge-blue, and red from a bright scarlet, through vermilion, to a dull brick colour, and so on; and it is surprising to find how well quiet colours blend together.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue by sharing the part of the introduction that discusses the various types of heraldry designs.