Heraldry >> Design Structure
The first arms had a simple design: a device of one tincture
placed on a field of a different tincture. Since the arms were meant to be
visible from afar, the design was schematic and any features that would help
identify them were stressed or exaggerated: the contours of geometrical forms,
the head, feet or tail of animals, the leaves and fruit of trees. The device
occupied the entire field of the shield and the two tinctures, bright and clear,
were associated according to the rules described earlier. These few principles,
born on battlefields and at tournaments, formed the basis of the heraldic style,
which every designer had to follow in order to remain faithful to the original
spirit of heraldry.
Over the centuries, however, amoral bearings tended to become
more crowded and complex in their design. As we have seen, on family arms
secondary charges were often added to the original one; or the shield was
divided and subdivided into an increasingly large number of compartments,
armorial', combining a number of different arms within the confines of one
shield. These divisions expressed relationships, ancestry and marriages or
displayed the ownership of several fiefs, titles or rights. Some modern arms
have ended up being illegible as a result of being quartered again and again;
the grand quarters of Queen Victoria could have 256 quarterings.
Once they became marks of ownership and began to appear on countless objects of
everyday life, arms became smaller in comparison to those displayed on the
banners and shields of the 12th-century combatants. Not only did they become
difficult to decipher but their artistic effect also declined. In general the
heraldic style, which reached its peak at the court of Burgundy in the 15th
century, became less inventive, more mechanical and also more affected from the
17th century; it still showed some signs of vigor in the Baroque art of Austria,
Bavaria and northern Italy.
Elsewhere it was often cold and graceless, a victim of the theorists of
heraldry who wanted to codify and lay down everything (composition, numbers,
proportions) exactly, leaving no room for inventiveness and little for elegance.
In the 20th century, however, several German (notably Otto Hupp), Swiss and
Scandinavian artists have managed to restore to heraldic design the simplicity
and force of expression it had in the Middle Ages.
Coats of Arms