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Design Structure
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  Home >> Heraldry >> Design Structure

Composition Tinctures Charges Blazon Beasts of Charge Heraldic Beasts Design Structure Interpretation Crests Supporters

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.

Interpreting Coats of Arms

Interpreting Coats-of-Arms

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Rampart of black and yellow shields