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  Home >> Heraldry >> Interpretation of Heraldic Displays

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

Apart from quartering and the frequent combination of two arms on a single shield, another essential feature of armorial composition is its depth. Several levels are piled one on top of the other and they must be read starting from the lowest level. In fact, that is how , most medieval images must be read, especially those from the late Romanesque period, when arms first appeared: first the lowest level, then the intermediary ones and finally the level nearest to the spectator's eye  - an order that goes against the grain today. 

Coats of armsWhen designing armorial bearings, artists first choose a field, then charge it with a device; if they want to add other features they have to place them on the same level as the charge or - as frequently happens superimpose a new level; it is impossible to go backwards. So the shield can be regarded as made up of a series of levels: the lowest represents the original structure and the main charges of the arms; the middle and top ones are charged with successive augmentations and help to distinguish between, for example, two branches of the same family or two individuals from the same branch.


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Rampart of black and yellow shields