Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms: Towards a Typology of Heraldic Programmes in Spaces of Self-Representation. Miguel Metelo de Seixas, Universidade de Lisboa; Torsten Hiltmann, Universität Münster, 16.03.2016–18.03.2016.
Reviewed by Elmar Hofman
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (July, 2016)
Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms: Towards a Typology of Heraldic Programmes in Spaces of Self-Representation
On 16-18 March 2016 the workshop “Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms” took place in Münster. The origins of this workshop lay in the challenges of understanding the function and functioning of the heraldic display in one particular state-room: the sala dos brasões of the National Palace in Sintra, Portugal, dating from the early 16th century. Although the individual coats of arms of this decor have been studied, the heraldic display as a whole has largely been ignored. Organizers Miguel Metelo De Seixas and Torsten Hiltmann argued that the functioning and the significance of heraldry in the sala dos brasões can only be understood by studying this topic comparatively in a European context. That was the aim of this workshop, with the main questions for each case study of heraldic decors in state-rooms: What is depicted and why? How does the heraldic decor communicate? And how can heraldry, as an element that added meaning to the space, improve our understanding of those state-rooms?
The opening lecture by CHRISTIAN DE MÉRINDOL (Paris) provided a typology for the monumental decors in medieval France. Roughly, he distinguished two groups: first, the expression of power, which could took place at particular events and on different locations, and second, the expression of the private, including among others alliances, property marks, and family histories. Some of these types returned in LAURA CECCANTINI (Paris) and DELPHINE GRENET’s (Paris) paper on beams on the ceilings in medieval urban houses in the Languedoc and the Provence. Most of these heraldic decors, which were strategically placed in different rooms in the houses, are locally oriented, promoting the owners of the house or showing alliances with local elites.
German speaking regions
The following two case studies concentrated on German-speaking regions. In his paper on heraldic programmes in Austrian medieval wall paintings, ANDREAS ZAJIC (Vienna) also distinguished several types of heraldic decors: genealogy and self-fashioning of noble families, ties of fealty, and political programmes. These were all recurrent themes in the contributions to this workshop. SABINE SOMMERER (Zurich) discussed the fictive coats of arms in several Swiss urban houses around 1300, such as the Haus zum Loch in Zürich (1306), the Haus zum Langen Keller in Zürich (1305), and the Schönes Haus in Basel (1271). Sommerer argued that the fictive coats of arms representing literary persons or foreign princes, sometimes presented together with imaginary creatures, created a fantastical and privileged space for the medieval beholder.
Piedmont and Aosta
LUISA GENTILE (Turin) discussed heraldic presentations in state-rooms in Piedmont and the Aosta valley, providing a series of examples concerning different contexts (princely homes, castles, patrician houses) over a long period (14th to 17th centuries). These examples showed that the use and function of heraldry (ranging from communicating loyalty to showing family networks) in state-rooms evolved over time, touching on the important issue of the development of functions of heraldic decors in state-rooms.
The papers of the next block touched on the subject of heraldic decors in religious buildings. MATTEO FERRARI (Pisa) dealt with the Hôtellerie-building that was part of the complex of the Saint-Benoît-et-Sainte-Marie abbey in Nanteuil-en-Vallée. It holds two barely visible and unstudied late 13th- or early 14th-century heraldic decors, that Ferrari attempted to attribute to a particular event, the Guyenne succession crisis, and with that he emphasized the importance of historical context for the understanding of such decors. LAURENT HABLOT (Poitiers) discussed the lost heraldic decor in the church of the Jacobins in Poitiers, which has been transmitted to us by an 18th-century copy. It is assumed that the presentation commemorates the victims of the battle of Poitiers, but Hablot established that only a small percentage of the coats of arms can be attributed to participants of that event. Other arms appeared to be 15th- and 16th-century additions. Hablot argued that this presentation had evolved over time, and with that perhaps also the function of this heraldic decor: from commemorative to possibly a display of contemporary families.
STEVEN THIRY (Antwerp) discussed the heraldic church interiors in Flanders and Brabant during the Dutch revolt. Thiry examined the attitude towards the heraldic presentations in the churches in three successive periods: first the waves of iconoclasm (1566), when heraldic signs of princely authority often remained untouched, second the Calvinist Republics (1578–1585), when the heraldic decors in the churches were spatially amended and subversively used, and third, the period of reconciliation (158 –1598), which witnessed a reinstallment of armorial series of the Habsburg monarchs in the sacred spaces. With this case study, Thiry touched on the important theme of development of perceptions of heraldic presentations.
Royal heraldic displays in England, Hungary, Spain and Russia
The next series of papers presented case studies dealing with royal heraldic decors in different European regions. JAMES HILLSON (Cambridge) discussed the heraldic decors in the Westminster abbey and palace in the period 1253 to 1363. He demonstrated that the heraldic presentations established a relation between past and present monarchs and their virtues. RADU LUPESCU (Cluj-Napoca) concentrated on the heraldic displays on the keystones of the vaults and the facades of the Hunedoara castle, built by John Hunyadi (1406–1456) and completed by king Matthias Corvinus (1143-1490), his son. He showed that both rulers communicated different presentations of authority through these heraldic presentations. In MARÍA NARBONA’s (Saragossa) talk on the heraldry in halls of the catholic monarchs in the Aljafería palace in Saragossa, she compared this display with those in Castilian palaces such as in Valladolid and Segovia, revealing that the form of these representations of royal power in Aragon differed from Castile. ELENA KASHINA’s (York) argued in her case study on the Palace of the Facets in Moscow, constructed in 1491 under the rule of Ivan III the Great (1440–1505), that the double-headed eagle that was depicted in the reception hall, did not only represent the Russian royal power, but also articulated an embracement of both east and west by the Russian state.
The following papers shifted focus to the function of heraldic displays in state-rooms in medieval cities. MARCUS MEER (Durham) dealt with the qualities of heraldic signs to commemorate and create urban identities in German and English cities. Meer distinguished two functions in commemorating urban history through heraldic displays. For the kings, nobles, and churchmen it conveyed the grandeur and dignity of the city. For the burghers it communicated the ideals of urban government and represented the community in urban history. With this, Meer highlighted the crucial topic of the possibility of different perceptions of the same presentation. MARIO DAMEN (Amsterdam) applied approaches from the spatial turn to heraldic decors in state rooms, dealing with a heraldic display of Brabant bannerets on a stained glass window in the city hall of Brussels, transmitted through a drawing in the mid 15th-century Gorrevod armorial. Damen argued that these heraldic devices were not only a representation in a space, but created the space itself, namely a particular noble space. PIERRE COUHAULT (Paris) dealt with heraldic decors in town halls and castellany in three cities in Flanders during Charles V’s Courtrai, Oudenaarde, and Bruges. Some of these focused on the locality (Courtrai), but in the other presentations the imperial programme dominated. Couhault discerned a tension between local and imperial heraldic decors in these town halls and castellanies in Flanders, which differed according to the context.
ANNE-LAURE CONNESSON (Amiens) concentrated on the presentations of coats of arms on the facades of Tuscan public palaces in the 14th and 15th centuries. The decors conveyed the identity of the city commune, but political and intellectual developments resulted in a different use of heraldic presentations: for individual promotion of magistrates, and the expression of alliances. Self-promotion in urban spaces was also a major theme in GIAMPAOLO ERMINI’s (Pisa) paper on the coats of arms on the walls of the major hall in the communal palace of Orvieto, which should be situated in the time of the Orsini family’s dominant presence in the town. By placing this heraldic decor in the context of other displays of Orsini’s coats of arms in the city, Ermini revealed its self-representative purpose.
Aristocratic residences in the early modern period
The next papers left the Middle Ages behind and turned to the aristocratic residences in the early modern period. AUDREY THORSTAD (Huddersfield) dealt with the use of heraldry by two so-called new men in 16th-century England and Wales who rose in ranks under Henry VIII’s rule: Sir Rhys ap Thomas and Sir William Fitzwilliam. Both bought medieval castles, renovated these, and had heraldic presentations painted among others on the ceiling of the porch entrance, a place to be seen by visitors. Traditionally, new men are thought to have celebrated their own family and lineage through heraldry, but in these cases the halls are filled with Tudor heraldry, proclaiming these men’s loyalty to the king. ANDREAS REHBERG’s paper discussed the heraldic decors in aristocratic residences in Rome and Lazio between 1500 and 1630, showing how they used heraldry (in different spaces, such as palaces, villas, courtyards, loggias) to promote their own families and celebrate alliances. HELENA SERAŽIN (Ljubljana) presented a case study concerning the heraldic decor in the Lanthieri Villa in Vipava. On the ceiling of the ground floor hall the coat of arms of Maximilian, but probably referring to Leopold I, is presented, which was aimed to proclaim loyalty to this sovereign who visited the area in 1660.
Reception in the 19th century
In the last presentation, JUDITH BERGER (Cottbus) dealt with the reception of medieval architecture in the 19th century, and the significance of heraldry in this context. Berger’s case study concerned the Eastnor castle in Herefordshire. This castle, designed by Augustus Pugin, is considered a prime example of the gothic revival in England. The Somers-Cocks family, the Eastnor earls, resided in this castle and their coats of arms feature in several rooms, most notably in the drawing room. Here, heraldic decors traced the family’s lineage back to the illustrious ancestors, and on the chimney the marriages of the family’s members were remembered through coats of arms. These heraldic decors were meant to be seen and were seen by others, since castles such as these were frequently visited by friends of the family as well as tourists who marvelled at the building’s visual splendour.
Conclusion and Future Research
The papers of this workshop presented a large number of examples of heraldic decors in state-rooms. These demonstrated that such heraldic presentations could be found in a great variety of regions in Europe and in different contexts, ranging from private houses to royal palaces and from noble castles to town halls. In these state-rooms, the heraldic decor could have different functions. They could communicate power of monarchs and social status of families, they could display alliances between families or loyalty towards kings, they could commemorate the past and construct identities, or they could create a certain space, for example fictional, privileged or noble. These functions developed over time and differed from region to region. Placing these decors in their specific historical context is therefore crucial for understanding them. All the contributions showed that heraldic decors were a constitutive part of the state-rooms: they were not mere decorations, but had a strong power to express a variety of information, ideas, and messages. The workshop also revealed a number of challenges and paths for future research. Focus should be on the relation between the heraldic decors and other visual elements in the room, and the function of the rooms in the building. Furthermore, the often ignored topic of reception and perception of these decors should be taken into account. There is much work to do to improve the understanding of the functions and functioning of heraldic decors in state-rooms in medieval and early modern Europe, but the papers presented at this workshop have taken an important first step and have given directions to future research.
Miguel Metelo de Seixas (Lisbon)/Torsten Hiltmann (Münster): The « sala dos brasões » in context. Perspectives on the Heraldic decor in medieval and early modern state-rooms
Christian de Mérindol (Paris): Pour une typologie des décors monumentaux armoriés dans le royaume de France au Moyen Age
Laura Ceccantini (Paris)/ Delphine Grenet (Paris): Les programmes héraldiques des demeures patriciennes et seigneuriales du sud de la France à la fin du Moyen Âge
Sabine Sommerer (Zurich): Facebook avant la lettre: Real and Fictive Friends in Medieval Urban Houses
Andreas Zajic (Vienna): Ambiguous Arms – Difficulties of Reading and Interpreting Heraldic Programmes in Medieval Austrian Wall Paintings
Matteo Ferrari (Pisa): France et Castille. Les décors héraldiques de la « Salle de justice » de l’abbaye de Nanteuil-en-Valée
Laurent Hablot (Poitiers): Le décor héraldique de l’Eglise des Jacobins de Poitiers
James Hillson (Cambridge): Heraldry and the King’s Two Bodies: the Palace and Abbey at Westminster, 1253-1363
Radu Lupescu (Cluj-Napoca): Noble and Royal Heraldic Display in the Great Palace of the Hunedoara Castle
María Narbona (Saragossa): Décoration héraldique et emblématique dans les salons des Rois Catholiques au Palais de l’Aljafería de Saragosse (c. 1492-1500)
Elena Kashina (York): A New Dawn: Heraldry in the Palace of Facets in the Moscow Kremlin in Late 15th Century
Luisa Gentile (Turin): Cycles héraldiques aux pieds des monts: typologies, sens et évolution des salles armoriées des Alpes occidentales (XIVe-XVIIe siècle)
Marcus Meer (Durham): History on the Walls and Windows to the Past: Heraldic Commemoration of Urban Identity in Late Medieval Town Halls
Mario Damen (Amsterdam): The visualization of noble space. Heraldic devices in the town hall of Brussels
Pierre Couhault (Paris): Impérial, dynastique ou local ? Les décors intérieurs des hôtels de juridiction dans le comté de Flandre au milieu du règne de Charles Quint
Steven Thiry (Antwerp): Spaces of Many-Faced Majesty. Heraldic Church Interior and the Redefinition of Rule During the Dutch Revolt
Anne-Laure Connesson (Amiens): Stratégies héraldiques dans les palais publics toscans entre XIVe et XVe siècle
Giampaolo Ermini (Pisa): La décoration picturale de la salle majeure du Palais de la Commune d’Orviète
Audrey Thorstad (Huddersfield): New Men with Old Heraldry? Representing the King (and Self) through Tudor Heraldry in Sixteenth-Century Great Halls of England and Wales
Andreas Rehberg (Rome): Heraldic Self-Representation in Aristocratic Residences in Rome and Lazio (1500-1630)
Helena Seražin (Ljubljana): Heraldic Display as a Part of Festive Decoration in Villa Lanthieri in Vipava (1659)
Judith Berger (Cottbus): The Gothic Drawing Room of Eastnor Castle (1849)
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