Family crests or coat-of arms are among my favorite projects, and I have been fortunate to already carve some of them. Usually they are very lively, busy depictions, with helmets, shields, and lots more of everything around it. My best friend is restorer of paintings and painter of family crests. He has explained a little to me what's happening in such a family coat of arms, on the basis of its own crest.
Parts of the family coat of arms
First, there is the shield, and the depiciton on the shield. That is the most important part. You have to imagine that in the Middle Ages a tournament was held, and that each knight had a symbol on his shield that represented his family, the genus from which he arose. Therefore the oldest images on the shield of arms family are often the simplest. In the case of my friend the coat of arms is quartered, which means that multiple crests are depicted on one shield : twice a griffin and twice a greyhound. The Knight would hang his shield and helmet on a post outside his tent before and after the fight, and that can still be seen in the coat of arms. The shield is crowned by the helmet, and the mantling, a piece of cloth that the Knight bore on his helmet against the heat of the Sun, forms the background of the shield. The mantling was heavily battered in the fight by sword thrusts, and with all those cuts it has gained a graceful and artistic form. On the helmet knight wears a torse, two twisted strips of fabric (of the mantling) stuffed with horsehair, and upon that his crest. The crest was a means for a knight to distinguish himself from all the other helmeted knights when seen from behind or the side. Finally, there are the supporters: often animals (lions, bears, dogs, etc) , sometimes mythical animals (mermaids, griffins, wild men or sphinxes, etc) or people, which have the function to keep the shield high and to guard it. Usually the shield bearers are standing on a so-called compartment, to which also the motto is connected.
Permanent and non-permanent data
The position of the helmet is important; there should nothing be changed because the painter or sculptor, for example, likes it that way. There are helmets which are looking straight ahead, and helmets that are displayed turning a bit to the left or right, and so there are rules. You often see quite different types of helmets, but the grated helmet is the most common. Also, there are slight variations in the shape of the shield. A coat of arms with an oval shield is a woman's crest, but a shield for example can be depicted with a pointed tip, a rounded bottom, or some sort of brace point. Although there is room for designing the shape of the tip, also considering the style period in which the design is made, it is not allowed to suddenly switch to a different form of the shield. The shape of the mantling, the compartment and even the supporters is not precisely prescribed. The supporters can even be different per person , though that is not very common anymore. Basically a crest painter would have the room to design the mantling, the supporters and other decorative elements himself, but often the client chooses for an existing design that has long proved its worth. Here are three variations of the same family coat of arms.
All in all, an artist still has some freedom in designing the image of the family coat of arms. (Designing a new coat of arms is a very different matter, that I would rather leave to the experts!) For the coat of arms that I am carving now however, was chosen for the middle of the above three designs.
or go to the first report of this project↵