Rule of tinctures

In today’s post, we’ll explore what is perhaps one of the fundamental rules of heraldry: the rule of tinctures.

As it is well known, there are five colors: Azure (blue), Gules (red), Purpure (purple), Sable (black) and Vert (green); and two metals: Or (gold/yellow) and Argent (silver/white). The rule of tinctures simply states that a color should not be placed on another color and that a metal should not be placed on a metal.

However, what does this mean?

It simply means that an element, whether it is an ordinary, a charge or anything else, cannot be of a color if what is immediately beneath it (field, other charge, etc) is also of a color. The same is true for metals.

tinctures-bad tinctures-good


It’s easily understood why it’s a bad idea to have, say, a lion Gules on a field Gules because what you’ll end up with is something red on a red background and the lion will barely be visible.


But, why the other restrictions? Why not have a bull Azure on a field Gules? What’s the big deal?

The answer can readily become apparent to us if we examine the use of heraldry at its onset in the Middle Ages.

As it has been discussed before, heraldry is (and always has been) a form of identification of an individual and his/her family. When heraldry was adopted it was so that knights and other warriors can identify themselves in the battlefield as they were all in identical suits of armor and their faces were hidden. It became an especially interesting problem where trying to identify knights from afar, perhaps even the length of a football or soccer field.

From such a distance, high contrast is needed to be able to easily identify the arms of friends and foes. Perhaps details are not visible (mullet of 5 vs. mullet of 6) but one can make out the divisions, ordinaries and get an idea of the charges. A great real life way of seeing this in action is to actually try it out at a park or even the beach.

Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule and the most famous exception are the arms of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Kingdom of Jerusalem

However, there are many more such examples throughout Europe and throughout the centuries. So much so, that the Cardinal Bruno Heim wrote a book about it called simply “Or & Argent”.

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