Posts tagged ‘rule of tinctures’

Bruno Heim’s “Or & Argent”

Or and Argent

Bruno Heim’s “Or & Argent” is a fascinating book that explores what is perhaps the most fundamental rule in heraldry: the rule of placing metal on metal (Or and Argent in heraldic terms) on a shield.

In the entry on the rule of tinctures, we explored the reasoning behind these rules and also saw a few examples of where these rules were simply tossed out the window. This book goes one step further however, focusing on the rule of metal on metal.

Bruno Heim was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church and for a number of years the Papal Nuncio in England. Heim is considered to have been the foremost authority on heraldry in the Catholic Church and his work has influenced the area of heraldry in a great way.

In this book, Heim explores the heraldic axiom of not placing metal on metal on a shield and questioning its validity. Almost all the literature expounds upon this rule as if it is the most significant of them all and it is refreshing to read a book that takes that rule head on; especially from an authority such as Bruno Heim.

What he accomplishes in this book is to show that the rule did not always exist and that, like many other rules, it is ignored more that it is observed. He quotes and presents many of the arms found in Rietstap’s Armorial Général (in which we find over 1500 examples) and Papworth’s Ordinary (over 200 examples) as well as arms documented elsewhere.

In this book, Heim also demonstrates examples from countries across Europe in clear violation of the rule, proving that the famous arms of the Crusader Kingdom of Jersulam is not the only exception. Countries such as England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden are well represented.

Now, one may ask what would drive someone to write such a book? The answer is given by Heim himself on the very last page and I will quote him directly:

13. HEIM: Argent, on a “Dreiberg” (triple mount) Vert a lion rampant Or holding a horseshoe Azure surmounted by a mullet of the third. These arms were painted on a stained glass for Joh. Heimb in 1640. Joh. Heimb is the author’s direct ancestor, n. 1024 on the pedigree, who died 15th February 1659. This explains why I have been looking for other instances of Or and Argent arms for very many years, and this book shows part of the harvest of my endeavours. (These arms are still publicly exposed in Boningen, Solothurn, Switzerland, two miles from where Johannes Heimb lived and had his house and land).

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”.