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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

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Author Topic: Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art  (Read 1734 times)
Demon Queen
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« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2009, 01:19:50 pm »

And Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI. iii. 1:


             "as the mournful crocodile
 With sorrow snares relenting passengers."
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« Reply #16 on: June 18, 2009, 01:20:00 pm »

Quarles, too, in his "Emblems":


"O what a crocodilian world is this,
 Compos’d of treach’ries and insnaring wiles!"

Bossewell, an heraldic writer of the sixteenth century, after the model of his forerunner, Gerard Leigh, edified his readers with comments on natural history in such a delightful manner (according to his friend Roscarrocke) as to provoke the envy of Pliny in

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« Reply #17 on: June 18, 2009, 01:20:14 pm »

Elysium, though now these descriptions in many instances only serve to call up a smile from their very absurdity. With "veracious" histories of this description, is it to be wondered at that such beings as those referred to were made use of in heraldry and accepted as types or emblems of some particular quality in man? As an instance of how an error in the form of an animal may be perpetuated unperceived, it may be mentioned that even in the best books on heraldry, natural history, and in other illustrated publications, the elephant is rarely to be seen correctly delineated. A peculiarity in his formation is that the hind legs bend in the same manner as the fore legs, so that, unlike other quadrupeds, it can kneel and rest on its four knees, whereas it is usually depicted with the hind legs to bend in the same way as those of the horse or the cow. When artists and herald-painters continue to commit this blunder unobserved, some palliation may be afforded to the old heralds for their offences against zoology in the errors and delusions arising from lack of information. They could have little opportunity of acquiring a correct knowledge of the rarer kinds of animals; they had not the advantage of seeing menageries of wild beasts, or of consulting books on natural history with excellent illustrations, as the modern herald may do. Only when their scanty information fell short did they venture to draw on their imaginations for their beasts, after the manner of an ancient worthy, who "where

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« Reply #18 on: June 18, 2009, 01:20:30 pm »

the lion's skin fell short, eked it out with the fox's."

Some writers, however, maintain that these monstrosities are not so much the result of ignorance of the real forms of the beasts as that they were intended to typify certain extraordinary qualities, and therefore exaggeration of the natural shapes and functions was needful to express such qualities. This may be true in some instances. Under this idea the noble form of the lion may have been distorted to resemble the wild cat in the fury of its contortions. The Panther incensed, breathing fire and smoke out of its mouth, nose and ears, seems as if taken from some misleading history—like that of the boar, by Xenophon, already referred to—or the result of the erroneous description of some terrified traveller. This is a natural and probable mode of accounting for its unnatural appearance. It may, however, fairly be said that the natural ferocity of the brute, and also its destructive qualities, are most fitly typified by the devouring flame issuing from the head of this bloodthirsty and treacherous beast of prey.

The Heraldic Pelican, again, is evidently a mistake of the early artists, similar to the heraldic tiger, heraldic antelope, &c., and the persistent following of the traditional "pattern" by the heralds when once established. Early Christian painters always represented this emblem of devoted self-sacrifice, A Pelican in her piety—that is, feeding her young with her own blood—as having the head and beak of an eagle

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« Reply #19 on: June 18, 2009, 01:20:38 pm »

or bird of prey such as they must have believed it to possess, and with which it would be possible that it could lacerate its own breast; and not with the clumsy and ungainly "bill" peculiar to this species of bird, which we know is more suited to gobble up small reptiles than to "vulning" itself.

Some symbols, again, are neither real nor do they pretend to be fabulous, such as the two-headed eagle, but are pure heraldic inventions that have each their special signification. The tricorporate lion lays no claim to be other than the symbol of a powerful triune body under one guiding head; the three legs conjoined—the arms of the Isle of Man—is an old Greek sign for expedition. Many other instances will, no doubt, occur to the reader of similar emblems of this class.




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« Reply #20 on: June 18, 2009, 01:21:17 pm »

p. 13

Notes on Animated Beings in Heraldic Art
p. 14 p. 15

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« Reply #21 on: June 18, 2009, 01:21:43 pm »

Notes on Animated Beings in Heraldic Art
"One chief source of illustration is to be found in the most brilliant, and in its power on character, hitherto the most effective of the Arts—HERALDRY."
                    Ruskin,
         "Relation of Wise Art and Wise Science."


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« Reply #22 on: June 18, 2009, 01:22:09 pm »

HERALDRY is par excellence the science of symbols. A pictorial device is subject to no exact or regular law, provided it carries its meaning with it. Heraldry, on the contrary, insists on the observance of certain definite and easily understood rules constituting it a science, by the observance of which any one acquainted with heraldic language may, from a concise written description (or blazon as it is termed), reconstruct at any time the symbol or series of symbols intended, and with perfect accuracy; for a heraldic emblem once adopted remains unchangeable, no matter with what amount of naturalness or conventionality it may be done, or with what quaintness

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« Reply #23 on: June 18, 2009, 01:22:24 pm »

or even grotesqueness it may be treated; the symbol remains intact. "A lion rampant," "a dragon," or any other heraldic figure is, therefore, a fixed and immutable idea, and not to be confounded with any other, no matter what the style of artistic or decorative treatment it may receive.

Notwithstanding the evident intention everywhere in heraldry to be symbolic, in attitude as well as in tinctures, we find the greatest errors and absurdities constantly perpetrated. To many it seems as if it was not considered essential to acquire a knowledge of the rudiments of the science. Heraldry is a living language, and when the attempt is made to express it without proper knowledge the result can only be unmitigated nonsense. By inattention to those principles which regulate the attitude, the tinctures, and the disposition of every part of an armorial achievement, discredit is brought upon the subject, which should fall upon the head of the ignorant designer alone. No matter what heraldic position of an animal may be blazoned (though it admits of only one interpretation), we find the most unwarrantable latitude frequently taken by otherwise skilful artists in depicting it. The designer becomes a law unto himself, and it is posed and treated in a way to suit the fancy of the moment. A lion is only a lion to him, and it is nothing more. To the true herald it is very much more. As a mild instance, see the unkind treatment meted out to the supporters of the Royal Arms. The lion and unicorn are both

p. 17

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« Reply #24 on: June 18, 2009, 01:22:38 pm »

 "rampant," and the head of the lion is turned towards the spectator (termed guardant). Not content to be represented in the regulation positions, they will be found depicted in most strange and fantastic attitudes not recognised in heraldry—not supporting or guarding the shield, which is their special function. At the head of the Times newspaper they are represented playing at hide and seek round the shield; elsewhere we see them capering and prancing, or we find them sitting, like begging dogs, as if ashamed of themselves and their vocation.

I may here quote from a most admirable work: "That the decorative beauty of heraldry, far from being that of form and colour alone, was also an imaginative one depending much on the symbolic meaning of its designs, there can be no doubt. . . . Early Christian Art was full of symbols, whose use and meaning were discussed in treatises from the second century onwards. By the eleventh it had become systemised and ranged under various heads,—Bestiaria for beasts, Volucaria for birds, and Lapidaria for stones. It permeated the whole life of the people in its religious uses, and entered romantically into the half-religious, half-mystical observances of chivalry, the very armour of the valiant knight being full of meanings which it was his duty to know." *



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« Reply #25 on: June 18, 2009, 01:22:56 pm »

Footnotes
17:* "Decorative Heraldry," by G. W. Eve.



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« Reply #26 on: June 18, 2009, 01:23:27 pm »

p. 18

The Symbolism of Attitude or Position

It must be evident to every one who has given any thought to the subject that a definite idea is meant to be conveyed to the mind by the attitude in which an animal is depicted; and such figures are not mere arbitrary signs, like the letters of the alphabet, which of themselves convey no meaning whatever. "A lion rampant" is, as the term suggests, a lion in the act of fighting, rearing on his hind legs to meet his antagonist. He is therefore depicted with wildly tossed mane, staring eyes, and guly mouth; his muscular limbs and distended claws braced up for the combat betoken the energy and power of the noble brute. How different is the idea conveyed by the lion statant in the firm majesty of his pose, calmly looking before him; or couchant, fit emblem of restful vigilance and conscious power, prepared on the instant alike to attack or defend.

Should any reasons be needed to enforce the necessity of adhering strictly to the heraldic law in which attitude plays such an important part, it may be needful only to refer to one or two examples, and cite as an instance in point the noblest of all created beings, and ask whether, of the many acts in which imperious man himself may be heraldically portrayed, the action or position in which he is to be depicted should not indicate distinctly the idea that

p. 19

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« Reply #27 on: June 18, 2009, 01:23:43 pm »

is to be associated with the representation? whether vauntingly, like the old kings,—


       "with high exacting look
Sceptred and globed"
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« Reply #28 on: June 18, 2009, 01:24:00 pm »

 —attributes of his power,—or as a bishop or saint in the act of benediction,—kneeling in prayer as on mediæval seals,—the three savage men ambulant on the shield of Viscount Halifax,—or the dead men strewn over the field on the seal of the city of Lichfield—in each the primary idea is man, but how different the signification! It will therefore be understood that the particular action or posture, or any of the various forms in which real or imaginary creatures may be blazoned in heraldry, gives the keynote to its interpretation, which, in this respect, is nothing if not symbolic.

It will be seen that to interpret the meaning implied in any particular charge, the tinctures, as well as the attitude, must be considered. These, taken in combination with the qualities or attributes we associate with the creature represented, indicate in a threefold manner the complete idea or phase of meaning intended to be conveyed by the composition, and may be thus formulated:

(1) The Creature.—The primary idea in the symbol is in the particular being represented, whether real or fictitious, as a man, a lion, an eagle, a dragon, &c., of the form and accepted character for some particular quality or attribute

p. 20

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« Reply #29 on: June 18, 2009, 01:24:12 pm »

of mind or body, as fierceness, valour, fleetness, &c.

(2) Attitude.—The various attitudes or positions in which it may be depicted in heraldry, each denoting some special meaning, as rampant, sejant, dormant, &c.

(3) Tincture.—Whether blazoned proper (that is, according to nature) or of some of the heraldic tinctures, as or (gold), gules (red), azure, vert, &c., each tincture, according to the old heralds, bearing a particular and special signification.

Tinctures in armorial devices were, however, not always introduced on these scientific principles or adopted from any symbolic meaning, but as arbitrary variations of colour for distinction merely, and as being in themselves equally honourable; colour alone in many instances serving to distinguish the arms of many families that would otherwise be the same. Hence the necessity for accuracy in blazoning.

Guillam lays down some general rules regarding the symbolic meaning by which all sorts of creatures borne in arms or ensigns are to be interpreted, and by which alone a consistent system can be regulated. "They must," he says, be interpreted in the best sense, that is, according to their most generous and noble qualities, and so to the greatest honour of their bearers. . . . The fox is full of wit, and withal given wholly to filching for his prey. If, then, this be the charge of an escutcheon, we must conceive

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