07 May 2008

Heraldic Achievements in 3D

14. Yes, the Barnet Roll research is proceeding. Not apace, perhaps, but proceeding. We've found out a great deal about tempera, about how to make it and what goes into it, and are beginning to assemble the blazons needed to draw the coats themselves.

We also know now about how vellum and parchment get made. Maybe a little too much, but arts and crafts during medieval times were nasty, brutish, and short. Or something.

Anyway, it had occurred to me that one stop we ought to make is in the matter of heraldic display. There are many misconceptions about what is called what and why and what it all means. While heraldic design within the bounds of the shield (or if you want to be technically correct, the escutcheon) need not necessarily mean anything – looking distinctive is the point here – the froufrou that surrounds the shield do have meanings, and certainly in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The various parts of the complete heraldic display – also known as the achievement – are awarded according to a hierarchy of dignities, with J. Random SCAdian who hasn't done anything significant yet at the bottom, and the peerage orders – Laurels, Pelicans, Knights and the like – in the lofty heights. Simply put, the more you got, the more you get. There is a gradient progression, and we'll define and get familiar with that in a future article.

For the moment, refer to this article by Torric inn Bjorn (and further updated by Mistress Elizabeth Braidwood and Lord Frederic Badger). It's a very useful and fast introduction to the achievement system, and some terms from it we will use in the discussion to follow.

Achievements in 3-D

The Dame Giuliana Benevoli is a valued and beloved acquaintance of ours (and incidentally the lady of our honored instructor, Ciaran Cluana Ferta). The An Tir Roll of Arms blazons her registered arms as such:

Per chevron sable mullety argent and gules, a sun in splendor Or.
This results in the display you can see illustrated here. When considering the full achievement, we find that she is entitled to quite a lot. Dame Giuliana is a member of the Order of the Laurel, a dignity given for continued excellence in the arts and sciences, and, according to the article referenced above, she is entitled to display a helm, crest, torse, mantling, compartment, motto, and supporters, amongst other things.

Unlike within the bounds of the shield, armigers are allowed a bit more freedom in what they can choose as elements of thier achievement. Of course, the elements must be correct for SCA period, but within that rubric, the sky is kind of the limit.

We don't have a drawing of her achievement available, but we do have a 3-dimensional dramatization, as pictured thus:


What we have here is an assemblage of the elements in 3-dimensional relief, which is accomplished in a really strikingly beautiful way. Dame Giuliana has chosen to realize the crest, the helm, the torse and mantling, the compartment, and the motto. All in all, a very charming display.

Let's take some close looks.

Her dexter supporter is a sable unicorn with an Or horn and argent mane (we would say "crined argent"). Here's a closer look at that beast:


Her sinister supporter is a heraldic beast called a pantheon. This is a creature with the body of a hind (a red doe deer), a bushy tail as a fox, cloven hooves, and whose body is strewn with stars. No, we don't know why, because of all the heraldic history that was recorded, what the heralds were imbibing whilst working never was marked down.

Anyway, the pantheon:


The artist has the number of the pantheon, that seems apparent. Make special note of the wreath of green leaves encircling the beast's neck: Dame Giuliana is entitled to display this as her rank allows her to display a laurel wreath gorging (being displayed about the neck) one of her supporters.

Another element allowed her is the stuff on the top: the helm (that should be obvious), mantling, and a torse which functions to hold the mantling on the helm. Here's a close look at that:


Note here the torse. It's a bit like a twisted pair of scarves and is in the two dominant colors of her device – gules (red) and Or (gold). This is also heraldic tradition. The mantling – the streamers– are similarly colored. The sun atop the helm is also important.

This is the crest, and is said to have been a jousting accessory; it's said that it was used in tournaments and to knock a knights crest off his helm (they were designed to break away) was to have scored a point. Quite a few crests, in our experience, recapitulate some element of the device design or, in this case, is the armiger's badge, though that's not a hard and fast rule; your crest can be anything appropriately period.

We like the idea of a demi-maiden for ours. The last part of the display is the compartment, and for this, the artist has really come up with a clever way to do it and t include the actual motto scrolls as well:


This ordinary wooden plaque has been charmingly taken to the next level by the addition of a tile mosaic, fleurs-de-lis, and two mottoes on actual curled paper scrolls:


Which is a wonderfully witty way of making the scroll of the graphic display concrete and real. What the whole point of this is is to give some sort of an idea as to why heraldic display is fun and cool and how it contributes to the overall feeling and atmosphere of the medieval mien we of the SCA claim.

Whether or not you care to go creative or have any interest in obtaining arms at all, isn't this just plain neat? The passion the creator has for her life in the SCA comes through in productions like this – we find it exciting, and we're pretty sure we've never seen anything quite like it. Good heraldry contributes to the game we all play as SCA members.

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