Heraldry

'Interior of the New Church at Delft' with heraldry

'Interior of the New Church at Delft' with heraldry

Coats of Arms or 'heralds' are personal pictures and symbols that were often painted onto shields and flags. Originally, they identified what family a person came from when they went into battle. Later on they became used for all sorts of purposes, for example as seals on documents or purely for decoration. The Rinck Family herald and that of Rinck's wife Gertrud Von Dallem appear on the back of the triptych. Rinck's shows an eagle with a ring in its mouth, whilst Gertrud's depicts three bears. Heraldry was a complicated language, with quite rigid forms and conventions. Some of these are:

Shield

The shape of the herald relies upon the shield. It varied throughout the ages, depending on fashion and usage. Diamond-shaped heralds traditionally mean that the herald belonged to a woman.

Field

This was the name given to the whole background of the shield. It could be just a single colour or divided into several colours.

Tinctures

The form of the different backgrounds were known in heraldry as 'tinctures'. There were three main groups of tinctures: the metals, 'Or' (gold) and 'Argent' (silver); the colours, 'Gules' (red), 'Azure' (blue), 'Sable' (black), 'Vert' (green) and 'Purpure' (Purple); and the furs, 'Ermine' (stoat) and 'Vair' (squirrel).

Charges

Any shape, line or image placed on top of the field was called a 'charge'. Dividing lines were the most common charges. They were known as 'partitions', or if they were different colours they were called 'ordinaries'. As well as simple lines and crosses, all sorts of animals and plants appeared in heraldry as charges, from domestic pets to mythical creatures like dragons and unicorns. Natural colours for animals and plants were deliberately avoided as the heraldic painter tried to make them as striking and unusual as possible. An Italian heraldic artist, Bartolo Di Sasso Ferrato wrote in 1347, instructing on how animals should be painted:

'The said animals ought to be depicted according to their noblest act, and also where their strength is displayed... Draw, therefore, the lion erect stretching out, biting with its mouth, tearing with its teeth'

Often the choice of charges could be a pun on the family name, as is the case here where the ring in the eagle's mouth is a pun on the family name 'Rinck'

Dexter and Sinister

Rather than use the words left and right, heraldry uses 'dexter' and 'sinister' to describe the position of charges. 'Dexter' refers to the viewer's left and 'sinister' to the viewer's right. In reality however the words actually mean the opposite, since the position of items upon a herald was read from the point of view of the knight holding the shield!

Blazon

A 'Blazon' was like a manual for a particular herald. It was a text so accurate that an artist would be able to reproduce the coat of arms without having seen it beforehand.

Supporters

In some heralds, the central shield is held up by figures on either side called 'supporters'. Supporters could be humans, angels, or mythical half-humans such as mermaids, but were more usually animals like lions and eagles, or imaginary beasts such as dragons and griffins.

Heraldry also appears in the galleries in the following works:

Room 1

'Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I|' attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

Room 3

'King Charles II|' by Godfrey Kneller

Room 4

'Interior of the New Church at Delft|' by Hendrick Cornelisz

Room 8

'Elaine|' by Sophie Anderson