[Paper:] Christoph Dartmann (Münster/Hamburg), Heraldry as element of the visual culture of late medieval Italian cities

Domenico Ghirlandaio, St. Zenobius, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Sala dei Gigli (1482-1484)

Domenico Ghirlandaio, St. Zenobius, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Sala dei Gigli (1482-1484). (Source: Wikimedia)

The density of heraldic imagery in the Italian cities of the Late Middle Ages is the result of an interaction between different aspects:

  1. The cities are places where a large number of noble families live together in a situation of permanent competition. The fierce competition of the families leads to aggressive strategies of visualization of a family’s or a person’s status. The permanent ascent of new families increases the dynamics of this rivalry in visibility.
  2. As other corporations the city-communes adopt heraldry as a means to represent its identity and its claim to be the embodiment of legitimate public authority. Therefore it uses its symbols on a large variety of occasions where the government interacts with the people of the town itself or the inhabitants of other cities.
  3. Since the 13th century the culture of northern and central Italy experiences an immense increase of visual signs; this visual revolution permits a highly increased number of places and/or occasions where heraldic imagery can be displayed.
  4. The political dynamics of city-republics developing new forms of government change the system of visual representation of familial and governmental structures from the 14th century onwards.

My paper will discuss the interaction between the aspects listed above by presenting examples from the 13th to the 15th century with allow to understand the interaction between the political and social structures of urban society and the visual culture of Italian cities in the Late Middle Ages.


Conference: Heraldry in the Medieval City: The Case of Italy in the European Context (Journées Héraldiques 5), Rome, 5th-7th May 2015


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