To the Glory of God and Personal Pride. Monuments with Heraldic Programmes as Expression of Art Patronage in Late Medieval Transylvania

Transylvania is one of the most eastern historical regions of Europe where from the Middle Ages heraldry was present in its whole complexity. Its connection to the Western Civilisation is furthermore demonstrated by the presence of its heraldic heritage in the great corpus on heraldry initiated by Johann Siebmacher (Das grosses und allgemeines Wappenbuch. Der Adel von Siebenbürgen. Nürnberg, 1898). A great number of arms have been discovered since then and many new topics emerged on how heraldry should be investigated. Recent research has already produced some relevant articles in this respect demonstrating an increasing interest in different aspects of heraldry.


In 2011 a team of scholars consisting of historians and art historians from Romania initiated a new project to study heraldry in a particular context, which is art and architecture. We plan to investigate the possible ways heraldry served the art patronage. For the Middle Ages and Renaissance, one of the most important indicators of this patronage is heraldry. For this reason, aside the granting charters, architectural monuments and artistic products became an important depository of arms. The present project provides a detailed study of those medieval monuments of Transylvania, which are decorated with coats of arms emphasizing the role played by the commissioner. In some of the cases the heraldic programmes are quite impressive and consist of several dozen of coats of arms, but there are also monuments with simple heraldic display.

The western portal of the parish church of Cluj-Napoca. Mid fifteenth century

The western portal of the parish church of Cluj-Napoca. Mid fifteenth century

The time span basically refers to the first period when heraldic programmes were involved in art patronage. In the case of Transylvania heraldic arms appeared in the context of monuments around 1400. In the mid-15th century there was the first boom in using heraldic programmes in the context of historical monuments, especially in the case of church architecture and sepulchral monuments. In the first half of the following century a slightly different tendency can be observed since the town aristocracy gained in strength and took up the initiative in art patronage. It was a period when the Reformation spread throughout the country and the Renaissance style gained ground to the detriment of the Gothic. Considering all these changes, the mid-16th century will constitute the closing period of our survey.

Source types

The types of monuments involved in this research are very diverse. Architectural monuments occupy the most important position. There are several cases where secular and ecclesiastical patrons funded the construction of parish churches and monasteries, many of them preserving the heraldic programmes as evidence for art patronage. Some of the late medieval castles preserve examples of coats of arms too, with reference to the owner, and even with a political message in a few cases.

Southern portal of the parish church of Brasov representing in the corners the coats of arms of King Matthias Corvinus and his wife, Beatrice of Aragon (around 1480). Below, the graphic reconstruction of the coats of arms

Southern portal of the parish church of Brasov representing in the corners the coats of arms of King Matthias Corvinus and his wife, Beatrice of Aragon (around 1480). Below, the graphic reconstruction of the coats of arms

In the second half of the 15th century coats of arms made their appearance in the milieu of the town aristocracy, some of the houses being marked with heraldic decoration. In addition to church architecture, but closely related to it, the lavishly decorated winged altars, which were widespread in the late Middle Ages, are remarkable examples of art patronage. These altars, in many cases, bear the memory of the patron by depicting his heraldic arms. Although the majority of them were destroyed during the Reformation period, some Transylvanian churches still preserve altars with heraldic programmes.

The third main group of monuments involved in our research are sepulchral monuments. This is an important category in many respects: they provide an accurate image of how the coat of arms of a person or a family should look, can offer clues to attribution inquiries, and usually all this information can be linked to a precise date. There are some other artistic products and archaeological finds decorated with arms taken into consideration: gold and silver items, stove tiles, seals etc.

The project

The project itself started in 2011 and will last until the end of 2014. However it was not conceived as just a three year project, but as a starting point for further research, offering a good research tool for scholars who regard heraldry as historical source. Because of the complexity of the sources we plan to investigate, the research team consists of scholars representing different fields of historical research: heraldists, historians, art historians, archeologists and graphic artist for drawing issues. The team was set up considering the historical regions of the present-day Romania too: the majority of the members are dealing with the history of Transylvania, but we have also colleagues who are studying the history of Wallachia and Moldavia. The original team consisted of Radu Lupescu as project leader, Ciprian Firea, Tudor Radu Tiron, Cristian Roman, Aranka Markaly and Zsuzsánna Mihály. The funding opportunity was offered by the Executive Agency for Higher Education Research Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI), Bucharest, Romania. The host institution of the project was the Sapientia University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.


The basis for our research is a catalog of all known heraldic evidences related to medieval monuments and different works of art. Although the basic unit of the catalog is the coat of arms, these units are organized according to the monuments they are related because some of the owners cannot be identified. The catalog contains the following fields:

  • catalog ID (each of the coats of arms will get an ID in order to be easy to identify, define and group them during the later research. This ID is also important for heraldic evidences whose owner can not be identified. The ID is made up of two numbers: the first one refers to the monument, the second one to the arms),
  • owner (the database enlists the English, Hungarian and Romanian variants for the names of families or family members who used the given coat of arms. Since some of them cannot be connected to a family or a person, their reference remain the ID),
  • monument (this entry contains relevant information concerning the monument in relation with its heraldic programmes),
  • location (describes the precise position of the arms),
  • description (here the coats of arms are described in details according to a rule with reference to its position, shape, heraldic elements and tinctures),
  • comments, analogies (contains a short description of the arms in their historical and artistic context with reference to analogies and other sources),
  • bibliography (enlists the relevant bibliography related to the arms),
  • photo documentation (the coat of arms are documented with good quality photos concerning their position in the monument, full frame views and details),
  • technical drawing (these drawings are very important especially in those cases when the content of a heraldic item cannot be recorded by a camera).

All these data are uploaded to an on-line database accessible through a web page ( The web page will allow the scholars to search for any elements contained by the database and sort them according to the above mentioned fields. The catalog is going to be an important instrument for further research allowing us to have an overview of the heraldic programmes related to monuments. The catalog is updated permanently according to all new finds in this field.

Case studies

Based on the survey of heraldic evidences preserved on monuments and other works of art the second major aim of the project is to study the multiform features of art patronage. The research will start with monuments with heraldic programmes that shows evident link between patron and art work. The research gradually will extend to other monuments that could reveal the complexity of the art patronage, based not only on heraldic evidences but also on primary written sources, inscriptions and so on.

The case studies will offer the opportunity to survey the art patronage from several points of view, in some cases even from new perspectives integrated into the general tendencies of European patronage. Some of the topics proposed for investigation were never studied before in relation with Transylvanian monuments. It is very likely that these case studies will reveal several new aspects of the Transylvanian art history, and will help us to better understand its medieval history in the context of Central European history. Our research will cover the following main topics:

  • Social stratification and art patronage in Transylvania;
  • Royal art patronage in Transylvania;
  • The heraldic boom in the mid 15th century Transylvania;
  • Heraldic programmes in context with monuments in Moldavia and Walachia;
  • Ius patronatus;
  • The stimulus of heraldic programmes;
  • Heraldry on altarpieces.

Some of the topics were already investigated and the results were presented in different national and international conferences, and were also published. These papers are accessible on the official website of the project. In November 2013 we also organized an international workshop entitled Heraldry and Art Patronage where besides other scholars the members of the research team presented the results of their work.

Hunedoara castle

The second main aim of the project was the investigation of the heraldic heritage of the Hunedoara Castle. The castle of Hunedoara is a representative monument for heraldic programmes and houses one of the most important collections of original architectural sculptures with coats of arms. Part of the heraldic decoration is still on the original place, but many of them were removed during different restorations and deposited randomly. These carved stones have a great documentary value because some parts of the castle were modified or even destroyed meanwhile. In collaboration with the Corvinilor Castle Museum of Hunedoara we set up an exhibition presenting the most valuable part of the lapidarium, its opening ceremony being organized on the occasion of the above mentioned workshop. The exhibition has a digital extension which displays many descriptions and reconstructions of the architectural fragments.

Graphic reconstruction of the heraldic wall of the Castle of Huneodara. These arms once have decorated the upper floor of the "Matthias Loggia"

Graphic reconstruction of the heraldic wall of the Castle of Huneodara. These arms once have decorated the upper floor of the “Matthias Loggia”

For further details see the oficial website of the project:

Cite this blog post
radulupescu (2014, July 27). To the Glory of God and Personal Pride. Monuments with Heraldic Programmes as Expression of Art Patronage in Late Medieval Transylvania. Heraldica Nova. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from

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