Christoph F. Weber (Braunschweig): Signs of Order and Revolt. Heraldic Communication in Communal Italy
Since the Middle Ages, the use of coats of arms and the practice of heraldry have been considered part of aristocratic culture. Heads of families and communities, but first of all the heralds as experts in the service of kings and princes had the authority to create, construe and hand down coats of arms. This approach towards Medieval heraldry appears to have been determined by reference to the seignorial and courtly character of the kingdoms of North-Western Europe. It is, however, contrasted with the evidence for heraldic communication in the urban landscape of Northern and Central Italy. There, the main forces were autonomous city-states, competing with each other, facing civil strife and deciding on the integration or exclusion of the local nobility. The adoption of governmental rights together with related traditions and forms of representation by the communes also affected the way in which heraldic signs were invented and perceived in their political sphere. Many cities developed their own heraldic ensemble as an expression of their political system and civic identity. The source material from Medieval Italy for the study of heraldry not only differs from that of regions north of the Alps, but also varies significantly between the individual cities. The paper therefore examines communal devices by looking at the meanings attributed to them in contemporary descriptions. In this cultural perspective, the individual citizens who approved or interpreted arms in their function as officials or historiographers also come into view.
Christoph F. Weber
Date: 1 July 2013
Place: International Medieval Congress, Leeds,Session 207 (Medieval Heraldry Revisited II: Between city and nobility. Heraldry and the question of status)