Heraldry in ceiling paintings – a panel discussion at the 6th conference of the RCPPM in Montpellier (October 18, 2013)

Armorial ceiling painting in the 12, rue des Clercs at Metz           (14th century)

At the 6th conference of the RCPPM, there will be a panel discussion on noble heraldry which I will attend as a panellist as well. The RCPPM (Charpentes et plafonds peints médiévaux) is an association dedicated to ceiling paintings and illustrated beams – a “lieu des images” which has been rediscovered as a source for historical and art-historical research only some 20 years before. The association wants to promote its preservation, its appreciation and its use for research. Their focus lies especially on the south of France (Languedoc-Roussillon) and Lorraine where some examples have recently been discovered.

This year’s conference of the RCPPM will deal with “self-image in a domestic environment”, and naturally heraldry plays a big part in this. According to what Pierre-Olivier Dittmar (EHESS Paris) once said to me when he held a paper in our conference series “La jeune generation …” here in Münster, you can find heraldic depictions in ceiling paintings that constitute almost something like a Medieval Facebook site, presenting the coats of arms of the owner of the place and of all his friends at the ceiling of his living room. So it’s apparently a great kind of sources we should examine much deeper for our purposes.

Nevertheless, I have got the impression that there is some uncertainty how to deal with those heraldic depictions in the given context. That certainly also is the reason why the conference organisers planned the round table on heraldry or, more precisely, on “noble” heraldry – a restriction that will certainly be discussed at this occasion.

I for my part will try to stress two points: first, that I think that when dealing with heraldic sources (such as those on those ceilings and beams), it is fundamental that we first understand how heraldry and how heraldic communication exactly worked or could have worked in order to come to a better understanding why medieval folk painted their ceiling and beams with a heraldic programme. It is my opinion that we are not there yet. Especially such ideas as the coats of arms as a “Zweitkörper”, as a physic representation of its owner (Wolfgang Seitter) and the close link some art historians made between coats of arms and portraits (Hans Belting) have to be discussed here.

The second point I want to make is that it will be difficult to cut down the different examples to a common meaning as this always depends on the context. On the base of some (few) examples from the German cultural area, I will try to explore the different directions those heraldic representations “at home” could be read. So I am really looking forward to discuss this topic with Matteo Ferrari (Pisa), Luisa Gentile (Turin) and Nathalie Pascarel (Metz), who are the other panellists, and with Laurent Hablot (Poitiers), who will host the discussion.

To learn more about the conference: click here.

To learn more about these iconographic sources, please see:

Plafonds peints médiévaux en Languedoc, Actes du colloques de Capestang, Narbonne, Lagrasse, 21-23 février 2008, études réunies par Monique Bourin et Philippe Bernardi, Presses Universitaires de Perpignan, Perpignan, 2009, 249 p, 110 illustrations. (download)

Images oubliées du Moyen Age. Les plafonds peints du Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier, DRAC, 2011. (download)

Cite the article as: Torsten Hiltmann, "Heraldry in ceiling paintings – a panel discussion at the 6th conference of the RCPPM in Montpellier (October 18, 2013)", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 13/10/2013, Internet: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/621.

Torsten Hiltmann

Torsten Hiltmann is Juniorprofessor for the High and Late Middle Ages and Auxiliary Sciences at the University of Münster. He is interested in new approaches to late medieval and early modern heraldry, the medieval notion of kingship and the methods and technologies of Digital Humanities. On hypotheses.org, he is maintaining, among others, the blog “Heraldica Nova”.

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