Flames in Period Heraldry
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Flames in Period Heraldry

By Iago ab Adam

© 2020 Michael Case

Over the course of the SCA’s history the College of Arms has built up a large body of precedent about the depiction of flames in an attempt to reflect period practice, based on the sources available. With the proliferation of digitised armorial sources available online, particularly from heraldic jurisdictions outside of Great Britain, it’s worth re-examining these standards.

This article will address:

  • The shape of the end of tongues of flame
  • Separate licks of flame not connected to the main body of the flame
  • The different ways flames can be coloured
  • How flames are portrayed when used in semy arrangements

Shape of the Tongues

The majority of flames that were found are composed of multiple tongues of flame joined together. These tongues are mainly wavy and tapered to a point, but there are a few examples where the tongues fork at their ends (images 1-5).

1, 2: Recueil de blasons peints, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 17256), ff. 92r, 104r

3: Schlesisches Wappenbuch, 1578 Polish, f. 18r

4: Wappenbuch, 1500-1550 German (München, BSB Cod.icon. 392 d), f. 4v

5: Livro da Nobreza e Perfeição das Armas, 1516-1528 Spanish (Casa Real, Cartório da Nobreza, liv. 20), p 45

Separate Licks of Flame

Most flames are drawn as one contiguous piece, but there are a few examples where smaller licks of flame are placed above the main mass, or where or the flame is entirely made up of unjoined licks (images 6-12). For comparison, I've provided the same arms that can be seen in images 9 to 12 from another source where the flames are drawn as a more standard shape (image 13) and as a per fess rayonny division (image 14).

6: Recueil d'armoiries peintes, armoiries des rois, princes, ducs, comtes, etc., 15th C French (Paris, BnF, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Ms-4800), f. 30r

7: Armorial de l'Europe et de la Toison d'or, late 1440s French (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 4790), f. 21r

8: Insignia Venetorum III, 1550-1555 Italian (München, BSB Cod.icon. 273), f. 121r

9, 10: Arme delle Familie Veneziane per ordine Alfabetico, 15th C Italian (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg.lat.1468), ff. 36v (Loredani), 41v (Susenelli)

11, 12: Doges and families of Venice, c 1553-1554 Italian (New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 736) ff. 46v (Loredani), 72v (Susineli)

13, 14: Insignia Venetorum III, 1550-1555 Italian (München, BSB Cod.icon. 273), ff. 10r (Loredon), 126r (Susenelli)

Flames Proper

Though examples of the familiar ‘alternating tongues of gules and Or’ were found (images 15, 16), there are many other ways that flames proper are represented.

15: Insignia Anglica, 1540-1560 English (München, BSB Cod.icon. 291), p. 54

16: Armorial, 16th C French (Arras, Bibliotheque municipale 0263 (0181)), f. 89r

The vast majority of flames up to the late 15th C are tinctured gules; this appears to have been considered a ‘proper’ tincture for flames: there are examples of the same arms with flames gules in one source and a more standard gules/Or depiction in another (for example, the arms of Brandis from the late 14th C Armorial Bellenville and from an early 16th C armorial, images 17, 18).

17: Bellenville Armorial, 1355-1380 French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 5230), f. 31r

18: Wappenbuch, 1500-1550 German (München, BSB Cod.icon. 392 d), f. 146r

From the late 15th C onward, many examples of plain gules flames can still be found, but there are also many other colourations, including gules flames with the tongues tipped Or (image 19), each tongue Or or orange in the middle and gules around the edges (image 20), an Or body with the tongues mainly gules (image 21), mainly orange (image 22), gules fimbriated Or (image 23), each tongue gules in the middle and Or around the edges (image 24), solid Or (image 25), and various other shadings (images 26, 27).

19: Das Wappenbuch Conrads von Grünenberg, c 1480 German (München, BSB, Cgm 145), p. 83

20: Wappenbuch, 1500-1550 German (München, BSB Cod.icon. 392 d), f. 4v

21, 22: Wappenbuch des 16. Jahrhunderts, 16th C German (Weimar, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Fol 223), f. 57r, 43v

23: Wappenhandschrift, 1530s Austrian (Graz, Universitätsbibliothek Karl-Franzens, ms.2211), f. 201r

24, 25: Hylmair, Hans: Regensbugisches Wappenbuch, 1560 German (München, BSB Cgm 2015), pp. 111, 96

26: Insignia nobilium urbis Romae praecipuorum item Viterbiensium, 1550-1555 Italian (München, BSB Cod.icon. 268), f. 100r

27: Insignia nobilium Patavinorum, impresa Ferrariensium, Pesariensium, 1550-1555 Italian (München, BSB Cod.icon. 275), f. 46r

Flames in Other Tinctures

Flames tinctured other than gules or proper are extremely rare. I’ve found 3 examples of flames azure (all of which appear to have been tinctured that way to show up against gules, images 28-30), and one that is multicoloured (though I expect this is intended as a fancier verion of a flame proper, image 31).

28: Mittelalterliches deutsches Wappenbuch, 1401-1425 German (Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky, Cod. in scrin. 90b), f. 49v

29: Das Wappenbuch Conrads von Grünenberg, c 1480 German (München, BSB, Cgm 145), p. 299

30: Des Conrad Grünenberg Ritters und Bürgers zu Constanz Wappenbuch, c 1480 German (Berlin, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, VIII. HA II, Nr. 21.), p. 202

31: Formel- und Wappenbuch, 1598-1626 (Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Sal. IX, 58), f. 77r

Semy of Flames

Strewn flames can be found in the attributed arms of the emperor Nero, usually drawn with three tongues of flame (images 32-34); and in the arms of Klingenberg, usually drawn as a single tongue of flame in Or, gules, orange, or some combination (images 35-37). Similar strewn flames can be found in arms in Schlesisches Wappenbuch (image 38).

32: German Armorial, c 1447-1449 German (London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS774), p. 9

33, 34: Sammelband mehrerer Wappenbücher, 1530 German (München, BSB Cod.icon. 391), ff. 3v, 177r

35: Matriculation Register of the Basel Rectorate, 1460-1600 Swiss (Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, AN II 3), f. 51r

36: Brentel, Georg: Wappenbuch, 1584 German (München, BSB VD16 B 7460), p. 475

37: Sammlung von Wappen aus verschiedenen, besonders deutschen Ländern, c 1600 German (München, BSB Cod.icon. 307), p. 108

38: Schlesisches Wappenbuch, 1578 Polish, f. 173r

Links to Referenced Manuscripts