Heraldry and the Artistic Imagination in the German Renaissance

6:00 pm 22 April 2022 Zoom

This lecture will examine the extraordinary flourishing of heraldic imagery in German-speaking lands from c.1480 to c.1560, revealing how artists and designers transformed coats of arms into subject matter capable of inciting visual and intellectual pleasure.  Art historians have typically viewed coats of arms as functional images, useful for attributing artworks or tracing provenance, but not of any real significance for the understanding of Renaissance aesthetics.  However, the research presented in this lecture shows that coats of arms were a central preoccupation of artists and scholars of the Northern Renaissance, both as a channel for visualising their professional identities in a changing world and as compelling images with a peculiar pictorial logic demanding artistic exploration.

The images examined in the lecture will mostly be virtuosic, high-end fictive heraldic designs by renowned artists like the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet, Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Burkgmair, Niklaus Manuel and Sebald Beham.  These artists thematised their vocation as creators and authors through heraldic imagery, especially in the depiction of non-attributed, fictional coats of arms aimed at a burgeoning connoisseurial audience.  Renaissance print culture played a significant role in cultivating this new-found fascination with heraldic design; as such, the lecture will focus on the interaction between print and heraldry during a transformative period in European cultural history.

Dr Frances Rothwell Hughes

Frances recently completed her PhD in History of Art at the University of Cambridge, with a dissertation entitled, “The Heraldic Imagination in German-Speaking Lands, c.1480 to c.1560.”  Prior to this, she completed an MPhil dissertation examining the calligraphy collection of Samuel Pepys.  Her research interests are wide-ranging, but revolve around the relationship between utilitarian, everyday cultural objects and elite artistic practices in early modern Europe.