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The Heraldic Imagination in German-speaking Lands, c.1480-c.1560



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Rothwell Hughes, Frances 


This thesis brings to light the extraordinary artistic transformation of heraldic imagery in German-speaking lands from circa 1480 to circa 1560, tracing how artists and designers engaged with heraldry as a category of image capable of inciting visual and intellectual pleasure. Coats of arms are often viewed as a distinctly medieval and utilitarian category of image, at odds with the cultural changes associated with the ‘Renaissance’. However, renowned artists and thinkers of this period dedicated much attention to heraldry as artistic subject matter, bringing it into dialogue with newly emergent genres, cultural concerns and social networks.

The first chapter brings together a disparate corpus of material and textual sources, ranging from heraldic parody to heraldic defamation, in order to probe changing critical attitudes towards coats of arms across the period under study. Causal factors behind the expansion of heraldic criticism are also examined, including the impact of print, the rise of humanist satire, the early Reformation and shifts in societal structures.

The second chapter homes in on the relationship between artistic identity and coats of arms. Renowned artists like Albrecht Dürer, Niklaus Manuel, Sebald Beham and Virgil Solis 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.

The third chapter turns to consider the interpretation of heraldic images by humanist scholars within the intellectual circles of the universities of Vienna, Ingolstadt and the imperial court. The heraldic graphic computational instruments designed by the cosmographer Peter Apian are my central visual case studies. The second half of the chapter assesses the epistemic appeal of heraldry for this scholarly milieu by examining the discourses surrounding coats of arms in poetic, cosmographic, philological and genealogical texts. Overall, the thesis shows that heraldry was a prevailing catalyst for the artistic imagination(s) of the German Renaissance.





Marr, Alexander


Heraldry, Albrecht Dürer, German Renaissance, Coats of Arms, Peter Apian, Niklaus Manuel, Sebald Beham, Print Culture


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1964523)
Cambridge AHRC-DTP; Lander Scholarship at Pembroke College