Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Is the Deal With That Torse?

I know that such things have been remarked on by others before, but occasionally I’ll run across a rendition of an achievement of arms (shield, helm, wreath or torse, mantling, and crest, usually) that leads me to wonder if the artist had any idea that the things he was drawing used to have an actual, physical relationship to one another. Now, admittedly, it’s a relationship that I try to demonstrate in some of my lectures, most especially in my "Introduction to Heraldry for Genealogists". In that presentation, I break down the individual parts of an achievement (shield, helm, torse, mantling, crest, and so on) and where I can, I point out the same item on a photograph of a miniature knight with all his accouterments. I mean, I’ve known of times when people truly believed that the mantling was nothing more than decorative vegetation, and had no idea whatsoever that it was once a piece of cloth worn by actual knights. Consider the achievements of arms below:

Now, totally aside from the fact that there’s no way that an actual person could get any of those helms on over his head, what’s the deal with those wreaths (torses, the "twisted silk" roll upon which the crests sit – or float above, in the one case)? First off, there’s no way that, were they the actual physical item, they’d sit on the helm; at best, they’d catch on the beaver (the point to the side on the helm’s face), or fall completely down around the wearer’s shoulders like an Hawaiian lei. In the Prebble achievement (on the left), the torse simply floats in the air above the helm. But my favorite is the one for White (center) that is perched very precariously atop the helm, looking like it’s going to rock off at any moment. And the two torses, each with its own crest, for Laurie (on the right), has the wreaths perched atop the upper folds of the mantling; well-balanced visually on paper, I suppose, but nothing I’d want to try with actual physical crests and mantling.

Now, compare the sizes of the torses to the helms. None of the ones here are as bad as one I remember seeing once (but cannot relocate, darn it! If I run across it again, I’ll post it when I do), which had a crest of a railroad train, and the torse stretched out straight like a railroad track far off to either side of the helm. But still ....

And we won’t even get into how the artist thought the mantling was supposed to have been attached to the helms, especially in the Prebble achievement, where it looks like it was merely pinned at one point to the front and rear of the helm.

In an ideal world, all of the elements of an achievement of arms would be in proportion, and look as if they could be worn and borne, like the actual items of a knight’s equipage. Alas, as these achievements demonstrate, the world is not ideal. Still, I wish that the artists had thought a little more about the things they were drawing and how they should work together to create a harmonious whole.

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