Tincture is the heraldic term for color, which may be divided between metals, colors, and furs.
Each color has a distinctive name used in the blazons of heraldry to let the heraldic artist know how to construct the arms likeness. In addition to the tinctures mentioned below, one my meet with the term “proper” often abbreviated as “ppr.” This term simply means the color of the charge is to be depicted as one would expect it to be seen in the natural world; therefore, a polar bear proper should be white with a black nose; a raven proper, would be drawn as black; a strawberry proper would be red with green leaves.
The Rule of Tincture
Often referred to as the “first rule of heraldry,” the Rule of Tincture states that no metal should be placed upon another metal, nor should a color be placed upon another color. This is done to increase the level of contrast in the designs and provide for a more readily identifiable shield at a distance.
Coats of Arms which do not conform to this rule are known as arms of inquiry, meaning there is some reason the rule has been broken. As Burke says, “It is an inviolable rule of Heraldry, that metal shall never be placed upon metal, nor colour upon colour; that is if the field be of colour, the immediate charge must be of metal, and vice versa, but numerous exceptions to this rule are found, not only in coats of a date anterior to the systematic or scientific arrangement of Armorial Bearings, but in many of foreign origin.” (Burke, xxiv)
While the list below gives pantone (hex numbers) for color matching in modern art software, it is important to understand that traditionally colors were not standardized and there could be great variation between tint, tone and saturation for any given color. For this reason, ancient heraldry was not precise enough to use the non-standard tinctures and stains below, as they would be indistinguishable from other tinctures and metals under the conditions which medieval life afforded.
A few non-standard tinctures have been included on the list below, because although they are very rarely met with, they may occur from time to time in heraldic blazons.
Tricking was used as a short hand to denote the tincture of arms drawn in black and white during the 16th and early 20th century. One of the tricking annotations on the above table would be placed in the relevant portion of field so the viewer could understand the intended color.
A system of lines used to denote tincture in drawings lacking natural color due to being drawn in a single color of ink or carved in wood or stone. It is important to note that during the 15th – 17th centuries various systems were used which may cause confusion with arms of the period. The hatching system provided here is from the 19th century and was considered standard at the time by Fox-Davies and Burke gives credit for such system to the Italian herald Sylvester Petra-Sancta.
Planetary and Gem Blazon
During the Renaissance, there were some armorists who took the practice of using the names of planets or gemstones to indicate tincture in their blazons, such practices did not endure, and were not used in official patents of arms (Fox-Davies, 77), but are listed here for curiosity’s sake. Burke states that when in use, arms of “gentlemen, esquires, knights, and baronets, they blazoned by tincture; those of the nobility be precious stones; and those of emperors, kings, and other sovereign princes, by planets.” (Burke, xxix)
Each tincture and fur common in heraldry is listed below. Below each name as used in British heraldry are the terms in French, German, Spanish, and Dutch where applicable. Mentioned also is the traditional symbolism associated with each, little stock should be placed in those symbolisms however, as tincture was more often assigned for canting (or punning) of arms, so that Mr. Green will most frequently have Vert in his arms, as Mr. Black, Sable and Mr. Redmond, Gules. Notes on symbolism shown below in italics are taken from the delightful book The Symbolisms of Heraldry or a Treatise on the Meanings and Derivations of Armorial Bearings by W. Cecil Wade from 1898.
Or Gold Oro Goud
Hex: #f4d72d Planet/Lunar: Sun Gem: Topaz Tricking: o, O, or
Called Jaune by some old writers, is represented in engravings by dots. It denoted Generosity and, according to Sir John Ferne, Elevation of Mind.
Argent Silber Argén (Plata) Zilver
Hex: #ffffff Planet/Lunar: Moon Gem: Pearl Tricking: A, a, ar, arg
Represented in engraving by a white space, unless a “diaper” pattern be introduced for the purpose of adding to the effect. Signifies Peace and Sincerity.
Not a traditional metal
Hex: #c15b2f Planet/Lunar: None Gem: None Tricking: None
A modern metal, not used by the heralds of old; Copper is most often met with in contemporary Canadian arms, but could be useful to other modern armorists looking for something different. Copper has a very ancient connection to the goddesses Aphrodite and Venus and may be used to symbolize love, beauty and artistic energy.
Azur Blau Azur Azuur (Blauw)
Hex: #0038a8 Planet/Lunar: Jupiter Gem: Sapphire Tricking: b. Az. bl.
Represented by horizontal lines. Signifies Loyalty and Truth. It was the color devoted to the Virgin by the Roman Church.
Gueules Rot Gules Keel (Rood)
Hex: #e00000 Planet/Lunar: Mars Gem: Ruby Tricking: g. gu.
Represented by perpendicular lines. Denotes Military Fortitude and Magnanimity. It is also “the martyr’s color.”
Pourpre Purpur Púrpura Purper
Hex: #7851a9 Planet/Lunar: Mercury Gem: Amethyst Tricking: p. purp. pu.
Represented in engraving by diagonal lines from the sinister or left corner to the dexter base. Denotes Royal Majesty, Sovereignty, and Justice. It is called by the old heralds the most majestical of colors.
In some times and places the use of the color purple was restricted to only the royal house.
Sinople Grün Sinople Sinopel (Groen)
Hex: #008000 Planet/Lunar: Venus Gem: Emerald Tricking: v. vt.
Represented in engravings by oblique lines from the dextor or right corner of the shield to the sinister base, or left-lower part. Signifies Hope, Joy, and, sometimes, Loyalty in Love.
Sable Schwarz Sable Sable (Zwart)
Hex: #000000 Planet/Lunar: Saturn Gem: Diamond Tricking:
Represented in engraving by closely crossed lines or by a deep black. Denotes Constancy, and sometimes but more rarely, Grief.
It may be interesting to note, that in older times in Europe, white, not black was the color of mourning, so symbolisms may vary depending on how far back one wishes to go.
These tinctures are very rarely met with and may have found their way into British arms only through their use in continental arms which were brought across the channel by various armigerous families.
Hex: #3296cb Planet/Lunar: Gem: Tricking:
Meant to be the color of water, is sometimes met with in arms of Spanish and Italian origin.
Not common except in German Brün
This dark brown color is not met with often, but can occasionally be found in the arms of German nobles.
This tincture is often used as the proper or natural color of human skin for Europeans. For peoples outside of Europe colors like Brunâtre were more often used.
Uses besides that of coloring skin are quite rare, but not unknown.
This sky-blue color is not a standard tincture, sometimes blasoned as bleu celeste became more popular in the modern era where references to the sky became more in demand.
The most famous use might be in the flag of Argentina.
Another non-standard tincture more common on the continent than in British arms, cedrée is the color of ash or stone.
Like the other non-standard tinctures, cedrée is more common in modern military heraldry than it was in traditional heraldry.
Hex: # ff7f00
This tincture is fairly common in modern military heraldry, but is quite rare in traditional heraldry, and then mostly only in continental Europe and South Africa.
Hex: #cd5700 Planet/Lunar: Dragon’s head Gem: Jacinth Tricking:
Sometimes by old heralds called Brusque, is a little used in British heraldry. In engravings it is represented by lines from the sinister chief to the dexter base, crossed by horizontal lines. It was said to signify “Worthy Ambition.”
Hex: #c54b8c Planet/Lunar: Dragon’s Tail Gem: Sardonyx Tricking:
This, like Tawney, was seldom used in English coats of arms, but both [Murrey and Sanguine] have often been used as party or livery colors. It is represented in engraving by diabgonal lines crossing each other. The meaning of this has been stated by Leigh to be “Not hasty in battle, and yet a victor.”
Hex: #850505 Planet/Lunar: Dragon’s Tail Gem: Sardonyx Tricking:
The astute observer may notice that Murrey and Sanguine look different in color, but have the the same hatching, planet and gem. This is due to the tinctures’ varying use over time and can be shown to have at least one point considered indistinguishable. In more modern usage they are treated as distinct, but care should be given always as to the time period of the original arms and the vagaries resultant.
Wade mentions the following about the combinations of tincture:
The old heralds used to say when a coat of arms bore only black and white it was “most fair,” when black and gold it was “most rich,” but when of green and gold it was “most glorious.”
Continued on Tincture (Page 2)