Friday, March 15, 2013

That Cap in the Coat of Arms

Now and then I remember the delights of heraldry—and its wondrous language. Today I feature the coat of arms of Argentina, the birthplace of our new pope, Francis, taken from Wikipedia (link). The heraldic description of it, also from that source, is as follows:

A Sun of May or. An oval party per fess bleu celeste and argent; the two shaking hands in base come together to hold a pike with a Phrygian cap gules in chief. The whole surrounded by a wreath of laurel vert and tied with a banner.

That Sun of May is  “or” or golden. The phrase “party per fess” means an oval divided horizontally in the center. “Bleu celeste” is sky blue, “argent” is silver, in heraldry often rendered as white. The Phrygian cap, of which later, is “gules,” meaning red; “in chief” means high. “Vert” stands for green. Now as for that cap…

Phrygia was once what now is the western part of Turkey, with the Black Sea above, the Mediterranean Sea below. The cap symbolizes liberty—the reason why it found a place in Argentina’s heraldry. Among the Greeks it used to symbolize non-Greek and therefore barbarian regions, among the Romans liberty; it was a cap worn by freedmen. Later it became a symbol in the French Revolution. Turns out that the cap appeared, also held on a stick, held by an image of Liberty on a nineteenth century American dollar coin. It is also to be found on other coats of arms as well: that of Cuba, Nicaragua, and one of Brazil’s state, Santa Catarina.

Being a descendant of an ancient court jester, it occurs to me that the Phrygian cap is also a clown’s cap. Only people who treat the world with a sense of humor may be said to be truly free. Our own family’s coat of arms, alas, features a man with a cap that has four up-standing points rather than one leaning one—else I would add it to my Phrygian list.

1 comment:

  1. "Being a descendant of an ancient court jester..." reminds me of your post on porcelain:

    The porcelain busts of "Baron" Schmiedel by Johann Joachim Kandler...

    Schmiedel was the jester for August the Strong, and he was the very image of my brother-in-law

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