Thursday, 16 January 2014

Queer Star-Gayzing Achievement - Wagner's Assumed Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
Today’s article title is very deceptive, but accurate. Combining my musical theme for 2014, my Wagner theme for January, and my “Star Gayzing” with my “Queer Achievement” series I look at the composer’s coat of arms. My previous articles have dealt with coats of arms that were either inherited or granted to their owners. Richard Wagner’s was neither. They were devised by himself in 1870 – assumed, in heraldic terms.

The problem with Wagner’s arms is that there are variations used by Wagner himself precisely because they were assumed and unofficial. My painting is an interpretation of Wagner’s design to which I have added other elements to produce a full achievement.

As I remarked in my article on Wagner’s sexuality a few days ago, Richard Wagner wasn’t gay but his son Siegfried was. More confusion arises when we consider that Siegfried’s parents weren’t married when he was born – they married afterwards. In lawful heraldry this brings into doubt whether Siegfried would be entitled to use these arms at all, as only legitimate children can inherit them. As far as I’m concerned, because the arms weren’t lawfully adopted anyway, the proper rules don’t apply and they could be used by any of the Wagner family, Siegfried included.

The central device on the shield shows the constellation of the Plough, or Ursa Major, or Big Dipper, whichever you prefer. This, and the rest of the design, shows Wagner had some understanding of heraldic convention. I’ve mentioned in previous heraldic articles that puns and visual clues play an important part in heraldry. Wagner chose the plough constellation as a reference to his family name. In German “plough” is ”wagen”. The plough (both its constellation and representation of the real thing) have also been used by other unrelated Wagner families in other countries as well.

I don’t know why Wagner positioned the constellation upside down in relation to its usual representation, but the number of stars is significant. When Richard Wagner was just 6 months old his father died, leaving Richard and his 6 siblings fatherless. Their mother remarried to Ludwig Geyer. Wagner once recalled that the 7 stars represent the 7 Wagner children which Geyer took under his wing.

And the shield shows quite literally Geyer taking these 7 children under his wing. The bird, a vulture, is called “geier” in German. It’s another pun. Vultures are rare in heraldry, mainly due to their reputation as scavengers and their rather un-attractive appearance. Wagner’s own drawings of the bird are more like eagles or hawks. I’ve chosen to depict the intended vulture.

Wagner designed no crest to go with his coat of arms. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, compulsory to have a crest if you have a coat of arms. As Wagner’s arms were assumed I have no qualms in using artistic licence and using the vulture again as the crest.

As well as a crest, Wagner didn’t come up with a family motto. I decided not to create one. Regular readers will know that I colour the motto scroll in Rainbow Pride colours. With this in mind I’ve put the rainbow colours onto the twisted cloth band (the torse in heraldic terms) that sits on top of the helmet to keep the flowing mantling in place.

Wagner put an illustration of his arms on the frontispiece of “Mein Leben” (My Life), his autobiography. He used it as a seal on his ring, and in a glass panel over the front door of his home in Bayreuth. He seems to have become quite taken with his design. It may not have been created at all if it hadn’t been suggested by the young man he had appointed as proof reader on “Mein Leben”, Friedrich Nietzsche, later to become known as a highly influential philosopher.

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