Monday 10 December 2012

Queer Achievement - Michelangelo

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

This month’s Queer Achievement is different in that it is the first one in this series that was inherited. The previous two (Elton John and John Bercow) were granted to each man personally because they had no known entitlement to inherited arms from a family of their name.

The first of the queer inherited arms belongs to the great artist Michelangelo. He claimed descent from an old noble family from Florence, the counts of Canossa, but there is no documentary evidence to prove it, only family tradition.

The coat of arms which Michelangelo is known to have used himself is the main one I’ve produced above. I have been unable to verify a crest or motto used by the family so is only half of a heraldic achievement so I haven't been able to incorporate the rainbow and pink triangles as before.

The original coat of arms of the Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo’s family) was blue with 2 diagonal yellow stripes near the bottom of the shield. The symbolism of this design is unknown, but it was often the case that families adopted the same colours of their local lord or ruler. In this case it may be possible that the Buonarroti Simoni adopted the colours of their traditional ancestors the counts of Canossa (who had a yellow dog on a blue shield as their coat of arms). There were additions made to the design which point to the family’s rise in importance in Florence.

At some time during the 14th century the family received what is called an augmentation of honour. This means that some ruler gave them a special new addition to their coat of arms in commemoration of some important event. For the Buonarroti Simoni this event was their support for Charles d’Anjou, King of Naples. Sometimes the augmentation is based on the coat of arms of the ruler giving it. You can see from the picture of King Charles of Naples’s coat of arms (right) which part of Michelangelo’s arms came from his family’s support for Charles. A lot of other Italian families adopted this part of King Charles’s coat of arms (at the top of the shield, called the chief) and it even has its own name in heraldry – the “capo d’Anjou” or “chief of Anjou”.

Even during Michelangelo’s lifetime another augmentation of honour was granted to the family, this time by Pope Leo X. In 1515 Leo created Michelangelo’s brother a count. As a special mark of honour the pope granted a new augmentation to be placed at the top of the existing arms rather than over it (below left). The new augmentation was influenced by the family arms of Pope Leo, the Medici (below right). L and X stand for Leo X.

Pope Leo himself has been the subject of speculation into his sexuality. Though this is perhaps better dealt with individually in a later post.

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