Tincture (heraldry) - The Rule of Tincture

The Rule of Tincture

The first rule of heraldry is the rule of tincture: metal must never be placed upon metal, nor colour upon colour, for the sake of contrast.

The main duty of a heraldic device is to be recognized, and the dark colours or light metals are supposed to be too difficult to distinguish if they are placed on top of other dark or light colours, particularly in poor light. Though this is the practical genesis of the rule, the rule is technical and appearance is not used in determining whether arms conform to the rule. Another reason sometimes given to justify this rule is that it was difficult to paint with enamel (colour) over enamel, or with metal over metal.

This rule is so closely followed that arms that violate it are called armes fausses (false arms) or armes à enquérir (arms of enquiry); any violation is presumed to be intentional, to the point that one is supposed to enquire how it came to pass. One of the most famous armes à enquérir (often said to be the only example) was the shield of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had gold crosses on silver. This use of metal on metal, that is to say white and gold together, is seen on the arms of the King of Jerusalem, the flag and arms of the Vatican, and the bishop's mitre in the arms of Andorra. It indicates the exceptional holy and special status of the Coat of Arms. (In the case of Jerusalem, this may also emphasize the Arab techniques gained in the Levant). An example of "colour on colour" is the arms of Albania, with its sable two-headed eagle on a gules field.

The rule of tincture has had an influence reaching far beyond heraldry. It has been applied to the design of flags, so that the flag of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was modified to conform to the rule.

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