Philipp Schneider: Putting visual sources into context: Towards an ontology to analyze medieval heraldic murals and ceiling paintings

The talk will introduce results on the development of an ontology to describe medieval and early modern painted walls and ceilings which used heraldry as a main component of their iconographic program. The purpose of the ontology is to represent the visual structure of such paintings – i.e. how certain coats of arms and other imagery were spatially placed on them – while also modelling their historical context. The overall goal is to enable a data-driven analysis of heraldic murals to better understand the function and usage of this european phenomenon.

The presentation will be structured as follows. First, there will be an introduction into the broader context and goals of the project. The development of the ontology is part of a PhD project on the study of heraldic murals in France and the German speaking areas between the 13th and 16th century. This dissertation is itself part of the research project Coats of Arms in Practice, which aims for a better understanding of heraldry as a pre-modern tool for visual communication. Coats of arms were widely employed in nearly all material contexts imaginable and were used to convey a variety of different meanings. They could mark identity, lawful rights, allegiance, or influence and represent individual actors, families, territorial entities or abstract ideas. Their omnipresence and versatility make them an important source for cultural history. At the same time, their analysis does not come without complexity, since their meaning was often ambigious and heavily dependant on the context they were used in. The Coats of Arms in Practice project aims to reduce this complexity by creating a knowledge graph that is firstly able to describe the individual combinations of patterns and colours of individual coats of arms in a machine readable way and secondly represent their usage in different material contexts.

One of these material contexts are the aforementioned heraldic murals. Such wall and ceiling paintings could contain between a dozen and over a hundred different coats of arms. While there exist a number of studies on various examples of this type of source, comparatative studies are quite rare and even non-existent when it comes to describe this topic as an european phenomenon. The aim of my dissertation is to produce such a study, by employing data-driven methods to analyse knowledge graphs. The lack of a more comprehensive study is not surprising, considering that a great deal of contextual information is necessary to understand the function and meaning of a single heraldic mural. What was the architectural context of the building, a mural was displayed in? What function served the room, where it can be found? Who commissioned it and who was (intended) to perceive it? And then, there is of course the mural as such. Aside from the – highly ambigious – symbolic meaning of the coats of arms themselves, it is of importance where they are depicted on a mural and how they are spatially positioned in relation to other coats of arms, as well as to other, non-heraldic imagery. These requirements already exceed the capabilities of a critical edition in the classical sence, since we are dealing with visual structures that are embedded in and functioning by three-dimensional space.

The main part of the talk will therefore discuss, how these complexities can be represented through an ontology; centering on the challenges of modelling the visuality and materiality of heraldic murals. Most importantly, this concerns the challenge of representing visual sources in three-dimensional space. To achieve this, the adaption of mereotopological concepts is explained. Their purpose is, firstly, to define visual sections that are comparable regarding their topological properties, and secondly to define a formal system which enables to represent the spatial relation between two visual entites independantly from measurement-based 3D modelling.

Lecture within the Data for History Lectures series
Time: Wednesday, 09 February 2022, 4.15-5.45 pm
Place: via Zoom – Request access via email (

Beitragsbilder: Wolfgang Sauber. Krems Gozzoburg – Wappensaal Innenraum (CC BY-SA 4.0,
Klagenfurt, Landhaus, Großer Wappensaal (CC BY-SA 4.0,,_Landhaus,Gro%C3%9Fer_Wappensaal(6).jpg)
Brunnengasse 8 – Stadt Zürich (© AfS/Archäologie,

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Digital History Berlin (Redaktion) (2022, 7. Februar). Philipp Schneider: Putting visual sources into context: Towards an ontology to analyze medieval heraldic murals and ceiling paintings. Digital History Berlin. Abgerufen am 21. Mai 2024, von

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