Vair

Vair

In heraldry, vair is a "fur", a tincture which is simultaneously a two-coloured field treatment. It is found in a variety of colours, and appears in different arrangements, each with its own name.

It goes back, as does ermine, to a fur highly prized in Middle Ages: squirrel.

Origins

The word "vair" is derived from the Middle English forms "veir" and "vairé", ultimately from Latin "variorum opus" meaning "variegated work" (the English equivalent is "greywerk").Veale, Elspeth M.: "The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages", p. 224.]

The squirrel in question is a variety of the Eurasian Red Squirrel, "Sciurus vulgaris". In the coldest parts of Northern and Central Europe, especially the Baltic region, the winter coat of this squirrel is blue-grey on the back and white on the belly, and was much used for the lining of cloaks called "mantles". It was sewn together in alternating cup-shaped pieces of back and stomach fur, resulting in a pattern of grey-blue and grey-white which, when simplified in heraldic drawing and painting, became blue and white in alternating pieces.

Heraldic representation

In the oldest records vair is represented by means of straight horizontal lines alternating with vertical wavy or nebuly lines (sometimes blazoned as "vair ondé" or "vair ancien"); this is seen in the lining of the cloak depicted on the tomb of Geoffrey V of Anjou ("see image").

A fur of other colours than argent and azure is referred to as vairy (or vairé) of <metal> and <colour>. Other tinctures may be used, described as vairy, counter-vairy, potenty, or counter-potenty of (say) Or and gules. In extremely rare circumstances there is vairy of four colours, but apparently vairy is always either of two or four colours.

The height of a row of vair is not strictly specified, but is typically about one-fifth that of the shield. Where there are more than six rows, the term menu-vair may be used. This is the origin of the English word "miniver", which was the general word for the fur lining used for robes of state.

Vair of fewer than four rows is sometimes called beffroi (a French word cognate to belfry), probably from the resemblance of a piece of vair to a church tower. The word derives from Old French berfroi and Old High German bergfrid, "The one who guards the peace". Originally, a beffroi was a wheeled tower which was used for scaling the walls of a besieged city, and which was a similar shape as the pieces of vair. Later, it became used for a watchtower, and then for any tower where a bell was hung.

Vair of two rows, called gros-vair, is occasionally seen.

Potent

Potent is a fur in heraldry. It is like vair, except using a T-shaped item instead of the vair bell. (The word "potent" means crutch; it is thought to derive from badly-drawn vair.) It is subject to all the subvarieties of vair, thus counter-potent and so on.

Trivia

In Perrault's version of the fairytale Cinderella, it was thought for some time that the original intent was that the slippers were made of fur, due to a confusion of the French words "verre" (glass) and "vair" (fur). It is now contested as to whether the glass interpretation was the correct one; current studies suggest it wasFact|date=July 2008.

See also Vair and its variants

References

* Veale, Elspeth M.: "The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages", 2nd Edition, London Folio Society 2005. ISBN 0900952385
* [http://blog.empyree.org/?2005/09/24/1860-vrac-sur-l-anglais-et-le-franais#c2835 comment about the double translation in "Cinderella"]


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • vair — vair …   Dictionnaire des rimes

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  • Vair — Oberlauf des Vair in ContrexévilleVorlage:Infobox Fluss/KARTE fehlt …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Vair — Vair, n. [F. vair, from OF. vair, a., L. varius various, variegated. See {Various}, and cf. {Menivel}.] The skin of the squirrel, much used in the fourteenth century as fur for garments, and frequently mentioned by writers of that period in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • VAIR — seu du Vair Guilielmus, Episcopus Lexoviensis, Franciae Procancellarius, Peirescio laborum socius, obiit A. C. 1621. aetat. 65. Scripsit meditationes in Psalmos, Philosophiam sacram, etc. Gramondus, l. 9. Hist. Gall. Sammart. de episc. Lexov …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • vair — squirrel fur, c.1300, from O.Fr. vair, from L. varium, masculine accusative singular of varius parti colored (see VARY (Cf. vary)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • vair — Vair, m. monosyll. Est une espece de pane riche chargée de poil blanc et bleu, dont nos Roys ont usé anciennement en fourrure. Gaguin au traicté des Herauts parlant des paremens de Montjoye premier Roy d armes des François: Et là seront les… …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • vair — Vair. sub. m. Terme dont on se servoit autrefois pour exprimer une fourrure blanche & grise. Il ne s employe aujourd huy qu en matiere d armoiries, & signifie, Un des emaux du blason, composé de plusieurs petites pieces esgales, de deux couleurs …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • vair — [ver] n. [ME < OFr, vair, orig., variegated < L varius: see VARIOUS] 1. Archaic a fur, usually from a gray and white squirrel, used for trimming and lining clothes in the Middle Ages 2. Heraldry the representation of a fur, indicated in… …   English World dictionary

  • Vair — (fr., spr. Währ), so v.w. Eisenhütchen …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • vair — /vair/, n. 1. a fur much used for lining and trimming garments in the 13th and 14th centuries, generally assumed to have been that of a variety of squirrel with a gray back and white belly. Cf. miniver (def. 1). 2. Heraldry. a fur represented by… …   Universalium

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