Francis I – the salamander king

Francis I had, as it was custom for aristocrats at the time an emblem, that he picked. An emblem was a personal symbol that was different from their family heraldy that kings and other grand persons picked. Those who read my blog before might remember the sun of King Louis XIV and that the sun was depicted everywhere in Versailles. Francis I had the same thing but with his emblem the salamander. Yep that’s right: a salamander. A crowned salamander.

1805 Colour stipple and etching  Francis I with salamander.

1805 Colour stipple and etching Francis I with salamander.

Francis I 53

So why a crowned salamander?

In medieval iconography it represented the man who never lost the peace of his soul (went through the fires of passion) and who was confident in God despite all troubles. So it corresponded to chastity, virginity, loyalty. It was also identified with Christ who would baptize the world with fire flames. The salamander was a powerful symbol because it was associated with both fire and poison and many people were afraid of it. At the time it was believed that salamanders could use any type of fire without harm. Even brilliant minds like Leonardo da Vinci believed this because he wrote about the salamander: “This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin. The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire,—for virtue.

This seems of course really odd to us, but it wasn’t really Leonardo’s fault that he came to this odd conclusion about salamanders. In medieval times some really rich people had bought exotic mantles that were said to be made of salamander wool and had the wonderful ability that it could withstand fire perfectly. Many people testified that this wonderful salamander hair didn’t burn or got damaged by fire but it sounds to be good to be true and it was. The “salamander hair” wasn’t salamander hair at all it wasn’t even hair! It was asbestos! Yup the same nasty stuff gave millions of people cancer and rich people paid really much for the privilege to wear it close to their skin. But of course people didn’t know that at the time. And people just assumed that the information they got that it was woven salamander hair or that it was silk-like material that was woven from the cocoons that salamanders supposedly made according to people in the 12th century. No wonder that people reached the conclusion that the animals must be fireproof as well if their hair was.

Marco Polo almost got it right after he had witnessed people in China digging up “salamander” which was in fact asbestos but he was a bit unlucky in his thinking. He concluded that “the real truth is that the Salamander is no beast, as they allege in our part of the world, but is a substance found in the earth.” He should have concluded that the fibers known as salamander hair simply weren’t coming from any type of animal and had very little to do with the animal called salamander. But of course this doesn’t mean that salamanders don’t exist. Marco Polo was apparently a much better explorer than a biologist :).

Another sensible explanation is that salamanders often hibernate under rotting logs. So if people took that wood and carried it inside their house they could be surprised by a salamander that appeared to have come out of the fire. Thus believed to be born in fire.

Emblems were often used to literally put one’s mark on things. The several palaces that Francis I build or improved were all bedazzled with salamanders. There are crowned ones:

Francis I emblem, Francis I gallery, Fontainebleau castle.

Francis I emblem, Francis I gallery, Fontainebleau castle.

Francis I emblem in stained glass on Chateau de Blois.

Francis I emblem in stained glass on Chateau de Blois.

Close-up emblem Francis I in Chateau Blois.

Close-up emblem Francis I in Chateau Blois.

he Salamander, Emblem of François I . Castle of Blois.

he Salamander, Emblem of François I . Castle of Blois.

Several of Francis I emblems: his salamander, the fleur-de-lis, his initial F, lillies and crowns.

Several of Francis I emblems: his salamander, the fleur-de-lis, his initial F, lillies and crowns.

You see the salamanders on and over doors:

Francis I 52Francis I salamander with golden flames and Fleur-de-Lis guarding a door at Chateau de Blois.

Francis I salamander with golden flames and Fleur-de-Lis guarding a door at Chateau de Blois.

Château de Fontainebleau, pediment of the

Château de Fontainebleau, pediment of the “Porte Dorée” (Gilded Gate), 1528, with the salamander, personal symbol of king of France Francis I.

Francis I salamander in the cathedrale of the Notre Dame.

Francis I salamander in the cathedral of the Notre Dame.

The salamanders are on fireplaces:

Francis I crowned golden salamader on a fireplace in Chateau de Blois.

Francis I crowned golden salamader on a fireplace in Chateau de Blois.

Close-up detail francis I emblem on fireplace in Chateau de Blois.

Close-up detail francis I emblem on fireplace in Chateau de Blois.

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau - Fireplace with François 1's salamander emblem

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau – Fireplace with François 1’s salamander emblem

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau - Fireplace with François 1's salamander emblem

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau – Fireplace with François 1’s salamander emblem

Detail on a fireplace in Château d'Azay-le-Rideau.

Detail on a fireplace in Château d’Azay-le-Rideau.

Fireplace Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Azay-le-Rideau, France

Fireplace Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Azay-le-Rideau, France

detail with Francis I salamander on fireplace Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Azay-le-Rideau, France.

detail with Francis I salamander on fireplace Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, Azay-le-Rideau, France.

Wood panel with Francis I's salamander at Chambord Palace.

Wood panel with Francis I’s salamander at Chambord Palace.

And  on  wood panels sometimes combined with Francis I initial F:

Woodpanel with Francis I's crowned salamander with fire and posison.

Woodpanel with Francis I’s crowned salamander with fire and posison.

Woodpanel with the Initial F for Francis I wth crown and Fleur-de Lis-design.

Woodpanel with the Initial F for Francis I wth crown and Fleur-de Lis-design.

 

Salamander and initials of King Francois I on woodpanels in Chateau Fontainbleau.

Salamander and initials of King Francois I on woodpanels in Chateau Fontainbleau.

close-up detail on a woodpanel with Francis I salamander in Chateau Fontainbleau.

close-up detail on a woodpanel with Francis I salamander in Chateau Fontainbleau.

close-up detail on a woodpanel with Francis I salamander in Chateau Fontainbleau.

close-up detail on a woodpanel with Francis I salamander and his name in Chateau Fontainbleau.

Francis I 77

woodpanel with Francis I salamander in Chateau Fontainbleau.

Woodpanel with Francis I salamander and his initial F.

Woodpanel with Francis I salamander and his initial F.

One usage of emblems in Francis I’s time was to use it as a way to literally put your mark on things like chairs and doors and closets:

Chairs in

Chairs in Fontainebleau with Francis I salamander.

Door handle - Salamander

Door handle – Salamander

Doorhandle Salamander with corn.

Doorhandle Salamander with corn.

big salamander with crown on Chateau Chambord.

big salamander with crown on Chateau Chambord.

Francis I salamander and F initial on the roof in Chateau Chambird. Supposedly more than 800 salamanders on that roof.

Francis I salamander and F initial on the roof in Chateau Chambird. Supposedly more than 800 salamanders on that roof.

Close-up salamander on the ceiling of Chateau Chambord.

Close-up salamander on the ceiling of Chateau Chambord.

close-up detal of the ceiling at chateau Chambord.

close-up detal of the ceiling at chateau Chambord.

The Salamander also appeared in the architecture of Francis I castles.

We may never know for sure why Francis I picked the salamander as his symbol. The salamander was associated with bravery but also with chastity, fire, poison and danger. Probably a good symbol for a king who wants the nobility to know that he is ready for them should they turn against him. Especially if you want to suggest that you’re almost as  indestructible like a salamander.

Francis I salamander and other architectural details - Sainte-Chapelle du Château de Vincennes

Francis I salamander and other architectural details – Sainte-Chapelle du Château de Vincennes

François 1er; salamander - relief on building

François 1er; salamander – relief on building

François 1st Renaissance façade - Moret-sur-Loing

François 1st Renaissance façade – Moret-sur-Loing

Salamander of François Premier as a downspout - Château de Pierrefonds

Salamander of François Premier as a downspout – Château de Pierrefonds

Salamander relief - wood and metal ornamentation on a cabinet

Salamander relief – wood and metal ornamentation on a cabinet

Child angel and salamander.

Child angel and salamander.

There are golden Salamanders in Paris too at the Alexander III bridge and in the Alexander III pond:

golden salamander Alexander III bridge, Paris.

golden salamander Alexander III bridge, Paris.

Golden salamander Alexander III bridge.

Golden salamander Alexander III bridge.

Decorative golden salamander on a post on the Alexander III bridge in Paris.

Decorative golden salamander on a post on the Alexander III bridge in Paris.

An emblem could also be matched with the owners motto.

Francis I emblem and motto.

Francis I emblem and motto.

The salamander motto of King Francis I: Nutrisco et extinguo = I nourish and I extinguish. The Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, Indre-et-Loire, France.

The salamander motto of King Francis I: Nutrisco et extinguo = I nourish and I extinguish. The Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, Indre-et-Loire, France.

I hope you all enjoyed the story of Francis I and his salamander emblem!

Bonsoir, mon amis! Hilde

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One thought on “Francis I – the salamander king

  1. Pingback: Salamanders in my Chambord

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