A tournament or tourney (derived from the Old French torneiement or tornei) was a chivalrous competition or mock fight that was organized in Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period (12th to 16th centuries).
Tournaments consisted of a series of mounted or armored combats in which knights competed to see whose skills were best. The one who prevailed through the last round or who finished with the best record was declared winner of the competition and was awarded a prize or a bag of money. For the Medieval knights, tournaments were the preferred sport. Because it was seen as such, tournaments were carried with blunted swords or lances. For the most successful of the knights of various tournaments, these were opportunities to make great money as well. The champion of a tournament was also allowed to claim ownership over the armor, horse and weapons of an adversary that had fallen during the competition, which could have added to his gain.
Many times, the knights would ride on horses that were covered in beautiful covers. These were carefully decorated and featured simple, yet effective color schemes. They also featured embroideries or other decorations that completed the “look”, thus marking not only the unity between the horseman and the horse, but also displaying the values of the knight himself. As anything in the Middle Ages, the elements that composed the horse covers were often symbolic. While some symbols represented origins, others could have stood for values such as kindness or courage.
There are many manuscripts, paintings, drawings and even sculptures from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that depict the “clothing” worn by the knights and the horses as well. Many times, the opposing knights and their horses were represented in contrasting or complementary colors. Today, we see replicas or imitations of those during folk festivities and Medieval and Renaissance fairs throughout the Western world.
The aesthetic of the original horse covers was one that was extremely simple, yet effective and complex. It made use of neutrals to balance the simple color schemes, such as analog color (composed of colors that lie closely to each other on the color wheel such as red and yellow) or complementary colors (featuring colors that lie on opposite sides of the color wheel, such as orange and green) and featured simple patterns that carried strong symbolism. Sometimes, patterns were mixed and were done so masterfully. As we always say, a good pattern mix is made of two or more patterns that are different in size (thick lines go with thin lies or small dots for example). The covers of the horses matched or completed the clothes worn by the knights.
The horse covers were accessorized with elements such as tassels that added volume and dynamism to the whole ensemble and conveyed the message of the knight with simplicity, without adding too much to the clothes themselves.
Horse covers were a simple, elegant and effective way to not only protect a horse, but also to mark it and make it clear on whose “team” the horse is, but also to communicate virtues and the core values of a group of knights.
- The light knight defeats the dark knight.
- Oppsite knights, contrasting colors: red and green.
- René d’Anjou, Livre des tournois France Provence 15th century by Barthélemy d’Eyck. Great pattern work!
- From the Burgkmair Tournament Book. As a royal color, purple, is made to be singular and stand out with a neutral.
- Burgkmair Tournament Book. Green and yellow are complementary colors.
- From the Burgkmair Tournament Book – the horse in the front wears red, yellow and blue, the three primary colors.
- From the Burgkmair Tournament Book. Symbolic embellishments complete the visual composition.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
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