All That Glitters

November 10th, 2010

The very interesting article on the President's chain needs correction ("Dressed For Success," July/August). The chain bears the University's coat of arms, which is only a part of the University seal. As your article correctly notes, why the designer, Charles T. Brandreth, omitted the clouds in the university crest is unknown.

It's interesting to note that Brandreth's introduction of the drapery emerging from the sides of the sun and descending the sides of the shield in this medal is an uninformed lapse. This mantling, as it is called, is intended to be shown in conjunction with a heraldic helmet, and is never a part of Brown's armorial display. In this case, it's akin to a portrait showing the hair and eyeglasses but omitting the head itself.

The chain's scallop shells may indeed be, as you state, symbols of "goodness and wisdom," but any such reference is elusive. The scallop appears as an ancient fertility-cult symbol later associated with Aphrodite, and after acceptably purged and retooled for Christian use, it was associated with pilgrimage. It is a symbol used in heraldry, and in this instance might be said to refer to the intellectual "pilgrimage" Brown offers.

The "two round medallions" on the chain depict not only the original seal, as you note, but its successor as well, which directly precedes the present one, which was adopted in 1833.

At the top is not the seal of Rhode Island, as you claim, but the anchor and motto from the state coat of arms, surrounded by thirteen stars that recall the state flag.

Henry L.P. Beckwith '58
Wickford, R.I.

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November/December 2010