Liberating The Gelre Armorial

The Gelre Armorial is a medieval manuscript including over 1700 coats of arms that was painted around 1395 near Geldern, presumably by Claes Heinenzoon, herald to the Duke of Guelders.

It is kept in the Royal Library of Belgium, or KBR, and until very recently it was not available in full online, although images of several pages or noteworthy arms had been posted, such as the earliest known color depiction of the flag of Denmark.

Very recently, KBR published high-resolution images of the complete book, but they were only available through an interactive point-and-click “zoom to view” web interface, and could not be downloaded in a simple PDF format.

These image viewer tools are fairly common in the online library world, and when I looked around I discovered that several people had developed open-source tools that automated the process of downloading the raw image tiles and stitching them together.

With a bit of fiddling, I was able to use one of these tools to capture all 260 high-resolution scans of the Gelre Armorial.

The steps I used are shown below. The first two sections are specifically for Mac users. (Folks on Linux probably already have wget and imagemagick installed, or can use their own package manager tools to obtain them.)

# Install Homebrew
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"

# Install Dependencies
brew install openssl
brew install wget
brew install imagemagick

# Install Dezoom
wget -O dezoom.sh "https://raw.githubusercontent.com/lovasoa/dezoom.sh/master/dezoom.sh"
chmod +x dezoom.sh

# Download Gelre
perl -e '$t = qq{./dezoom.sh -o gelre-NNNN.jpeg -X 3 -Y 5 -p "--referer=https://viewerd.kbr.be/gallery.php?map=A/1/5/8/9/7/3/5/0000-00-00_00/" "https://viewerd.kbr.be/display/A/1/5/8/9/7/3/5/0000-00-00_00/zoomtiles/BE-KBR00_A-1589735_0000-00-00_00_NNNN/2-%X-%Y.jpg" && sleep 5\n}; foreach $n ( 1 .. 260 ) { $p = sprintf( "%04d", $n ); $s = $t; $s =~ s/NNNN/$p/g; print $s }' | bash

When that process finished, I had a directory full of 260 JPEGs, averaging about 2 MB each. I opened them all in Preview and used the “Print > Save as PDF” feature to create a single massive 494 MB PDF file.

Then I used the “Export > PDF > Reduce File Size” option to knock that down to a low-resolution PDF file that’s only 9 MB in size. The smaller PDF is pretty fuzzy, and while it does have enough detail to allow arms to be identified, one would still want to switch over to the higher-quality file to see any fine details.

You can download a copy of that 9 MB PDF file of the Gelre Armorial for your own reference, or follow the above procedure to capture your own set of high-quality scans.

While I appreciate the work KBR has done to preserve this book, and to capture and share these images, making people click around their site to view individual pages seems unnecessarily restrictive, and as the book is six hundred years old, it can not possibly be restricted by copyright law, so I don’t think I am infringing on anyone’s rights by making this document available to the heraldic community.

A few other notes for folks perusing this armorial:

  • The yellow used for Or has faded almost to white, while the silver used for argent has tarnished and in many cases appears black. In most places the vert has faded a lot, but in a few it’s gotten darker and looks almost black. The gules and azure generally remain vibrant.
  • When trying to interpret a confusing image, this page-by-page index of names and blazons is very helpful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *