Society of Fellows

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SOF News June 2017

Baldric of the American Academy in Rome

The Baldric

In this season of graduations and the sporting of colorful regalia thoughts of Fellows may or may not turn toward the Academy baldric. Have you heard of/seen them?  Do you have one? Who designed it? Is the fur trim real mink? How do you get one?

All Fellows are entitled to wear the baldric. It is certainly proper to wear it at academic ceremonies, but Fellows have not limited their show of the baldric to these occasions. Some have worn it at the Academy event celebrating their return from Rome, at their wedding, for the birth of a child, on being notified of receiving tenure, their 50th anniversary of becoming a Fellow, etc. etc.  

Architect Johannes Knoops, AFAAR 1991, FAAR 2000 writes, “The baldric, a ceremonial adaptation of the medieval knife belt slung over the shoulder, is another part of formal academic regalia. Information about them is hard to find, even from institutions that grant them.

You will see them on faculty members at formal graduation or matriculation ceremonies. Baldrics are approximately 3-foot-long and 4 inches wide with a large fastener for the shoulder. Baldrics pin to the right shoulder and drape forward and back. The baldric’s medallion usually bears a heraldic device of the granting institution, which may be more or less abstractly symbolic. 

The baldric of the American Academy in Rome bears the Janus-head medallion in bronze. This secures the velvet sash in the academic colors for the fields pursued at the Academy, brown (fine arts) and white (humanities, arts and letters). Three thin horizontal fur strips articulate this baldric at either end and about ten inches up from the back. Only recipients of a prestigious Rome Prize Fellowship are permitted to wear this baldric.”

Our baldric is less functional than those that were worn slung across the chest to suspend a sword, knife or other object such as a musical instrument. Fellows in musical composition might be interested to know that in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick says "But that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead or hang my bugle in an invisible baldric all women shall pardon me." In the 10th stanza of The Lady of Shallot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “And from his blazon'd baldric slung, A mighty silver bugle hung.”

The history of the baldric is proving somewhat elusive. Stand by. More to come.