Obituary: Dr Jiri Louda, heraldist

Heraldist who designed the insignia of the Czech Republic. Picture: Contributed

Heraldist who designed the insignia of the Czech Republic. Picture: Contributed

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Born: 13 October, 1920, at Kutna Hora, Czechoslovakia. Died: 1 September, 2015, at Olomouc, Czech Republic, aged 94.

Dr Jiri Louda was the heraldic artist who designed the national emblems of the infant Cezch Republic in 1993 when Slovakia seceded in the so-called “velvet divorce” from Czechoslovakia. A war hero, he was joint author with Michael Maclagan, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms in London and an Oxford don of the old school, of Lines of Succession (1981), the profusely illustrated narrative of the various European monarchies. While Maclagan wrote in his delightfully trademark sonorous style, it fell to Dr Louda to produce the illustrations for what has become an essential reference work of dynastic history.

Dr Louda’s three pages of arms of Scotland’s monarchs show the heraldry of sovereigns and their various lines reproduced in detail that loses little despite shields being reduced to the size of postage stamps. From the time of William the Lion in 1165, he brings alive Scotland’s armoury to King James VI in 1603.

Louda was held in enormous respect throughout Europe for his encyclopaedic knowledge of coats of arms and flags.

During his life he created some 200 symbols for towns and villages in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic as well as the Czech national emblem and presidential flag.

The young Jiri came from a family in which art and artistry flourished. His father taught drawing in Jiri’s home town of Kutna Hora, and Jiri’s boyhood interest in symbols readily combined with his art to lead him into heraldry.

The war that interrupted his student days proved to be something of a springboard towards gaining notice for his heraldic work. Towards the end of the Second World War, as a young soldier in France, he spent spare time inventing cheerful coats-of-arms to decorate various quarters.

Some of those produced for small French towns and villages proved so colourful that they were adopted locally by popular acclaim.

Commissioned, Louda saw active service in Poland and France, before working his way to the UK. During parachute training in England, however, he broke a knee, and during recuperation, worked in a radio station.

With time at his disposal, he started on serious study of English heraldry, before moving on to the purer form of Scots heraldry.

The end of the war saw him decorated with both the Czechoslovak War Cross and Military Medal of Merit, and he returned home in the rank of captain on what should have been a promising military career.

His opposition to the Soviet takeover in February 1948, however, saw him both dismissed from the army and imprisoned without trial for two years. On release, he was forced to work in forestry.

In this time, he had met fellow heraldist Karel Schwarzenberg, and it was from him that Louda learned the structure and disciplines of Czech heraldry. When Louda managed to leave forestry and become librarian an educational establishment in Olomouc in 1953, he devoted all his spare time to heraldry, in particular to ensure that Czech towns and provinces gained coats-of-arms.

His first commission came for the town of Havirov in 1966, and within two years, had become recognised to the extent that he was asked to produce arms for the one-time kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia. After the so-called Prague Spring, the Soviet authorities rehabilitated Captain Louda, with promotion to major.

Meanwhile, Louda’s heraldic work was gaining recognition internationally, as were his contacts. By 1966, he produced the concise full-colour guide European Civic Coats Of Arms, in which the heraldry of cities from Aachen, Aberdeen and Ajaccio to Zaragoza, Zurich and Zwickau was illustrated and detailed under the editorship of the English herald Dermot Morrah.

As with the magisterial Lines of Succession 15 years later with Michael Maclagan, European Civic Arms has become a standard reference work.

In 1991, he was promoted to colonel, and two years later at the invitation of President Vaclav Havel, designed emblems for the Czech Republic. For this, President Havel awarded him the Medal of Merit in a ceremony at Prague Castle.

The castle shortly afterwards hosted a massive display of contemporary international heraldic art, not only curated and directed by Louda, but for which he personally painted all the arms of those made Knights of the Order of the Garter between 1348 and 2005.

This in itself formed a complete armorial of the Garter, something never in existence until undertaken by Dr Louda. He also produced miniature banners for all the Garter Knights, items which latterly hung in his study.

He produced many articles and lectures, plus some eight books.

His many honours included membership of the Academie Internationale d’Heraldique in Geneva, and the Society of Heraldic Arts in London.

He held the honorary position as herald to the Czech Parliament.

Dr Louda continued his work into his 95th year, loyally supported by his wife Jara – and to whom he was devoted.

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