The historic south-eastern French town (and county) of Nice^ (known by its Italian name, Contea di Nizza, up until a few hundred years ago) was an autonomous part of the County of Provence by the 11th century AD. In 1388, Nice formed a union with the Duchy of Savoy before subsequently merging with the Kingdom of Sardinia to become the capital of the Italian region of Piedmont-Sardinia. [W: Nice | County of Nice]
It wasn't until 1860, during the Italian Wars of Independence, that Nice (the city) was annexed by France: the county-proper had ceased to exist early in the 19th century. Today, Nice has a population of around 1 million people and is situated on the Mediterranean coast in the Alpes-Maritimes département, about 30km from the Italian border.
Joseph 'Pipo' Casal (1856-1930) was born in Nice and worked at the municipal library. He had friends in the local arts community and was himself an amateur painter and an enthusiast for regional culture. His position in the library afforded Casal the opportunity to handle and view documents and manuscripts relating to the history of the nobility in and around the Nice and Savoy regions of South-East France.
Accordingly, Casal produced this album documenting the family crests and regional armorial bearings going back over (at least) a couple of centuries. The parchment-bound manuscript was dedicated to the Mayor of Nice who was also on the board of the library. If my very modest French reading abilities are anything to go by, this Armorial album wasn't ever on show for the public (until recent times) but black & white versions of some of the sketches did appear in a book released in 1909. Casal's granddaughter had custody of the manuscript until it was acquired by Nice Library in 1990 or 1991.
It appears that the watercolour sketches are accompanied, for the most part, by historical commentary (of the families, region and period) rather than being true blazons (technical heraldry language describing the symbols used in the coats of arms). The 23cm x 32cm album contains 112 pages, most illustrated in colour, with occasional pen and ink preliminary sketches as seen above.
'Armorial Nobiliaire et Historique de l’Ancien Comté de Nice et des Alpes-Maritimes' (MS 462) by Joseph Casal, 1903, is online via the Bibliothèque Municipale à Vocation Régionale (BMVR) de Nice -- see second entry from the bottom of the page. The manuscript is available in a couple of formats (predominantly Flash), but I extracted (and cropped) the images above from the downloadable pdf file.
A modest amount of background information is available - via image files - from the Nice Historique site. The article by Roland Giraud is from 1991 and is 2 pages long starting from page 20.
[W]: Categories/sub-categories in Heraldry & Heraldry by country.
- Duke Dress and Heraldry
- Flagging Heraldry
- Insignia Nobilium
- Heraldic Bookplates
- The Fisch Wappenbuch
- Simon Haendel's Stammbuch
- Bavarian Wappenbuch
- Driftnet Fishing
- Landjuweel and the Chambers of Rhetoric