Blason originally comes from the heraldic term blazon in French heraldry and means either the codified description of a coat of arms or the coat of arms itself. The Dutch term is Blazoen, and in either Dutch or French, the term is often used to refer to the coat of arms of a chamber of rhetoric.
The term forms the root of the modern words "emblazon", which means to celebrate or adorn with heraldic markings, and "blazoner", one who emblazons. The terms "blason", "blasonner", "blasonneur" were used in 16th-century French literature by poets who, following Clément Marot in 1536, practised a genre of poems that praised a woman by singling out different parts of her body and finding appropriate metaphors to compare them with. It is still being used with that meaning in literature and especially in poetry. One famous example of such a celebratory poem, ironically rejecting each proposed stock metaphor, is William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130:
- My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
- I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Blason draws on Petrarchan conventions of representing the female beloved in Petrarch's Canzoniere of the 14th century. Petrarch never offers a complete picture of his beloved Laura, but depicts her only as parts of a woman. The French Blason tradition can also be considered anti-Petrarchan, as it moves away from the adulatory tone of the Petrarchan sonnet (Petrarchism was so pervasive in the Renaissance, it also included subversion of Petrarchan conventions). The term Blason populaire is a phrase in which one culture or ethnic group increases its own self-esteem by belittling others e.g. Samuel Johnson's description that "The noblest prospect which a Scotsman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!". This term originated from Alfred Canel's travelogue Blason Populaire de la Normandie (1859), in which people from Normandy boasted about themselves while sneering at other regions.
- Blazoens of the Flemish chambers of rhetoric in the anonymous "Vlaerdings Redenrijck-bergh" published in Amsterdam in 1617 and now available online through the DBNL
- Blason populaire de la Normandie, comprenant les proverbes, sobriquets ou dictons relatifs à cette province, Alfred Canel, 1859, on Google books