So while the rest of the world is drooling over Jan van Eyck, I’m on a side quest. The other day I was going online through some paintings by the – not as famous as van Eyck – Jan Gossaert, nicknamed Mabuse, and came across the portrait of the above gentleman. Gossaert was born in the year after the Bold’s death and the portrait is a typical renaissance portrait and has the look and feel of Holbein’s portraits (Thomas More, Erasmus, etc).
First thing that I thought when I saw this portrait was that it reminded me a lot of the faces of Anthony the Big Bastard (his official title, see older posts) and somewhat of the B. See below for reference purposes.
The Wikipedia page mentions that it may be Baudouin of Burgundy. The painting is property of the Gemäldegalerie at Berlin, same museum that owns the portrait of Charles the Bold, it’s almost the same size too. Intriguing and worth investigating so I spent more than a day looking for an exhibition catalogue of Mabuse’s work that came from the family archives and that I’d temporarily stored in a box somewhere so I first had to clean up before writing this post.
Let’s see if there are any clues in the painting itself. Old paintings are never without – sometimes quite hermetic – symbols. First off, there is a jewel on his hat. Secondly there are some words on the sheath of the sword. He’s wearing a necklace with a ring. He’s holding his hand in a particular manner. A key is clearly visible on his belt and last but not least the collar of his shirt has a distinctive pattern. All in all his clothes are stunning (probably leeched off the bent backs of his subjects, cough).
I couldn’t find a very good scan of the painting so I’ll have to depend on the catalogue’s description of all the details.
The painting is painted on a panel of 56 x 42,5 cm. It can be dated based on the clothing somewhere around 1525-1530. The catalogue doesn’t mention whether it is an original or a copy. On the back it says Baudoin de Bourgogne, who was an illegitimate son of Philippe the Good but Baudoin had already died in 1508 and the painting is of a later date. The catalogue discusses several other possible identities. Let’s go over everything.
The jewel on the hat: it portrays Venus and Armor. Can’t make much of that yet, as it’s a very popular Renaissance motif.
The words on the sheath: “A(v)tre que ou(s) je n’aime”. That is very similar to the motto of Philippe the Good (autre n’aurai).
The ring may mean that the man is a widower.
The key means he was a chamberlain.
The fish on the guard probably means that he had a function as an admiral.
I don’t know yet what the hands mean.
The collar shows the typical Burgundian cross and some sort of flower. The cross is clear, not sure about the other symbol yet.
Now all three suggested identities are interesting.
If he really is Baudoin de Lille, bastard of Burgundy, bastard son of Philip the Good, it means he is the half-brother of Charles who conspired to have Charles killed and when he was caught and defected to Louis XI, accused Charles of “unnatural actions” (ie being gay, a bad crime in those days). Haven’t progressed much with the B’s true preferences, btw.
He could also be Charles of Burgundy, son of Baudoin of Burgundy. A hint could be the similarities between this portrait and the portrait in the Receuil d’Arras:
Another possible identity is Adolphe de Bourgogne who ordered several works from Gossaert. He was an admiral so that would explain the fish. Adolphe is the grandson of Antoine the big bastard, that could explain the likeness between the two. But Adolphe became knight of the Golden Fleece in 1516 and in this portrait he is not wearing the fleece collar. Unless the portrait was painted before that time, which the catalogue contradicts. Another small interesting fact is that Adolphe was married to Anne de Berghes who is one of the many Glymes.
So it’s all connected somehow. Needs further investigation.