Tag: burgundians

The man with the arrow – Part 2: Antoine

In this series of posts I want to investigate the claim that the portrait of the Man with the Arrow attributed to Rogier van der Weyden, is not Antoine de Bourgogne but João de Coimbra. As always, the information on this website is under permanent construction. Corrections and additions will be made when necessary.

In this chapter I want to focus a little on Antoine of Burgundy (1420?-1504), also known as the Grand Bâtard or the Big Bastard. He did not receive that name because he was a bully but because he was the official main bastard son of Philip the Good. In my small unimportant opinion his role is direly neglected in history books. This becomes clear when reading the various contemporary chronicles where his name pops up constantly. However, a study of his career would lead us too far here. I do not want to reinvent the wheel so I’ll just borrow the main facts from the internet for a quick summary.

Antoine is the son of Philip the Good (1396-1467), Duke of Burgundy and his mistress Jeanne de Presle.

Portrait of Philip the Good, father of Antoine

The birth date of Antoine is uncertain, probably somewhere around 1420-1421. The original Grand Bâtard was his half-brother Corneille, with Antoine Philip’s most favourite natural sons. Corneille died in 1452 in a battle during the revolt of Ghent, after which Antoine inherited his title of Grand Bâtard. In 1459, he married Marie de la Viesville by whom he had five children.

Antoine was a military man and took part in a number of campaigns of his father. He became a knight of the Golden Fleece in 1456. After the death of Philip in 1467 he fought in the service of his half-brother Charles who was now Duke of Burgundy. He took part in most of his hot-headed brother’s campaigns and saved his life during the battle of Monthléry (and probably a few times more). After the battle of Nancy Antoine was captured and delivered to Louis XI by Rene of Lorraine and came into his service. He played an important role in the arrangement of the marriage of Charles’ daughter Mary and Maximilian..

He was legitimised by Charles the VIII in 1485 or 1486 (I found two dates). [As a side note, this was around the time Jean VI Rolin was legitimised (see earlier posts). I don’t know if the events are connected, but it is worth looking into.]

He was good at archery and a skilled tournament fighter. Unlike Charles, he was a bit of a player, like his father, and had at least two natural children. He was also an avid collector of illuminated manuscripts.

He is supposed to have died at Tournehem, near Calais, in 1504, at the age of about 83/84. He must have led a very fulfilling life.

Some smaller things of interest:

Antoine’s signature (source: Lauer)

His arms painted by Coustin (the bar signifies a bastard):

His motto/blason in Les croniques de Pise:

It is a barbican on fire with the words NUL NE SI FROTE (Nul ne s’y frotte), Nobody rubs on this, which is an odd motto, but it was used by others too.  Wonder if it can be paraphrased as Can’t touch this? There is a proverb saying: “A femme sotte nul ne s’y frotte”. If someone better at French than me, please correct this if I’m totally wrong.

Medal with the image of Antoine by Candida Giovanni, 1475:

Main sources of the documentation:

  • Déchiffrement de l’ex-libris du Grand Bâtard de Bourgogne. Philippe Lauer, 1923.
  • Wikipedia, for the info and some images
  • The contemporary chroniclers
  • Les croniques de Pise (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

The next post will probably be a small piece about the Vincent panels.


The Man with the Arrow – Part 1: João de Coimbra

Portrait of Antoine de Bourgogne, le grand batard de Bourgogne by Rogier van der Weyden in the Royal Arts Museum, Brussels.
But is it really Antoine? (Picture: personal archives)

The first time I saw this portrait, I was just a child, thirteen. I don’t remember where I saw it. I think it was in one of the art books of our family library and in that book, the painting’s title was ‘Man with the arrow”, by Rogier van der Weyden. I have a vague recollection of seeing the original for the first time in the Old Masters Museum in Brussels somewhat hidden away in a dark spot in the back but that’s perhaps just a fantasy. Now it’s hanging near the stairs, close to the Otto by Bouts. But it does not matter where I saw it first. I have seen it several times more and it is still one of my favourite medieval paintings, even though it is quite dark and small.

In more recent books and on the museum’s website, the portrait is no longer described as an anonymous man with an arrow but as a portrait of Antoine de Bourgogne, the illegitimate son of Philip the Good, half-brother of Charles the Bold, and who is also known as the Big Bastard of Burgundy (le grand Bâtard).

Yesterday I came across a post on Instagram showing the above portrait, with the information that it is a portrait of João de Coimbra, or John, Prince of Antioch (1431-1457). I was very surprised by this and also intrigued, with the original title of the painting in mind. Why would anyone think that this is not Antoine but a Portuguese prince? There is no information on the portrait itself so even the identity of the painter is not 100% certain and likewise the identity of the sitter cannot be deducted from the panel, only that he must be a knight of the Golden Fleece: the distinctive collar proves this. So who was this João and why would anyone think that the man with the arrow is him and not Anthony?

I thought at first that this would be simple to solve, just a mere oversight on my or the poster’s side but the research proved quite useful and I learned some new things.  WordPress posts are probably not the best medium for long explanations so I’m going to distribute all the information over a few posts. The first will be about João.

João de Coimbra, Prince of Antioch (1431-1457)

I do not have a lot of documentation on Portugal and the Middle Ages so I am just going to take this from Wikipedia and hope there is not too much nonsense in it. The rest of my information is thoroughly checked in all sorts of books and articles.

João was the second son of Infante Peter, Duke of Coimbra, and Isabella of Urgell, Duchess of Coimbra.

He took part in the battle of Alfarrobeira, where his father’s army was defeated by the Portuguese royal army.

He was imprisoned and was to be executed. However, due to the intervention of his aunt Isabella, he was sent into exile in Burgundy together with his brother James and sister Beatrice. His aunt Isabella, Duchess of Burgundy, was able to offer protection to her nephews and niece as wife of Duke Philip the Good. In 1456, John was elected a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

In 1456, John married Charlotte of Cyprus in Nicosia and was accorded the title Prince of Antioch. He was poisoned on the orders of his mother-in-law, Helena Palaiologina.

He was buried in Nicosia in a tomb which bears his coat of arms.

There are a number of things that match with the portrait. His age his right, he was a relative of the dukes, he was a knight of the Golden Fleece and he was in Burgundy around the time the portrait was painted. Also, the man on the portrait somewhat looks like a younger version of João’s father, Peter.

Peter could be one of the men on the St Vicente panels, painted by Nuno Gonçalez. This painting is interesting on its own so I’ll keep that for a separate post. But here is the presumed portrait:

But what do we know about Antoine? That is for next time.

To be continued.


Safe dating in times of corona

One of those weird details in Bosch paintings, this one from an Adoration of the Magi.

This post is not going where you think it is going…

This is something I mentioned before, but I keep running into dating issues. Not just that most books and paintings of the 15th century are not dated but when dates are used, they do not correspond 1 on 1 with the dates we use now.

First of all there is the Julian-Gregorian conversion, which differs from region to region, and started from 1582. Due to timing issues caused by the method of the Julian calendar, it was decided to skip a number of days at a given time. The difference was 10 days at first, but it increments so now we’re apparently 13 days ahead. The result is that not only is it not clear if authors writing after 1582 are using the new date format or the old one when mentioning dates from a time before that, but you also have to factor in the incrementation between the author’s time and the current time.

The second issue is that the year in the middle ages didn’t start on 1 January but on another selected day, usually the day of an important catholic event such as the Annunciation or Easter. This means there is also some discrepancy in year numbers between now and eg. dates in the contemporary chronicles. To give a relevant example, it can happen that you find 1476 as the year when Charles the Bold died, instead of 1477.

I am not even going to mention the weird French Republican calender that was used during a few years around 1800.

It’s convenient we’re in lockdown and I have no idea of what day, month and year it is anyway.


Hey Jean

Yesterday chores, plus a long VT bike ride along the many cycling paths in our area took most of the day. No pictures of that, didn’t take any. In the evening I spent some more time going through Elisabeth Danens’ book about Hugo van der Goes. Some paths ended up in a dead end, others opened new doors.

My current focus is a Nativity painting depicting Jean (or Jehan in old French) Rolin (1408-1483), son of Nicolas Rolin, bishop and afterwards cardinal of Autun (see earlier post).

This is the painting under scrutiny, this time on a postcard:

It was just a hunch, but the painting reminded me of the Monforte altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes. It’s different in composition but there are some elements that have a likeness to it, namely, the two angels in the front, Joseph, the posture of the cardinal and the two figures in the back leaning over the wall.

For reference purposes, here are pictures of a statue of Jean Rolin and a fragment of a wall painting featuring Jean Rolin as a donor, both on display at the museum of Autun (pictures from the family archives):

He seems to have inherited his father’s duckface.

The museum of Autun lists the painting as a Nativity with Jean Rolin, dated around 1480, attributed to the Master of Moulins.

The Master of Moulins turns out to be Jean Hey, (source of dates etc.: Wikipedia) probably Flemish, born around 1455, and active in France, mostly Moulins, between 1475 and 1505. By coincidence I took a picture of his Ecce Homo at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts because I found it a compelling painting.

Now for the interesting bit. According to Wikipedia Jean Hey was at influenced or even a pupil of Hugo van der Goes. According to the French Wikipedia: “Il semble être formé à Gand au début des années 1470 par Hugo van der Goes. De ce peintre, il est proche par la technique faite d’un dessin net, d’une mise en page aux perspectives hardies, d’une lumière froide et d’un coloris éclatant.”

This raises a number questions, in a time before photography and the internet: Are the similarities between the paintings a coincidence or had Jean Hey seen the Monforte altarpiece or studies for it, or copies afterwards, and if so, when? How did he end up working for Jean Rolin? Via Charles de Bourbon? What does that mean for the date and the location of the Monforte piece?

Elisbeth Dhanens has a theory regarding the identity of the kneeling man in red on the Monforte altarpiece. She compares his posture and items of clothing to that of Nicolas Rolin and deducts that he must be another chancellor, namely Willem Hugonet. It is just a theory and if it is valid or not, is not of importance to me. What is interesting is, that it puts both my tournament man (supposedly related to Jean Rolin of above) and Hugonet together in the Council of Mechelen:

Note that the painting is not contemporary but dates from the 16th century, so the portraits are probably fantasy. I also have to look into the correctness of the other members.

After the death of Charles the Bold, Willem/Guillaume Hugonet was tortured and decapitated in Gent on 3rd April 1477. He wrote a farewell letter to his wife:

“My Fortune Is Such that I Expect to Die Today and to Depart this World”

Did Hugo witness the execution?

To be continued.


Feeling doomed, might delete later…

The portrait of Laurent Froiment, by Rogier van der Weyden. The picture is grainy because it was a dark and stormy day when I took this picture, and these portraits are already quite dark to start with. You can just about see Otto’s head in the background (see earlier post).

Have been reading about movements and connections between the Primitives this morning. Hugo stayed in the Roo(d)klooster, who were Augustinians. The family library contained a number of books about the Augustinian order and its history, might be something interesting in them, but they’re in storage and I’m not able to get to them right now. That will have to wait until after lockdown. In 2068 or something.

I have also been reading a bit more about the upper left panel of the last supper by Dieric Bouts and who’s in it:

Even with the limited subject I’m researching and the amount of knowledge I already absorbed and paintings I’ve seen since my childhood, I realised I still know next to nothing about it all. But what’s the point of all this research? What’s the future going to be like? Building up immunity after infection is unlikely, vaccines are unlikely.

Guess we’re all doomed.

This is how going out to buy bread feels like.

Anyway, got to go paint now.


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