Nothing I attempted to paint the past couple days is worth posting here but there is something slightly trivial I can write about. What does one do during lockdown other than conduct small experiments?

Yesterday evening I was going through some Burgundian illuminations and suddenly realised why Otto’s Trial by Dieric Bouts (see earlier post and above) looked familiar.

The painting is currently located in the Old Masters museum of Brussels, hanging close to Rogier’s painting of Anthony the Big Bastard and some other Burgundian bowl cut whose name I’d have to look up. But that’s a side note.

Size is not everything but this painting is huge. It takes up a whole wall.

On 20 May 1468 Dieric Bouts, who had been living in Leuven since 1448, was commissioned by the town magistrate to paint a Last Judgment and four justice panels for the town hall. The legend of emperor Otto III (around 1000 AD) was chosen as a theme.  According to the legend Otto III ordered the beheading of a count who had been falsely accused by the empress of indecent assault, after she herself had vainly attempted to seduce him. After the execution she delivered the proof of the false accusation by holding a glowing rod of metal in her hand unharmed. Realising that an innocent man had been executed, Otto III condemned his wife to death at the stake (borrowed this description from Google arts).

The Judgment is largely lost except two side panels which are now in Rijsel. Bouts only finished two of the justice panels before he died. Interestingly enough, Hugo van der Goes was asked in 1480 to appraise the paintings so the heirs could be paid. Hugo was also asked to finish other incompleted paintings by Bouts.

The Otto painting is supposed to depict a trial as it would have looked like in the days of Charles the Bold. Emperor Otto is depicted in a way that the Duke of Burgundy held his audiences. He resembles Charles the Bold somewhat in the right panel, though as an older man (Charles would have been 34 in May 1468), but not so much on the left one. Included below are a miniature of Charles and a detail of Otto for reference purposes.

The clothes are Burgundian, and the executions that are depicted (decapitation, torture, etc) were common in the 15th century so you can assume the contemporary setting of the painting serves as an example and a warning to the visitors of the town hall and court house. (I took some of this information from a catalogue published by Uitgeverij Peeters, Leuven in 1998. The catalogue, however, does not offer much information about the real identities of the persons depicted in the Otto panels.)

Charles the Bold in the Montpellier manuscript, depicted as both a knight and a judge. Not sure if it’s his unicorn sword he is holding.

So the painting was commissioned in spring 1468 but it took some time to prepare the wood, and the other usual preparations for large paintings on wood. According to the documentation, Bouts started painting in 1470. I haven’t yet looked into this but some important political events happened after the commission: in the summer of 1468 Charles married Margaret of York in Bruges, during by what is probably one of the most famous parties of all time. In October 1468 the Burgundian army led by Charles the Bold and the somewhat kidnapped French king Louis XI went to war against Liège, and the rebellious city and its inhabitants were cruelly punished. It’s possible, but I’d have to check this, that Charles the Bold went to Liège via Leuven.

Anyway, let’s move on to manuscripts.

A lot of the manuscripts commissioned by the higher classes from this era start with a presentation miniature, ie an illumination depicting an author presenting the finished manuscript to the patron. There is one particular miniature that I want to show here, included in a manuscript of the story of Alexander the Great, illustrated by Loyset Liédet ( Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, MS. f.22547, fol. 1). In this illumination, the finished book (one of a kind as it’s handwritten, nb) is presented to Charles the Bold. As you can see Liédet’s style is somewhat comical, almost like a modern day cartoon.

Now for the experiment: let’s crop the miniature a little, mirror it and put it side by side with Otto.

Now there is another reason why Otto looked familiar.

Otto in close-up:

Detail of the panel: Emperor Otto’s head

The apostle John in Memling’s Last Judgment, a supposed crypto portrait of the duke, probably painted between 1467-1471:

Liédet got paid for the miniatures in 1470, so they would have been made slightly before the Justice panels and Memling’s Judgment. Liédet was originally from Hesdin, but from 1467 onwards he worked in Bruges. Nowhere near Leuven, anyway. Same goes for Memling. Hugo van der Goes was in Gent (but afterwards went to Ouderghem, to the monastery. In 1480 he was apparently still sane enough to appraise paintings in Leuven).

I don’t know if this is an example of medieval stock photography of grumpy Burgundian dudes or me seeing ghosts.

But that’s not all. Charles the Bold, control freak extraordinaire, was very fond of endless meetings and trials. There is a description about a very bizarre trial presided by Charles the Bold, in which the casse resembles the Otto case. I don’t know it by heart and I have to look it up in a very large old encyclopedia so that’s not for today. I am going to try and find it for my next post. It would be interesting to see from when it dates to see what came first: the chicken or the egg.

All this is a work in progress and open for corrections and suggestions.