My last post dealt wth revealing the identity of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, one of the figures in the Panel of the Archbishop that is part of the St Vincent Panels.
There’s still more to reveal about Charles who is linked in other ways to both the kneeling knight below him and the two men immediately above.
I also mentioned I would confirm the identity of René II, duke of Lorraine, who fought against the duke of Burgundy at the battle of Nancy on January 3, 1477. Rene is the knight mirrored on the opposite side of the frame,
In another post I explained that one of the reasons why the prelates in the picture are yoked in expensive gold ‘stoles’ that cover their arms was the artist’s method of introducing a “coat of arms” theme in the panel. Its a clue to help identify some of the other figures by their coat of arms or insignia.
René II duke of Lorraine (from1472) can be identified by his three coats of arms. He was also duke of Calabria (1481 to 1493) and Duke of Bar (1483 to 1508). Hugo van der Goes has embedded icongraphy to identify René by his coat of arms.
Coats of arms were an important part of dress and uniform for identifying knights in jousting tournaments and battle arenas. Rene’s grandfather, René of Anjou, was somewhat of an authority on tournament rules and history and produced a colourful illustrated treatise on the subject known as King René’s Tournament Book.
In contrast to René II’s three coats of arms, his opposite opponent Charles the Bold is mirrored without any. This was intended by the artist to reflect the duke of Burgundy’s physical state when his lifeless body was found stripped naked following his army’s defeat by René’s forces at the Battle of Nancy. HIs nakedness also reflected not only the loss of his clothes but also his kingdom and worldly possessions. Identification of Charles’ mutilated body was confirmed by his personal physician. Three spear wounds, two in the thighs and another in the abdomen were noted, along with the severe head injury above the ear from a blow by a halberd. The physician also identified a shoulder wound the duke received in a previous battle as well as more personal details, that Charles had long fingernails and a fistula swelling on his groin.
Hugo van der Goes has verified the identity of Charles the Bold as a figure in the Panel of the Prince with references to these wounds and personal details.
The wounds to the thighs and abdomen link to the three spears; the severe head injury above the ear is represented by the red hat and the green extension to the spear held by Charles which is shaped as a sprouting ear or barb on the blade to give the appearance of a halberd extension; the shoulder injury is defined by the grooved pattern at the joint on the armour plate, suggesting that Charles may have had difficulty or was restricted in rotating his arm; the pointed spear combined with the green barb can be understood as a long finger nail. The fistula reference is in two parts – Charles right hand forms a fist, while “fore” fingers on his left hand grip the “sheath” of his “sword”. His thumb rests on the “handle”. All are presented as phallic symbols to suggest Charles’ fistula swelling in his groin, a symptom of an abnormal urinary tract infection.
After Charles’ body was recovered and removed from the battlefield it was cleansed in “warm water and good wine”. A pointer to this is the hat on the figure kneeling below the duke, depicted as a crushed, burgundy colour grape and then sacked and sealed with a chain and medallion. The wine reference is also a pointer by Hugo van der Goes to one of two identities given to the kneeling figure. But I shall provide details on this a future post.
Returning to René II and the coats of arms which reveal his identity…
Duke of Lorraine – In heraldic terms the diagonal band is called a “bend” and shown here in a “sinister” or left position. Imposed is a motif of three birds which are referred to as eaglets or “alerions” (an anagram of Lorraine).
The three alerions can be matched with the group of three hands that form the shape of a bird or, at another level, a dove representing the Holy Spirit descending into the heart of the kneeling knight. Like the bend on the shield, the descent is diagonal but in a “dexter” or right direction and not “sinister”, and so suggesting a change of heart or conversion experience by the kneeling figure. This turnaround implication also applies to the figure of René, duke of Lorraine, who recaptured his Duchy from the control of Charles the Bold.
Duke of Calabria – The “feathered” look of the kneeling knight’s purple hat, coupled with the wing shape section on René’ breastplate, introduces the connection to René’s title as duke of Calabria. His right hand grips the shaft of a raised spear. Combine this with the double-wing motif and this forms the feathered hand raising the sword in the Calabria coat of arms.
Duke of Bar – The wing outline on the breastplate can also be viewed as the shape of a rising or leaping fish and is one of two featured on the coat of arms representing the duchy of Bar. The bar fastener on the duke’s jacket is another clue.
The fish are what are known as dogfish or pike fish which explains one of the reasons why Hugo van der Goes has shaped René hairstyle as the head of a dog and facing the spear or pike blade. Another name the shark fish is known by is the “spiny dogfish”. It has two spines that enables it to arch its back (as depicted in the coat of arms) in a defensive capacity and pierce a captor with spines near its dorsal fins that secrete venom. The word “arch” links with other “arch” features in the panel.
Van der Goes has translated this feature to the figure of Charles opposite. The blade of his pike head is the shape of the fish while the green barb doubles up as the arched back (a second spine). The tassel strings represent the secreted venom.
So where’s the dog? Keyword is “spine”, the spine of the book placed at base of Charles’ neck and the start of his spine. The book spine is damaged and partly folded – “dog-eared”. The ear reference points to the site of Charles’ head injury and the blow which killed him. The dog reference points to the injuries to the side of his face inflicted by a wolf after death.
• More details on the Panel of the Archbishop in my next post.