© KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché KN002235

Reliquary of Charles the Bold

Gérard Loyet, 1467 — 1471
Cathedral of St Paul, Liège

Nancy, 7 January 1477: the scene of the crime. An unknown, naked man with no face. Weapons and clothing have been removed, his face eaten by wolves. On the basis of scars, this ‘John Doe’ could be identified. It was Charles of Burgundy, alias Charles the Bold (Dijon 1433 – 1477 Nancy). This reliquary shows Charles the Bold kneeling. He is holding a hexagonal case in which St Lambert’s relic is contained. Behind the duke stands his patron saint, St George, recognizable by the dragon. Both men are clad in richly decorated armor, and around the neck of Charles the Bold hangs the chain of the Golden Fleece. He is portrayed quite realistically. The reliquary is an exceptional example of the goldsmith’s art, with its unparalleled quality and craftsmanship. The features of the duke’s face can also be recognized in the figure of St George. As a great lover of crusades, Charles may have wanted to present himself as the new George, the ideal Christian knight. This is a unique combination of a founding portrait and a portrait historié. Even today, we still recognize him in visual art. In reality, the duke who was so often immortalized in portraits died without a face….

Micha Leeflang, Curator of Medieval Art, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, NL

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