Master of Anthony of Burgundy: Le bal des Ardents (1470)

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, France)

This miniature is from the book 'Froissart of Louis of Gruuthuse' (BnF, MSS Français 2643-6), a chronicle of the period 1326 to 1400. The miniature shows a horrible event which took place on 28 January 1393 in Paris. A ball was held in Hôtel de Saint-Pol to honor the wedding of a knight and Catherine de Fastaverin, one of the ladies-in-waiting of Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen consort of France and wife of King Charles VI of France. At the suggestion of Huguet de Guisay, a special dance was performed by King Charles VI of France and 5 friends. The 6 men were dressed as 'wild men' in costumes of linen soaked with resin to which flax was attached "so that they appeared shaggy and hairy from head to foot", including masks which covered the faces of the dancers so that they would dance incognito (the audience did not know the king was among the group). Torches were forbidden to minimize the risk of the highly flammable costumes catching fire. Unfortunately, the drunk Louis, Duke of Orleans and brother to the king, approached the dancers to check the identity while holding a torch and an errant spark caught on one of the dancer's costumes. The entire scene quickly descended into chaos as the fire spread to the other dancers. Members of the audience were desperatly trying to save the burning men. Ogier de Nantouillet, one of the dancers, saved himself when he jumped into a wine vat. Charles VI was saved by quick thinking of his aunt Joan II, Countess of Auvergne and Boulogne, who swiftly threw her voluminous skirt over him (she had identified her nephew during the dance) - this can be seen in the miniature. The other 4 dancers (Count de Joigny, Yvain de Foix, Aimery Poitiers and Huguet de Guisay) all died because of their wounds. Louis, Duke of Orléans, was blamed for the tragedy (one source even accused him of trying to murder the king) and donated funds in atonement for a chapel to be built at the Celestine monastery. The status of Charles VI, already suffering from attacks of illness, insanity (at one moment he thought he was made of glass) and a declining health, suffered greatly because of this incident as the population of Paris saw the dance as a symbol of their decadence and soon lost all political power. Miniature from around 1470.

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