Copy after Rogier van der Weyden: Portrait of John the fearless (1500)


(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria)

A painting by an unknown 15th/ 16th century Dutch artist. Harsh, cynical, gloomy, crafty, ruthless, small, ugly, a long nose (typical of house Valois) and very ambitious - the most important character traits of duke john I 'the Fearless' of Burgundy (1371-1419). John the Fearless (reign 1404-1419) was the son of duke Philip II 'the bold'of Burgundy who received his cognomen the fearless for his personal bravery and leadership at the battle of Nicopolis (25 September 1396) during the Ottoman wars. The reign of John the Fearless was dominated by the consolidation of the Burgundian lands and conflict. A primary source of conflict was the mental stability of king Charles VI of France who became increasingly mentally unstable (at one time he thought he was made of glass). At first the duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy, uncle of the king, acted as regent of the king but at the death of Philip a power struggle erupted between his son duke John the Fearless of Burgundy (cousin of the king) and duke Louis I of Orléans (brother of the king). Both tried to sabotage each others rule and became increasingly more hostile towards each other. The conflict also became something of a personal vendetta: Louis was a womanizer and it was rumored that he tried to rape Margaret of Bavaria, the wife of John the Fearless, at a party and John the Fearless discovered a portrait of his wife in a private portrait gallery of the mistresses of Louis of Orleans. On Sunday 20 November 1407  Louis I of Orléans was assassinated in Paris by 15 men on the orders of John the Fearless who admitted to the deed but declared it justifiable act as Louis "was taking his pleasure with whores, harlots, incest". The assassination however started a spiral of violence between 1411 and 1414 with battles fought and cities besieged. Charles VII of France, cousin of Louis of Orleans and the heir apparent to the throne of France, took revenge by having John the Fearless assassinated on 10 September 1419 during a peaceful parley. Charles VII had hoped that the killing of the Burgundian duke would bring peace and unity to France but it had the opposite effect. France was already at war with England (the hundred years war) which occupied large parts of France. The son of John the Fearless, duke Philip the Good made an alliance with England in 1419 which gave the French throne (temporarily) to king Henry V of England, further igniting the war between France and England. Only in 1435 king Charles VII of France managed to make peace with Burgundy, ending the feud between the two houses. Painting from around 1500.




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