WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)

Portrait of Antony of Burgundy

c. 1461
Oak, 38,4 x 28 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Antony of Burgundy was the illegitimate son of Philip the Good and Jeanne de Prelle, and fulfilled military and advisory functions at the Court of Burgundy. During the chapter held at The Hague on 2 May 1456 he was admitted to the Order of the Golden Fleece, on which occasion he received the golden chain with which he is portrayed. This symbolises the personal bond with Philip the Good, the head and founder of the order of knighthood. Flints, steel and sparks, the emblems of Philip the Good, form the links in the chain. The ram's fleece is taken from the mythological legend of Jason, but refers also to Gideon, God's chosen warrior in the Bible. These are exemplary figures, whose heroic deeds were cultivated by the duke and his courtiers.

Antony of Burgundy embodies the old knightly ideal which the Burgundian power wished to be seen to aspire to. Court dignitaries, knights, tournament judges and soldiers are frequently depicted with an arrow, as a symbol of office, a token of special distinction or merit, or as an attribute. The arrow could also refer to a position as king of an archery guild, the winner of the annual shooting tournament. In 1463 Antony of Burgundy was king of the St Sebastian Guild in Bruges. If the projectile refers to this commendable achievement, this makes it one of Rogier van der Weyden's last works. In any event, the picture was painted after 1456, when Antony of Burgundy was admitted into the Order of the Golden Fleece. His hairstyle and the high, conical hat point to the period shortly after 1460.

Typical of Rogier van der Weyden's art is the low portrait bust in three-quarter profile against a dark, neutral background. Antony of Burgundy's expression is dignified and serene. The face is individualised, but the traits reflect a pattern of softly-flowing curves. In all likelihood the man's real features have been somewhat simplified to give an overly harmonious and therefore somewhat rigid facial expression, which goes to emphasise the impression of distinction. The painter's workmanship appears in the subtle reproduction of textures, in particular of the skin with the soft gradations of the flesh colours. In short, the artist has modelled the knight on an ideal image, whilst retaining his individuality.