The Illuminator King


I trained at art school to paint coats of arms, to write with goose quill pens and to illuminate manuscripts using original techniques. Part of my studies included the scrutiny of medieval illuminated manuscripts inch by careful inch. It was whilst undertaking these studies I came across a manuscript by a medieval French Duke. ‘Le livre du Cuer d’amours espris’ The Book of the Love Smitten Heart.  I obtained an English translation and was, like the heart. smitten.  This enchanting allegorical chivalric tale written in 1457 had a lasting effect on me the text conjured up a strange landscape of the medieval mind a richness and a romance that only an artist, poet or dreamer could imagine. It also has an extesive section given over to heraldry, blazons describing  the arms of mythical heroes, kings, emperors  and some of the French nobility of the time. The manuscript also had some of the most beautiful illuminations I had seen, the beauty was not in their technical ability but in the way they evoked and highlighted the story, I  have always likened the experience to  the way a medieval piece of music, ‘Tristans Lament’ raises in me a certain sense of the medieval.


Rene of Anjou, Count of Piedmont, Duke of Bar, Duke of Lorraine, Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence, King of Naples and Titular King of Jerusalem. Better known as ‘Good King Rene’ was born in 1409 in the castle of Angers. He was 2nd son of  Louis Duke of Anjou and Yolanda of Aragon. From the age of ten he was raised in Lorraine and one of his guardians was Louis, Cardinal of Bar. In 1430 Rene married Isabella daughter of his other guardian Charles II of Lorraine. In 1431 Rene claimed Lorraine by right of his wife but Anthony of Vaudemont contested the claim and in 1431 Anthony defeated Rene at Bulgneville and handed him over as a prisoner to Philip Duke of Burgundy.

The court of the Duke of Burgundy was perhaps the most ostentatious of the medieval period. Famed for it’s art, culture and style Rene must have absorbed the richness and sensuous of it and no doubt the experience left a deep rooted mark.  Later in life after various episodes, political intrigues and campaigns Rene began to concentrate on the arts. He wrote poems which he exchanged with Charles Duke of  Orleans and books including his, ‘Book of the Tournament’ which was produced unusually for the time on paper and illustrated with watercolours. The book is a real insight to all aspects of a tournament held by a sophisticated court of the 15th Century and for heraldic artists it is a valuable source for heraldic practice and proportion. reneanjou1But the work that left it’s mark , that of the Love Smitten Heart to me sums up that chivalric dream world that Rene must have witnessed whilst held captive by the Burgundian Duke. The illuminated pages show enchanting landscapes, beautiful maidens and interiors illuminated by fire light. The works are enticing and quite particular unlike any other medieval manuscript. Recently it has been suggested that they were painted not by the good King himself but by another artist.

Barthelemy d’Eyck was a Netherlandish painter who some art historians believe also worked on some of the calendar pages of the fabulous Tres Riches Heures of Jean Duc de Berry. Some would have us believe he illustrated all of King Rene’s books. He was certainly employed by Rene as a Peintre and varlet de chamber and is listed in the King’s Household records of  1447 a position of high status certainly and his studio was located next to Rene’s personal apartments but there is no clear evidence that he painted the works. If he did indeed add  to the calendar scenes then to my mind he did not paint the illustrations of the Love Smitten Heart.Le_Livre_du_cœur_d'amour_épris1 Call it an artists instinct or in this case an illuminators instinct but there is an extra special quality about these miniatures that to my mind could only be conceived and painted by the dreamer of this world.  Just little touches here and there, small vanities and idiosyncrasies that have me convinced that the King himself produced these illuminations.  I sometimes wonder if it was not the case that Barthelemy aided the Duke and helped him illuminate the book, even taught him techniques in the studio. I like to picture the artist and the King working on ideas and experimenting with technique  whilst the warm sun of medieval French Summer shone through the glass window and glistened on the wet jewel like paint making the gold sparkle and delighting the King. We will never know for sure but in the light of the lack of evidence this particular illuminator will continue to believe that Good King Rene of Anjou was and still is the, ‘The Illuminator King’.

Andrew Stewart  Jamieson

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