Images of Charles

Images of Charles, duc d’Orleans

We have very little evidence of what the duke actually looked like. As a result, writers and artists have had a field day imagining him according to their own estimation of him. This page will continue to grow as I digitize my collection of such imagined portraits.

The likenesses really fall into one of three categories:

those produced in his lifetime or immediately after it,

those produced in the nineteenth century, and

those produced in the last hundred years or so.

To take each in order, in the first half of the fifteenth century, portraiture was possible, but not always a requirement of patrons. A queen should look queenly. A knight should look knightly. Whether the eyes were just right was in some cases the last requirement of the patron (especially, one suspects, if the subject was less than beautiful). It is therefore very difficult to know whether an image (a manuscript illumination, a panel painting, a tapestry, etc.) was intended as a true likeness. The dukes of Burgundy seem to have required some accuracy of representation. We know this in part because a succession of images of Philippe le Bon, produced over the course of many years (he liked his image), all show a very strong resemblance to one another.

The only representation that can with any certainty be associated with the duke is this medieval tapestry of Charles with his third wife, Marie de Cleves. They were married immediately upon his return from captivity at the age of 46. She was 14. It is hard to say exactly when this tapestry was executed, but it certainly does not represent the disparity in their ages.

Here is Charles d’Orleans at the time of his betrothal according to some scholars. The is the month of April, from the fifteenth-century manuscript called the Très riches heures of Jean, duc de Berry. One of the most famous medieval images of the poet appear in the first cityscape known to have been painted: London in the late fifteenth century, with London Bridge in the background and in the foreground the White Tower. (Charles was housed in the Tower briefly soon after his arrival in England.) He is pictured here three times: once seen at a table writing, once looking from a window high in the wall onto the street, and once outside the Tower greeting another man. There have been a number of interpretations of this image, which is found in a manuscript containing some of his French poems. (The image is from British Library, Royal MS 16 F.ii, fol. 73.)

The images produced in the nineteenth century were (no surprise) mostly very romantic. Artists and writers seem to have thought of the duke as a handsome, dark-haired, usually fairly young man. The word “courtly” springs to mind. One of the best known representations (with his third wife, Marie de Clèves) is by Ange Francois. Another is this illustration made for “Le Plutarque Francais,” by E. Mennechet, in 1835. In this case, Charles seems to be a very virile man as well. There are many more.

Those images produced more recently vary greatly. Some idealize the duke; others picture him according to ideas of “French-ness” (as does Matisse).