The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

A courteous kind of Love ~ The late-medieval Portrait of Lijsbeth van Duvenvoorde

Lijsbeth van Duvenvoorde
Ca. 1430 by an anonymous artist
Medium – oil on vellum
Dimensions – 32,5 x 20,5 cm
Photo & Collection –
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Holland)

This is Lijsbeth van Duvenvoorde, a late-Medieval noblewoman and wife of Simon van Adrichem, knight. He was a man of power wealth and like his father Floris and his father-in-law Dirck van Duvenvoorde, in loyal service to the Comital House of Holland.

Hers is one of the oldest portraits known in Holland and dates from the first half of the 15th century. It was painted around the 1430’s by occasion of her engagement and marriage (March 19th 1430 according to some sources). Halas, the artist remains unknown but the fact that he was a skilled master clearly shows as well as the fact that he knew what was considered beautiful on late medieval women: The rich cloth in bold colours, the girdle with the bells around the high waist emphasizing her female curves and especially her belly (yes, these were the times where women were mostly honoured for their virtue and fertility); her hair firmly tucked away in the headpiece and epilated eyebrows, creating a high forehead for which apparently a medieval man would easily fall of his horse in awe. Elegantly she holds (note the rings!) a banderol: a scroll of parchment often used in paintings and portraits around this time for stating names, ages, verses etc. Her banderol reads in old Dutch:

Mi verdriet lange te hope, wie is hi die zijn hert houdt open?
(My sadness has been waiting, who shall open his heart?)

Another unfortunate thing is the loss of the pendant. Lijsbeth lost her husband about a hundred years ago, the reason of their separation is unknown as is the exact current location where Simon’s portrait is kept, if, at all, it still exists… There are rumours that somewhere near Genua (Italy) in the collection of the Galleria Museo Rizzi in Sestri Levante, there is a portrait of Simon van Adrichem, but the present information I could find lacks to define whether it is indeed the pendant of Lijsbeth. Rest assured that the next time I am near Genua and in the opportunity, that I will visit.

With his disappearance – or, let us be positive: absence – we lost both his image and his question. Although it is known from old records; his banderol states:

Mi bange seret, wi is hi die met minne eeret?
(My fear is aching, who will love in honour?)

Well, there you have it: A future man and wife, uncertain about their life’s destiny, taking the step towards marriage hoping that they will find love and comfort – bound together by the honour of marriage. Some have said they find it odd to read such lines on the portrait(s) of a husband and wife. I find it beautiful. This to me is the courteous kind of love, the subtle medieval dance around each other, briefly touching hands watching closely how the other responds, does he or she feel the same and will the longing be answered?
I read that Lijsbeth gives the answer to the question herself. The banderol is shaped as an S, hinting the name of Simon. It could indeed be so, but I still haven’t seen his portrait and he should then have a banderol shaped as an L or E (Elisabeth)

It makes it all the sadder that they have travelled the sad path of history I have come across more often. You work on research and with some good fortune you are able to find a beautiful portrait to illustrate the people you have been studying, but then as you look at it, you see clearly it was made with a pendant, the other half. And nothing pains me more than two portraits, made to be together many, many years ago – separated. Some are lost forever, destroyed or remaining as one of the many anonymous persons (‘Man with book’, ‘Lady with flowers’ ‘…’). Others are ‘lucky’ and just find themselves in different collections. Some musea will work on the reunification of the portraits, others don’t, but at least the comfort then lies in the fact that they are known and located.

How did it end with Lijsbeth? During her lifetime there were of course many wars (like the Hundred Years War, the War of the Roses etc.) but the period of time that stretches out over her married life: the 1440-1470’s is mostly known as a very prosperous time for Europe. To place her in history: Not a year after her marriage Jeanne d’Arc was sentenced to burn at the stake. She saw the end of the longlasting Hoekse & Kabeljauwse Twisten (Hook and Cod Wars) which must have been very much present in daily life, as both her and her husband’s family were involved. In 1453 Europe was shaken by the Siege and Fall of Constantinople, which would never be brought back under Christian rule. But also it was the time of Gutenberg, his printing press and famous bible; the rise, fight and rule of the De’Medici bankers in Florence and the start of Leonardo da Vinci’s career.

Lijsbeth herself became a mother of (at least?) three sons and died in the night of Ascension in the year 1472. As expected from a devout Christian noblewoman during her life she had given order to build an altar for the Holy Cross in a convent and in front of that altar she was laid to rest. I expect her to have reached at least the age of 50 years. Whether her husband was indeed that man, who opened his heart to her, remains a private mystery

NB: This came mostly from a notebook in which I didn’t jot down sources and literature, but I was able to check most of the known facts with the website of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam; click here for her entry in their database


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This entry was posted on December 3, 2011 by in History, Notes on a Portrait and tagged , , , , , , .

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