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Work Ring bearing the portrait of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419; as duke, 1404-19)

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Ring with a portrait of Jean Sans Peur, Duc de Bourgogne (1404-19)

© 2003 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Balandre Isabelle

This gold ring with a bezel bears the portrait of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419). Combining several techniques-chasing, enamel, precious stones, and hard stone-this delicately worked piece reflects the exquisite taste of the early fifteenth-century court.

A faithful likeness

John the Fearless belonged to the ambitious and powerful Burgundian dynasty. The instigator of the assassination of Louis of Orléans, brother of King Charles VI, he himself was assassinated during the conflict between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians.
Seen in profile from the right, this bust shows the duke wearing the chaperon or hood fashionable in the early fifteenth century. This faithful likeness resembles the portrait in the illuminated manuscript of the Livre des Merveilles, dating from circa 1410 and now in France's National Library. In all probability this sizeable ring belonged to the Duke of Burgundy himself. He is known to have liked this kind of jewelry: on his tomb, now in the museum in Dijon, he is shown wearing several rings on each hand.

A combination of different techniques

The face is sculpted from white agate, the black jade hat is decorated with a ruby, and the emerald garment has a fur collar of beige agate. Thus the piece combines chasing, enameling, and sculpture of hard stone. Both the exterior and interior of the ring bore inscriptions in black enamel: on the interior we can still make out some of the Gothic lettering of the Latin inscription, "Truly this was the Son of God," uttered by one of the Roman centurions after Jesus' death (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39). Unfortunately, the inscription on the outside is now totally effaced. On the underside of the bezel, however, we can readily make out an engraved planing tool overlaid with orange-yellow enamel. The use of such emblems was widespread in the late Middle Ages and this one was adopted by John the Fearless in 1406.
Cameo rings of this kind were very much in fashion at the time and we know that John of Berry, the Duke's uncle, had two of them. In its traditional combining of gold and colored stones, this piece reflects the fashion and taste for luxury of the style prevailing in the fifteenth century's first decade.


Technical description

  • Paris (c. 1410)

    Ring with a portrait of Jean Sans Peur, Duc de Bourgogne (1404-19)

    (Before 1419)

  • Gold, agate?, jet, emerald, ruby; translucent enamel on gold

    Diam. 2.30 cm

  • Former Guilhou, Montesquiou-Fezensac collection; anonymous gift through the intermediary of the Society of Friends of the Louvre, 1951 , 1951

    OA 9524

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Scepter of Charles V
    Room 504
    Display case 1

Practical information

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Additional information about the work

Vere [filius Dei erat] iste (Truly this was the Son of God-Matthew 27:54)