In the year 1431 Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, established the Order of the Golden Fleece, ‘out of respect for God and for the advancement of the Christian faith’. His major objective, however, was to tighten the bonds between his vassals and friendly foreign princes and himself through this order. The knights of the Golden Fleece, originally 31, but gradually extended to 45, met at irregular times at the request of their sovereign. During these gatherings, in which church services alternated with festivities, political matters were discussed and new knights elected. On their appointment all knights received the chain of the order and a copy of the statutes. The Hague Book of Statutes is unique because it opens with a picture of a Golden Fleece meeting, one of the oldest depictions extant; moreover it contains the portraits of all the knights, instead of only those of the sovereigns. The manuscript includes portraits of all members up to and including the meeting of 1468, and will therefore have been made for one of the knights elected in that year. At a later date the portraits of those admitted during the meetings of 1473 and 1478 were added.
The miniature of the meeting shows Charles the Bold, who had succeeded his father Philip in 1467, seated amongst his knights, under a high green canopy. They all wear the red robes of the order with the chain of the Golden Fleece around their necks. In the foreground are the four officers of the order, the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Secretary and, standing, the King-of-Arms, who also held the position of Master of Ceremonies. He is wearing the ‘potence’, the chain of the order containing all the coats of arms of the members still alive. The fact that six of the ten coats of arms that can be identified (with the help of a magnifying glass) belong to knights appointed in 1468 testifies that the painter was intent on representing an up-to-date picture.
Statuts et armorial de la Toison d'Or. Southern Netherlands, 1468 or shortly after. Vellum, 86 leaves, 249 x 187 mm. Provenance: G.J. Gérard collection, 1832. - 76 E 10, fol. 5v