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A French Hood Set Against a Dating.

The accession numbers 301.1994.a-b in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sidney, Australia are held by two undated and unsigned sixteenth Century portraits, originating from The Netherlands, attributed to Anbrosius Benson and identified as portraits of the diplomat Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper (or Scheppere) and his wife Elisabeth Donche (Figs. 1 and 2). The two portraits are thought perhaps to have been created to form a diptych and they are by the museum officially dated to ca. 1540. This paper would like to challenge that dating of the portraits which was originally proposed by art historian Max Jacob Friedländer (1867-1958).

Fig. 1. Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper attributed to Ambrosius  Benson, dated by the museum to ca. 1540. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia, acc. no. 301.1994.a.

Fig. 2. Elisabeth Donche attributed to Ambrosius  Benson, dated by the museum to ca. 1540. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia, acc. no. 301.1994.b.

Each portrait holds a coat of arms on the back. A gentleman’s coat of arms would hold the shape of a traditional shield while the shape of a lady’s coat of arms would traditionally be a diamond shaped lozenge until late in the sixteenth century and after that an oval shape. A gentleman’s coat of arms would hold the blazon[1] of his noble family[2] while the blazon of a lady’s coat of arms would until she was married be a replica of her father’s blazon, but after her marriage her coat of arms would be impaled with her husband’s blazon occupying the left hand side of the lozenge[3]. Given the gentleman’s blazon on the left hand side of her shield the two portraits in question must present the sitters as husband and wife (Figs. 3 and 4). A pair of shields almost identical to the ones in figs. 3 and 4 (only not as elegantly done) are painted on the nineteenth Century black stone framing the original (but restored) tomb monument to Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper and Elisabeth Donche in the church of Eke ob de Schelde, Belgium.

[1] The heraldic design.

[2] In England a married gentleman might impale his wife’s coat of arms or add it as an inescutcheon, i.e. a small shield applied to his original coat of arms, all depending on whether or not she was an heiress. The author has, however, found no Netherlandish example of a gentleman of the early 1500s impaling his wife’s blazon or implementing it as an inescutcheon.

[3] This impalement of the lady’s lozenge is in England linked to her widowhood. Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, The Wordsworth Complete Guide to Heraldry, (1996, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Ware, Hertfordshire), p. 533. This English interpretation would here make sense only if the coat of arms on the back of Elisabeth Donche’s portrait referred to her first marriage as her second husband outlived her. The author has found Netherlandish examples where ladies’ impaled coats of arms would hold the shape of a man’s shield.

Fig. 3. The coat of arms on the back of the gentleman’s portrait. Fig. 4. The coat of arms on the back of the lady’s portrait.

This lady’s blazon is unmistakably that of the Donche family: a red curry comb set on a background of ermine. The gentleman’s coat of arms is quartered, which should give an indication of the families of both of his parents. His father’s family should be presented top left and bottom right (the sections 1 and 4 of the quartering)[1]. Here we find a black eagle set against a golden background and displayed in the position resembling an imperial eagle of the Habsburgs. His mother’s family arms should be presented top right and bottom left (sections 2 and 3 of the quartering)[2]. Here we see a blue, crowned lion semi-rampant, set against a golden background and surrounded by three red hearts. Furthermore another shield is as an inescutcheon; a smaller shield, added at the center of the quartering[3]:  a golden double chevron, two golden bugle-horns above it and below it an item shaped like a hybrid between a triangle and a circle, all set on a blue background. The crest resting on a helmet above the coat of arms is the top of a knight’s armor holding a sword in one hand and a banner in the other.

[1] Fox-Davies, Complete Guide to Heraldry, p. 104.

[2] Ibid

[3] An inescutcheon is in English heraldry to be regarded as an “achievement”. Fox-Davies: Complete Guide to Heraldry, p. 57.Rudy van Elslande finds the inescutcheon in question to be the coat of arms of the de Schepper family of Dunkerque. Rudy Van Elslande, Diplomaat Cornelis Duplicus De Scheppere (1501-1555) Alias Schepperus, Heer Van Eke (en de heren van Eke vanaf 1540 tot 1752), Hemkring Scheldeveld, Jaarboek XLII 2013, (2013, Sint-Martens-Latem), p. 9.

Fig. 5. The Danish coat of arms presenting three crowned “leopards” or “lions passant”, each surrounded by three red hearts. Fig. 6. The Flemish heraldic lion.

This design cannot be connected to the arms of any old Netherlandish family unless the blazon was heavily redesigned. A text in Latin[1], however, dated 28 January 1526/1527[2] gives the description of a coat of arms

[1] Cornelius De Schepper and Christian II. Source: Humanistica Lovaniensia, Vol. 16. John Danticus and his Netherlandish Friends: As Revealed by Their Correspondence 1522-1546, (1961, Leuven University Press), pp. 20-21. I would like to thank Ann-Claire Olsen for her assistance with the translation of the essential parts of the Latin text.

[2] As the first day of a new year would be 25 March the contemporary date would be 28 January 1526 whereas it would by a modern calendar be known as 28 January 1527.

very much like it. The Young Lawyer, Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper, had undertaken diplomatic challenges on behalf of the exiled King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Christian II, trying to persuade other kings to take an interest in his situation and provide military assistance for his return to the Danish throne. As a token of gratitude (and perhaps as an alternative to payment) for services rendered the exiled King elevated Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper to the social rank of a knight with advanced tournament rights. De Schepper was in the same letter also granted a new design for his coat of arms with a crest to put on all his belongings; be it books or real estate. The coat of arms is described as holding a blue leopard[1] sitting on a golden background and surrounded by three red hearts. It is noted that this blue “leopard” with hearts is one of the three “leopards” in the Danish royal coat of arms (fig. 5), so this should be regarded as an extremely great honor. The text also describes the crest as it appears on the back of de Schepper’s portrait, and the design found in the inescutcheon of de Schepper’s coat of arms, interpreting the unidentifiable item as a silver sea shell. The Latin text indicates that the shield in the inescucheon would be de Schepper’s inherited family coat of arms as opposed to the English interpretation of the inescucheon as an heiress-wife’s shield. The Latin document seems to have been accompanied by a drawing presenting the design. The only item not mentioned is the black eagle, and there is no talk of a quartering either.

Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper received the document over a month after it was sent, and by that time he seems to have already entered into the service of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. I speculate that he might have shown the Danish King’s grant and the design of his coat of arms to his new employer who then at some point granted de Schepper the use of the Imperial eagle as part of his blazon[2]; provided it was ranked higher than the Danish “leopard”, thus displaying the eagle as “his father’s family” and the “leopard” as “only his mother’s family”. Somewhere along the line the lion changed its position from “passant” to turning its head towards the spectator and lifting up its front to a position of almost rampant thus resembling the style of the Flemish heraldic lion (fig. 6). Either way the earliest possible date for his coat of arms to be put on the back of the portrait must be the beginning of March 1526/1527[3], and it is not unlikely that the young diplomat would commemorate his new social rank by having his portrait painted.

Another thing which might be interesting in connection with a dating based on the back of the portrait is the absence of the chain of an order encircling de Schepper’s coat of arms. It is frequently said that de Schepper was made a knight of the order of the elephant by Christian II. First of all there was no order by that name at the time in question. The finest Danish order was called “Guds Moders Selskab” (The Order of

[1] A “leopard” is the French heraldic definition of a lion posing with three paws on the ground and one paw lifted up and its head turned towards the spectator; equivalent to the English term “lion passant”. Fox-Davies, Complete Guide to Heraldry, p. 173.

[2] Rudy Van Elslande interprets the Eagle as a grant given by the Habsburg King of Bohemia and Hungary, Ferdinand I (later Holy Roman Emperor), brother of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Van Elslande, p. 53.

[3] 1526 by the contemporary calendar and 1527 by our modern calendar.

God’s Mother), and two letters from 1529 speak of it.[1] The exiled King had asked Melchior de Germania if he could think of “anything else” (which must mean “anything apart from granting him the lordship of Jemtland” in what was then part of Norway, but is now part of Sweden; a grant given to de Schepper in May 1529[2]), and Melchior de Germania replies that the King had mentioned the possibility of a membership of the order in a conversation with de Schepper, who then hoped to receive the golden chain and pendants before his departure on a mission to Spain. I doubt very much if anything ever came of that membership as the exiled King had sold or pawned anything of value, including his wife’s jewelry, in order to make ends meet[3]. No letter is left to prove that a membership of that order was ever given, and I doubt very much if Christian II would have any golden chain of the order left to offer to his loyal ambassador. If de Schepper was indeed made a knight of The Order of God’s Mother the chain would no doubt encircle his coat of arms afterwards, and  his coat of arms on the back of the portrait could thus be dated to probably no later than 1529.

De Schepper was born in 1501, so he would have been 25 years old in 1526/1527 which is not an unlikely age for the gentleman in the portrait. The fine gloves in his hand would traditionally be interpreted as a sign of nobility, and the portrait could have been painted to commemorate his new, elevated status. The design of his hat points to a dating in the late 1520s or very early 1530s. The only thing which puzzles me in connection with this interpretation is the fact that he did not have his coat of arms painted on the front as part of the portrait itself.

Another likely scenario would be that the couple had their portraits painted to commemorate their wedding which took place in 1528. De Schepper would then be twenty seven, while his wife, born either 1495 or 1498, would be at least thirty. Trying to compare the ages of the two sitters from studying their faces I find the lady to look younger than the gentleman, and that does not work well with her being the elder of the couple[4].

If the portraits were painted to commemorate their engagement or their wedding one might expect to find a red pink or carnation (for an engagement) or a rose (for a wedding) in at least one of the portraits. There is no flower present at all. And if both portraits were painted in 1528 or even later there is another problem: the style of the lady’s headwear. She wears a fully established French hood of the early sort[5]

[1] E. C. Werlauff, De hellige tre kongers kapel, stiftet af Christian den første og Dronning Dorothea i Roskilde-Domkirke, (1849, Reitzel, Copenhagen), pp. 29-30.

[2] M. Le Bne De Saint-Genois and G.-A. Yssel De Schepper, Missions Diplomatiques de Corneille Duplicus De Schepper, dit Schepperus, Ambassadeur de Christiern II, de Charles V, de Ferdinand 1er et de Marie, Reine de Hongrie, Gouvernante des Pays-Bas, (1856, M. Hayez, Imprimeur de l’Académie Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles).  Available online at

[3] Paul J. Reiter, Christiern 2 Personlighed Sjæleliv og Livsdrama, (1971, Erik Beck Forlag, Copenhagen), pp. 137-138.

[4] When asking the opinion of others regarding the ages of the couple some have disagreed with me and find the lady to look older than the gentleman.

[5] Karen Margrethe Høskuldsson, Hidden in Plain Black: The Sectrets of the French Hood, Robin Netherton and Gale Owen-Crocker ed., Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Vol. 14, (2018, Boydell & Brewer), pp. 144-151 and 164-165.

where the tips of the oreillette[1] come all the way down to the jaw bone from where they disappear under the chin. Similar versions of the French hood’s oreillette are found in portrait drawings from the French court around 1520. In the late 1520s the tips of the oreillette would have climbed to level with the mouth.[2] Given that the oreillette’s tips are pulled under her chin as opposed to being supported by interlining and left hanging in plain view it is likely that the dating should be put on the early side of 1520. The very high neckline of the lady’s chemise supports a dating between 1515 and 1520. It could be argued that fashion might take its time to travel from the French court to the Netherlands on the outskirts of the French spoken part of Europe, but other Netherlandish portraits dated to around 1520 (fig. 7) portray the same style of French hood as the portrait of Elisabeth Donche only here the tips of the oreillette are supported by an interlining and left in plain view as opposed to being softer and pulled under the chin. Furthermore Elisabeth Donche’s horizontal, high waist line, the high neckline of her chemise and the style of her sleeves point to a date much earlier than the one suggested by Friedländer.

Dating the portraits of Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper and Elisabeth Donche to ca. 1520 presents a couple of new problems; one being that Elisabeth Donche was married to her first husband, Pieter Laurijn (also occasionally spelled Lauweryn, Laurin, Lauwerens or Lauwerein) until his death in 1522. As a member of a noble family Peter Laurijn was in 1516 appointed mayor of the Brugse Vrije at the age of twenty seven, and the same year he married Elisabeth Donche who would then have been between eighteen and twenty one. If the portrait was painted during their marriage one would expect the Laurijn coat of arms with a blazon consisting either of three swans, a laurel tree or a mixture of the two[3] on the spectator’s left hand side of the lady’s lozenge. And if her portrait was painted after his death leaving the impaled lozenge to be interpreted as a widow’s coat of arms, the sitter would be expected to be covered in layers of black clothes and to wear a bongrace on top of her French hood[4].

It all leads to the theory that the two portraits in question were not created simultaneously. I speculate that Elisabeth Donche’s portrait was painted during the early years of her first marriage, maybe even holding her first husband’s coat of arms impaled in her lozenge at the back. An examination with x-ray and infrared photography would be able to either dismiss or confirm the theory that the husband’s side of her coat of arms should have been painted over later to present the blazon of her second husband.  A preexistence of the lozenge might explain why it is painted so much larger than the coat of arms on the back of the gentleman’s portrait.

[1] An oreillette is in the author’s interpretation a coif, pinned to an inner coif and designed to cover the ears. Høskuldson, Hidden in Plain Black, pp. 144-146.

[2] Ibid, Table 1, p. 165.

[3]Genealogie Laurentii Numquam solus incedes. Viewable at .

[4] Høskuldsson: ”Hidden in Plain Black”, pp. 151-156.

Fig. 7. The young lady to the far right on the right wing of the Haneton triptych by Bernard van Orley, ca. 1520, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium, Inv. No. 358.

Later Elisabeth Donche’s portrait might have been adapted for a better match to the portrait of her second husband. In his portrait the source of light coming from the left casts his shadow on the green background to the right, and this matches the direction of the shadows on his face. In the lady’s portrait we have the same direction of light casting her shadow on the green background. The shadows on her face, however, tell a tale of light coming from the right! This could be interpreted as a later alteration of the background for the purpose of matching it to her husband’s portrait.

Looking closely at the two portraits other details could be interpreted as a support for the theory that they were not created simultaneously. Apart from the lady’s portrait being slightly smaller than the gentleman’s portrait there is quite a difference in the intensity of the portrayals due to a clearly defined reflection of light in the gentleman’s eyes (fig. 8) whereas there is less highlight to be found in the eyes of the lady (fig. 9). In contrast to the gentleman’s portrait the lady’s portrait has developed a heavily crackled surface. This difference is surprising if the two portraits were carried out with exactly the same sort of paint and had been preserved in the same environment.

The lady holds a rosary. This gesture is in tune with devotional portraits painted in the Netherlands where the sitters’ hands are either pressed together in prayer or busy with the beads of a rosary. As a contrast the gentleman holds his gloves, in his left hand while his right hand helps drawing the spectator’s attention towards the gloves.

Fig. 8. Please look closely at Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper's portrait to see the reflection of light in his eyes.
Fig. 9. Please look closely at Elisabeth Donche’s portrait to see the crackling of the painting’s surface and the absence of emphasized highlight in her eyes.

Based on all the findings mentioned above I should suggest that the portrait of Cornelius Duplicus de Schepper could have been painted ca. 1527 to commemorate his rise to a higher social status and that the portrait of Elisabeth Donche could be a devotional painting from ca. 1517, later altered to match the portrait of her second husband.

Karen Margrethe Høskuldsson

On 18 September 2018 the paper above was sent to Art Gallery of New South Wales. Dr. Anne Gerard-Austin, Assistant Curator, International Art replied:

"... I now have had a chance to read your fascinating paper and the great findings that you’ve managed to gather about our two portraits. Your suggestion of a different date for each panel which would then have been altered following Elisabeth Donche’s second marriage is an interesting and convincing one. Thank you again for sharing such results with us. ..."

Uploaded 24 March 2020

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