Inspired by what he considers to have been a dramatic misrepresentation and downgrading of the court of Guelders during a key century of independence (1371-1473), Gerard Nijsten aims in this work of cultural history to set the record straight. “In the Shadow of Burgundy” refers, then, not to the true legacy of the court but to the inferior position accorded it by historians. Nijsten, who published the basis for this book as a dissertation in Dutch (1992), constructs his thesis around a group of largely unexamined archival documents, most in the form of ducal accounts, which have survived in relatively large numbers compared with other courts. For historians of Netherlandish art, two aspects of this study – one, content-oriented, the other, methodological – should hold special interest. Nijsten’s discussion of the production and use of manuscripts (chapter 7) and of what he calls the “Visual and Applied Arts” (chapter 8) in Guelders offer useful contextual analysis of the role of the arts at a fifteenth-century court – especially as it is bolstered by firsthand archival documentation. The most interesting information relates to what has come to be classified as the decorative arts – e.g. stained glass, goldsmith work, tapestries, etc; in doing so, this account conveys what might be considered a fairly typical picture of artistic production at a medium-sized northern court. The broader and perhaps more important contribution of Nijsten’s study is in its approach, focusing as it does not on the culture of the Burgundian ducal realm but on that of a decidedly smaller venue. Though the author struggles to emphasize, sometimes too mightily, the independence and coherence of the Guelders court, the overall benefits of his focused, contextual approach do emerge.
Stern College for Women