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‘For Our Devotion and Pleasure’: The Sexual Objects of Jean, Duc de Berry

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Jean, Duc de Berry (1340–1416), often seen as the first great ‘collector’ in Western art, is also described by some historians as a ‘homosexual’. This article examines the relationship between these two terms and the problematic historical evidence for the latter claim, exploring the duke’s desire for things, images and bodies in less categorical terms. The main argument is that we can best understand Jean’s sexual tastes from the artworks he commissioned and in which we know from contemporary accounts he took great personal delight. Reinterpretations are provided of some well-known images, such as the January page of the unfinished TrĂ©s Riches Heures (1416), where the patron is pictured at the centre of a ‘homosocial’ feast for the eyes. This manuscript, along with the marginal decoration of his Grandes Heures, suggests his enjoyment of beautiful youthful bodies in general and of androgyny in particular. However, this has to be viewed within the very different gender system of the late fourteenth century in which women, youths and children were literally objects of male control. Only in this sense can we begin to understand how the duke’s love of things intersected with his political position and power more generally. Rather than see his collecting in all its polymorphous perversity as a symptom of personal trauma, I want to view it as a socially creative and recuperative act that was part of the performance of a ruthless man of power.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: University of Chicago

Publication date: 2001-04-01

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