Examples from these early days before the splitting of the Order into two branches are almost never seen. The only one we have any certain identity for, beyond one in the Bayarische National Museum, is this Netherlands fleece found by accident at Aldenhaag in the central Netherlands some 40 years ago. The fleece was found at in the ruins of a castle that belonged to Claes Vijgh, a relative of Floris van Egmond (seen at right) and both members of the Golden Fleece. Floris’ son Maximillian was a member as well, and the fleece belonged to one of these Egmonds. In 1574-75 the Spanish under the Duke of Alba burned the castles and the Betuwe region all around in their war against the Dutch protestants, and this fleece ws likely lost in the sacking of the castle at Soelen-Aldenhaag in 1574. There this fleece lay until Willem H. van Duijn found in while on a picnic from his nearby school.
This is an early form of the fleece called the standing ram fleece, a genuine and very old style fleece peculiar to the low countries, Spain and Portugal in the time of Charles V. An early version of the style is seen in a painting of Charles the Rash where the fleece is fairly solid bodied and upright. It is seen fully developed in a Flemish sculpture of the young Charles V in 1522, and by mid century was becoming obsolete. Unlike the later fleeces, whose pinched middle shows that they are a mere skin of gold, these early ones are almost a standing live animal held by a hoisting belt. Their feet extend straight down, ready to stand when they touch ground. They are also usually quite large, this one being 5 cm across. More information and graphics can be seen at the Aldenhaag Fleece pages.
insignia of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece. The collar is modern and
dates from 1900-1950, and it was acquired in Madrid by an American military
officer in the early 1950s. It is in silver gilt and is the proper Alpohonse
XIII type. The neck decoration is c. 1900 with a sapphire in the "pierre
a fois". The miniature, in gold and with original ribbon, dates from c.
Elements of the Spanish insignia to be noted are the fleece being in full profile, the stylized flames turning into a "mass", and the entirely abstract "briquet" that no longer resembles anything this side of the Alhambra. The modern Austrian fleece has the head twisted to show both eyes and horns, even when the fleece as a whole is in profile. The individual flames are more distinct in the Austrian fleece and the "briquet" is clearly the fire steel of the house of Burgundy and shows the motto on full size bijous. There are clear differences in the style of the fleece both in sculpture and in hanging form. The fleece on this bijou and collar are the tight, slender leg toison of the modern Spanish order. The Austrian is a plumper, more substantial beast in the modern form. Anciently all were woolier and more clearly delineated, and many of the original fleeces took the form of the complete ram rather than only its hanging fleece. (Miniature from the chancelier's collection; bijou in a private collection; collar in a private American collection.)
Two Jeweled fleeces from Bavaria -- mid 18th century
Probably created for Maximillian II, Duke and Elector of Bavaria (Spanish knight no. 718), these two gold bijous are richly set with diamonds, garnet, sapphire and ruby. They date from the mid 18th century and are probably of Bavarian manufacture. The one with blue stones has the famous Wittelsbach Blue diamond in the top part. It is with objects such as these that we can see the truth in the statement that by this period orders were the "jewelry of European noblemen". Their original and more devotional origins were long forgotten and they became only another status symbol. Perhaps inevitable in a modern state but also the beginning of their decay and ultimate disappearance.
An interesting and very early mid-17th to 18th century brass-gilt bijou. It is likely of Portugese or Spanish origin based on the design and style, although the ball mount for the ring seems French. Owing to the dangers of loss and cost of gold, brass-gilt and bronze-gilt fleeces were common in the 16th to early 18th centuries, especially for wear with armor. Often very large (to 9 cm. wide) they saw heavy daily usage and are very scarce. The fleece style here, of a life-like ram standing, is seen in pieces worn by Charles V in the early 16th century and is an old Flemishish form taken to Spain & Portugal by Charles V and his courtiers. It should be compared to the Aldenhaag Fleece above that may have belonged to Charles V himself. The peculiar curving "pierre a fois" flames are also Hispanic in style, as is the stylized firesteel above. The firesteel arabesque contains a decorative "pierre a fois" design similar to printer's fleurons of the late 17th century. The mounts of this piece show long wearing and several old repairs consistent with its age. The flames are set with old mine cut crystal or pastes, but having an early and simple top table looking towards the later brilliant cut, and the central amethyst hints at the Portugese mines in Brazil, as does the overall large and elaborate style. The flat cut of the flames and mounting of the stones matches the Bavarian pieces shown above that date to the mid 18th century. In the 17th, and more so in the 18th, centuries the great and wealthy often had suites of bijous, each with different color jewels to match their different clothing colors. On the left, the entire Bijou; on the right the fine arabesque firestone within the firesteel. (From the chancelier's collection)
More recent research into the history of the ancient Aldenhaag Fleece and the history of the standing ram form, of which this is one example, seems to point to this bijou dating to c. 1700 when the Bourbons received the crown of Spain. They then briefly revived old forms of the fleece based on examples from the order treasury. Portraits of this period of members from Spain and France consistently show use of the standing ram form at least in art, and this bijou provides a material example of those shown. When Phillip V took the throne and became head of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece he was not yet a member of the order. As there was little time to make new insignia he seems to have taken older, standing ram style fleeces from the treasury of the order. This style was then copied for a time by other Bourbon recipients. Once it became an artistic style the standing ram continued to be depicted in formal paintings and sculpture of such members until the Revolution. More information can be found on our The Standing Ram & Charles V page. So far as we know this is the only surviving Bourbon revival fleece, and the century and a half of violence from the French Revolution to the Spanish Civil War must have destroyed the others. This being a Bourbon antiquarian form would help explain the use of the fleuron for a briquet and the French style ball mount on the top.
badge of office of the Grand Inquisitor, or head of the Church Council of
the Spanish Holy Office, that is an interesting association item with the Golden
Fleece. From the last quarter of the 17th century this officer was Balthasar
Sarmiento de Mendoza y Sandoval, 5th Marquis of Camarosa, Bishop of Segovia
and Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece No. 476. The badge is closely dated
to c. 1700 and so is almost certainly his.
An unusal and scarce 18th to mid 19th century bronze-gilt bijou of the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece. The knot, briquette and flames are made from the standard dies of authorized imperial jewelers, and to the slightly smaller form used prior to 1860 or so. The upper pieces are also elaborately engraved with detail as in all proper bijous. The fleece is of an elongated variety sometimes seen in bijous of French manufacture, and the ram’s head is starting to turn 3/4 left as in the later Austrian fleeces. It also is in full round two sided form as with all real uniface bijous. It had no official cravat ribbon, but does have an old length of red ribbon.The back side of the flames are cast in the manner of a late 18th century gilt cap badge I have, and they could be of similar date since their technologies match (see below for a photo).
It’s provenance is from a Hungarian antique dealer. He obtained it from the recent sale by a Vienna theater of all costumes and props when they lost the use of their building which they had had for a century. The theater purchased the item on the Vienna second hand market generations ago; most likely in 1920-1940. The theater also had original Napoleonic uniforms with period orders on them, indicating their use of numerous authentic antiques as props.
The uniface bijou is the norm for all modern Spanish badges, and most of those set with jewels as well, but is seldom seen in Austrian Golden Fleece bijous. This one is also interesting due to the elongated fleece that was previously sparingly used by the Habsburgs in the 16th century and then disappears until this bijou. At least two modern cast copies of this style fleece are known, but in much inferior quality. One was in on eBay in France and the other in the U.S. An elongated fleece just like this one is also is known on an Austrian door knocker from late Imperial times.
Although known to be prior to WW I by its excellent provenance, comparison with older uniface official badges strongly suggests this bijou is late 18th century. At right is the back of an Austrian 1767 cast and gilt brass cap badge for infantry that shows the same peculiar indents and pressing of the back. Perhaps this was done to save metal or to obtain a better casting, but it is not done today. All late 19th century and 20th century uniface orders I have seen have flat and very smooth backs; neither this cap badge nor the uniface fleece above are made this way and seem much more antique and hand-made.
A wonderful enameled 17th century “jewel” of a holder or officer of the Golden Fleece. On the obverse we see Emperor Leopold of Austria (clearly showing the “Habsburg Jaw”), and on the back the Austrian coat of arms with Leopold’s initials L(eopolus) I(mperator). Above a crown and hanging below a rich, golden fleece. This item was purchased in Paris by one of our correspondents. Such pieces were often a gift of the ruler shown to a specially favored subject. (In a private French collection)
Unlike the Austrian miniture collar above, which is held in place by a fancy button and a pin, this modern (c. 1950s-60s) Spanish miniature collar is a complete circle that hangs by a button alone. Made by an official court jeweler in Madrid.