Part Two — The Fleece
In our investigations and searching about the Netherlands for more information we found many more examples of the standing ram golden fleece of sixteenth and early seventeenth century date. The standing ram fleece was so pervasive in the Netherlands examples we saw that it was seen to be a general style of the region in the Renaissance. While touring the Renaissance residential castle of Fraeylemaborg near Groenigen we found a series of framed contemporary engravings of monarchs and other important people, and all the holders of the Golden Fleece wore standing ram fleeces. Other research shows that the standing ram form traveled to Vienna with Ferdinand, the brother of Charles V, and then to Bohemia with the Habsburg family and on to Germany and Poland after. The emperor Rudolf took up the older fleece style during his occult and antiquarian period and spread it to other Bohemian members of the order such as von Rosenberg. This shows that the eastern 16th and 17th century artistic development of the Golden Fleece came through Bohemia and the Empire. By the end of the seventeenth century the style was a historical memory until temporarily revived by the Bourbons in Spain after the War of the Spanish Succession and their acquisition of the Spanish throne.
When we apply this study to the Aldenhaag Fleece it is clear, from both its provenance and the evidence of art history that the Aldenhaag Fleece is a Renaissance Golden Fleece from the region of Low Countries, and that it has a strong connection to the Habsburg Imperial family. We also also all agree that the Aldenhaag Fleece most probably belonged to a member of the van Egmond family, who were the rulers of this central region of the Netherlands throughout the period in which this style of fleece was commonly used. The manner of its find and the deep, thick patina that obscured its golden state make such an early date of manufacture and loss difficult to question. That the Aldenhaag Fleece was found on what had been the property of Nicolaas Vijgh, who is twice mentioned in the otherwise completely reliable Tiel Chronicle as a member of the order, has strongly suggested that the fleece might have been his. Other scholars point out how much lower his status was than the standard for such knights and suggest a more prominent member of the family, such as Floris van Egmond, might have been the owner. Although this is indeed a very strong case the Tiel Chronicle is hard to explain away, and as it now appears that Philip II never intended to confirm Vijgh in the order. It may tell us why Vijgh was selected when we remember that Philip II was about to leave the Netherlands for good, and as he had not found the support he needed to protect his interests there he seems to have chosen a good Habsburg supporter of lesser stature to temporarily keep things calm. In the event he gained some 10 years to find a better solution, and he did not find any other answer than the disasters of the Spanish Fury and the Duke of Alba. Vijgh evidently hid the fleece hidden somewhere in a secret spot at Aldenhaag after he ceased wearing it, and after the building was destroyed the fleece was forgotten and buried in debris for centuries thereafter.
In September, 2010 the Aldenhaag Fleece was submitted to James Morton and Tom Eden, London auctioneers associated with Sothebys and recognized experts on Renaissance jewelry, coins and metal work. In their opinion, after a careful examination of the fleece, is that it is a high caret gold cast copy locally made in Tiel for Vijgh from a much finer original supplied by Philip. The source of the gold was most likely from coins as they were the commonest source of gold in this period. This would seem reasonable as the finer heirloom fleece given Vijgh was certainly too fine to wear for everyday usage and may also have been returnable to Philip, as were the collars of the order. When, some years later, Vijgh was in oppostion to he Habsburgs he may have returned the original fleece given him with a resignation from the order, orreturned it when he was informed he would not be confirmed. The Aldenhaag Fleece as his property was probably hidden away at his Aldenhaag estate and so found there four centuries later. This explanation can explain how the Aldenhaag Fleece was unique of known copies as being high caret gold but still was not finely finished as other Imperial fleeces are known to be. Casting such a piece well takes experience and skill not likely to be found in the small town of Tiel, and so the dating and workmanship point to Tiel as the most likely place of manufacture. Vijgh was a wealthy man would could pay 6,000 gold coins for his appointment in Tiel, and finding coins for a fleece would be easy for him.
Below is Charles V c. 1530-40 on the lid to a contemporary box wearing a standing ram fleece. To the right, Charles V wearing a standing ram fleece is seen in a statue at Naples in the Palazzo Reale. It seems that even in small objects of daily use and at locations across the Spanish domains that Charles V wore a standing ram fleece in almost every surviving portrait. Below these two is a very scarce coin of Charles V from Malta where the standing ram fleece is featured on one side. If you look carefully at the sheep with its head to right and hanging feet it is clearly a standing ram. To the right of the coin is a portrait of Philip the Fair, father to Charles V, on an altar at the Capilla Real wearing a standing ram fleece that is both a very early example and quite similar to an early fleece in the Schatzkammer in Vienna that we illustrate in a previous page of this article (The Standing Ram Golden Fleece & Charles V).
Maximillian II, the nephew of Charles V who ruled the ancient Central European domains of the Habsburgs, is also most frequently seen wearing a standing ram fleece. Below are two contemporary engravings that show this usage. On the left an engraving by Custos, in the center Maximillian in a Dutch engraving and at the right a 1604 engraving on Matthias by Strigoni. It seems that the standing ram fleece style was taken along by the family of Charles V where ever they went to rule, and that it survived 1-2 generations thereafter and then was changed to the standard hanging fleece form that persists today. We may note that the left two engravings are very similar, even suspiciously similar, and only mirror images of each other. We can not rule out that one copies the other, a common Medieval and Renaissance practice, or that both copy an older painting.
Below are two late Dutch engravings of Philip II, and although later seem to show both accurate copying of earlier portraits and Dutch ideas of the shapes of a golden fleece from their own past. The left illustration of 1730 shows Philip II in typical attire of the period, and looking rather Dutch. The size of his fleece is about that of the Aldenhaag Fleece. At right the 1743 engraving is after a famous portrait by Titian and accurately copies the fleece style painted by Titian from life.
German and Polish nobility also seem to have taken to the standing ram style with Bohemia as the source of the design. Below we see at left an Anton Wierx portrait of emperor Rudolf II, and immediately to his right a standing ram fleece on a gold chain from a well known portrait of Rudolf in Prague. In the center is seen Heinrich II Die Junge and at right Sigismund III of Poland. Sigismund’s fleece seems to be of the curving arc variation seen in the Schatzkammer example on The Standing Ram Golden Fleece & Charles V page of this article, and could well have a Viennese origin.
In St. Vitus cathedral in Prague, on the castle site where the Habsburgs ruled and many were buried, there is a bust of emperor Leopold wearing a standing ram fleece that dates well into the 18th century, seen at left below. It was difficult to focus in the dark cathedral, but both the standing ram form and the wearing of the collar diagonally over the shoulder in the 17th century style are clear. To the right is a much later example on a bronze bust of the emperor Franz Joseph in the Industry Museum of Prague, also hard to focus on in the dim room but clear in form. Although of late 19th century date it seems to show Franz Joseph wearing an heirloom collar for a state occasion and may date to one of his jubilees where historical pageantry was part of the ceremonies. We must consider this kind of anachronistic possibility when judging art examples, as members both wore antique badges by choice and artists sometime looked for examples in old art that is not true to the period or person being depicted.
Finally we can close with a truly interesting standing ram from the time of Napoleon I in a rendering on a box top of the proposed, but never adopted, Order of the Three Golden Fleeces that was intended to replace the Golden Fleece and many other orders. The French, and especially the French army, disliked the idea and it died quickly. Although some sample pieces have been made of the order from the original drawings of proposed badges, this box is the only other version of this order I have seen. What it shows is a good example of the standing ram fleece as adopted by the Bourbons when they acquired Spain c. 1700, and described in more detail in a previous page. Not one but three standing ram fleeces in an otherwise purely First Empire style piece.
I. The Aldenhaag Fleece
II. The Hamlets of Thedinghsweert & Zoelen-Aldenhaag
III. The van Egmonds, Claes Vijgh & The Golden Fleece
IV. The Standing Ram Fleece & Charles V
V. Documentation & Photos
VB. Documentation & Photos II
Appendix 1. The Standing Ram Fleece As Seen in the Insignie Orden Book & Other Catalogs
Appendix 2. Other Scholars Look At the Aldenhaag Fleece
Appendix 3. Greek & Roman Mythology of the Golden Fleece
3B. Classical Texts That Mention the Golden Fleece
May 2010 Meeting on the Aldenhaag Fleece — 1. The Places
Return to Society of the Golden Fleece
Return to the Golden Fleece Insignia Page
Antiques AtoZ Home Page
Medals, Orders & Decorations