Nicaise de Keyser (Antwerp, 1813 – 1887)
The Battle of the Golden Spurs
Oil on cloth, 55 x 70 cm

Inv. 2011.6.1

© Jacques Quecq d’Henripret

Major works | Indignant Subjects

An emblematic battle

The Battle of the Golden Spurs was certainly one of the most significant historical events in the history of Flanders. On 11 July 1302 at Courtrai, the army of Philip IV, King of France, commanded by Robert, Count of Artois, was ranged against the Flemish communal militia led by Guy of Namur, son of the Count of Flanders. The French should have been certain of victory against ill-equipped Flemings; instead, the French became bogged in the marshes, and ended up losing in a bloodbath.

The painting is by Nicaise de Keyser, a representative of the Belgian Romantic movement, and is a preparatory study for a much larger work (4.86 x 6.20 m) that he presented at the 1836 Brussels Salon. The monumental painting was exhibited in the Linen Hall of Courtrai. It was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Today, there are only three painted preparatory studies known. Two of them are in museum in Prague and Courtrai, with the third being in the Museum of Flanders.

The painter concentrates here on the central subject of the final work: he depicts the culminating point of the battle, when Robert, Count of Artois, bewildered and forced to the ground by a Flemish combatant, is killed. The scene is organised into a series of diagonal phases. The centre of the composition is lit by an almost unreal light.

The work is anchored in Romantic painting, which drew pleasure from revisiting the most historic facts of the past to glorify a nation, as was the case here for the young Belgium, where 11 July, the date of the battle, was made the official holiday for the Flemish Community.