A work almost always has a particular end, a particular purpose connected with daily life. This obscures the boundary between the fine arts and the crafts, or better, this boundary is not yet drawn. Neither does a boundary yet exist with regard to the person of the artist himself. Among the group of highly individual masters in the service of the courts of Flanders, Berry, and Burgundy, the creation of individual paintings by the artists alternates freely with the tasks of illuminating handwritten manuscripts and polychroming sculptures. They also have to lend their hands to painting coats of arms on shields and banners and designing tournament costumes and official robes. Melchoir Broederlam, initially painter to Louis of Male, the count of Flanders, subsequently to Louis’s son-in-law, the first duke of Burgundy, decorated five carved chairs for the house of the count. He repaired and painted the rare mechanical contraptions in Hesdin Castle that sprayed the guests with water or powder. He worked on the duchess’s carriage. Still later, he supervised the sumptuous decorations of the fleet that was assembled by the duke of Burgundy in 1387 in the port of Sluis for an expedition against England that never took place. Court painters were always employed during princely weddings and funerals. In the workshops of Jan van Eyck statues were painted and he himself fashioned a kind of world map for Duke Philip on which cities and countries could be seen minutely and clearly painted. Hugo van der Goes painted advertisements for indulgences. Gerard David is reputed to have painted scenic decorations on the railings or shutters of the room in the Broodhuis in Bruges wherein Maximillian was incarcerated in 1488 so as to make the stay of the royal prisoner more pleasant.
Of the many works from the hands of the great and not so great artists only a fraction of a rather special kind have been preserved. These are primarily tomb monuments, altarpieces, portraits, and miniatures. With the exception of portraits, only very little survives of secular painting. Of the ornamental arts and crafts, we have a number of specific categories: church utensils, clerical vestments, some furniture. How much would our insight into the character of the art of the fifteenth century be improved if we could place the bathing scenes of Jan van Eyck or Rogier van der Weyden or the hunting scenes side by side with the many pietas and madonnas. We are hardly able to form any understanding of the entire field of the applied arts. To do so, we would have to see the ecclesiastical paraments and the stately robes of the court, bedecked with precious stones and bells, all together. We would have to be able to see the splendidly decorated ships of which the miniatures convey only a highly deficient, mechanical notion. There are only a few things whose beauty aroused so much enthusiasm in Froissart as that of ships. The banners, richly decorated with coats of arms, fluttering from the tops of the mast, were sometimes so long that they touched the water. In the paintings of ships by Peter Breughel these unusually long and broad streamers can still be seen. The ship of Philip the Bold, on which Melchior Broederlam worked in 1387 at Sluis, was covered with blue and gold; large coats of arms graced the pavilion of the aftercastle. The sails were strewn with marguerites, the initials of the ducal couple and their slogan, “Il me tarde.” Noblemen vied with one another to see whose ship was most expensively decorated for the expedition to England. Painters are well off, says Froissart, they are able to demand any price, and there are never enough of them. He claims that many ships had the masts covered with gold leaf. Guy de la Trémoille, in particular, spared no expense: He spent more than two thousand pounds for gilding. “L’on ne se povoit de chose adviser pour luy jolyer, ne deviser, que le seigneur de la Trimouille ne le feist faire en ses nefs. Et tout ce paioient les povres gens parmy France . . .”