All these beautiful events have been described so often that there is no need to do so here. Some had even crossed the channel to witness the spectacle. Joining the guests were innumerable noble onlookers, the majority of whom were masked. First the guests took a stroll to admire the splendid stationary displays; then came the performances with living persons and tableaux vivants. Olivier himself played the leading role of Sainte Eglise when she entered during the most important scene inside a tower placed on the back of an elephant led by a giant Turk. The tables were given the most marvelous decorations: a manned carrack with full sails, a meadow with trees, a spring, rocks, and a picture of St. Andreas, Lusignan Castle with the fairy Melusine, a windmill and a bird-shooting scene, a forest with moving wild animals, and, finally, the church with an organ and singers that, alternating with the twenty-eight-man orchestra that was sitting in a pie, offered musical performances.
What matters here is the degree of taste or tastelessness that is found in all this. The subject matter itself is nothing but a loose mixture of mythological, allegorical, and moralizing images, but what about the execution? There is no doubt that the effect was largely sought through extravagance. The Tower of Gorkum that served as ostentatious table decoration during a 1468 wedding celebration was forty-six feet tall. La Marche reports about a whale fashioned for the same occasion: “Et certes ce fut un moult bel entremectz, car il y avoit dedans plus de quarante personnes.” As to the miracles of mechanical gadgetry, such as the living birds that fly out of the mouth of the dragon with whom Hercules does battle and other such astonishing contraptions, it is difficult to associate them with any notion of art. The comic element is only poorly represented in them. From inside the Gorkum tower, wild boars play trumpets, goats perform a motet, wolves play the flute, four large asses perform as singers—and do so before Charles the Bold, who was a connoisseur of music of some stature.
I do not wish to cast doubt that, in spite of everything, there were found among all the displays of the festival, particularly among the sculptural pieces, a good many genuine works of art alongside the predominantly silly ostentation. We should remember that the people who delighted in this gargantuan splendor and wasted serious thought on it were the same people who commissioned the works of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. The duke himself was their patron, as was Rolin, the donor of the altars of Beaune and Autun, and Jean Chevrot, who was the patron of Rogier’s Seven Sacraments, and many others, such as Lannoy. It is even more significant that the creators of these and similar ostentations were these very same painters. Though it happens that we have no definite information about Jan van Eyck or Rogier, we do know it to be a fact that others, Colard Marmion, Simon Marmion, and Jacques Daret, for example, often had a hand in such festivals. For the festival in 1468, the date of which was unexpectedly moved up, the entire guild of painters was mobilized to assure completion; in great haste journeymen from Ghent, Brussels, Louvain, Thirlemont, Bergen, Quesnoy, Valenciennes, Douai, Cambrai, Arras, Lille, Ypres, Courtray, and Oudenarde were dispatched to Bruges. What was produced by their hands cannot have been completely ugly. One would readily exchange many a mediocre altarpiece for the thirty fully equipped ships, complete with the coats of arms of the ducal lords, of the banquet of 1468, the sixty women in different regional costumes holding fruit baskets and bird cages, and the windmills and bird catchers.