Ideal Courtiers, Real Courtiers

Two Gentlemen

Full image.



Unidentified artist
Two Gentlemen (Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit), ca. 1575­­–85
Oil on panel
Ernest I. White, Class of 1893, Endowment Fund


This double portrait may well be of Anne, duc de Joyeuse (1560-1587) and Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, duc d’Epernon (1554-1642), otherwise known as the archi-mignons or Henri III’s closest favorites. Since Joyeuse and d’Epernon were appointed together as Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit in 1583, they may have posed for a double portrait painted for the occasion. The clothing of silver cloth is consistent with the basic costume used for the induction ceremony, according to Pierre de l’Estoile who describes the ceremony in his journals. Besides, Joyeuse and d’Epernon were very closely linked: Bernard de la Valette, d’Epernon’s older brother, was married to Joyeuse’s aunt, Anne de Batarnay, in 1582. Joyeuse’s brother Henri married d’Epernon’s sister Catharine in 1581.


But there was more to their affinity: they actually had parallel careers and common interests as courtiers. Their rise followed on the deaths of three of Henri’s favorite mignons, in April of 1578; two in a pointless duel, and one murdered by a gang on the streets of Paris. Joyeuse and d’Epernon represent the second generation of mignons. As Nicolas le Roux points out in his superb study of the court of Henri III (2001), Henri groomed this second generation quite carefully, and created strong alliances among them through marriage in order to counterbalance the overly strong influence of the Guise family at the Court. But the misbehavior of the preceding generation seems to have tainted their reputation early on.  The reaction to the dress, the manner, and the general behavior of the early mignons was very negative, and even though Joyeuse spent a good deal of his time on the battlefield, this military aspect was often underplayed so that the excessive ceremonies, such as the induction into the Order of the Saint-Esprit, would appear even more outrageous.


If this portrait is of Joyeuse and d’Epernon, representing them as knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, then it probably dates from between 1583 and 1587 (the date of Joyeuse’s death). It may well be the work of a member of the Dumoûtier family, artists employed by every generation of the Valois royal family. Geoffroy Dumoûtier was employed by François I, his son Etienne by Henri II, and grand-sons Etienne II and Pierre were employed by Henri III. Pierre in particular seems to have been quite active during this period.


Professor Kathleen Perry Long

Romance Studies Department