Joos. To infinity and beyond.

Beveren and Joos Vijd, patron of the Ghent Altarpiece

Ghent Altarpiece: portrait of Joos Vijd (1432) by Jan and Hubert Van EyckGemeente Beveren

Joos Vijd (ca. 1360-1439) was born as the third son of Clais Vijd and Amelberga Van der Elst. Joos belonged to a prestigious and powerful family with roots in so-called Land of Beveren.

Ghent Altarpiece: The Adoration of The Lamb by Jan and Hubert Van EyckGemeente Beveren

As a successful politician and nobleman, Joos Vijd commissioned the world-famous painting ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, commonly known as ‘The Ghent Altarpiece’. This monumental work of art was painted by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck, two brothers who were famous for their artistic skills.

Jan Van Eyck at work in his art studio by Gemeentearchief Beveren - 's Lands Glorie, dl. III, nr. 192Gemeente Beveren

Who was this man? How can we learn more about him? Lets find out!

River Scheldt from Rupelmonde to the North Sea (1505)Original Source: Felix Archive

Joos Vijd was born around 1360 in the moated castle Singelberg, the administrative and military centre of the castellanry of Beveren. The castle was situated strategically on the riverbanks of the Scheldt, the border between the county of Flanders and the duchy of Brabant.

Fiscal account of Felix de Hondt on behalf of the Flemish Count in the villages of of Waas. by Felix De HondtGemeente Beveren

Clais Vijd, the father of Joos, was the steward of Singelberg and Beveren. He is the political, legal and financial representative of Count Louis of Male, who was both Count of Flanders and lord of Beveren.

The moat of Singelberg by Gemeente Beveren - Grafische dienstGemeente Beveren

The present-day landscape only reveals the defensive moat and the hill, called the ‘motte’ of Singelberg.

The construction of the curch in the peat village of Verrebroek. by Grafische dienst BeverenGemeente Beveren

One of the duties of Clais Vijd was to supervise the exploitation of the peat bogs in the northern part of Beveren. Peat was an important source of energy for the booming industries of Ghent and Antwerp. The commercialization of peat was an extremely profitable business in the later Middle Ages.

Our Ladies' church of Melsele by Grafische dienst BeverenGemeente Beveren

The mother of Joos was Amelberga Van der Elst, member of a prominent family in Melsele. Clais and Amelberga raised five children, namely Joos, two elder brothers named Clais The Younger and Christoffel respectively, and two daughters, Elisabeth and Mabelie.

Amelberga Van der Elst funded an annual memorial mass in the parish church of Our Lady of Melsele after her death. She wanted to be remembered by the parishioners of Melsele ever after.

Bull issued by pope Urban IV declaring the foundation of the chapel of The Holy Ghost in the church of Saint-Martin in Beveren-WaasGemeente Beveren

Clais and Amelberga also set up a chapel in the church of Saint Martin in Beveren. The pope himself, Urban VI, gave his permission for the foundation of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in 1378.

Lead seal of pope Urban VI with the effigies of Saint Paul and Saint Peter, From the collection of: Gemeente Beveren
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Pope Urban VI and the Anti-Pope Clement VII (about 1480–1483) by Master of the Getty FroissartThe J. Paul Getty Museum

In 1378 Urban VI lost much of its prestige. The elected French antipope, Clement VII, settled in Avignon and challenges Urban VI in Rome, thus creating the Western Schism.

Tondal Suffers a Seizure at Dinner (1475) by Simon MarmionThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Joos Vijd grew up in an affluent and powerful milieu. The Vijd family is an influential family of county officials dominating a substantial part of the county of Flanders.

King Charles VI of France Preparing for War with England (about 1480–1483) by Master of the Getty FroissartThe J. Paul Getty Museum

When a war broke out in 1379 between Count Louis of Male and Ghent, it was Clais Vijd and his sons who defended Beveren against the Ghent militias. In his capacity as castellan of Beveren, Clais garrisonned the castle of Singelberg with fresh troops, weapons and artillery. He also controlled traffic on the Scheldt river between Antwerp and Mechelen.

Ghent Altarpiece: The Knights of Christ by Jan and Hubert Van EyckGemeente Beveren

The Count of Flanders rewarded Clais for his services. His eldest sons, Clais Vijd the Younger and Christoffel Vijd were knighted, a move that ennobled both men.

Stained glass with heraldic weapon of the Triest family in castle Cortewalle Beveren. by Grafische dienst BeverenGemeente Beveren

Clais’ eldest daughter, Elisabeth, married Joos Triest, a nobleman and the bailiff of Waas and later of the so-called Vier Ambachten. In time, Clais The Younger was appointed as baillif of the Land of Waas. The future looked bright.

LIFE Photo Collection

1390 is a turning point for the Vijd family.
Clais Vijd is found guilty of large-scale fraud and corruption after a thorough investigation of his finances by the officials of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders. Clais is relieved of all his offices and sentenced to a heavy fine. He is also forced to leave Singelberg Castle and the Land of Beveren.

Ghent Altarpiece: detail of the skyline of a medieval city by Jan and Hubert Van EyckGemeente Beveren

Clais and Amelberga move to Ghent. Clais continues his profitable trade in peat, iron and cloth. Joos and Mabelie move to Ghent as well. Clais’ eldest son, Clais The Younger, dies in december 1390.

Ghent Altarpiece: portrait of Elisabeth Borluut by Jan and Hubert Van EyckGemeente Beveren

Shortly after his arrival in Ghent, Joos married Elisabeth Borluut, who belonged to a prominent family with a long tradition of providing aldermen to the City Council. This marriage helped Joos to develop a succesful carreer as burgher, alderman, and diplomat, including a position of first alderman (i.e. the equivalent of a mayor), the city’s highest magistrate. Both Joos and Elisabeth belonged to the most exclusive circles of Ghent society.

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Meanwhile, by purchasing the seigneurie of Pamel and Ledeberg in 1397, Clais Vijd succeeded in his ambition of gaining a noble status for himself and his family. After his father’ and brother’s death, Joos inherits the title of Lord of Pamel and Ledeberg. As the only surviving legitimate male, he is the full heir to the entire family estate.

De Sint-Elisabethsvloed (ca. 1490 - ca. 1495) by Meester van de Heilige Elisabeth-PanelenRijksmuseum

Apparently, Joos divided his time and resources between Ghent and Beveren. In Beveren, Joos Vijd was heavily involved in the draining of floodlands in the north, which was a profitable business. Water levels in the Flemish coastal regions were not stable, meaning that land reclamation required the regular building and rebuilding of dykes and other waterworks.

On the 19th of November 1404 the St. Elisabeth's flood washes away the Land of Beveren, inundating vast amounts of labour land in Kieldrecht, Kallo and Melsele.

Map book of the polder of Melsele: Vitshoek by Lieven Thuyne, sworn surveyorGemeente Beveren

In 1414 Duke John the Fearless authorised Joos Vijd to reclaim the inundated marshes of Melsele, Kallo and Verrebroek. All participants in the draining of these wetlands were high-ranking officials of the ducal administration and/or members of the Ghent elite.

Castle of Ter Welle by Grafische dienst BeverenGemeente Beveren

In 1416, Joos Vijd and his associates subcontracted the waterworks in Melselepolder to Geraard Brissinc and Daneel Vilain, knight and owner of the Hof ter Welle Castle in Beveren.

Cortewalle Castle in Beveren, southern wing by Freddy BuysGemeente Beveren

The Beveren residence of Joos Vijd was te estate ‘Te Walle’. He converted it into a modern moated castle. Today it is known as the elegant Cortewalle Castle.

Ghent Altarpiece: detail of the Cortewalle Castle in Beveren by Jan and Hubert van EyckGemeente Beveren

Should we identify this complex as Cortewalle Castle? The recent restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece revealed that this particular image was a later addition to the painting, possibly commissioned in the sixteenth century by Antoon Triest, the bishop of Ghent who also happened to be the heir to the Vijd family fortunes and a famous patron of the arts.

Page out of the Register of the aldermen of the Gedele, Ghent. by Schepenbank van Gedele, GhentGemeente Beveren

In the last will of Joos Vijd, the Cortewalle estate is described as ...

... a walled and moated estate, built in stone, and surrounded by stables, gardens, an orchard, and residence for the leaseholder.

The 18th-century Castle Hof ter Saksen in Beveren by Grafische dienst BeverenGemeente Beveren

The fief Hof ter Saksen was owned by Jan Vijd, the oldest illegitimate son of his brother Christoffel. Both men were on good terms. Jan Vijd became bailiff of Beveren from 1426 onwards.

Heraldic weapon of the Vijd family in their private chapel in the cathedral of Saint-Bavo in GentGemeente Beveren

Joos and Elisabeth did not have any children who could inherit their vast fortune and noble title. This may have prodded them towards massive investments when they decided around 1420 to build their own private chapel in the most important church of Ghent, the Church of Saint John (later Saint Bavo’s Cathedral).

Enlistment of goods owned by Elisabeth Borluut, widow of Joos VijdGemeente Beveren

The maintenance of the Vijd chapel in Ghent was financed with revenue from leases of their properties in the recently drained polder of Verrebroek.

The foundation of a daily mass by Joos Vijd and his spouse in the Saint John's Church

Het Lam Gods van de gebroeders van Eyck in de Sint Bavo te Gent (1829) by De Noter, Pierre FrançoisRijksmuseum

On the 6th of May 1432, the Feast of John The Evangelist, the Ghent Altarpiece the chapel was consecrated in the Saint John church in Ghent. That same day, Joos, the second son of Duke Philip the Good was to be baptised in the same church.

The Convent of the Hermits of Saint William in BeverenGemeente Beveren

Joos Vijd and Elisabeth Borluut dedicated the last few years of their lives to charity and spiritual projects. Next to the Vijd Chapel in the Church of Saint John in Ghent, they founded a pilgrims’ house in Beveren. The initial plans for the foundation of a pilgrims’ house probably went back to 1414, but the implementation was only carried out by their heirs after the death of Joos and Elisabeth in 1439 and in 1443 respectively.

As heirs of Joos Vijd and Elisabeth Borluut, the families Triest and Vilain executed their last will and established the monastery of the Wilhelmites that would shape the Beveren skyline for centuries to come. The monastery was abolished by the Austrian emperor Joseph II in 1784. Today, the modified buildings of the monastery are home to a secondary high school, the so-called Sint-Maarten Bovenschool.

Copper engraving of the Land of Beveren by Lucas Vorstermans, Baroque engraver (1595-1675)Gemeente Beveren

Beveren was shaped and transformed by Joos Vijd and his family. Locals and tourists can still enjoy the fruits and benefits of his labours: the castles, churches and landscape parks in Beveren form the legacy of Joos Vijd!

Credits: Story

Saint-Bavo's Cathedral Ghent, - Art in Flanders
State Archives in Ghent
City Archives in Ghent
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles
Heritage community Rausa
Centre for Agricultural History
Covent of Our Lady of Presentation in Beveren
Archives of the Saint Martin parish church
Municipal Archives in Beveren
Archives of the family Bergeyck in Beveren

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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