6 Jan Maelwael, the second generation
|Insofar as known, Herman Maelwael did not have any children. His brother Willem had two: a daughter, Mechteld (or Metta), and a son, Jan, who were both born before 1370. Jan Maelwael was a gifted painter. He worked in his father's studio in the Burchtstraat. In 1396, one year after the last record of his father and his uncle in Nijmegen, he suddenly appears at the royal court in Paris - under the name of Jean Malouel. He is working on an assignment by the queen of France, Isabella of Bavaria. Jean is doing the work he learned when he was Jan in Nijmegen; he paints heraldic images on banners. How does a Nijmegen painter end up at the court in Paris? A simple explanation: Jan Maelwael was recommended by the lady of the Valkhof, Duchess of Gelre, Katharina of Bavaria. Katharina was an aunt of Isabella of Bavaria (1370-1435), Queen of France.
The following year, Jan Maelwael entered the permanent service of the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold (1342-1404), uncle to King Charles VI of France and at that moment the most powerful and most ambitious man of the country. Philip was busy "revaluating" his capital Dijon, and for this purpose employed the "fine fleur" of North-western Europe's visual artists. In the Dijon of around 1400, painting from the Low Countries gained a European dimension for the first time. The Nijmegen citizens Jan Maelwael and the three Van Limburg brothers were the most important figures there.
Jan Maelwael made a lightning career for himself as a painter, and also as a courtier. In the shortest possible time he gained the honourable official status of 'varlet de chambre' (chamberlain). Financially as well he was esteemed above all other artists. He did a lot of work for the famous Carthusian monastery (Chartreuse) in Champmol, just outside Dijon. He painted panels with religious depictions and painted in polychrome sculptures by Claus Sluter, the greatest sculptor of the Middle Ages. Just after 1400, Jan Maelwael painted a Pietā for Philip the Bold. This moving representation (Louvre, Paris) is the first 'tondo' (circular painting) of Western painting!
In 1404, Philip the Bold died, not long after Jan Maelwael had painted his portrait 'en profile' (lost). A 'Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus and Angels', from the latter part of Maelwael's career, can be admired in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.
After Philip's death, his son, John the Fearless (1371-1419), succeeded to the power in Burgundy. This Jean Sans Peur was a hoodlum and intriguer with little real interest in the arts. He took over the complete artists' circus from his father, including Jan Maelwael, who in 1406 again gained a position as 'varlet de chambre'. Maelwael worked on the monument for the deceased Philip, painted the weaponry of his new customer and also made at least one portrait of the fierce duke.
Meanwhile, Maelwael did not forget his town of birth. In 1405, shortly after the death of Philip the Bold, he travelled back to Nijmegen and married a bride from a distinguished Nijmegen family, Heilwig van Redinchaven. This union was probably not Jan's first marriage; it appears that he travelled from Burgundy to Nijmegen as a widower. In 1413, Jan Maelwael was back again in Nijmegen, together with his wife, to discuss his father-in-law's inheritance and to settle his own business interests in the town. In March 1415, Jan Maelwael died in Dijon. Apart from widow Heilwig, he left four young children who kept living in Dijon, but turned up in Nijmegen now and then. The family received a pension from John the Fearless. In Nijmegen, the widow became involved in a bitter conflict concerning the inheritance, a dispute which dragged on for several decades.