In the Renaissance, many paintings show a king or a lord with a dwarf, or with a more or less deformed or maimed person. In the Portrait of Count Thomas Arundel and his Family, Rubens painted a remarkable dwarf, with a narrow skull, an enormous mouth, having disproportionate arms and short, twisted legs. They are found in all of the big paintings having a procession, a triumph, or a banquet for subject.
Veronese painted a certain number of them. The dwarf in the Cana Wedding is as high as the table. He is clothed sumptuously and holds a parrot on his hand. His bandy legs support a very big stomach. The Spanish school is rich in productions of this kind. The Flemish, Dutch and German schools also furnish an abundant harvest.
One of the most beautiful canvases of the Dutch school, painted by Antonio Moro, represents the dwarf Brusquet, who shone mostly at the court of Henri II. “The head, big, with a sulky, nasty expression; standing on his short legs, the subject lays his hand on a big, Spanish dog, which is as high as his armpit.”
According to Guillaume Bouchet, Brusquet, whose real name is Jehan-Antoine Lombart, holds the secret of always pleasing, without being boring, “because he never repeats the same thing”. He is a wily Provencal, who gets his start by pretending to be a doctor. “He cured some people by accident, the others, he sent ad patres, like tiny flies… “ This is the origin of his good fortune.
Instead of being sent to the gallows for his misdeeds, he is presented to the Dauphin, later Henri II, who, amazed by his volubility, takes him into his service. First of all, valet of the wardrobe, he is quickly chosen by the King to be a chamber-valet, a charge which he shares with the best poets of the time.
Not content with this favour, Brusquet soon manages to be given the title of Master of the Royal Posts. As there are then neither coaches nor relay horses, this guaranteed monopoly brings him a lot of money. The King’s buffoon becomes very rich, very quickly.
But he does not limit himself to this honest way of earning money. We are led to understand that he lives more from robbery than from his job. He is particularly clever at stealing objects of value which please him and, if he is caught in the act, it is not a good idea to demand an explanation. He takes up a dagger and charges “stabbing and cutting”.
He does this in Brussels, at the home of the Duke d’Albe, when Cardinal de Lorraine goes there to seal the Cateau-Cambresis Treaty, in April 1559. This trip will not be profitless for our buffoon. Having been presented to Philippe II, he pleases him so much that the King of Spain hires him immediately as “official fool”.
The King of Spain already has a Spanish buffoon in his service, and Brusquet is put in charge of governing and keeping him. This will be a pretext for doing a whole lot of nasty things to him. Brusquet also says what he thinks to everyone, whatever his rank. He stands up to magistrates and ecclesiastics, princes and lords.
He profits, without too much trouble, from the favour of both Henri II and Francois II. He owes his disgrace to the quarrels of religion. Suspected of working for the Huguenots, his home is pillaged and he has to leave Paris in a hurry to escape persecution. Charles IX keeps him in his service for a while.
In 1565, this king organizes a grand festival where almost all of the officers of his House, great and small, dressed in different ways, take part in a tournament. For this occasion, “breeches of black velvet, cut with little bands, with gold fringes backed with golden furs, and ruffled with gold and silver striped black taffeta” are ordered for Brusquet.
Brusquet’s salary is two hundred and forty pounds a year.
The King’s buffoon dies at Anet Castle, the home of Mme de Valentinois, near Dreux, around 1570.
Eighth part tomorrow.