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BN ff 1584: An Art Historical Overview, By Domenic Leo

BN ff 1584: An Art Historical Overview, By Domenic Leo: FOOTNOTES

1 On the ‘Index’, see Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, with bibliography; Earp writes that “The order of the index was established before the copying of the manuscript itself, strengthening the possibility that this order was indeed prescribed by Machaut himself” (p. 87). The other two manuscripts are BnF, fr. MS 1584 [C], and [Vg], now in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. James Ferrell with no shelfmark.

2 On the Prologue, see my commentary in volume 3 of the present edition. For an expansive analysis of these two miniatures, see Leo, “Beginning is the End,” pp. 96–112.

3 The image of Lady Fortune as described by Titus Livius is far too refined to be the work of the “Machaut Master” (fol. 297r, A147). The historiated initial ‘L’ (for Loyauté, que ne point delay), which heads the collection of lais, is most certainly the work of a second artist, the “Music Master” (fol. 367r, A152); for a complete catalogue entry on this lai, see Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, lai L1, pp. 338–339. For practical purposes, I will refer to the artists with these two names.

4 Avril, Manuscript Painting, p. 36.

5 François Avril in Les Fastes du Gothique, ed. Chailley, et al., p.329, writes that this style “… présente un caractère plus spontané et certain traits provinciaux qui cadre bien avec la production de l’Est de la France telle qu’elle nous est connue par les manuscrits messins du milieu et troisième quart du siècle.”

6 Dreux (1197–1271), was a canon at Reims Cathedral who worked with the archbishop of the same city. He was also schoolmaster at the cathedral’s school as well as a professor of civil law.

7 Robertson, Context and Meaning, p. 143.

8 Huot, Song, p. 211 and especially p.211n1.

9 McGrady, Controlling Readers, p. 83.

10 McGrady, Controlling Readers, p. 82. See also McGrady’s recent work, “Machaut and His Material Legacy.”

11 Montpellier, Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médecine, MS H. 43. Notably Leach, in her Guillaume de Machaut: Secretary, Poet, Musician writes that “[the Montpellier manuscript] is a close match for the style of the rest of A...”(emphasis in the original, p. 96). I do not concur.

12 See François Avril in L’Art au temps des rois maudits, pp. 313–324.

13 See, for example, the tale of Ceyx and Alcyone in Fonteinne (fols. 157d–159v, A82–88) and the story of Susannah and the Elders in Confort (fols. 127v–129d, A54–60). For a discussion of Machaut’s use of Ovid in the Voir Dit, see Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth, Chapter 4. Julia Drobinsky has worked extensively on the Ovide moralisé and its influence on illuminated Machaut manuscripts. See “Eros, Hypnos et Thanatos”; “narration iconographique.” [NB: this article lacks the footnotes and annex. The second print, in July, 2009, a separate fascicle, pp. 223–262 is the complete version]; “Amants péris en mer” with plates VI–IX hors-texte.

14 Leo, “Authorial Presence,” p. 65.

15 On this element in Machaut’s writing, see Hieatt, “Un Autre Fourme.”

16 Respectively: fol. 1r, A4; fol. 9c, A8; fol. 80v, A25.

17 For a brief discussion on the images in the Voir Dit in Manuscript A, see Leo “Program of the Miniatures,” pp. xci–xciii.

18 See the image of Lady Fortune (fol. 301v, A148).

19 The term can also mean a statue, as has been represented in the later Manuscript F (fol. 148r, F112). For an indepth study on the concept of portraiture in fourteenth-century France, see Perkinson, Likeness of the King and the newest work on this element of this subject, Turel, “Living Pictures.”

20 Bowers, “Canonry of Reims.” I thank Roger Bower for sending me an offprint of this important revisionist article.

21 Lyon, 1342; Navarre, 1349; Alerion, before c. 1350; Confort, 1357; Fonteinne, 1360–61; Voir Dit, 1363–65; Marguerite, 1364–69; Lys, 1369; Prise, after 1369.

22 I am using terminology based on van Buren and Wieck, Illuminating Fashion.

23 The sole extant fourteenth-century example is the pourpoint of Charles de Blois (MT 30307, Musée des Tissus, Lyon): see Les Fastes du gothique, pp. 399–400. Also see Blanc, “From Battlefield to Court,” fig. 9.3, dated c. 1364. Blanc mentions Machaut on pp. 163 and 169; and Smith, Sartorial Strategies, who uses it in tandem with literary analysis in “Gawain-Poet: Fashioning Penance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” pp. 95–136, fig. 2.

24 Williams, “Machaut’s Self-Awareness”; also see Williams’ more detailed study, “Author’s Role.”

25 See Earp, “Scribal Practice,” especially ‘The Structure of MS A,’ pp. 87–93 and ‘Gathering Structure of MS A,’ pp. 344–49; and the definitive article, Earp, “Machaut’s Role.” I am grateful to the author for sending me an offprint of this article.

26 For a detailed examination of the scribal notation in manuscript A, see Leo, Authorial Presence, pp. 50–55, especially the chart on pp. 52–53.

27 The subject of marginalia in manuscript A will accompany a subsequent volume.

28 The artist also painted lions in the miniatures, within the text block, throughout Lyon and part of the intercalated biblical story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den in Confort. Normally an unfinished image would have been routinely buffed out or erased. For an overview of the stages in the production of a manuscript, see Alexander, Medieval Illuminators.

29 For a checklist of all manuscripts by “Machaut artists”, dated and undated, with or without patrons, see Leo, “Pucellian School”; and, Leo “Authorial Presence”, see the section “Style as Signifier in Manuscript A”, pp. 42–45. The latter in particular raises important questions to consider surrounding the production and function of this manuscript. For example, I write that: “As a whole, the artist’s conscious us of style as signifier may aid in assessing MS A. First, the sections with higher finish were perhaps never meant to be bound as a whole. Second, these sections, especially the music, may reveal the taste of the author or patron. Third, the music might have been used more often, and more conspicuously, whereas the dits were for private consumption” (p. 5).

30 NB: Throughout the commentaries for this edition, I use the word ‘artist’ in a broad sense, which includes the possibility that he (or she) is using a sketch book or following the notes of an ‘iconographer.’

31 He names himself at the end of the poem, but is identified within the poem as “this clerk” by the knight, on line 1584. The text, (lines 10–12), reads, “One morning I elegantly arrayed myself/In the fashion of a man who loved most perfectly.”

32 Although the king is shown seated on a throne in the miniature, the text reads: [The king]…/Was seated/In very great contentment on a silk rug] (lines 1471–1473). It is on line 1493 that we read that the king was “enthroned.”


With 154 miniatures in grisaille, an appended bifolium with two large miniatures by the famous Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy for the Prologue, and an original index, manuscript A ranks as one of the three most luxurious anthologies of Guillaume de Machaut’s oeuvre.1 Beyond its importance to Machaut studies in general, however, it holds a special place in art historical studies: the two images for the Prologue alone are deservingly recognized as masterpieces of late-fourteenth-century French manuscript illumination.2 The sophisticated iconographic program is no less remarkable or precious.


The most critical issue in an art historical study of manuscript A is the identification of the artists who painted the main manuscript. Aside from the Jean de Sy Master, there are at least two others, or possibly three. The first artist, the Machaut Master, painted all but two miniatures.3 He is characterized by his novel iconography and an inventive if maladroit style. Despite the growing number of studies of fourteenth-century French manuscript painting, no art historian has found other work by him. Foremost among the art historians to have analyzed manuscript A is François Avril. He wrote in 1978 that,
The…illustrations within the text are by an artist who is known for this work alone. Although this volume shows a strong stylistic kinship with other illuminated manuscripts executed for the Court, it may have been illustrated in Reims…by a local illuminator who worked under the poet’s direction.4
In the 1981 exhibition catalogue for Les Fastes du Gothique, Avril wrote that manuscript A’s style fits well within a group of manuscripts from the East of France, possibly Metz, that date to the third quarter of the fourteenth century.5 Although Avril remarked that they show a strong Parisian influence, I see nothing beyond a nod to contemporary Parisian sartorial finesse. In the end, his location of the style to Eastern France in general or the city of Reims in particular remains highly problematic. There is no evidence linking this style to Reims. This element does not, however, preclude the possibility that manuscript A was, indeed, created in this city. Avril’s stylistic assessment of manuscript A remains an integral part of arguments posited for Machaut’s direct involvement with the creation of it.

Anne Walters Robertson, in Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, compares Machaut to Dreux de Hautvillers.6 She writes that Dreux “put together two integral books and that he was advanced in age when he did so. Machaut, of course, worked in similar fashion…He was likewise involved in the production of at least one other source [manuscript A].”7 Sylvia Huot, in her influential, From Song to Book, also operates on the premise that “The codices of Machaut and Froissart were almost certainly organized by the authors themselves; Machaut may well also have designed, or at least influenced, programs of illumination for his works.”8

Using a different set of tools to addresses this subject, in Controlling Readers Deborah McGrady concludes, “all lines of research point…to the vicinity of Reims where Machaut resided or…to an academic or cleric community.”9 Rather than searching for evidence of Machaut’s involvement with the production of his manuscripts, however, McGrady offers an inroad incorporating reception theory for identifying the intended audience. For example, she writes that “…the material quality of [manuscript A] points to the idea that [the codex] was produced for a reader like Machaut.”10

Some scholars follow Avril’s comparison of manuscript A to a French translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy from Metz,11 though there is no substantial stylistic link between these manuscripts . The artist of the Boethius manuscript uses a bold color palette with a preponderance of brick red and orange whereas the artists of the Machaut manuscript use an elegant grisaille with tinted washes and gilding. Moreover, the retardataire style in the Boethius manuscript is most obvious, relatively speaking, in the cursory drapery folds, the crude execution of the faces, and the ubiquitous use of figures with the so-called Gothic sway or exaggerated contrapposto. In addition, although it is possible to recognize styles in general from Lorraine and Champagne from the turn of the century, there is no style specific to Reims in the 1360s.12

The Machaut Master was proficient in his trade and quite inventive. He (with, perhaps, the input of the patron and/or ‘iconographer’) was also very well read. The Rose, the Bible historiale, and the Ovide moralisé figure prominently in text and image. As the Ovide moralisé was the visual source for mythological tales in, for example, Fonteinne, so too did the Bible historiale provide the iconographic programs for the lengthy biblical stories used as exempla in the Confort.13 Surprisingly, the artist demonstrates an intimate familiarity with Machaut’s texts. The artist creatively reused pre-existing iconographic moduli from well-known sources when Machaut did the same in the text.

Machaut mined the Rose, and the artist, in turn, “quoted directly and systematically from Rose pictorial vocabulary.”14 This is the case with the opening image for the Dit de la Rose, where a cleric leans over a wattle-and-daub fence to pluck a rose in the midst of a thorny bush (fol. 365v, A150). In a more subtle fashion, the artist visually cites Rose opening miniatures, thereby highlighting Machaut’s use of a dream vision construct.15 The resulting miniatures are not multipartite images, as can be the case with a number of Rose frontispieces, but singled out components of them. For example, in the opening miniatures for the Vergier, Behaingne, and Dit dou Lyon (Story of the Lion) discovers, enters, and enjoys the garden: the very heart of the Rose.16

Importantly, the artist created new imagery for Machaut’s ever-growing body of poetry and music.17 The Voir-dit, for example, a late work, appears for the first time in manuscript A. The artist had some difficulty in visually articulating the iconographer’s more complex conceptions, as one failed miniature makes clear.18 He surmounted the odds, however, and produced a rich body of innovative iconography. For example, he depicted what Machaut names an ‘ymage’ of his beloved Toute Belle as a panel painting (fol. 235v, A125); and an erotic scene where Venus is about to envelop the narrator and his beloved, together in a bed, in a perfumed cloud.19 These subtleties may reveal Machaut’s personal involvement in this process.

The second artist, the Music Master, uses a distinctly Parisian style. His work is identifiable on the first folio of a quire with the lais. It opens with a historiated initial “L” (Loyauté, que point ne delay). In keeping with the lyrics, a nobleman kneels down, offering his folded hands in a sign of fealty to his “liege”. A standing lady coyly looks back at the nobleman. She elegantly holds her right hand high in a gesture usually associated with conversation (and reminiscent of the delicately-rendered hands of Lady Bonneürté, fol. 297r, A147). With her other hand she gracefully gathers the voluminous dress she is wearing. This, in turn, creates a number of softly falling drapery folds arranged on a diagonal. By lifting her dress there is an implied narrative: this is a possible indication that she was about to walk before the man’s pleas caught her attention. Although the fashionable garments are in grisaille picked out with gilding, the artist used a distinctive, thin, red-brown line to render their faces and hair.


Historian Roger Bowers definitively places Machaut in Reims around 1360, where he “[took up] formal residence as cathedral canon” until his death in 1377.20 Keeping this in mind, it is no coincidence that Machaut was so prolific during this period of time. Manuscript A was painted in the 1370s, ostensibly making it the last manuscript that Machaut himself may have supervised. This is an alluring possibility for art historians, musicologists, and scholars of literature. Machaut’s Dit de la Fleur de Lis et de la Marguerite and the Prise provide a secure post quem of c. 1370.21 Fashion can also aid in dating. In manuscript A men wear the body-conscious pourpoint, a fitted, quilted doublet, buttoned down the chest and from wrist to elbow, which replaced the longer and looser cote hardy.22 It came into style in the 1360s. But, by the 1370s, pourpoints have a distinctive bombé, padded chest, wasp waist, and are significantly shorter, ending at the middle of the buttocks, as in the Prologue images. Oftentimes they are decorated with elaborately dagged and scalloped hemlines; and paired with a chaperon, a hooded capelet.23

Machaut can be glimpsed keeping track of his output in the book that contains all his works, ordering copies made of single works – and of whole manuscripts – and concerning himself with the order in which his complete works should be arranged.24
This quote is from Sarah Jane Williams’ study of references from the Voir-dit which relate to the creation, production, and dissemination of Machaut’s manuscripts. An analysis of the rapport between style and structure reveals that manuscript A was, indeed, compiled over a period of time and originated as a group of unbound gatherings.25 The varying degrees of finish by the artists on ‘opening pages’ of these gatherings strengthens this argument. This can be to some extent substantiated by remnants of scribal notation.26 A set of disparities between the notation and the present order of miniatures in manuscript A corroborates an approach where the iconographic program was composed in portions. One isolates the Voir-dit, demonstrating its conception. The following examples of separate gatherings make this clear:
Voir-Dit — framed miniature — Machaut Master (fol. 221r, A119) Prisetwo-column framed miniature — High Finish, Machaut Master (fol. 309r, A149) Laishistoriated intial — High Finish, Music Master (fol. 367r, A152) Motetsframed miniature — Machaut Master (fol. 414v, A 153) Balladeshistoriated initial — High Finish, Machaut Master (fol. 454r, A154)
Despite the Machaut Master’s shortcomings, his talents shine in a handful of images. The single miniature heading Le Dit de l’Alerion (The Tale of the Alerion) of a man riding a horse hawking, is filled with amazing detail, from the individual curls of the man’s hair to his decorated cape and hood. The rider has a loose-fitting leather gaunt on his left hand where a bird of prey is taking off or alighting. In his right he holds the delicately painted reins. The stallion has been rendered with rich attention to realistic elements such as the shaggy fetlocks, the diagonal movement of the legs, and the subtle red caparison. The bent neck is the sign of submission found in a well-trained horse. The open mouth signals, most likely, that the horse is trying to get his tongue over the bit as the rider slackens the reins and shifts his attention to the raptor. In a further example of this polish, the rider stands above the decorative pommel and cantle of the saddle, on the balls of his feet in the stirrups — notice the spurs.

The Machaut Master was fully capable of painting in a relatively finer style than that which predominates in the body of manuscript A. The best example is the opening page for the Prise (fol. 309, A149). It is a very ambitious two-column miniature complete with foliate bar extenders and marginalia.27 Of special interest are the brilliantly colored green and blue washes and refined style used to paint the peacock spreading its tail feathers in the right margin. This is a third artist with a command of the medium whose work appears nowhere else in this manuscript. The lions on the lower bar extender, however, are the work of the Machaut Master. They relate to an earlier depiction in the manuscript. In the bas-de-page on fol. 227, the artist has painted a lion in profile at left and, at right, never “erased” the sketch of a lion’s head, which stares out at the viewer.28 In the bas-de-page image on the opening page of the Prise, (fol. 309, A149), the lion at left is a flip-side version of the one on fol. 227, and the lion at right is a “finished” version of the unfinished sketch on the same folio. This treatment is a strong indicator that this quire was intended to stand on its own.

The Machaut Master took great care in painting this complex, crowded miniature, where he uses a range of stylistic modes. This leads one to wonder who was responsible for the many roles necessary to create this manuscript. For example, the upper frame of this miniature is darker than the others. The ‘planner’ left room for the masts and castle turrets which poke through it rather than intersect any ruled lines. Although the sloppy, matte coral background is unique in manuscript A, it does, nonetheless, forefront the figures in grisaille. The water with fish, the details of the armor (including two types of helmets and scalloped sections of fabric on the shoulders), and the ladder make it clear that this is a highly polished work by the Machaut Master. Some of these elements are also in the image of Paris leading Helen into a boat in the Confort (fol. 145v, A77). Due to the proximity to the gutter on this folio, a historiated initial is barely visible. It is painted in the customary gray washes but is placed on a square coral background. This is unique in the manuscript. Is this old, bearded man looking up at the miniature the main character of the Prise, Pierre de Lusignan?


The provincial, and decidedly unique nature of the Machaut Master’s painting, points toward an origin outside the circle of Paris; though not necessarily Reims. I have argued elsewhere, however, concerning the three luxury Machaut anthologies, that style can be a signifier of patronage.29 Following this argument, the unique case of manuscript A among illuminated Machaut manuscripts — the stunning contribution of the Jean de Sy Master’s Prologue images — is, in and of itself, a strong indication that manuscript A, in this “finished” state, was owned or commissioned by King Charles V of France.

Notes on Illustrations

This system follows the format in Earp, Guillaume de Machaut.

1. Earp #
2. (fol #)
3. Insertion point / line number –the image is above the line number
4. Rubrics, unless otherwise noted, are above the image.

for example: A35 (fol. 2r) Line 290; “The narrator writes a ballade”

To identify the placement of the miniature(s) on a single folio:
a: Column 1, recto
b: Column 2, recto
c: Column 3, verso
d: Column 4, verso


NB: All miniatures are from BnF ms. fr. 1584 and reproduced with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne [4]
1. A8 (fol. 9r) Line 1; Ci après commence le Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne. The Narrator, dressed as a cleric, stands in a lovely garden close to a castle with a stream; his hand to his heart as he watches a songbird atop a tree.
2. A9 (fol. 9d) Line 41; The narrator, hidden in bushes, is seen by the lady, with her handmaiden and dog, and the knight.
3. A10 (fol. 16v) Line 1185; The lady and fashionably-attired knight flank the King of Bohemia. The king is bearded and has long hair; he is wearing a crown and his garment is vaguely reminiscent of a toga. As with the depiction of God in Majesty (fol. 127b) in Confort and the enthroned Lady in the Harpe (fol. 176v), he is depicted frontally, sitting on a throne with lion-head terminals. The figures to each side gesture, denoting conversation, and the king raises his right hand as a priest would in blessing.
4. A11 (fol. 18v) Line 1509; The lady and knight stand at left with hands raised; the king, seated on a fabric-draped throne, taps his left finger in his right palm, as if meting out his decision.

Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre [1]
5. A12 (fol. 22v) Line 1; Ci après commence le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre contre le Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne. Guillaume leans out the window of a castle.

Illustration Commentaries

Le Jugement dou roy de Behaingne30

The opening image for this poem includes the key elements describing the locus amoenus in the text: an enclosed garden, a stream, a tower, and a bird atop a tree [A8]. The narrator’s identity, however, is blurred because he is dressed as a cleric and not a lover, as he describes himself in the text.31 The introduction to the crux of this poem begins on line 41. At this point the narrator first sees a knight approaching him on one side and a lady on the other, placing him in the area where they would converge. With his customary attention to detail, the artist has followed the text exactly in the second miniature in the Behaingne [A9]. On the right, we see the knight, the lady and her handmaid and even her small dog. At left, the artist has delicately painted three different types of trees. From an image-text perspective, the artist has captured the crucial moment in the Behaingne when the narrator reveals himself (line 1215). The group, hands raised in astonishment, sees that the narrator is hiding amidst an area filled by leaves. The artist underscored the comedic element by showing only the narrator’s head popping out from the vantage point. This also comments more deeply on the hierarchy of roles here, as the emphasis will be on the narrator’s thoughts, his gendered body obliterated by the forest, his physical position nearly as low as the dog’s. In fact, he uses the dog as a means of meeting the group, returning it to the lady.

This is a clear commentary on the role that the narrator will play in the poem. He will be an arbitrator of love, but only as a pale reflection of the king’s own role as magistrate. As the narrator defers judgment to the king, so too the king initially defers to the allegories Honor, Courtesy, Youth, Love, and Wealth. In the third miniature, the king is positioned frontally, a stiff figure seated on a throne [A10]. This symmetrical composition heightens the sense that the king is in perpetual stasis, a godlike figurehead, an eternally just persona, unlike the knight and the lady. This composition is unusual within this artist’s repertoire in manuscript A, and to some degree in contemporary manuscript illumination. It is meaningful, however, in relation to the image of Love in the Vergier [A5] and God in the Confort, [A53]. (See volumes 3 and 2 of this edition respectively). In the first miniature, Love sits on a tree in a frontal pose, holding an arrow and a torch, ladies and men flank him. This forefronts his power. The second miniature depicts God in his majesty. He sits on an invisible throne surrounded by clouds. His direct gaze engages the viewer. He is invested with regal and spiritual iconographic elements. As God, he has a cruciform nimbus and blesses (the viewer) with one hand. In the other holds an orb surmounted by a cross, a sign of his rule over heaven and earth. By creating compositional cross-references, the artist forefronts the king’s authority.32

The final miniature shows the moment where the king makes his judgment [A11]. His gesture of tapping his left index finger on the palm of his right hand clarifies this reading. The lady and knight, both with their right hands on their hips, make two different gestures, perhaps the artist’s way of portraying the outcome of the judgment in the knight’s favor. The knight holds his hand up as if in conversation and the lady holds her hand over her breast, a touching means of conveying her wounded heart.

Le Jugement dou roy de Navarre

There is only one image for the Navarre. It shows a meditative man looking out from his window with his hands crossed on the sill [A12]. Instead of taking an enjoyable walk in a lovely garden on a fine spring day, the narrator has sequestered himself indoors. This inventive manner of “creating a mood” to reflect the narrator’s long-winded passages on the ills of the world attests to the artist’s skill.

Go To 1. Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne, Text