Authorial Presence and Patronage

by Domenic Leo

One of the most contested topics in Machaut studies is the possibility that the poet himself played a role in the creation of the manuscripts with his complete works, particularly MSS C and A. The complex image-text-music rapport in the earlier MS C (mid 1340s), which has folios incorporating all three elements – as well as the exceptionally high quality of the illumination, flourishing, and script – all point toward Machaut’s guidance. In MS A, an inscription at the head of the Index – Vesci l’ordenance que G. de Machau wet qu’il ait en son livre – suggests authorial presence in planning this manuscript, whether or not it was finished according to Machaut’s instructions while he was alive or after his death in 1377 (figs. 2-3).[1]

Did Machaut play any role in making MS A? I believe he was involved, but to what degree I remain uncertain. Aside from the Index, the Roman numerals discussed above suggest that there were sketches or instructions for the illuminator. Could this be the intersection point of author-iconographer-artist-producer? Or does this terminology impose anachronistic reasoning for what was more likely a fluid dynamic, an effort where all four of these ‘terms’ were not necessarily separate people. Was the footwork involved in creating an illuminated manuscript in Paris, so well documented by Richard Rouse and Mary Rouse, reduced to production within one atelier in Reims, and eventually fueled by a single person’s mental negotiations, namely Machaut himself?[2] It would certainly not be a new practice. And what precludes assigning the ‘compilation’ to a date after Machaut’s death? There was surely an interaction with the Jean de Sy Master, ostensibly living and working in Paris, at a late date in MS A’s production. So why make Machaut’s death in 1377 a terminus ante quem?

Anne Walters Robertson, in Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, compares Machaut to Dreux de Hautvillers (1197-1271). She writes that de Hautvillers “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 [MS A].”[3] Sylvia Huot, in her influential study 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.”[4]

Using a different set of tools to address this subject, Deborah McGrady, in Controlling Readers, concludes “all lines of research point…to the vicinity of Reims where Machaut resided or …to an academic or cleric community.”[5] Rather than searching for evidence of Machaut’s involvement with the production of his manuscripts, however, McGrady offers an inroad incorporating reception theory to identify the intended audience. For example, she writes that “…the material quality of [MS A] points to the idea that [the codex] was produced for a reader like Machaut.”[6]

It is, however, very unlikely that MS A belonged in the cathedral library's serious atmosphere. Miniatures would not be necessary for a scholarly reading circle, and would be too expensive for such a library to command. Why would such learned and spiritually inclined readers have any interest in Machaut's erotic speculations? Most importantly, McGrady does not take into account the Jean de Sy Master’s Prologue images, a certain stylistic signifier for royal ownership, thus precluding the possibility that it was ever intended for or kept in a cathedral library. [7]

My line of reasoning is supported by Claire Richter Sherman’s study of translations of Aristotle for Charles V, in which the Jean de Sy Master and an artist that oftentimes worked alongside him – the Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V – played important roles as painters. Nicole Oresme was commissioned for the translations, and Sherman convincingly argues that he carefully crafted these manuscripts for presentation to very specific audiences. The emphasis shifts from clerics and scholars to aristocratic patronage, including Charles V.[8] Given the attention to paratextual devices that aided in navigating the text, such as informative rubrics, mise-en-page, and a glossary, Sherman also postulates that Oresme played an important role in overseeing the artists’ creation of his work.[9]

The most concentrated possible markers of authorial presence are in Machaut’s last long poem, the Voir dit. It survives in six manuscripts.[10] MS A has thirty miniatures for it. A strong indication of Machaut’s involvement is a group of four images in the Voir dit, and one from the earlier Fonteinne, which the iconographer / author “translated in [Latin] verse what appears in French in the body of the dit.”[11]

1.     Paris gives an apple labeled pulcriori de[it?] to Venus (Fonteinne [A98], fol.169a, l.2125).[12]
2.     Banderoles on L’ymage de vraie Amour ([A140], fol.289r, ll.7305-7415).
3.     Comment Titus Livius descript l’ymage de Fortune (How Titus Livius Describes the Appearance of Fortune). Here there is a series of Latin couplets written in the wheels surrounding Fortune (fig. 15; [A147], fol.297r, ll. 8262-8327).
4.     Comment li paiens figuroient l’ymage de Fortune (How the Pagans Depicted the Image of Fortune). Here a different hand translates a passage from French in the text into Latin in the bas de page (fig. 57; [A148], fol.301v, ll. 8691-8678).

At present, I will have achieved my goal if this art-historical based study of MS A opens gateways for future scholars seeking out new interpretations of images, iconography, production, reception, patronage, and authorial presence. This in many ways defines the purpose and function of this project’s massive undertaking whereby new translations and editions of texts and music will become available to all. For now, many of my insights and theories must remain hypothetical, speculative, sometimes provocative, and purposely open-ended. Above all, they are meant to foster interdisciplinary work which will incorporate new findings and broaden our horizons. The recent, groundbreaking discoveries of Lawrence Earp, Yolanda Plumley, and Uri Smilanski, concerning ownership of manuscripts Vg and F-G, are perfect examples: they have already generated work by art historians, musicologists, and literary historians.

In the fourteenth century, Machaut manuscripts inevitably became precious objects for private, aristocratic delectation and ostentation; battlegrounds where image, text, and music vied for visual domination on the folio but aurally meshed for prelectation and musical performance.[13] A new form of ownership and patronage has overtaken these fourteenth-century creations: full availability via the websites Mandragore, Gallica, Corsair, DIAMM, and a facsimile of MS Vg. This translatio studii into twenty-first century English and contemporary musical notation is crafting them for new audiences. The website will encourage interactive participation via digital navigation that will personalize and enrich individual experiences: images to see; texts to read; and music to hear and play.[14]




[1] See Earp, 1995, p. 87, in his detailed description of MS A. On the ‘Index’, most recently, see Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, pp. 86-87, n. 3-4 and McGrady, Controlling Readers, Chapter 3, ‘Instructing Readers: Metatext and the Table of Contents as Sites of Mediation in BnF, ms. fr. 1584’, pp. 88-105.

[2] Rouse and Rouse, Medieval Illuminators, infra.

[3] Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, p. 143.

[4] Huot, From Song to Book, p. 211 and esp., n. 1.

[5] McGrady, Controlling Readers, p. 83.

[6] Ibid., p. 82.

[7] I am grateful to Jacques Boogaart for sharing his thoughts on this matter with me.

[8] Sherman, Imaging Aristotle, p. 24, “For the most part, such developments in the organization and arrangement of the book were directed to a clerical audience. But during the fourteenth century, historical works commissioned by courts or royal patrons were equipped with alphabetical indexes and other finding aids.”

[9] Sherman, Imaging Aristotle, Chapter 3, ‘Nicole Oresme as Master of Texts’, pp. 23-35, especially ‘Oresme’s Role in Designing the Programs of Illustration’, pp. 31-35.

[10] For the complete manuscripts, see Earp, 1995: A, [5], pp. 87-89; F-G, [6], pp. 90-92; E [7], pp. 92-94; for the incomplete, see: K [15], pp. 97-99; J [16], pp. 99-100; Pm [18], pp. 101-102; on this poem, see pp. 223-231.

[11] See Avril, 1982, pp. 131ff; and Earp, 1995, p.182. MS F-G falls short in this respect. The iconography, no matter the new placement of the miniatures within the text, has been simplified, and, in addition to style, is posthumous.

[12] I thank Jacques Boogaart for suggesting this transcription.

[13] Camille, “For Our Devotion and Pleasure,” infra; and Coleman, “The Text Recontextualized,” infra. I am grateful to Cristina Ashjian and Joyce Coleman who kindly sent me offprints of these articles.

[14] Huot, The Song in the Book, provides a persuasive and keenly insightful argument for a transformation in the fourteenth-century ‘experience’ of manuscripts. It occurs in the text-image-music nexus in examples such as illuminated manuscripts of Machaut’s oeuvre, and is quite literally a collapse of physical performance and the construction of the silent mental song.