Machaut Manuscript A (BnF, ms. fr. 1584): An Art Historical Overview

by Domenic Leo[1]


With 154 miniatures in partially tinted and gilded grisaille, an appended bifolium with two large miniatures by the renowned Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, and an original ‘index’, MS A ranks as one of the three most luxurious, complete-work manuscripts of Guillaume de Machaut’s oeuvre, which were made in his lifetime (fig. 2, fol. Av). [2] Beyond MS A’s importance to Machaut studies in general, however, it holds a special place in art historical scholarship. The first two images for the Prologue are deservingly recognized as masterpieces of late-fourteenth-century French manuscript illumination.[3] They are as remarkable for the artist’s spectacular command of his medium as for his sophisticated and creative iconography. 


[1] Many people patiently read this commentary in various forms over a stretch of time, and I am especially thankful to Jacques Boogaart, Lawrence Earp, R. Barton Palmer, and Yolanda Plumley.

[2] Henceforth, the Jean de Sy Master. Two other manuscripts were painted during Machaut’s lifetime. Manuscript C (BnF, ms. fr. 1586), of c. 1350-56, was in all likelihood made for Bonne de Luxembourg; see Earp, 1995, pp. 77-79; Earp, 2014, pp. 34-38; and Leo, “The Pucellian School,” pp. 155-163. The Ferrell-Vogüé manuscript (MS Vg), of the 1370s, was in the duc de Berry’s collection; on patronage see Earp, 2014, especially pp. 38-44, and, in the same, Leo, p. 126. Two other complete-work, heavily illustrated manuscripts were painted posthumously. MS F-G (BnF, ms. fr. 22545-22546), was painted in the early 1390s. See Earp, 1995, pp. 90-92; Earp, 2014, p. 38, n. 72; and the forthcoming research on patronage by Plumley, “A Courtier’s Quest.” Manuscript E (BnF, ms. fr. 99291), of the 1390s, was also in the duc de Berry’s collection; see Earp, 1995, pp. 92-94. The latest manuscript, Pm, of c. 1425-30, is a partial complete-works manuscript (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library M.396); its iconographic program closely follows that of MS A. On MS Pm, see Earp, 1995, pp. 101-102; and Drobinsky, “Recyclage et création,” infra.

[3] On the Prologue, see Drobinsky, “Peindre, pourtraire, escrire,” ‘Les frontispieces du Prologue: deux pourtraits à la gloire de l’auteur’, pp. 553-569; Perkinson, The Likeness of the King, pp. 218-231; and for an expansive analysis devoted to these two miniatures, see Leo, “The Beginning is the End.” Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, pp. 87-103, has fused Leo and Perkinson’s interpretations – among others – in her own important discussion of the Prologue.








***********************STOP PRESS!!!!!!!!************************

The Complete Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut Volume 1 is out now!!!!

Volume 1: The Debate Poems is now available in print.

You can also enjoy the entire volume online via the Middle English Texts Website.

Edited and translated by R. Barton Palmer, with art historical commentary by Domenic Leo, and musical commentary by Uri Smilansky, the volume contains  Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, and Le Lay de Plour.




The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript

Full colour facsimile with introductory study by Lawrence Earp, Domenic Leo and Carla Shapreau. Preface by Christopher de Hamel

"It is a vast manuscript of royal luxury, 390 leaves of parchment, 314 mm. by 220 mm., illustrated with 118 enchanting miniatures by a workshop of court illuminators led by the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy.They include pictures of gothic chivalry and romance, with mythology and natural history. Music is included on 235 pages of the manuscript, with almost the entire corpus of the ballades, lais and motets of Machaut, as well as his great polyphonic setting of the Mass, the four-part Messe de Nostre-Dame.The manuscript has never before been photographed in its entirety or reproduced in colour."

"Vol. 1 introductory study (225 pages colour/mono), vol. 2 facsimile (789 full colour pages) on 150gsm matt art paper. Full size reproduction, hard bound in buckram, presented in hard slipcover."

Available now from DIAMM Publications.

The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut by Yolanda Plumley

Available now from Oxford University Press

"Presents the first detailed exploration of citational practices in the song-writing tradition of fourteenth-century France. The first monograph-length study on the Ars nova chanson with new evidence about the emergence of the new polyphonic chanson. Provides new evidence about the circle of poets and composers who engaged with Machaut and created a new style of poetry and song. Explores little studied collections of lyrics and songs of the period and provides fresh insights and perspectives on Machaut's works."