The Machaut Master Part I

Figure 4. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Lyon, the lover (fol. 80v, A25, det.) Figure 5. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Remede, a teacher (fol. 49v, A13) Figure 6. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Lovers embracing in a historiated initial at the head of the ballades (fol. 454, A154, det.) Figure 7. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Voir dit, Lady Fortune (fol. 297, A147, det.) Figure 8. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Prise,
peacock in right margin (fol. 309, det.)
  Figure 9. Prise, historiated initial with
old man (fol. 309, det.)
  Figure 10. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Mass, historiated initial with a bishop (fol. 449v)  Figure 11. Mass, historiated initial with a king (fol. 449v, det.)   Figure 12. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Lays, historiated initial with a man and woman (fol. 367, A152, det.) Figure 13. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Lays, historiated initial with a man and woman (fol. 367, A152, det.)   Figure 14. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Prologue, Machaut in his study (fol. D, A1) 

by Domenic Leo

The identification of the artists who painted in MS A is a critical issue. I believe there are five. Until now, it has been commonly accepted, based on the groundbreaking work of François Avril, that there are two artists: the well-known Jean de Sy Master who painted the two Prologue images (figs. 46, 48); and the primary and otherwise unknown artist responsible for the main body of miniatures, the ‘Machaut Master’ (figs. 4-7, 15). The latter’s iconography is sometimes novel and nearly always inventive, making up for his maladroit style. Avril, foremost among the art historians to have written on MS A, wrote that, “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.”[1] In the 1981 exhibition catalogue for Les fastes du gothique, Avril added that the Machaut Master’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.[2] Apart from the Parisian sartorial finesse, there is no indication that this was made for the court, and the comparison of the Machaut Master’s style to that of Eastern France in general, or Reims in particular, remains highly problematic.[3]

Some scholars follow Avril’s comparison of MS A to a French translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy from Metz, though there is no substantial stylistic link between these manuscripts.[4] The artist of the Boethius manuscript uses a bold palette with a preponderance of brick red and orange whereas the artists of the Machaut manuscript use an elegant grisaille. 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, an exaggerated contrapposto. In addition, although it is possible to recognize styles in general from Lorraine and Champagne c. 1300, there is, seemingly, no style specific to Reims in the 1370s.[5]

The foundation of the Machaut Master’s stylistic vocabulary is the adept use of grisaille for figures, buildings, plants, and animals. He uses contrasts between lighter and darker shades of gray for modeling but sharply defined grays and black to give the architectural components a three-dimensional appearance. The use of a fairly heavy silhouette for the figures contrasts with the backgrounds, which are devoid of decoration (with the exception of the Prise frontispiece; fig. 1), and flattens the images rather than suggesting depth. Certain elements of the Machaut Master’s style are fresh and spontaneous, as is his use of portrait à l’encre tinting. He sparingly applies translucent washes of colored ink for more delicate modelling: pale peach tones for faces and hands and blond streaks for hair; green for leaves and sometimes violet for clothing; aquamarine for water and a steel blue for shading. To focus attention on the more important images, especially frontispiece images, he uses densely saturated colors. See, for example, the Prise (fig. 1), and the highly detailed artwork of the opening image for the Dit de la rose (fig. 16). The opening image for the Voir dit also received more attention, as the intricately painted pillows and variegated trees make clear (fig. 17). The Machaut Master also uses gilding, albeit sparingly, for crowns and the costly linked belts worn by noblemen.

In his more finished work, he relies on a sharp, fine black line to pick out details, most apparent in the strands of hair and the outlines of the eyes; the best examples are the historiated initial in the ballades (fig. 6) and the image of Lady Fortune as Described by Titus Livius in the Voir dit (fol. 297, A147; figs. 7, 15).[6] The latter is his single most beautiful work, and with it, he reminds the viewer of the level of finesse he can attain (conversely demonstrating the rapid and sometimes gauche execution of less important or more repetitive images). This miniature is more refined than the body of the Machaut Master’s work, but they do share stylistic idiosyncracies: the lips have a pronounced line at the center, giving them a slight pout; and the modeling in flesh tones under the jawline and at the side of the nose match. The delicate and graceful facture of Lady Fortune’s eyes, hair, and hands may be meaningful: by emphasizing her physical beauty, the artist most likely alludes to the fate of those who would fall under her spell.

The Machaut Master was proficient in his trade, and quite inventive. The iconographer, was well read, and the Roman de la rose, the Bible historiale, and the Ovide moralisé figure prominently in the images. 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.[7] Surprisingly, the artist demonstrates an intimate familiarity with Machaut’s texts. The artist used pre-existing iconographic moduli from well-known sources when Machaut did the same with citations which derive from pre-existing sources in the text.

For example, Machaut mined the Roman de la rose, and the Machaut Master, in turn, quoted directly and systematically from Rose pictorial vocabulary. This is most obvious in the highly finished opening image for the Dit de la rose, where a cleric leans over a wattle-and-daub fence to pluck a large, scarlet and pink rose in the midst of a thorny, leafy bush (fol. 365v, A150; fig. 16). In a more subtle fashion, the artist visually cites Rose miniatures in the opening images of three of the dits, thereby highlighting Machaut’s use of a dream vision construct (figs. 18-20). In the opening miniatures for the Vergier, Behaingne, and Lyon, the narrator discovers, enters, and enjoys a garden: the very heart of the Rose.[8] Meradith McMunn writes that “The artist of MS A clearly uses the same imagery, figure placement, and postures that appear frequently in Rose manuscripts and it is very plausible that he is deliberately referring to Rose images.”[9]

The Machaut Master also created new imagery for Machaut’s ever-growing body of poetry and music. The Voir dit, for example, a late work, appears for the first time in MS A, and the artist produced a rich body of innovative iconography. For example, he depicted what Machaut names an ’ymage‘ of his beloved as a panel painting (fol. 235v, A125; fig. 21).[10] He also transformed an image of God creating land from a cloud-like mass in the frontispiece of an Ovide moralisé (Lyon, BM MS 742, fol. 1), into an erotic scene where Venus uses a perfumed cloud to envelop the narrator and his beloved who are together, albeit clothed, in bed (A130, fol. 255r; fig. 22; l. 3760).[11] Here the lovers gaze into each other’s eyes and slightly incline their heads toward one another. Whereas Machaut holds one hand to his chest, as if about to speak (or, perhaps, to designate his contentment). The beloved lies awkwardly, with her legs crossed, one hand partially touching her genitalia (the pattern of the drapery folds creates a very distinct outline), and the other hand on her thigh. She is not surprised at this situation because she initiated it and, thus, is in control of it.

Although these subtleties may reveal Machaut’s personal involvement, the artist did have some difficulties, as three pentimenti make clear. In the most blatant, he has not left sufficient room for one of the five maidens described in the text of the Voir dit; and she is cut off by the frame at far right (A148, fol. 301v; fig. 23; l. 8652). In a miniature depicting the assassination of Julius Caesar, traces of a falling figure just left of the center, with his hands tied in front of him has not been sufficiently erased, nor, for that matter, explained (A137, fol. 278, l.5907). Julia Drobinsky identified another pentimento on fol. 90 in the Lyon. Here, a fallen soldier lies on the ground, nearly crushed by a horse, which extends its muzzle to smell him (ll. 1345-504 – chivalrous knights). This explains the raised hands and expressions of surprise on a group of knights (fig. 24).[12]

Despite the Machaut Master’s shortcomings, his talents shine in a handful of images. A single miniature heads the Alerion, a man on horseback hawking (fig. 25; A51, fol. 96v). It is filled with amazing detail, from the man’s windblown hair to his decorated capuchon (hooded capelet) and his mi-parti pourpoint (in this instance, a very short, padded doublet).[13] The rider has a loose-fitting leather gaunt on his left hand where an immense bird of prey is taking off or alighting.[14] In his right, he holds the delicately painted reins, standing on the balls of his feet in the stirrups above the decorative pommel and cantle of the saddle (Is he posting or is the raised saddle working as a ‘shock absorber’?). The Machaut Master also depicts the rider’s spurs. He painted the stallion with rich attention to realistic elements, such as the shaggy fetlocks, the diagonal movement of the legs, designating his gait as a trot, and the fine-lined red caparison.[15] The horse’s bent neck is a sign of submission and attests to his good training.

[1] Avril, Manuscript Painting, p. 36.

[2] Avril, Les fastes, p 329, writes that this style “…présente un caractère plus spontané et certains 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 troisème quart du siècle.”

[3] This does not, however, preclude the possibility that MS A was illustrated in this city by an artist trained elsewhere.

[4] Montpellier, Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médicine, MS H. 43. Notably Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, writes that “[the Montpellier manuscript] is a close match for the style of the rest of A…” (original emphases), p. 96.

[5] See Avril, L’Art au temps des rois maudits, pp. 313-324.

[6] The Machaut Master uses this type of black line for Lady Fortune and the texts on the wheels she holds.

[7] See, for example, the tale of Ceyx and Alcyone in the 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, pp. 130-170; and Mühlethaler, “Entre amour et politique,” infra. Drobinsky worked extensively on the Ovide moralisé and its influence on illuminated Machaut manuscripts, see: “Eros, Hypnos et Thanatos,” and “Amants péris en mer,” (for the latter, plates VI-IX are hors-texte).

[8] Respectively: fol. 1r, A4; fol. 9c, A8; and fol. 80v, A25.

[9] I am grateful to Meradith McMunn who gave invaluable insight, via private communication, into the visual rapports between opening images. For comparison, McMunn pointed out a four-part Rose frontispiece by the Jean de Sy Master, (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.132, fol. 1r), that has two images which correspond to the narrator before a stream and the narrator listening to birds in MS A.

[10] I will be treating this subject matter in a forthcoming volume on the Voir dit. ‘Ymage’ can also mean ‘statue’, as has been represented in the later Machaut MS F (BN FF 22545; fol. 148r, F112) and the lyrics for L’ymage que fist Pymalion (Lo 203, B28 with music). For in-depth studies on the concept of portraiture and the permutations of the word ‘ymage’ in fourteenth-century France, see Perkinson, The King’s Likeness, infra; Tura, “Living Pictures”; Drobinsky, “Peindre, pourtraire, escrire,” pp. 564-576; and Leo, “Authorial Presence,” pp. 198-216.

[11] The convention for depicting a couple having intercourse shows them under the covers, as in fig. 44. Jacques Boogaart, private communication, points out that the artist is not following the text in the Voir dit, in which Toute Belle is nude, wearing nothing “fors les oeuvres de nature” (l. 4022). 

[12] I thank Julia Drobinsky for sharing this information with me from her forthcoming book on MS A.

[13] I am using terminology based on van Buren and Wieck, Illuminating Fashion.

[14] The largest of the hunting birds, such as gyrfalcons or brown eagles, were too heavy to hold on the wrist and, instead, perched on a pole attached to the front of the saddle.

[15] On horses in general in the Middle Ages, see Hyland, The Horse; she addresses three elements germaine to my remarks: the gaits, pp. 28-30; saddlery, pp. 59ff; and the spur, p. 60.



***********************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."