The Machaut Master Part II

by Domenic Leo

The Machaut Master also painted the marginalia – light-hearted, amusing, and sometimes shocking – that inhabit the borders of MS A.[16] As a phenomenon, the popularity of marginalia stretches from the bawdy mid-thirteenth-century Flemish manuscripts[17] to the elegant Parisian manuscripts of the late fourteenth century. At times the marginalia are ‘participants’ and resonate with the text or miniatures, be they sacred or secular. Most often, however, they simply ‘exist’ in manuscripts’ borders, floating around the text as shards of forgotten performances, fragmentary narratives, and pithy proverbs.

Figures 16, 17, and 18. 
BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Dit de la rose, opening image, the lover picks a rose (fol. 365v, A150)Voir dit, opening image, a messenger delivers a letter to Guillaume (fol. 221, A119); BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Vergier, the lover enters a garden (fol. 1, A4, det.)

For the most part, the marginalia in MS A are whimsical, joyful, music-making hybrid creatures. They have the head and torso of a man, but their lower parts are either wrapped in a cloak or comprise an imaginary creature. They regale the viewer with hand bells, a harp, a vielle, a gittern, a buisine, a portative organ, and nakkers: appropriate subject matter for the musical content in this manuscript (Appendix 1). These particular images, as a whole, reflect the elaborately detailed, imaginary instrumentaria which fictively combine haut and bas (loud and soft) music in the text of Machaut’s dits.[18] For example, Machaut lists a dizzying number of instruments playing in the festivities before the formal dinner in the Remède (ll. 3959-3977) and in the emperor’s castle in the Prise (ll. 1147-1146).

Figures 19, 20, and 21. 
, the lover in a garden (fol. 9v, A8, det.)
 Lyon, the lover stands before a river (fol. 80v, A25, det.);  Figure 21. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Voir dit, the portrait of the beloved (fol. 293r, A125, det.)

There are also numerous animals in the margins: winged dragons, harts, apes, dogs, rabbits, squirrels, butterflies, magpies(?), a peacock, and more. They sometimes perch on or fly amidst the foliate bar extenders, which represent a garden- or forest-like space. Of interest for the process of creating the marginalia, in the bas-de-page on fol. 227, the artist has painted a lion seated on its haunches in profile at left and, at right, never erased the sketch of a lion’s head, which stares out at the viewer – a subject we will address below (fig. 58).[19]

Figures 22, 23, and 24.
Voir dit, Venus creates a perfumed cloud for the lovers in bed (fol. 255, A130, det.); MS A. Voir dit, the five virgins (fol. 301v, A148, det.); Lyon, knights on horseback discover a dead body (fol. 90, A40, det.)

Figures in the upper margin, on fol. 245, may be a humorous commentary on the miniature below (A128; fig. 26). A hybrid archer with a tall (hunting?) hat prepares to shoot an arrow. The intended recipient is an ape who taunts the man by spreading the cheeks of his buttocks while his cape flutters in the wind. Below, a red rubric, l’amant, heads a miniature in which Guillaume is receiving Toute Belle and her friends. Both Toute Belle and Guillaume gesture to each other, most likely the sign of a conversation rather than a simple greeting. Machaut stands on the threshold of the dark interior of a church. Could this perhaps represent a mockery of the lack of decorum in the text? In this section, Machaut recounts in an aside that ladies can deceive their husbands in order to have some pleasure (Voir dit, ll. 2930-2940).[20]

Figures 25 and 26.
BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Alerion, a nobleman on horseback with a hunting bird alighting on or taking flight from a leather gaunt (fol. 96v, A51 det.); BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Voir dit, a hybrid hunter prepares to loose an arrow at a monkey who bares his ass (fol. 245, upper margin, A128, det.)

With the exception of a butterfly in the left margin on fol. 450, there are no marginalia in the music section of MS A, only historiated initials (Appendix 2). The most commonly occurring creature is a winged dragon, one of which inhabits a particularly lavish letter ‘L’, which begins a lay on fol. 401v, (Lay 18/13; fig. 27).[21] Others contain small animals or human hybrids, mostly on grid-like backgrounds. A number of them function as an internal comedic device. The theme of the topsy-turvy world where animals perform as humans, commonly seen in marginalia, is exemplified by a fox standing before an altar celebrating mass, on fol. 478 (fig. 28). Another example, on fol. 485v, interacts in an amusing fashion with the lyrics of a virelai. Here, a monkey churns butter. This image parodies a peasant woman making noise at her sloppy work which is at odds with the noblewoman being addressed in the worshipful lyrics, “Dame, a qui” (fig. 29; virelai, 12).[22] In another example, the Machaut Master has created an interesting image-text dialogue. A nude, standing man gestures with his hand as if in a conversation on fol. 472v; rinceaux fill the background. He is a literal illustration of the virile, mythological men in the lyrics, “Quant Theseüs, Hercules et Jason” (ballade, B34, fig. 30).[23]

Figure 27. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Lay 18/13, dragon in a historiated initial ‘L’ (fol. 401v, det.)

Figures 28, 29, and 30.
BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Rondeau, with fox serving mass in a historiated initial ‘T’ (fol. 478, det.); Virelai, ape churning butter in a historiated initial ‘D’ (fol. 485v, det.); Ballade, with nude man in a historiated initial ‘Q’ (fol. 472v, det.)

Large initials (up to nine lines high) mark the beginnings of the different genres of music. Some are filled with leaves and others are historiated. A serpent-like, winged dragon often inhabits or forms the letter itself. The most stunning historiated initials head the ballades and the lays (figs. 31-32). The Machaut Master created an intimate scene at the head of the ballades (fig. 31). A sinuous dragon’s body forms a large letter ‘S’ (S’amours; ballade, B1).[24] Its wings fill the top half and a couple embrace and kiss tenderly in the bottom. The man wears a capuchon decorated with polylobate designs over a pourpoint. This spectacular composition uses a conceit whereby dragons, with flickering, split tongues, spew foliage. The dragon’s tail in this case is caught up in extenders which create a rectilinear frame of sorts.

Figures 31 and 32. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Ballade, with lovers embracing in a historiated initial ‘S’ (fol. 454, A154, det.); Lay, courtly love scene in a historiated initial ‘L’ (fol. 367, A152, det.)

Another artist, Hand 2, whose work only appears once in MS A, painted a man courting a woman in a large initial ‘L’ on fol. 367r (A152), the first folio of a quire with the lays (fig. 32; L1, Loyauté, que point ne delay).[25] In keeping with the lyrics, a supplicating nobleman prepares to kneel, offering his folded hands in a sign of fealty and homage to his ‘liege.’[26] He is dressed in a lovingly rendered depiction of period fashion: a pourpoint with tippets (trailing lengths of fabric – in this case dagged – attached at the elbows). Although this is certainly not the Machaut Master, the young man has the same decorative, polylobate design that runs along the gilded edge of the other man’s capuchon. The woman coyly looks back at the nobleman, elegantly holding her right hand high in a gesture usually associated with conversation. With her other hand, she gracefully gathers her voluminous dress which creates a number of softly falling drapery folds arranged on a diagonal. In doing so, there is an implied narrative: this is a possible indication that she was about to walk before the man’s pleas caught her attention. At odds with the painting style used throughout MS A, this artist produced an extremely fine miniature painted in the Parisian style. The treatment of the bodies and fashion are consistent with the Machaut Master’s work. He executed the figures in grisaille, and the man’s capuchon and belt are gilded. The artist, however, uses a distinctive, thin, red-brown line to render their faces and hair. These portions are delicately modeled rather than heavily silhouetted, as is one of the hallmarks of the Machaut Master.[27] The two small trees in the background are without a doubt the work of the Machaut Master, as is clearly the case in the opening miniature for the Voir dit (fig. 17).

Hand 3, whose work only appears in the Mass, paints with a heavy line, which is reminiscent of a woodblock print. Despite the strokes of gray washes used for modelling, the images remain quite flat. This artist’s most easily identifiable contribution comprises two historiated initials, both in the Agnus Dei of Machaut’s Mass (figs. 10-11, fol. 449v). Of the two heads, one is a bishop, identifiable by his mitre, and the other a king, who wears a crown. Both have coarse, crudely drawn faces with large noses and hair turned back in rolls on each side of the head. The caricature-like exaggeration of the bishop’s nose and eyebrows and the king’s curled hair add a somewhat comedic element.


[16] On marginalia, see: Randall, Images in the Margins; Camille, Image on the Edge; Sandler, “The Study of Marginal Imagery”; and, Leo, Image, Text, Marginalia, pp. 75-86.

[17] Hunt, Illuminating the Borders, addresses this subject directly.

[18] See Bowles, “Haut and Bas.”

[19] The artist also painted lions within the text block in the miniatures throughout the Lyon and part of the intercalated biblical story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den in Confort.

[20] I thank Jacques Boogaart for bringing this to my attention.

[21] On this lay, see Earp, 1995, pp. 337-338.

[22] On this virelai, see Earp, 1995, p. 302.

[23] On this ballade, see Earp, 1995, pp. 362-364. He is in the same pose as the ymage of Toute Belle from the Voir dit (fig. 21; fol. 293, A142) and the figures on the Fountain of Love in Fonteinne (fol. 163d, A93).

[24] On this ballade, see Earp, 1995, p. 370.

[25] I am grateful to François Avril, private communication, who remains “intrigued by this artist” whose work he has not found elsewhere. On this lay, see Earp, 1995, pp. 338-339.

[26] This iconography is represented by a vassal or knight who kneels before a king or lord who, in turn, places his hands over the knight’s. See Ladner, Images and Ideas, who discusses ‘commendation’, “…a sign of surrender connoting dependence, trust and fidelity,” pp. 220-221. For a detailed study of this iconography, see Carré, Le baiser sur la bouche, ‘Description des rites vassaliques’, pp.188-191.

[27] See Earp, 1983, p. 171n.129, who discusses this initial in terms of mise-en-page, stating that it was drawn too large to allow for the entry of music, therefore the original line of text had to be erased and moved lower to accommodate a small staff. 



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