The Prologue

by Domenic Leo

Near the end of a very long life and career, Machaut wrote a poem entitled the Prologue.[1] It is now in two parts at the head of MS A; the first is a mistakenly inverted, appended bifolium on which there are two large miniatures painted by the Jean de Sy Master (figs. 46-49).[2] They accompany the first, lyric section of this poem. The second part is the work of the Machaut Master (fig. 50).[3] The Jean de Sy Master’s images create a visual counterpart to Machaut’s new text, exposing the breadth and complexity of his musico-literary creations and operating as ‘portraits’ of him.[4] They document and offer access into Machaut’s life, and also elucidate feasible patrons’ perceptions of the poet.[5] For Charles V, these images would have preserved the face, accomplishments, and artistry of Machaut as a coveted possession of the patrimoine (and, no doubt, a cherished memory of his mother, Bonne de Luxembourg, Machaut’s patroness after the death of her father, Jean l’aveugle de Luxembourg, roi de Bohème).[6]



















Figures 49-50. BnF, ms. fr. 1584.
Prologue (fol. Ev); Prologue, author portrait (fol. Fv, A3)

But only the dedicated reader (or listener) who is familiar with Machaut’s oeuvre can fully appreciate the Prologue miniatures. Before embarking on the grandest of journeys, through the poet’s lifetime work, the viewer must page back and forth within the Prologue – from image to image, and image to text – then within Machaut’s Complete Works.

[1] On the foliation and placement of the Prologue, see Earp, 1983, p. 344; Earp, 1995, pp. 87-88; and Roccati, “Guillaume de Machaut,” infra.

[2] The title may not be his since its first and only appearance is in the later MS E; see Earp, 1995, p. 203.

[3] The section which follows this bifolium creates a stylistic rupture: the Machaut Master has painted a single-column image of a non-descript author portrait.

[4] The use of the term ‘portrait’ here will be discussed in following volumes with the Prologue and the Voir dit.

[5] Earp, 1995, p. 204, writes, “Strikingly, the Prologue is a work not associated with a patron, but rather with Machaut’s own desire to preface the collection of his life’s works…with an all-encompassing statement of his artistic aims.”

[6] On the Jean de Sy Master’s notoriety, see  Wieck, Painted Prayers, writes of (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.90), a book of hours, that “The manuscript was probably written in Verdun…and then brought to Paris where the miniatures were pasted in,” p. 67.




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