by Domenic Leo

Machaut can be glimpsed keeping track of his output in the book that contains all his works, ordering copies made of single works – and of whole manuscripts – and concerning himself with the order in which his complete works should be arranged.[1]

This quote is from Sarah Jane Williams’ study of references in the Voir dit which relate to the creation, production, and dissemination of Machaut’s manuscripts.[2] The varying degrees of finish by the artists on ‘opening pages’ of these gatherings in MS A strengthen this argument. The following examples of separate gatherings make this clear:

Voir dit – framed miniature – High Finish, Machaut Master (fol. 221, A119)
Prise – two-column framed miniature – High Finish, Machaut Master with two(?) other artists (fol. 309, A149)
Lays – historiated initial – High finish, Hand 1 (fol. 367, A152)
Motets – framed miniature – Machaut Master (fol. 414v, A153)[3]
Ballades – historiated initial – High Finish, Machaut Master (fol. 454, A154)

This can be substantiated to some degree by remnants of scribal notation in the form of very small Roman numerals close to the miniatures. For example, in MS C (fol. 104v, C70), the Roman numeral “iii” coincides with the order of the miniatures within the individual dits.[4] Here, it designates the third miniature for the Lyon.

A set of disparities between the scribal notation and the present order of miniatures in MS A corroborates an approach where the iconographic program was composed in portions (Table 1). Earp noticed in MS A that the extant Roman numerals do not correspond to the placement of the miniatures, thus the through-numbering system is at odds with the original state of the manuscript.[5] The later addition – the bifolium at the head of the manuscript for the Prologue – is a variable that must be factored in before judging any discrepancies in this list; hence the column, Order in MS A, where I begin numbering the miniatures from the original Prologue image. It seems probable that the artist began this numbering system entirely apart from the Prologue. Using this hypothesis annuls the disparity in the first case, and reduces it to one in the second. In the first case, if viewed as numbered within the Section, the numbers match for A14-47. The second disparity occurs within a new text – Confort – and this is not a coincidence; surely a change was made for the iconographic program.

Table 1: Scribal Notation in Manuscript A

Through-numbered miniatures

Text: miniatures numbered according to order in text

Order in MS  / Order in Section

Scribal Notation

Disparity between scribal notation and “Order in Manuscript”



Lyric portion of Prologue


A1 – fol. D


Appended #1



A2 – fol. E


Appended #2




ORIGINAL Body of MS A (fols. F-306):

Section 1 – “Narrative” portion of Prologue (fols. Fv-G)


A3 – fol. Fv

Prologue: 1





Section 2 – Dits (fols. 1-220v)


A14 – fol. 54v

Remede: 2

12 /  11



A16 – fol. 62


14 /  13



A17 – fol. 63v


15 /  14



A21 – fol. 72


19 /  18



A22 – fol. 73


20 /  19



A23 – fol. 78v


21 /  20



A24 – fol. 80


22 /  21



A32 – fol. 84v

Lyon:  8

30 /  29



A33 – fol. 85


31 /  30



A40 – fol. 90


38 /  37



A43 – fol. 91v


41 /  40



A57 – fol. 128v

Confort: 6

55 /  54



A58 – fol. 129


56 /  55



A62 – fol. 130v


60 /  59



A105 – fol. 174v

Harpe: 3

103 /  102




Section 3 – Voir Dit (fols. 221-306)


A131 – fol. 259v

Voir Dit: 13

129 /  13



A132 – fol. 264


130 /  14



A139 – fol. 285v


137 /  21

xv pentimento


A143 – fol. 293v


141 /  25



A147[6] – fol. 297


145 /  28



A148[7] – fol. 301v


146 /  29


or [x]xviii(?)


or  -1(?)


Circumstances surrounding the third set of disparities between scribal notation and the present order of miniatures in MS A support an approach where the iconographic program was composed in portions. The first excludes the Prologue. The second marks a change at the beginning of Confort. The third isolates the Voir dit.

The order of images within the Voir dit served as the basis for relating the scribal notation with the image. The Roman numeral ‘viii’ is the thirteenth image in the Voir dit. The last two Roman numerals appearing next to Voir dit images are difficult to make out; the very last, which Earp reads with a question mark as ‘xviii’, might be ‘[x]xviii’.[8] This higher number may reflect images which occur more than once – such as ’messenger delivers a letter’. In this situation the numeral could be repeated. They might also have a rapport with the text in a different, earlier form than that preserved in MS A.

Figure 57. BnF, ms. fr. 1584. Voir dit, inscription in Latin (fol. 301v, bas de page)

Clearly, illuminating the Voir dit in MS A posed logistical problems. It seems that Latin inscriptions were somehow meant to be incorporated into some images, as with one of the large miniatures of Lady Fortune (fol. 301v, A148). Instead, the Latin verses appear in a neat hand in the lower margin (fig. 57); not ‘scribal notation’ in the sense of directions, but simply a part of the image that did not fit. The verses, however, were important enough that they were included, no matter the date or scribe.

Figures 58-59.
BnF, ms. fr. 1584.
Voir dit, bas-de-page with lion and a sketch of a lion’s head (fol. 227, det.);
BnF, ms. fr. 1584.
Prise, bas-de-page with two lions and a butterfly (fol. 309, A149, det.)

[1] Williams, “Machaut’s Self-Awareness,” p. x.

[2] See Earp, 1983, esp. ‘The Structure of MS A’, pp.87-93; and his definitive article, Earp, 1989.

[3] This important and complex miniature demonstrates the artist/iconographer’s close attention to detail in both the iconography and music-image rapports; a further indication of authorial presence. The motet miniature is explored in a separate volume, Leo and Boogart, “Commentary on the Motet Image” (the version on the internet is extensively illustrated).

[4] Earp, 1995, p. 158.

[5] Earp, 1983, p. 390; Earp, 1995, pp. 131-132. 

[6] Comment Titus Livius descript l’ymage de Fortune (with Latin inscriptions in miniature); Earp, 1995, p. 182n194.

[7] Comment li paien figuroient l’ymage de Fortune (with Latin inscriptions in the bottom margin); Earp, 1995, p. 182n199.

[8] Earp, 1995, p. 182.



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