Addendum: Authorial Absence and the Death of the Prologue

by Domenic Leo

The Prologue is illuminated in two complete-works manuscripts from the last two decades of the fourteenth century: MSS F-G and E. In comparison to the work of the Jean de Sy Master, the artists who painted these later manuscripts used simplified iconography for the Prologue and as a consequence generated predictable and conservative images. There is no evidence that Machaut played any role in creating the iconographic cycles, be it via written instructions or sketches.

In place of standing outside or sitting inside his ‘study’ as in MS A, Machaut genuflects before Nature and Love in both manuscripts (four miniatures in MS F-G and one in MS E). In these manuscripts, artists reverted to using traditional author-presentation iconography. From this aspect alone, it is evident that neither of the Prologue painters in these manuscripts ever saw MS A nor, for that matter, knew Machaut. Both painters use six women for the children of Nature and Love. Both rely on a hieratic composition, in which Nature and Love are taller than their children. In lieu of portraiture, all figures are nearly identical. The only overt variations are in coiffures and diadems, coronets, and crowns. The robes and dresses change in color but not style. Here, the artists closely follow the rubrics as literal directions and are not interpreting them.

In MS F-G, all four Prologue miniatures take place outdoors, as the grass makes clear. Rather than using two large images for the two rubrics, this manuscript has one double-column miniature followed by three single-column miniatures. Machaut genuflects facing left and right alternately in the images. This artist does, however, articulate the exchange between himself and the deities in the text, and in two of the miniatures he answers them directly. In these scenes their children are absent (figs. 60-61).

Figures 60-61.
BnF, ms. fr. 22545-22546.
Prologue, double-column miniature of Nature and her children (fol. 1, F1, det.);
BnF, ms. fr. 22545-22546.
Prologue, three miniatures of Machaut speaking to: Nature; Love and her children; and Love (fol. 1v, 1c, F2; 2c, F3; 1d, F4)

The artist who painted the double-column opening miniature for the Prologue in MS E is more proficient at his trade than the first artist in MS F-G (figs. 62-63). He has understood that the symmetry in the shape of the lyrical part of the poem can be replicated by using both deities in one miniature. There are two cut-away buildings which reveal a deity and three ‘children’ in each. The scenes are nearly mirror images of each other. Like a diptych they ‘hinge’ on the central images of Machaut. He is wearing lavender robes in both buildings and genuflecting before each allegory. There is a naïve use of perspective in the building on the right: the planks on the ceiling recede as orthogonals and help to emphasize the central placement of Love whose scarlet red wings span the room (fig. 63).

Figure 62. BnF, ms. fr. 9221. Prologue, at left, Nature and her children, with Machaut kneeling; at right, Love and his children, with Machaut kneeling (fol. 1, E1, det.)

Figure 63. BnF, ms. fr. 9221. Prologue, Love leads his children to Machaut, who kneels before him (fol. 1, E1, det.)

Like the first of two artists in MS F-G, the artist in MS E never captures the spirit of the Prologue. Although the artists may have been following the text, iconographer, or a list of scribal notations or sketches, nothing emboldened them to be more inventive or creative. One last, crucial fourteenth-century element is lacking: these are not portraits in any sense of the word, and therefore Machaut’s likeness is absent in the images. Despite the fact that these are luxury, complete-works manuscripts filled with decorative and attractive images and owned by discerning bibliophiles, it is certain that in this instance Machaut’s texts and music form a more reliable sense of the remnants of authorial presence than the images.


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