Cambridge. Cambridge University Library, MS Nn.3.2

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Cambridge. Cambridge University Library
  • MS Nn.3.2
Biblissima authority file
  • 1467-68 C.E.
  • French
  • Latin
  • Les douze dames de rhétorique
  • CUL MS Nn.3.2 contains the work known as the Douze dames de rhétorique, a fable comprising the correspondence, in both Latin and French, and in both prose and verse form, of an elite circle of three intellectual luminaries of fifteenth-century Burgundy: Georges Chastellain, writer and historiographer of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, Jean Robertet, poet and secretary to Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, and the chevalier Jean de Montferrant of Burgey, the chamberlain of both Philip the Good and his successor Charles the Bold, and, named here as tutor to Jacques de Bourbon (1455-1468), the son of the Duke of Bourbon. Although the exchange took place between 1463 and 1464, this manuscript was created for de Montferrant himself between 1467 (when he was appointed chamberlain) and the death of Jacques de Bourbon in 1468. It bears his arms of his seat of Bugey several times, once nestled in the beautful borders of the first page, and in enamel on the clasps.

    The story records the apparition of twelve allegorical ladies who accompany Rhetoric: Eloquence, Nobility of Nature, Clear thought, etc., each of whom has a delightful allegorical portrait with her imaginative attributes, some clothed as aristocratic ladies, others as craftswomen. Only one of the illustrations, that of Florie Memorie, has been cut out. The illuminations firmly locate the creation of the volume in the flourishing manuscript culture of medieval Bruges, in Flanders. Several enchanting details of the city, its street and canals can be glimpsed in the background of the portraits.

    It is very possible the illuminations were the work of known, if anonymous, artists, either the Master of the Dresden Prayerbook, or, perhaps more likely, the so-called Master of Anthony of Burgundy, and his associates, who specialised in secular works such as this one. Two other manuscripts of the same work, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 1174 and Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Gall. 15, may have been copied from this one, or perhaps are more distant cousins, all stemming from an earlier exemplar.

    Arthur Westwell, Queens' College, Cambridge.

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