Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Calligraphié par Jean-Marie Guignard

Illuminated manuscript on vellum; text
from Villon; paginated xvi.
As long as I keep doing this, I find myself constantly amazed at how often I must learn something about items that I purchase. Often I am surprised at how difficult it is to learn it, or to discover what I need to discover about an item. 

Of course, I have long been fascinated with medieval manuscripts, and (to a lesser degree) with what might be called medievalist (from 'medievalism') manuscripts: leaves or books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (even the twenty-first, now) that use some of the tools and look of medieval manuscripts for new art, new texts, new books. 

Among my academic acquaintances, medievalism is a kind of hot and timely topic, an area of scholarship in which some of the expertise of medieval scholars is mobilized to write and think about more contemporary phenomena. And while I have my own anxieties about whether such scholarship can ever make medievalists seem relevant in the current academic climate (that is, sufficiently relevant to non-medievalists to keep medievalists employed in the shrinking world of humanities staffing), there seems no doubt that some sort of understanding of real medieval productions is necessary to really understand how the modern fascination with the medieval structures itself. 

Regardless, this week's little puzzle has concerned a fascinating  manuscript page on vellum that came with a printed covering portfolio, presenting the central clues about the manuscript material it contained.

The text on the outside of the portfolio
As the image to the right shows, the portfolio is clearly labeled with a description of its contents: "Parchment Illuminated and Calligraphed by Jean-Marie Guignard." Unfortunately, there is nothing else printed on the portfolio: no publisher's or seller's information, no date, no real additional clue, except for the fact that the French language has been used.

In such circumstances, I am not embarrassed to say that my first recourse is often to Google and WorldCat. Unfortunately, Jean-Marie Guignard does not seem to be a sufficiently unique name to make a simple Google search pay off. Perhaps someone more dedicated to surfing past or through irrelevant search results could find something on our illuminator and calligrapher, but this approach seemed to be a bust to me. Nor does WorldCat seem to show any holdings of any similar portfolio, though my leaf is paginated xv/ xvi, and one imagines that the printed portfolio means that a number of similar leaves were marketed in such covers.

But a search for the text of my manuscript leaf suggested it derives from the poems of François Villon, a well known late medieval French poet. Through a roundabout way, this eventually led me to a 1974 French "Club de Livre" edition of Les Escripts de Françoys Villon, Enluminés et Calligraphiés par Guignard. Of course, I don't own that book, and I haven't been able to check it out, but none of my internet searches have been able to pin down for certain that the Guignard of the printed book and the Jean-Marie Guignard of my leaf are the same, nor have I been able to check whether pages 15 and 16 of the printed book correspond to my leaf. (If any readers feel inclined--and able--to make the comparison, I'd be eager to hear the results!)

But it seems likely to me that, for the moment, I've probably pinned down the source of my leaf here, as a leaf written for this 1974 edition of Villon's works, and later sold or otherwise distributed. It is handsome leaf (some 13 inches tall), and delightful in its own way. 

And, of course, it has been fun to try to trace it.

The recto of the leaf, showing two miniatures
and wide margins.

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