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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


2 1806 history books, bound
in 17th-c. vellum French legal
I've been working this week to put together a little paper for the Texts and Contexts conference in Columbus, Ohio, late next week, where I'll be talking about a handful of early nineteenth-century French schoolbooks I've picked up here and there over the last year or two, bound in various scraps of vellum manuscripts. I've collected manuscript binding fragments and books that use them for some time, and I am always looking out for more.

But as I was working on my paper, looking at this matched pair of 1806 juvenile histories, I noted that at the end of the Histoire Ancienne, there was a little note to the buyer: "Nota. On prévient que tout exemplaire, soit de l'Histoire Ancienne, soit de l'Histoire Romaine, qui ne porteroit pas la signature, à la main, de l'Auteur, est contrefait." 

Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire 
Ancienne (Reims: Le Batard, 1806), 
p. 136

I suppose Google Translate makes such passages easy to manage these days; I'll offer my own version here: "Note: Be warned that every copy, be it of the Histoire Ancienne, be it of the Histoire Romaine, which does not bear the signature, in handwriting, of the Author, is counterfeit."

This warning, indeed, is followed in my copy by the manuscript signature, "Engrand," whose name is otherwise quite difficult to find in the book, as it does not appear on the title page. It can, however, be found buried in the publisher's catalogue printed on pages [ii-iv]. Fascinatingly, the copy of the Histoire Romaine, which was bound to match, has no similar statement of authenticity, and no signature by M. Engrand. Both books indicate that they are third editions, printed by the same printer, "Chez LE BATARD," in 1806, and it is hard to imagine that one of these books is counterfeit while the other is not. Both books, I should note, include publisher's catalogues, which seems unlikely if one were a counterfeit.

And this is just why I find working with old books so fascinating: here we have a claim that may or may not be true. The evidence is right in my hands, and even so, I am not really certain what to make of it. 

For the bibliographically curious, the two books are:

[Henri Engrand]. Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire Ancienne À L'Usage de la Jeunesse. Troisième Édition. Reims: Le Batard, 1806. viii, 136.

[Henri Engrand]. Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire Romaine À L'Usage de la Jeunesse. Troisième Édition, revue et soigneusement corrigée. Reims: Le Batard, 1806. 240.

WorldCat does not appear to record a single institutional library holding either of these third editions, though earlier and later editions of both books are represented there.