Jean Miélot (active 1448-ca. 1468), a translator and compiler who also devised the illustrated scratch copies that determined a book’s layout, was the most visual of the small army of scribal talents creating manuscripts for Philip the Good and the Burgundian court. Miélot was the focus of a paper, Towards a Portrait of a Late Medieval Mastermind: Jean Miélot, presented by Elizabeth Moodey, assistant professor of history of art, at the Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies held October 12-13 at Saint Louis University.
Although Paul Perdrizet worked admirably to establish Miélot’s oeuvre (in a foundational article published in 1907), his assessment of his subject’s skills—“médiocre copiste et encore plus médiocre enlumineur”—was disparaging. Working for Philip the Good, one of the greatest bibliophiles of the fifteenth century, Miélot was at the top of his profession. “Literary and art historical scholarship on Miélot has been channeled toward either his words or his images, which not only misses the richness of his activities but also leaves out crucial decorative and didactic elements in the illustrations he provided, such as figural diagrams and fantastic initials—work that lies between words and images,” said Moodey. “These elements often fail to catch the attention of art historians because they are not strictly figural, and likewise escape the eye of literary historians because they are not strictly textual.”
Moodey referred to Miélot’s so-called Commonplace Book (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 17001), in which he collected designs and worked out translations. She noted that, as well as continuing to slight an unusually inventive talent, “we have been imposing modern notions of artist and editor and author on these figures in late-medieval bookmaking, and that the evidence points to something rather different.”
The Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies, founded in 1974, is the only conference in North America dedicated strictly to manuscript topics. The two-day program offered sessions on a variety of themes relating to paleography, codicology, illumination, book production, and library history, among others.