Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Les Vies Des Femmes Celebres: Antoine Dufour, Jean Pichore, and a Manuscript's Debt to an Italian Printed Book

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Les Vies Des Femmes Celebres: Antoine Dufour, Jean Pichore, and a Manuscript's Debt to an Italian Printed Book

Article excerpt

The ornate manuscript presented to Anne of Brittany by Antoine Dufour, Les Vies des femmes celebres (Nantes, Musee Dobree, ms. XVII), has been the object of extended study. (1) Written in 1504, (2) the manuscript was then illuminated by Jean Pichore, Parisian artist, by 1506. (3) We unfortunately do not know of any documents describing the production of this work: Dufour states in his prologue that Anne commissioned it, (4) but beyond this detail, the role that the queen played in the production of the manuscript remains unknown. We are unable to ascertain, for example, if Anne specified how Dufour was to represent the women in his text or which women he was to include. We do not know if the writer then communicated with the Parisian illuminator in order to convey his wishes concerning the iconography contained in the manuscript. However, a careful examination of both the text and the images of Les Vies des femmes celebres shows that author and artist coordinated their work in some manner and that the individuals involved in the codex's production translated and adapted multiple sources, including an Italian incunabulum, in constructing their manuscript for the queen.

Dufour's Text: A Translation via Compilation of Two Latin Sources from Italy

Antoine Dufour relied on at least two Latin texts in composing his Vies des femmes celebres: Boccaccio's De mulieribus Claris (ca. 1362) and Jacopo Filippo Foresti da Bergamo's Deplurimis claris selectisque mulieribus, a Latin adaptation of Boccaccio's work, published in Ferrara in 1497, and again in 1521. (5) Writing in France in the first decade of the sixteenth century, Dufour wove these two sources together, creating his own unique tapestry distinct from and yet reliant on the threads of both Italian authors. (6)

Around 1362, Giovanni Boccaccio dedicated his De mulieribus claris to Andrea Aciaiuoli, Countess of Altavilla. (7) Consisting of 104 biographies of famous women from antiquity and the Old Testament, this was the first collection of biographies in Western literature to present only women. (8) De mulieribus claris enjoyed enormous success both in its original Latin and in translation in numerous languages throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (9) Jacopo Filippo Foresti da Bergamo's De plurimis claris selectisque mulieris was compiled primarily from De mulieribus claris, the Bible, and Sabadino degli Arienti's Gynevera de le clare donne (ca. 1489-1490 and 1492). (10) According to Steven Kolsky, De plurimis emerged in a sociopolitical context in late-fifteenth-century Italy, in which noblewomen saw De mulieribus's presentation of powerful women as an opportunity to follow the example of female political action set forth in Boccaccio's work. (11)

While Boccaccio created an opposition between good and bad women in his Preface, specifying that he would not treat Christian women, Foresti borrowed Boccaccio's rhetoric but delineated two camps of women: on the one hand, pagans such as Semiramis, Medea, Athalia, Olympia, and Cleopatra, and on the other, Christian women such as Sarah, Judith, and Esther. As Kolsky writes, "the compiler methodically juxtaposes the Boccaccian women with his own additions in order to define the De Plurimis as a Christian work." (12)

Antoine Dufour's text carefully compiles and adapts Boccaccio's and Foresti's works, creating a "translation" that responds to rather than reproduces its sources. (13) Les Vies des femmes celebres is comprised of ninety-one biographies, sixty-four of which also appear in De mulieribus claris, and all of which appear in Foresti's De plurimis. Many of these ninety-one biographies follow Boccaccio's text so closely that there is little doubt as to the French translator's utilization of the Latin source. The remaining twenty-seven biographies draw certain details from a variety of texts, but all of the women described in Dufour's work appear in Foresti's compendium, and the French author's biographies mirror almost exactly the order of those in the De plurimis. …

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