Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Imaging Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Imaging Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France

Article excerpt

Claire Richter Sherman, Imaging Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1995). xxiv + 419 pp.; 11 colour plates, 86 black-andwhite figures. ISBN 0-520-0833-4. $70.00.

This study is devoted to the two copies of Nicolas Oresme's translation to French from Latin of Aristotle's Ethics, Politics, and Economics commissioned in 1372 by Charles V (a large-format copy, divided between Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale Albert 1 er, MS 9505-6 (MS A), and a volume in a private collection (MS B), and a small-format copy, also in two volumes, The Hague, Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum, MS to DI (MS C), and Brussels, MS BR 11201-2 (MS D)).

Claire Richter Sherman sees the project as being particularly motivated by the King's political, moral, linguistic, and cultural concerns. Fundamental to the entire translation enterprise was the notion of translatio studii, the transfer of cultural supremacy from Rome, and the Latin language, to France, and French. In a painstaking analysis, Sherman shows how the illustrations devised for each of the books into which the text is divided achieve the political and moral goals of the translated texts.

Several illuminators executed the illustrations, which Sherman argues were specially devised by Oresme as part of his `cognitive and mnemonic representation of these texts'. The miniatures themselves are studded with identifying or explanatory captions and scrolls with inscriptions. In the case of the magnificent facing-page images of Bad and Good Government at the beginning of the large version of the Politics, these scrolls are supplemented by an extra-pictorial note from Oresme to the reader. He explains that the two three-tier miniatures, comprising a total of six registers, are there because of the importance of the six types of government they depict. `Et donques ces vi policies sont principals, et sont aussi comme les elemenz et les principes de toutes autres. Et pour ce sont yci au commencement du livre pourtraittes et figurees.' Sherman attributes to Oresme sole credit for devising the illustrative programme in the large volumes and also for its substantial revision in the small volumes. …

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