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The manuscript J.b.IX.10 of the Ancient Library (Biblioteca Antica)

Detail of manuscript J.b.IC.10 (folios 58v-59)


1401 c.

The makeup and content of the anthology reveal a complex history.
A compact manuscript of 91 folios, measuring 29.5 x 10.5 cm, suggests the portable accounting notebook frequent in Italian circles.
It contains a mixture of known poetry of Guillaume de Machaut, Eustache Deschamps, Oton Grandson, samples of a set corpus dominated by princely poets (the Cent ballades and réponses), alongside a series of poems attributed to Naudin Aliz known only through this collection.
It was transcribed by at least five different hands in the common calligraphy of a chancery professional.
This humble manuscript appears to have quickly passed into the private library of the House of Savoy.

The collection poses questions about the circulation of French poetry in pre-modern times.

  • What relationship does the codex envision between its celebrated writers and the anonymous contributors?
  • Under what circumstances was this poetry first collected and what inspired its preservation?
  • Given its modest format, shall we rethink assumptions that nobility dictated literary production through patronage?
  •  What role did Mary of Burgundy, wife of Duke of Savoy, Amadeus VIII play in promoting French court poetry at the court of Savoy?

1792 c.

Signature of Jérôme d’Arblay (folio 59r.)

The manuscript becomes a modern book travelling through Europe.

It is bound again and named “Ce Recueil de galanteries du bon vieux temps.

The  medieval ballads re-emerge, cast as dalliance typical of France’s Ancien Régime and its court life.

The volume is introduced by a commentator who writes in a style from the late eighteenth century.

He takes pleasure in safe-guarding this poetry as a memento of a long-ago culture.
Jérôme d’Arblay signs and dates the book, claiming its knowledge and inventive play for his own times.

The pre-modern writing is updated, re-situated, entering into new circuits of literary and intellectual life in French.
This collection raises a second major set of questions about the modern lives of pre-modern  fiction.


  • How did subsequent generations who enjoyed this poetry over centuries understand these collections?
  • What kind of memories of medieval culture did they create?
  • What was their social function?

The cliché still persists that eighteenth-century men and women of letters were largely ignorant of pre-modern poets.   Voltaire’s dismissal of these “barbaric fanatics” is often taken to stand for the judgment of Enlightenment thinkers as a whole.  This collection of gallantries suggests otherwise since the commentator claims the book merits a place in every library. 

  • What constituted the ‘Everyman” medieval library in the years around the French Revolution?
  • How do we understand the manuscripts in relation to editions printed of premodern poets?
  • How did this late medieval poetry contribute to a notion of ‘antiquity’ during the era of Rousseau and Diderot?
  • What was the circulation of such manuscripts across Europe? As prized possessions of a nobility on the run?  As war booty during the many early-modern wars? As groundwork for a Republic of Letters?

These questions provide a basis for the 2015 research seminar organized by project leaders Helen Solterer (Duke University), and Deborah McGrady (University of Virginia).  
They build on the edition of Alessandro Vitale-Brovarone Le Moyen français 6 (1980).

By presenting the manuscript in open-access, we invite other critics to participate in this research as well.

For further details about the Franklin Digital Humanities  project, including e-mails of the seminar leaders, visit the site : www.francophonedh.com
Written by Redazione Web ASTO   
Tuesday, 18 November 2014 21:44
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 November 2014 17:40 )

Read the digital surrogate of the manuscript, J.b.IX.10, publicly accessible for the first time.

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