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16.12.16, Miélot, ed., Vie de sainte Katherine / Jean Miélot

The Medieval Review

16.12.16, Miélot, ed., Vie de sainte Katherine / Jean Miélot

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1419-67) was a major patron of the arts with a particular interest in manuscripts, and Jean Miélot was one of several scribes known to have been employed by him as translators, illuminators and compilers of deluxe manuscripts. Miélot's biographical details are scanty. In one of his works he states that he came from the village of Gaissart-lez-Ponthieu (modern day Gueschart in Picardy) but his date of birth is unknown. He entered Phillip's employ in 1449 but may have produced freelance work for him prior to this date. After Phllip's death in 1467, Miélot continued to work for his successor, Charles the Bold (1467-77), dying at an unknown date after 1472. [1]

Miélot's work has been neglected over the years and recent interest in him owes much to the efforts of Maria Colombo Timelli, who has published a number of articles and editions of his works. [2] Her latest work is a critical edition of Miélot's Vie de Sainte Katherine, based on a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (fr. 6449), which is dated 1457 (referred to as M by Colombo Timelli). An earlier edition of this work, produced by Sepet in 1881, has long been felt to be inaccurate and inadequate, and Colombo Timelli has set out to produce an accurate version with full critical apparatus. [3] In this she has succeeded.

The primary manuscript, M, that she uses was originally thought to be the only surviving copy of Miélot's work but, as Colombo Timelli writes in a short note prefacing her edition, a second manuscript, based on M (BN, n.a. fr. 28650) surfaced in 2010. Dating from about twenty years after M, it was compiled for Margaret of York (sister to Edward IV of England and third wife of Charles the Bold) by David Aubert (fl. 1449-79) and illuminated by Simon Marmion (c. 1425-89), both of whom were also employed at the Burgundian court. The Aubert manuscript (which Colombo Timelli refers to as D) is incomplete with a considerable portion of the early part missing. However, what remains is sufficient to demonstrate that D is a re-working and expansion of M (29-36).

Because of the growing interest in fifteenth-century Burgundian texts Colombo Timelli decided to delay publication so that she could include both texts in her work. This provides an opportunity to compare the working methods and interests of the two scribes. For practical reasons Colombo Timelli presents the two texts sequentially. She notes that there were too many differences between the two texts just to note D's variants in the critical apparatus. Another option would have been to present them side by side but again the variations between the two texts made this impractical (56-7). This is unfortunate, if understandable, as it means a lot of flipping back and forth in order to compare the two texts.

To ease this, Colombo Timelli has brought the two different chapter sequences into line by ignoring D's more frequent chapter breaks and following M's sequence. As a further aid, Annexe 2 lists the chapter headings in both texts side by side (243-53). This is very useful when comparing the texts (which is, in fact, easier to do than it is to describe).

In her introduction to the texts Colombo Timelli begins with a brief outline of the Life of St Katherine and the popularity of her cult in fifteenth-century France and in particular at the Burgundian Court (9-10). I think she could have brought out more the fact that the fifteenth-century version of the Life is the culmination of several centuries of development as more and more elaborate stories get added to the original Passio, but this is a minor niggle as the focus of Colombo Timelli's work is the manuscript itself, its sources and its language, not the cult and its hagiography.

She continues with a full description of the physical characteristics of the two manuscripts (11-13). Both manuscripts are illuminated but, except for two colour plates, Colombo Timelli has not included any of the illuminations. She gives bibliographical references for anyone who wants to follow up on the art historical aspects of the manuscripts.

There is then a brief discussion of the Vie de sainte Katherine in the context of Miélot's other hagiographical work (14-16). He was the author of several saints' lives, which were either translations of earlier Latin works or re-workings of older vernacular versions. In all of them he shows a tendency to elaborate and expand the original texts. He is also interested in the historical context of each Life and usually includes a family tree.

Colombo Timelli then discusses the sources upon which Miélot based his text, the primary one being a thirteenth-century Latin Life by an Italian Franciscan, Frater Petrus (18). She compares several passages of Frater Petrus and M to show how Miélot has both translated and expanded Petrus. She also discusses how the original Latin text has influenced the French used by Miélot. This leads her to a discussion as to how Aubert's text, D, evolved from M, again with a side by side comparison of passages from M and D and, in some cases, Frater Petrus (29-39). She offers two stemmas showing possible relationships between the three texts.

The introduction concludes with a detailed linguistic study of M. This section is thorough and clear and will be of great interest to scholars and students of medieval French and of the development of the French language.

To facilitate reading of the two texts Colombo Timelli provides a glossary of key words that might be unknown or ambiguous to modern readers (208-35). This is very helpful and highlights the care that has gone into this edition in order to make it accessible to as many readers as possible.

Finally, the book concludes with three appendices (annexes). In the first Colombo Timelli has listed all the Lives of St Katherine found in the Jonas database of the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (241-2). This provides a useful starting point for those interested in comparing M and D with other hagiographical works of the same era. I have already mentioned Annexe 2 above. Annexe 3 is an edited version of the entry for St Katherine in a martyrology written by Miélot, Brussels, KBR, mss. 9946-9948 (255-63). As would be expected in a martyrology as opposed to a Life, the story concentrates on Katherine's death and post mortem miracles, omitting such things as her mystical marriage. In a short introduction Colombo Timelli outlines the sources for the text and discusses some distinctive features of the language used (255-7).

Colombo Timelli is to be congratulated on producing a fine edition of these texts with an extensive and accessible critical apparatus. This edition is a worthy replacement for Sepet's version of M. It will be of particular interest to scholars and students of French manuscripts and the French language but also has much to offer historians interested in the cult of saints and the development of hagiographical texts.



1. For a summary of the evidence for what is known about Miélot's life and a list of his surviving works see Paul Perdrizet, "Jean Miélot, l'un des traducteurs de Phillipe le Bon," Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France 14 (1907): 472-82.

2. In this context see especially: Maria Colombo Timelli, "La Vie de sainte Katherine de Jean Miélot (1457), Prolégomènes à un edition critique," Le Moyen Français 67 (2010): 13-35.

3. Marius Sepet, Vie de Ste Catherine d'Alexandrie par Jean Miélot I'un des secretaries de Philippe le Bon, duc de Bourgogne. Texte revu et rapproché du français moderne (Paris: Hurtel, 1881; re-published without illustrations: Nantes, Éditions Maison, 2007).