Manuscript production and ownership

Determining the place of production of a MS is often a tricky business. In rare cases, a scribe or artist signed one of the folios. This is the case with Micheau Gonnot (or Gantelet), who wrote his name on f. 560v of Tristan MS Paris BnF 99 in the form: 'Michael Gonnoti scripsit'; he went on to identify himself at the close of the MS (f. 775v) as a priest living in Crosant, who completed his work on the 8 October, 1463 (Pickford 1959, 19; Besamusca 2003, 1-3). In Paris BnF 112 we find, in addition to the name Micheau Gantelet (changed from Gonnot), the signature of Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, who commissioned and owned both of these volumes. At the time of his death by decapitation in 1477, Nemours' library of one hundred or so MSS included three prose Lancelots, three or four prose Tristans, two Guiron le courtois, and a Perceforest manuscript (Pickford 1959, 272-90).

London BL Add. 12228, f. 23r (image courtesy of, public domain)In other cases, a scribe might provide information on the opening folios, in a colophon, or within the text, on occasion even giving the place of production. The scribe responsible for MS Chantilly Musée Condé 433 (not included in this database) provided a wealth of detail concerning the circumstances of production. At the opening of a French translation of Cicero's De inventione and the Rhetorica ad Herennium (f. 13), he signed his name and provided the date and place: he is Maistre Jehan d'Antioche, who translated the texts for William of Saint Stephen, a jurist and Hospitaller knight from Acre, in 1282. In our own corpus, the copolophon to Grenoble BM 861 tells us that the MS was copied by one Johannes de Stennis in 1298.  

Unfortunately, such informative gestures are unusual. Why they appear in some cases and not others is probably due to such intangible factors as patronage, the topic at hand, and whether or not the MS was seen as of particular importance or simply as part of a regular production. In the case of Jehan d'Antioche, we can surmise that he considered his act of transcribing the translation of a Latin text written over a thousand years earlier to be of some importance (and in fact, it is thought to have been the first vernacular translation of the Ciceronian treatise, and the earliest translation of any rhetorical treatise into the vernacular). Its having been done in the Latin Kingdom was probably also worthy of note, perhaps especially given the precarious political situation that prevailed in the final decade before its collapse in 1291. In the vast majority of other cases, in the absence of such detail, one has to look to other features to determine a MS's place of production and possible owners, original or subsequent.

Many of the markers that prove most useful could be considered the domain of the art historian (see, for example, Stones 1990, III: 321-49). The characteristics of the script and decoration are compared against examples of similar style, and on that basis a scriptorium or artist may be identified. This is the case, for example, with a series of MSS once attributed to Neapolitan workshops that have more recently been reattributed to the Pisa/Genoa area by François Avril (2005), Fabrizio Cigni (1993, 2010, 2014a), Francesca Fabbri (2012), and Daniela Delcorno Branca (1998a), among others. The particular version of a text might also be a useful indication that a scribe was working from a MS known to have originated at the same workshop, or alternatively that his model might have been sourced from yet another workshop, known to have produced a singular and identifiable version of the tradition.

London BL Add. 12228, ff. 214v-215r (image courtesy of, public domain)In many other cases, the MS contains two or more distinct parts; these may have been produced independently and then joined together at a further location, or the extra parts may simply have been made wherever an existing MS was then being held. Aberystwyth LlGC 5667E provides an example of the first case. Scholars have identified the illumination and writing hands of the second part of the MS with those that made other northern French MSS in the early years of the 14th c., while the first part of the MS is clearly an Italian production of the mid-15th c. Again, this identification is not difficult to arrive at, given the major changes in illumination style in the 15th c., but how does one label such a French-language MS? Is it 'Northern French' or 'Italian'?

A number of details may indicate a MS's ownership: a signature or stamp on the opening or closing folios; markings or notes in the body of the MS, the language used in such markings (especially when different from that used in the body of the text); details in the illumination, such as coats of arms and heraldic symbols; or library records that have been preserved and published. In the case of LlGC 5667E, a coat of arms from the Visconti family, dukes of Milan and the region surrounding it in the 15th c., was added to the older Part 2 of the manuscript. From this one fact, we can assume that that part of the manuscript made its way from northern France to the Visconti court, where a supplementary Part 1 was added and decorated to indicate Visconti ownership. It is often more difficult to identify MSS that formed part of monastic collections. Sometimes surviving volumes can be matched to those detailed in medieval inventories of monastic libraries, but more obvious ownership marks do also occur: the opening folio of the Alexandre in Paris BnF 24365, for instance, bears the ex libris of the Abbey of St Victor in Paris, with a polite request to return the book, if found.

To: Textual traditions and segmentation.