While preparing next weeks lecture at the Berlin State Library I remembered a miniature which was drawn to my attention by a tweet of @melibeus1 which shows Vincent of Beauvais at work (online source is the Catalogue of Digitized Manuscripts of the British Library: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=43440).
The miniature stems from BL Royal 14 E I, a late fifteenth century manuscript which according to the BL catalogue was made in the Southern Netherlands (Bruges?) for Edward IV (death 1483), king of England and lord of Ireland and which contains a French translation of the Speculum Historiale by Jean de Vignay.
I find it very intriguing that a vernacular (here French) version of this originally very erudite Latin compilation for Vincent’s fellow Dominican brothers for preaching purposes would evoke the interest of a king, after all a laical reader. Also the Spiegel Historiael, the Middle Dutch version of the Speculum Historiale by Jacob van Maerlant, Philip Utenbroecke, and Lodewijk van Velthem, was originally made for members of the nobility and can be traced in quite some laical libraries (on manuscript transmission of the Spiegel Historial see Biemans). Last but not least, the Medieval High German translation of the Spiegel Historiael was part of the library of two Nuremberg merchants and a South German nobleman (the count of Öttingen), although we do not know yet who commissioned it.
I find one detail of this portrait of Vincent of Beauvais at work particularly interesting. We see him writing on his desk and the things hanging from his desk are there to hold down the parchment, as he was not writing in a book, but on loose parchment and the mirror at the right side is probably there to catch some extra light. The books behind him (his sources) are quite anachronistically bound 15th century style. (Also he was not working alone, but had many helpers for compiling the sources). If you are interested in the making of the Speculum Historiale have a look at Voorbij 1991. This and many more useful publications and information about Vincent of Beauvais and his works can be found on the website http://www.vincentiusbelvacensis.eu/index.html which is maintained by Hans Voorbij en Eva Albrecht. Also very useful is the site of the Atelier Vincent Beauvais (http://atilf.atilf.fr/bichard), where amongst others an edition of a manuscript of the Speculum Historiale is provided. As I am not a specialist for medieval art I owe the information on the iconography of the miniature to Eef Overgaauw. Some other pictures of medieval writers and painters at work can be found on Le Blog Enluminure by Claudine Brunon.
Unsolved is still the funny scroll that is rolling out of Vincent’s desk. His “printer”? No seriously, is this a sign for his productivity? I am interested to know if somebody else has seen something similar.