- Reviewed by
This book is a monograph on a beautiful and very interesting manuscript at the British Library (Add. MS 20698) containing a translation in Middle Dutch of one of Christine de Pizan's best known works, The Book of the City of Ladies. The volume has four co-authors whose individual contributions are not specified, though the particular fields of expertise of each are briefly mentioned.
The first part of the book, "The Codex in Context," is the main one of three. Twelve sections lead the reader through various aspects of the manuscript: the text, the translation and the translator, the commissioner, the codex, the illumination and the illuminators, the contents, and the general context. The second part reproduces all forty-one illuminated leaves of the manuscript (very handy, though it can be regretted that the order of the illustrations does not always follow the order of the folios). The third part consists of the reproduction and the "bilingual edition" (that is, the transcription and the English translation) of the text on leaves 329v–333r. These last two chapters of the Bouc van de Stede der Vrauwen were added by the translator to Christine's original (unfortunately, some confusion on the chapter numbers remains in the comments). The volume is completed with [End Page 247] appendices (a detailed codicological description, a list of contents, and a list of the miniatures of the manuscript), bibliography, and summaries in Dutch and French.
The book offers a fine example of the complicated choices that have to be made in our era in which digital and printed publications are finding ways to coexist. The volume could make a very nice introduction to a text edition of the Bouc van de Stede der Vrauwen, but this edition is not added—quite understandably, because it is available online.1 But then, the British Library offers a digitization of the whole manuscript, and the publisher deserves applause for having been willing to publish this richly illustrated book anyway.2
The volume is a nice book: a handy, beautifully illustrated, detailed, and inexpensive monograph on this manuscript. But interdisciplinary consideration of all aspects of a complicated manuscript in fewer than forty pages is ambitious. Despite the fact that the authors have (at least in part) been working for two decades on the manuscript, some lacunae have to be mentioned when judging the volume as a scholarly enterprise.
The authors have chosen a rather limited bibliography. That is no problem per se in a book intended to be accessible and not too extensive. Some notable omissions should be mentioned, however. On the Bruges illuminators and on Louis of Bruges's commissions, the authors have not used Manuscrits enluminés des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux: I, Louis de Bruges, the essential 2009 catalogue by Ilona Hans-Collas and Pascal Schandel. When writing about Guy de Brimeu (p. 41, n. 89), surprisingly Werner Paravicini's Guy de Brimeu: Der burgundische Staat und seine adlige Führungsschicht unter Karl dem Kühnen is not cited, whereas a review of this book is. Another important missing title is the 2012 study by Laura Rinaldi Dufresne, The Fifteenth-Century Illustrations of Christine de Pizan's "The Book of the City of Ladies" and "The Treasure of the City of Ladies": Analysing the Relation of the Pictures to the Text.
After the introduction, the book starts off with the context of book culture in Bruges around 1475 and the manuscript patronage of Jan III de [End Page 248] Baenst (ca. 1420–1486). The authors paint a general picture and deal with the several other known manuscripts bearing Jan de Baenst's ownership marks. De Baenst is an interesting figure who, as a member of the city elite of the town of Bruges and councilor of the duke, built his book commissions on the bibliophile culture developed...