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The Flamboyant Design of Jean Lemaire de Beige’s La Concorde des deux langages Michael Randall T HE ALLEGORICAL SYMBOLISM of “ rhetoriqueur” literature and the decorative exuberance of flamboyant architecture have both been accused of being decadent, meaningless growths.' The very similarity of the criticism levelled at these two very different art forms—literature and architecture—points to an underlying dynamic which manifests itself in a parasitic guise in both stone and word. This dynamic can be more easily observed in literature, for example, when its comparable development in architecture is kept in mind. This is par­ ticularly true in the case of Jean Lemaire de Beiges who was the “ Master of Works” (construction foreman) for Margaret of Austria at the Church of Brou in Bourg en Bresse during one of his most productive literary periods.2 In this essay, I intend to look at how this “ degenera­ tive” process develops in the imagery of Lemaire’s La Concorde des deux langages (1511). As both “ rhetoriqueur” and participant in the development of flam­ boyant architecture, Lemaire can be considered as the literal and figura­ tive crossing point of one form to the other. He is the “ lieu commun” of the decadence Johan Huizinga so eloquently decried in his The Waning o f the Middle Ages? The “ symbolic excesses” (p. 207) of the architec­ tural form seem to insinuate themselves into the formal aspects of Lemaire’s lyric poetry. The plastic image in the poems appears to develop independently of the symbolic referent it is tied to, like flam­ boyant tracery covering the structurally symbolic surface of a gothic cathedral. The symbol is “ crystallized” into an autonomous image covering the surface of its host form, feeding on it until all meaningfully symbolic connection has been consumed. The two main plastic images in La Concorde des deux langages—the Temple of Venus and the Temple of Minerva—provide ample evidence of the development from symbolic image, fully integrated within the allegorical process, to pictorial image independent of all symbolic ties. This development from symbolic to pictorial representation situates the VOL. XXVIII, No. 2 13 L ’E s p r it C r é a t e u r poem astride a divide which Paul Zumthor has posited in the conceptual understanding of the period: La poésie des rhétoriqueurs appartient à une époque balancée entre une épistémè ancienne, dominée par une vision analogique de la nature, et celle qui bientôt triomphera, cristallisée autour d’une volonté de représentation.4 Zumthor, in fact, sees the turning point coming with Lemaire. He notes that there is a resurgence of the “ ut pictura poesis” motif in Lemaire’s work (p. 209). The poem being on both sides of the divide shows characteristics of both “ epistemes.” Even when the later autono­ mous forms are produced, the poem remains within the consciousness of the older analogical form. The “ confusion” inherent in this situation is, again, similar to that found in the flamboyant architecture of the period. Henri Focillon explains that Dans un édifice du 13e siècle tout est logique. Qu’est-ce à dire? [...] dans un système dont l’inertie est bannie, tout est fonction, chaque fonction étant spécialisée [...] L ’architecture du XVe siècle au contraire témoigne d’une grande confusion [...] La structure perd son sens et acquiert une valeur de décor. (Le Moyen-age gothique 288) The allegorical structure of Lemaire’s poem is subverted by the decora­ tive, pictorial value which the plastic image acquires. The lack of sym­ bolic or structural logic is due in part to the conflict between the two epistemological systems at work—each forcing the reader or observer in different directions. In La Concorde des deux langages, a distinction between plastic and personified imagery becomes apparent as the original allegorical value of the symbol is taken over by its pictorial value. The plastic image—tomb, temple, crown, etc., thrives in a pictorial or representative environment. The personified image, embodying an abstract idea such as Danger, Genius, Welcome, etc., in its name, fares less well. Its symbolic function linked irrevocably to its name, the personified image cannot exert itself as...


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