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  • Lady Nature in Word and Image in Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose

Despite the encyclopedic nature of Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose, there are two topics that have been accorded a central place in the quagmire of debates, discussions, and digressions that make up the second Rose. They are the successful and guaranteed regeneration of the human species and the proper use of one's (sexual) tools. At the center of both these topics is the allegorical figure of Lady Nature. The comparative analysis of iconographic depictions of Lady Nature in two fourteenth-century manuscripts, Chicago, University of Chicago Library, 1380 and Paris, Sainte-Geneviève, 1126, and in the fifteenth-century manuscript, Paris, BnF, fr. 23492 reveal new interpretative textual linkages, such as the rapprochement of Lady Nature's confession with Pygmalion's creation of his female statue.

Two of the most pervasive philosophical debates in Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose (c. 1269–78) focus on the successful and guaranteed regeneration of the human species and the proper use of one's sexual tools (i.e., sexual organs). Admittedly, a great variety of topics are discussed by the many allegorical personifications in Jean de Meun's Rose, which led to its description as a compendium of topics and discussions, a summa or a mappamundi. Laurent de Premierfait portrays it in such a way, saying that it is so rich in knowledge that it resembles more an encyclopedia than a courtly romance.1 However, and as I will show, despite its encyclopedic nature, these two topics provoke the debates, discussions, and digressions that make up Jean de Meun's second Rose. The allegory of Lady Nature finds herself at the heart of the deliberations about procreation and the use of one's sexual tools, not only in the text itself, but also in the way she is portrayed in certain miniatures. In what follows, I propose to examine iconographic depictions of Lady Nature that illustrate these two debates in Rose manuscripts that date [End Page 67] from the mid-fourteenth century and then, by means of comparison, the fifteenth century.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun's conjoined Roman de la Rose is without a doubt one of the foundational pieces of French medieval literature. We would be hard pressed to name a work that has enjoyed the same popularity and renown as the famous, or infamous, Roman de la Rose, with over 360 extant manuscripts. It is comprised of two fundamentally different parts. In the first 4,000 lines, written by Guillaume de Lorris around 1236, the narrator embarks on a dream voyage during which he falls in love with a rose, enclosed and protected by a walled garden. The protagonist's narration plunges the reader into an ocean of courtly conventions as the frame of the allegorical dream vision sets up a fierce battle between forces of seduction against social and psychological barriers to it. These are personified by figures called Fair Welcoming, Venus, Openness, and Pity on the one hand, and their moral counterparts evoked by virginal modesty and chastity on the other, among whom are to be counted Danger, Shame, Fear, Jealousy, and Foul Mouth. Because it represents female virginity, the rosebud, which must not be plucked, is protected and defended as the most valued and precious object in the hierarchy of female virtues. Furthermore, Guillaume de Lorris depicts the lover's sufferings and longings, his enduring yet vain efforts (most clearly seen in the second part of his text) to conquer the heart and body of the young maid, epitomized in the Rose. All the courtly topoi designed to enchant the medieval reader with the magic of a springtime world are present. But Guillaume's text ends rather abruptly upon a scene in which Jealousy has locked the Rose in a tower in order to protect her from the Lover's advances. The poem remained at this point for about forty years, until, around 1275, the scholastically trained Jean de Meun, deploying a markedly different literary rhetoric, added another 17,000 lines.

With Jean de Meun the tone moves from the courtly to the philosophical, thus reflecting the interests of late thirteenth-century scholasticism. Philosophy pertained equally to the study of natural philosophy, the equivalent of today's natural sciences, as it did to medicine, alchemy, pharmaceutical sciences and, naturally, philosophy per se. This broadly based understanding of philosophy is reflected in the topical breadth of Jean's work where he deals with questions of planetary formations and muses on the positions of the sun, moon, and stars and their metaphysical effects on humans, to name but a few areas of scientific debate that the reader would encounter. Guillaume de Lorris's so-called guiding allegory of courtly love in reality then becomes a battle between diverse allegorical [End Page 68] figures exposing knowledge on topics far removed from courtly love or even amatory discourse as such. In fact, Jean added some of the allegorical narrators such as the tellingly named Genius and Nature to Guillaume's story. We are reminded of the Rose's lot only from time to time, until she is finally defeated by the Lover's wooing and succumbs to her fate, which is the plucking of her rosebud, the loss of her virginity.

The manuscripts Chicago 1380 and Sainte Geneviève 1126 I will discuss were produced in Paris during the second half of the fourteenth century. According to Ernest Langlois's classification of Rose manuscripts (Langlois 238–39) and Sylvia Huot's revision of that classification (Huot, Rose 6–8), Chicago 1380 does not belong to the N-group of manuscripts, whereas Sainte-Geneviève 1126 does.2 The fourteen manuscripts that make up the N-group according to Langlois's classification share interpolations and variants with the L family of thirty-one manuscripts considered as the vulgate text of Jean's Rose. They also share interpolations and variants with the other two groups (K and M each made up of six manuscripts) and with one another (Huot, Rose 6).3 For purposes of comparison, I will also discuss the portrayal of Lady Nature in the fifteenth-century manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 24392, which is the subject of Lori Walters's chapter in this volume, entitled "Remembering Christine de Pizan in Paris, BnF, fr. 24392, A Manuscript Owned by Anne de France, Duchess of Bourbon." To date, no systematic study has been made of the classification into families of fifteenth-century manuscripts. Huot notes that many of the manuscripts of the time are composite texts, "to which bits and pieces of different families have been added" (qtd. in Walters, "Foot" n. 28). Français 24392, together with its model Paris, Arsenal 3339, appears to be one such composite text. My study will help us understand some of the diverse ways in which fourteenth-and fifteenth-century illustrators responded to Jean de Meun's treatment of Lady Nature.

I. Material Philology

The examination of the miniatures and textual passages that I propose here underscores the importance of material philology, where the medieval manuscript is not merely studied for its textual information or the variants it contains in relation to other manuscripts of the same text, but where we consider the manuscript in its entirety as a historical artifact. As Stephen G. Nichols and Siegfried Wenzel rightfully point out: "Beyond transmitting basic information about a given text, [the manuscript] speaks to us about its social, commercial, and intellectual [End Page 69] organization at the moment of its inscription" (Nichols and Wenzel 2). And as Huot has convincingly demonstrated, form and content and, by extension, the arranging and re-arranging of text and image are inherent components of the medieval opus (Huot, From Song to Book). The placing of miniatures and the topics that are selected for illustration versus those that are not is an integral and crucial component of the creation of underlying meaning. In the case of Jean de Meun and his Rose, we will see that the pervasiveness of the dual-pronged debate around sexual regeneration effectively creates linkages from image to text and between sections of the text that on the surface seem far removed and isolated from one another.

II. Fourteenth-Century Depictions of Lady Nature

Chicago, University of Chicago Library, 1380

This brings us to the first miniature I will discuss and which can be found in manuscript Chicago 1380. Created in Paris at the end of the fourteenth century, it contains in addition to the Rose (ff. 1–141), also the Testament (ff. 142–70), the Codicille (f. 170) and a poem on alchemy (ff. 172–81), which was added in the sixteenth or the seventeenth century. As far as we know, Chicago 1380 is the only Rose manuscript with this addition, which repeats the entire passage on alchemy that is part of Jean's Rose (vv. 16005–118).4 Though not much is known about its origin, its addition does suggest that the poem's author also understood the importance the passage on alchemy plays in the context of Jean de Meun's text. Looking at this particular manuscript in its material entirety echoes Nichols's and Wenzel's argument that the medieval codex served as a space that generated meaning beyond the individual text: the science of alchemy is pushed to the fore not only through the added poem, but through the linkage of certain miniatures and textual passages, which I will now discuss.

I would like to draw the reader's attention to folio 102v, which depicts a couple in bed engaged in the act of kissing (Fig. 1). This miniature is one of forty-one contained in the Roman de la Rose in this particular manuscript. Lady Nature, with a firm eye on the couple and not leaving Death out of her sight either, is busy forging a human infant at the foot of the bed. In the background, we see her furnace in operation, and Death secretly trying to enter into it in an attempt to destroy what Nature has created in her forge. The image is titled "Ci commence le vie chapistre de ce livre lequel est de Dame Nature" ("Here begins the [End Page 70]

Fig. 1. Chicago, University of Chicago Library, MS 1380, f. 102v. Lady Nature in her forge. Special Collection Research Center, University of Chicago Library. <br/><br/>Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.
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Fig. 1.

Chicago, University of Chicago Library, MS 1380, f. 102v. Lady Nature in her forge. Special Collection Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

[End Page 71] sixth chapter of this book which is about Lady Nature," my translation) and introduces the ensuing debate about Nature's superiority in creation over that of Art.5 The section, narrated by the Lover, represents one of the recurring topics in Jean de Meun's Rose. It follows on the heels of Venus's and the God of Love's unsuccessful attack on the guardians who defend the Rose inside the tower Jealousy has built for her and Venus's angry oath to defeat those who refuse to engage in carnal love in order to perpetuate humankind (vv. 15806–60).6 The same topic will then be taken up again in the passage on alchemy that follows, where alchemy is portrayed as the art that comes closest in its imitation of Nature's work (vv. 16005–118). According to the Lover-Narrator, it is impossible to depict Lady Nature in all her wondrous beauty because no words could possibly express her accomplishments that are the creation of life and harmony. Nature's perfect ability to create new life remains unequalled (vv. 16053–54). We, on the other hand, must content ourselves with approximation because we cannot describe or recreate the real thing. The approximation, according to the narrator, could conceivably be achieved through the science of alchemy. The alchemist attempts to create new life either through the process of transmutation, whereby base metals such as copper or zinc are metamorphosed into pure metals, i.e., gold or silver, or by achieving the creation of the elusive Philosopher's Stone that will guarantee eternal youth. Alchemy, therefore, rises above Art in its potential to imitate Nature's creation, and it is for this reason that over one hundred lines are dedicated to the explanations of its intricacies (vv. 16005–118). As mentioned above, these lines are repeated as part of the poem that was added to the manuscript over 300 years later, contextually linking the debate of the virtues of Art versus those of Nature to that of the supremacy of alchemy.

The miniature on folio 102v functions as a sort of fulcrum that ties together the role of Lady Nature as Natura artifex or God's agent and the importance of alchemy as a form of art that in its essence comes closest to Nature's ability of forging new life. For a learned master such as Jean de Meun, the Natura artifex topos as a corollary to the Deus artifex topos would constitute a commonplace belief shared by such erudite masters as Dante, who, greatly influenced by the Rose, expresses the same view, for example in Canto XI of the Inferno.7 Here, we find the echo of this statement uttered by Virgil as he explains to his pupil Dante, the poet:

'Filosofia,' mi disse, 'a chi la 'ntende,Nota, non pure in una sola parte, [End Page 72] Come natura lo suo corso prendeDal divino 'ntelletto e da sua arte;E se tu ben la tua Fisica note,Tu troverai, non dopo molte carte,Che l'arte vostra quella, quanto pote,Segue, come 'l maestro fa 'l discente;Sì che vostr' arte a Dio quasi è nepote.


'Philosophy, for one who understands her, / observes,' he said, 'and not in one place only, / how nature takes her course / from heavenly intellect and its operation. / And, if you study well your Physics, / that human toil, as far as it is able, / follows nature, as the pupil does his master, / so that it is God's grandchild, as it were.'

Nature, the creator, takes her commands from God himself and executes his will exclusively. Consequently, Art can never be on par with Nature's unique ability to transform innate matter into life forms but will always remain its ape. Parallel to Plato's theory of the real and the ideal, of the shadow in the cave as an imperfect intimation of the ideal spiritual realm, art becomes an illusion of Nature and, as Aristotle explains in his Ethica Nicomachea, Art also functions as an allegory of the regenerative activity of Nature.8 The transubstantiation from inert to live matter still remains inaccessible for everyone except Lady Nature. This point is underscored by the seventeenth-century reader of the Rose, who decided to add the laudatory poem about the attributes of alchemy to the manuscript three centuries after its creation. Future readers of the Rose, such as the poem's author created an association between the scientific merit of alchemy and Lady Nature as God's agent and the creator of human life.

What is unusual in the miniature on folio 102v of Chicago 1380 is the double juxtaposition of the procreation topos: on the one hand, procreation is depicted by the couple in bed adjacent to the perceived conflict between Death and Nature; on the other hand, Nature uses hammer and anvil, the tools of the blacksmith, to create new life. Both depictions symbolize procreation and the regeneration of the human species. And both these representations are common in Rose manuscripts, though we do not customarily find them in one and the same miniature. For example, a couple in bed can be found in Geneva, Bibliothèque de Genève, 178 (f. 118v), Paris, BnF, fr. 1565 (f. 104v), Paris, BnF, fr. 24388 (f. 108r), Paris, BnF, fr. 12593 (f. 116r), and Paris, Arsenal 5209 (f. 107r), all dating from the mid-fourteenth century and belonging to [End Page 73] the N-group of manuscripts.9 Nature as a blacksmith is a very common image in Rose manuscripts and not limited to those of the N-Group (Chicago 1380 does not belong to the N-Group manuscripts). Among that group, however, it appears in Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Montpellier, H246 (f. 113r) and in Paris, Sainte Geneviève, 1126 (f. 115r), which I will discuss in the next section. Where this particular miniature of Chicago 1380 stands apart is in its singular juxtaposition of both scenes in one and the same image.

I would argue that the pictorial amalgamation of both topoi underscores once more that the first and foremost concern of Jean's Rose is not the adherence to the rules of the courtly paradigm propounded by his predecessor, Guillaume de Lorris, but the promotion of procreation which will guarantee the survival of the human species. To be successful, the proper use of one's sexual tools is essential and promoted by Nature's priest and confessor, Genius. In the dialogue between the two, Nature, of course, sides with the God of Love in his promotion of fornication and the banning of chastity from the world. After all, those who do not use their ostiz ('tools', v. 1970) to their full potential and instead aspire to chastity in order to please God, will cause the extinction of the world and counteract natural procreation.10 We are reminded here of an earlier passage in Jean's work where Lady Reason unfalteringly insists that it is no sin to name by their name all the 'instruments' that God created in paradise for the sustenance of the human race:

[n']encor ne faz je pas pechiése je nome les nobles chosespar plein texte sanz metre gloses,que mes peres en paradisfist de ses propres mains jadis,et touz les autres estrumenzqui sunt pilers et argumenza soutenir nature humaine[. . .]

(vv. 6926–33)

And it is not sinful of me to name, in plain and unglossed language, the noble things that my heavenly father formerly made with his own hands, together with all the other instruments, the pillars and arguments by which human nature is sustained [. . .]

It is in Nature's interest to promote the proper use of the ostiz in order to assure procreation to which any sort of moral and, consequently, courtly inhibition becomes a menace. According to Alastair Minnis, parler proprement [End Page 74] signified a language "which is direct and to the point as opposed to being oblique or circumlocutory, clearly and plainly significative rather than elaborately (or indeed obscurely) metaphorical" (132). As he claims, "In the scholarship of [Jean de Meun's and Chaucer's] day, the adjective 'proper' was often used to describe the discourse of cool and rational science, no-nonsense logical language as opposed to the fables of the poets on the one hand and the loose, nontechnical speech of the common herd on the other" (132). On this point at least Reason and Nature agree.

After the initial debate about Nature versus Art, it surfaces again, albeit implicitly, towards the end of the text, just before the successful deflowering of the Rose (vv. 20787–21215), in the form of the Pygmalion myth. Here, as the Lover tells us, the sculptor Pygmalion creates the most perfect statue of a young maiden with whom he falls in love. Frustrated by her inert state, he pleads with Venus, the God of Love's mother, to infuse life into his creation. His wish is granted, and Pygmalion returns home to a lovely young maiden ready to receive him and eager to reciprocate his amorous attentions. It must be pointed out, however, that within the narrative fictional framework, which is the Lover's pursuit of the Rose, the story of Pygmalion is recounted as a myth and, consequently, falls within the realm of utopic unattainability.

The sculptor rushes home from his visit to Venus to joyfully find his statue transformed into a living young virgin readily awaiting his amorous embrace. To be sure, this metamorphous moment of inert matter coming alive is crucial in the debate of Nature versus Art as it symbolizes the fusion of these two figures, which, up to this point were at odds with one another. When Lady Nature, bearing witness to Venus's sermon and oath, enters her forge and busily creates new human beings to counteract the effect of Death, she proves her superiority over Art: Death, no matter how hard he tries, even if he were to destroy the entire human species, as he clearly attempts to do in the miniature of Chicago 1380, folio 102v, would never gain the upper hand because the common form ("la forme conmune" v. 15944) of the human species will always survive. Analogous to the phoenix, which creates a model of itself in the ashes before burning to death, the common form will serve as a mold for future creations of the human species. It is this mold, this "anprainte[s]" (v. 15984) forged by Nature as a precaution against the extinction of humankind that serves Art as a model for its own imitations of Nature's creations.

This commonplace notion of Art as the Ape of Nature, the simia naturae topos developed by Curtius and taken up by Alain de Lille in [End Page 75] the Anticlaudianus, inserts itself once more into the larger debate on the superiority of Nature's creative ability over that of Art. Alain de Lille exclaims:

O nova picture miracula! Transit ad esseQuod nihil esse potest, picturaque simia veri,Arte nova ludens, in res umbracula rerumVertit et in verum mendacia singula mutat.


O unprecedented miracle that is the painting! Here something has been born that cannot be, and the painting as the ape of truth is playing a game of an unprecedented art: it renders the shadow of things and changes every lie into the truth. (my translation)11

Only Pygmalion will succeed in outsmarting Nature in the practice of his Art. To do this, he adheres to Venus's advice: we must use our tools to our full potential. The importance of this counsel is frequently underscored by depictions of Pygmalion not only at the moment when he embraces or lays eyes on his statue come alive, but also when he is in the process of sculpting it with his chisel. Limiting my examples to the N-group manuscripts, which includes Paris, Sainte Geneviève 1126 (see Figs. 2 and 3 below), which I will discuss next, to mention are Paris, BnF, fr. 12593 (see here and here),12 Paris, Arsenal 5209 (see here and here),13 Paris, BnF, Rothschild 2801 (see here and here).14

On an iconographic level, these depictions create bookends of sorts with the miniatures depicting Nature creating life either in the form of a blacksmith hammering out the species or as a couple copulating in bed.

Manuscript Sainte Geneviève 1126

This parallelism is most striking in manuscript Sainte Geneviève 1126, where on folio 115r Nature is again depicted as a blacksmith in her forge (Fig. 4). Here, the emphasis shifts away from the image of procreation as in the manuscripts mentioned above and more to the image of the artisan as creator of human life. Textually, the procreation topos returns to the fore right after the representation of Pygmalion when we reach the factum scene and the deflowering and impregnation of the young virgin, the Rose. In this manuscript in particular, we come full circle because an interpolation at the conclusion to the work cleverly ties the procreation topos back to the image of Nature as blacksmith, as I will now explain:

Explicit le Romans de la RoseOu l'art d'amours est toute enclose [End Page 76]

Fig. 2. © Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 150v, IRHT. Pygmalion.
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Fig. 2.

© Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 150v, IRHT. Pygmalion.

Fig. 3. © Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 149v, IRHT. Pygmalion.
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Fig. 3.

© Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 149v, IRHT. Pygmalion.

[End Page 77]

Fig. 4. © Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 115r, IHRT. Nature in her forge.
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Fig. 4.

© Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, Paris, 1126, f. 115r, IHRT. Nature in her forge.

Nature rit si comme moy sembleQuant hic e hec joignent ensemble.

(f. 155v)

Here ends the Roman de la RoseWhich contains the entire art of love.Nature laughs, it seems to meWhen he and she join together.

(my translation)

Ten out of fourteen manuscripts of the N-group contain this interpolation or a variation thereof at the conclusion of the text.15 This passage is taken from Gautier de Coinci's Miracles de Nostre Dame, "where it is part of a diatribe against homosexuality," as Huot explains (Rose 182).16 Five of these ten manuscripts that contain the interpolation also contain a miniature depicting Nature in her forge as a couple in bed in the act of copulation.17

To fully understand the connection between this interpolation and the emphasis on the artisan as the creator of life in this manuscript, we need to bring the symbolic language used by alchemy back into the equation. In Western alchemical tradition the Latin hic et hec are the quintessential ingredients to a successful coupling that will ultimately result in the fusion of the moon and the sun in order to give birth to the [End Page 78] alchemical progeny, the Philosopher's Stone. This widespread alchemical image is perhaps the most obvious in the woodcuts that were added to the Rosarium philosophorum in 1550 (Fig. 5), but which was originally published in 1310 as a florilegium assembling the alchemical wisdom of the greatest adepts, Morienus, Hermes, Arnaud de Villeneuve, Aristotle, Geber (whose real name was in fact Paul of Taranto).

Although iconographic representation of alchemical symbolism was rare in Jean de Meun's time, the metaphoric language is conclusive enough as in the following example where Morienus succinctly summarizes the various steps involved in the fabrication of alchemical gold:

Morien. Notre pierre est le produit du magistère lui-même et elle est assimilée, dans sa progression, à la création de l'homme. D'abord en effet vient le coït, deuxièmement, la conception, troisièmement la grossesse, quatrièmement la naissance, cinquièmement vient la nutrition. O bien-aimé, comprends ces paroles de Morien et tu n'erreras pas en vérité. Ouvre donc les yeux et vois que le sperme des philosophes est l'eau vive. Quant à la terre, c'est le corps imparfait; cette terre est dite à bon droit 'mère,' car elle est la mère de tous les éléments. C'est pourquoi lorsque le sperme est uni à la terre du corps imparfait (cette opération) est alors appelée coït. Alors en effet la terre du corps est dissoute dans l'eau du sperme et devient eau sans aucune division.

Morienus: Our Stone is a confection of the magistery itself and is likened, in its progression, to the creation of man, for the first thing is Coupling, the second Conception, the third Pregnation, the fourth Rising, and the fifth Nourishment. Dear brother, understand these words of Morienus and thou shalt not err in the truth. Therefore open thy eyes and behold the sperm of the Philosophers is quick water, but the earth is the imperfect body. This earth is worthily called mother because it is the mother of all the elements, therefore when the sperm is conjoined with the earth of the imperfect body, then it is called Coupling. For then the earth of the body is dissolved into the water of sperm, and it is made one water without division.

In this key passage of the Rosarium philosophorum, the procreative imagery is used to describe the process of transmutation. More importantly, however, this description of the different stages of the alchemical process is also Lady Nature's (Jean de Meun's Nature) dream come true. Male and female are allowed to couple freely, uninhibited by the restrictions of courtly discourse. To this end, the narrator of the factum scene [End Page 79]

Fig. 5. Rosarium Philosophorum. Conjunction or Coupling. <br/><br/>By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.
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Fig. 5.

Rosarium Philosophorum. Conjunction or Coupling.

By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

[End Page 80] outlines in great detail the insemination of the Rose by the Lover. Too long to quote in its entirety, suffice it to say that it stretches for over 200 lines and depicts painstakingly every detail of the penetration of the virgin vagina and the dissemination of the "pilgrim's" sperm.

The essence of alchemy, then, is precisely located in the interstice between Art and Nature in that alchemy only uses natural ingredients such as base metals, mercury, sulfur and salt, and, what is more significant, purports to imitate Nature. Alchemy is at once the art of complete reduction and that of quasi-perfect imitation, since it reduces matter to its primary form, the "matire prumeraine" (v. 16040) only to raise it subsequently to its most perfect form through secret animation, i.e., transmutation, as it metamorphoses matter from one "species" to another. Incidentally, for the alchemist metal is not an inert substance but a living entity. He who understands the secrets of Nature, i.e., the adept, is able to reveal them and to grasp the intricate relationships between the complex systems created by God. He who grasps and understands this complexity, is able to assimilate and to penetrate it, and, ultimately then, to imitate it.

I would argue that it is no coincidence that in manuscript Sainte Geneviève 1126 Nature's regenerative powers are depicted as a blacksmith. The furnace we see in the background of this illustration is reminiscent of the athanor, the quintessential tool in the alchemical process. The term athanor finds its etymological origin in the Greek athanatos, which means immortal referring to the virtue of the tree of life. In addition to the obvious analogy between the blacksmith and the Creator, it is precisely in this ultimate activity of transmutation that alchemy attempts to imitate Nature's work in her forge. During the Early Modern period, Nature and the alchemist become even further intertwined in works such as Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (Fig. 6) published originally in Latin in 1617 and representing Nature as the alchemist's guide who will prevent him from committing errors of ignorance.18

III. Fifteenth-Century Depictions of Lady Nature

Manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 24392

I will now turn the reader's attention to a fifteenth-century Rose manuscript in order to demonstrate the shift away from the preponderance of alchemy that prevailed in the fourteenth-century manuscripts discussed above. As Lori Walters shows in her piece in this volume, Paris, BnF, fr. 24392, completed in 1498, moves into the realm of Christian doctrine.19 [End Page 81] There is no hic et hec passage added to the end which would link the context of this manuscript to the topic of alchemy. It is also very different from the manuscript that in many ways is its model, Arsenal 3339.20 As Walters shows, "the planner designs a Rose that is more in line with Christian doctrine." Not coincidentally, the illustrations that depict Lady Nature contribute to this revisionary stance. Compared to the miniatures in Chicago 1380 and Sainte Geneviève 1126, which illustrate the same passage, the miniature on folio 129r of Français 24392 depicts a much more Christianized Lady Nature.21 While she also wears a crown in Chicago 1380 (but not in Sainte Geneviève 1126), her overcoat, hair, crown, the rim of her blue dress and even the handle of the hammer are in vibrant gold, as is the door frame to her forge. She is elevated to a celestial queen. The two miniatures that follow depicting Nature's confession to Genius underscore this trend: on folios 132r and 135v Nature wears a regal garb in red and gold with headgear indicating that she is of noble birth.22 In particular, the second miniature leaves no doubt as to the Christianization of her role. Kneeling before Genius, she begins her lengthy confession. The middle and the right half of the miniature show God's creation of the world. The same attire is repeated on folio 153r,23 twice on folio 153v,24 twice on folio 154r,25 and again on folio 156r and twice on folio 156v.26 The first five miniatures accompany Nature's conversation with Genius, the following two, Genius's pardon, absolution, and penitence, whereas the last one (the second one on folio 156v) shows Nature once more in her forge with Genius's army in the background. She has now been absolved by Genius who readies himself to fly to the rescue of all lovers.

What is striking in these illustrations is the prominent presence of Christian symbolism, such as celestial rays on folios 153r and 153v, the depiction of the Trinity and of course of Christ's passion on folio 154r. As I noted above, the choice of textual passages to be illustrated shapes the reception of a given manuscript and creates its meaning. In the case of Français 24392, the planner inserted a total of eight miniatures that directly refer to Nature's confession. By way of comparison, we find only the single miniature in the same section in Chicago 1380 (f. 102v, discussed above) and only four miniatures (on ff. 115r, 117v, 120v, 139v) in Sainte Geneviève 1126. Through the high number of miniatures consistently depicting Nature in regal garb, the planner of Français 24392 draws the reader's attention to this section of Jean de Meun's Rose. Though the text remains the same, the revisionary depiction of Lady Nature moves her into the celestial realm and portrays her as an authoritative female teacher well versed in Christian doctrine. As [End Page 82]

Fig. 6. Emblem 42 of Atalanta fugiens. <br/><br/>By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.
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Fig. 6.

Emblem 42 of Atalanta fugiens.

By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

Walters has concluded, "in Français 24392, the Rose becomes a mirror for royal lovers, where the Lover is a prince whose marriage and legitimate offspring will further dynastic succession." The Rose becomes a reflection upon the proper use of one's tools, i.e. sexual organs, in marriage, rather than in uninhibited love. The Lover no longer sows his [End Page 83] sperm indiscriminately, but instead engages in sexual intercourse for a higher monarchical purpose.

IV. Conclusion

In his article on materialities of the manuscript, Stephen Nichols argues that "[m]edieval codices were not books in the way printing came to define them [. . .] Verbal and visual components—rubrics, miniature paintings, decorated or historiated initials, marginal embellishments, glosses—all contribute different interpretations to the 'same' work in different manuscripts" (35). This is particularly true for medieval works that have been reproduced as prolifically as the Rose, and I concur with Nichols in that Rose manuscripts are "objects in motion, constantly experiencing parthenogenesis" (Nichols 35). The iconographic depictions specific to the passages I have discussed in Chicago 1380, Sainte Geneviève 1126, and Français 24392 provide the reader with examples of the fluidity of the medieval opus, where iconography plays a role on par with that of its textual counterpart and must be considered as such. New interpretative textual linkages, such as the connection between Lady Nature's confession and Pygmalion's creation of his female statue, are created through the strategic placement and detail of the miniatures.

Rose manuscripts are naturally not unique in this respect, as we can see in Anne-Marie Legaré's reading of the iconographic cycles in the two illuminated manuscripts of the Livre des eschez amoureux moralisés, Paris, BnF, fr. 9197 and Français 143, both produced at the end of the fifteenth century at around the same time as Français 24392 of the Rose. Analogously to the representation of Lady Nature in Français 24392, Legaré argues that Robin Testard, the miniaturist of Français 143, undertook to depict Lady Nature as a celestial figure who carries out God's orders on earth. It is her task to instruct the young lover in the moralistic and rational ways of the art of love, successfully leading him away from the perilous path of carnal, irrational lust. In these depictions, Nature acts as the moral principle governing the universe (Legaré 217). Read against these later manuscripts—namely Français 24392 of the Rose and the two illuminated manuscripts of the Eschez amoureux moralisés—the iconographic representations of Lady Nature in the earlier Rose manuscripts Chicago 1380 and Sainte Geneviève 1126 stand in sharp contrast to Lady Nature, the celestial moral agent. [End Page 84]

Christine McWebb
University of Waterloo


1. In the De casibus virorum illustrium of 1409, Laurent de Premierfait exclaims: "Cestui poete Dant, entre plusieurs volumes nouveaulx estans lors a Paris, rencontra le noble Livre de la rose, en quoy Jehan Clopinel de Meung, homme d'engin celeste, peigny une vraye mappemonde de toutes choses celestes et terriennes" ("This poet, Dante, discovered among several new volumes, which were in Paris at that time, the noble Book of the Rose, in which Jean Clopinel de Meun, a man of celestial intelligence, depicts a veritable mappamundi of all things heavenly and worldly"; qtd in McWebb 422–23).

2. Pierre-Yves Badel dates the N-group manuscripts at 1352–53 (Badel 116). They are: Geneva, Bibliothèque de Genève 178, Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Montpellier H 245 and 246, Paris, BnF, fr. 1565, 24388, and 12593, Paris, Arsenal 3338, 5209, and 5210, Chantilly, Musée Condé 481 and 482, Paris, BnF, Rothschild 2801, Paris, Sainte Geneviève 1126, Rome, Palazzo Corsini.

3. These manuscript families all belong to the manuscripts making up Group II of Jean de Meun's Rose. Group II manuscripts are defined as those that contain an interpolation or corruption between vv. 8148–49 in Lecoy's edition (see Huot, Rose 5, n. 15).

4. See Langlois 152–54, 422; and Roman de la Rose Digital Library. This manuscript was formerly bound with Le jeu des echecs moralisé (Chicago, University of Chicago Library, 392), but in 1907 Cockerell had them bound separately in matching bindings by Katharine Adams. Le jeu des echecs moralisé was purchased by the University of Chicago in 1931; the two manuscripts were reunited when the Roman de la Rose manuscript was acquired by the University in 2007. For a detailed codicological description, see Langlois; and Roman de la Rose Digital Library.

5. Unless otherwise noted, all references are to the edition by Félix Lecoy. For the English translation, I refer to Frances Horgan.

8. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics IX 7, 1167 b 28 and ff., as qtd in Gunn 261.

9. The same depiction of Nature can also be found in the following eight manuscripts: Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University 143, London, BL Additional 42133, New Haven, Yale University 418, New York, Pierpont Morgan 132, Oxford, Oxford e Museo 65, Paris, BnF, fr. 12592, Warsaw, National Library, 3760, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek 2592 (Langlois 238–39; and Huot, Rose 6–8).

10. Genius in his sermon uses numerous metaphors for the male sexual organ, as for instance the phallic symbolism in his reference to the tripartite division of human activity: the intellectual symbolized by writing with a stylet, the artisan, forging with hammers and the labourer ploughing the furrows. [End Page 85]

15. The full text of the interpolation reads as follows:

Explicit li Rommans de la RoseOu l'Art d'Amours est toute enclose.Nature y est ramenteueQui bien doit estre soustenue,Qu'el rit touz jours si com moi semble,Quant hic et hec joingnent ensemble.Qui Nature ne soustendroit,Sachiez que li mondes faudroit.

(f. 155v)

Here ends the Romance of the Rose,which contains the entire art of love.Nature, who should be well maintained,is given her due, for she always laughs,it seems to me,when 'he' and 'she' join together.If Nature was not maintained,know that the world would die out

(my translation).

These manuscripts are: Geneva 178, Montpellier H 245, BnF, fr. 1565, BnF, fr. 24388, BnF, fr. 12593, Arsenal 5209, Chantilly Condé 481, 482, Rothschild 2801, Sainte Geneviève 1126. Other manuscripts that contain the interpolation in some variation are: BnF, fr. 802 (late fourteenth century), Lyon, Bibliothèque Municipale 764 (end of fourteenth/beginning of fifteenth century), BnF, fr. 25526 (mid-fourteenth century), Chantilly Condé 481 and 482 (1360), British Library, Additional 42133 (second half of the fourteenth century), BnF, fr. 24388 (mid-fourteenth century).

16. See the work's edition by Vilamo-Pentti, "D'un archevesque qui fu a Tholete," vv. 1239f.

17. These manuscripts are: Geneva 178, BnF, fr. 1565, 24388, and 12593, Arsenal 5209. The same depiction of Nature can also be found in the following eight manuscripts: Baltimore 143, BL Additional 42133, New Haven 418, Pier-pont Morgan 132, Oxford e Museo 65, BnF, fr. 12592, Warsaw 3760, Vienna 2592. [End Page 86]

18. Two English translations exist in London, British Library, Sloane 3645 and New Haven, Mellon 48 at Yale University.

19. For a description of this manuscript, please refer to Part I and II of Lori Walters's "Remembering Christine de Pizan in Paris, BnF, fr. 24392, A Manuscript Owned by Anne de France, Duchess of Bourbon" of this journal issue as well as Langlois 61–62.

20. See Lori Walters's piece in this volume.

Manuscripts Cited

Chicago, University of Chicago Library, 1380. <;UC1380>

Geneva, Bibliothèque de Genève, 178. <>

Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Montpellier, H246. <;MontpellierH246>

Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Arsenal 5209. <;Arsenal5209>

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 1565. <;Francais1565>

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 12593. <;Francais12593>

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 24388. <;Francais24388>

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 24392. <;Francais24392>

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Rothschild 2801. <;Rothschild2801>

Paris, Sainte Geneviève, 1126. <;Sainte--Genevieve1126> [End Page 87]

Works Cited

Badel, Pierre-Yves. Le Roman de la Rose au XIVe siècle. Etude de la réception de l'œuvre. Geneva: Droz, 1980. Print.
Curtius, Ernst R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Bollingen, 2013. Print.
Gunn, Alan M. F. The Mirror of Love: a Reinterpretation of the Romance of the Rose. Lubbock: Texas Tech P, 1952. Print.
Hollander, Robert et al., ed. Commedia. Princeton Dante Project. Princeton U. 1997–98. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <>
Horgan, Frances, ed. and trans. The Romance of the Rose. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Huot, Sylvia. The Romance of the Rose and Its Medieval Readers: Interpretation, Reception, Manuscript Transmission. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.
———. From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1987. Print.
Langlois, Ernest. Les manuscrits du Roman de la Rose. Description et classement. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1974. Print.
Legaré, Anne-Marie. "L'iconographie de Dame Nature dans Le livre des eschez amoureux moralisés, d'après le ms. BnF Français 143, enluminé par Robinet Testard." Nouvelles de la rose: actualité et perspectives du Roman de la Rose. Universidad de la Laguna, 2011. 209–25. Print.
Lorris, Guillaume de, and Jean de Meun. Le Roman de la Rose. Ed. Félix Lecoy. 3 vols. Paris: Champion, 1965. Print.
McLean, Adam, ed. "Rosarium Philosophorum." The Alchemy Website. N. p., 1995. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <>
McWebb, Christine. Debating The Roman de la Rose. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.
Minnis, Alastair. Magister amoris. The Roman de la Rose and Vernacular Hermeneutics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
Modersohn, Mechthild. Natura als Göttin im Mittelalter. Ikonographische Studien zu Darstellungen der personifizierten Natur. Berlin: Akademie Verlag GmbH, 1997. Print.
Nichols, Stephen G. "Materialities of the Manuscript: Codex and Court Culture in Fourteenth-Century Paris." Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures 4.1 (2015): 26–58. Print.
Nichols, Stephen G., and Siegfried Wenzel. The Whole Book. Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany. Ann Arbor: The U of Michigan P, 1996. Print.
Roman de la Rose Digital Library. Johns Hopkins University, 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2016. <>
Vilamo-Pentti, Eva, ed. De sainte Leocade au tans que sainz Hyldefons estoit arcevesques de Tholete cui Nostre Dame donna l'aube de prelaz, miracle [End Page 88] versifié. By Gautier de Coinci. Helsinki: Academia scientiae Fennica, 1950. Print.
Sheridan, James J., ed. Anticlaudianus. Toronto: PIMS, 1973. Print.
Walters, Lori. "Remembering Christine de Pizan in Paris, BnF, MS fr. 24392, A Manuscript Owned by Anne de France, Duchess of Bourbon." Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures 6.1 (2017). Web and Print
———. "'The Foot on which He Limps': Jean Gerson and the Rehabilitation of Jean de Meun in Arsenal 3339." Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures 1.1 (2012): 110–38. Web and Print. [End Page 89]

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