January 2017

    If France’s High Medieval Period expressed anything about the link between history and written text through its miniature illumination artists and chroniclers, it would have begun with their extensive patronage by wealthy donors like Philip The Good of Burgundy, Duke Jean of Berry, Joanna, Duchess of Brabant, Louis of Gruuthuse, and Edward III of England. One such artist who comes to mind is court chronicler Jean Froissart of Hainaut, Burgundy, 1337-1405, who authored Meliador, an Arthurian romance, and Chronicles. Both were lyrical and narrative poems written in vernacular French prose. Artists such as Laurence de Looze and Loiset Lyedet illustrated these legendary texts, some which featured the balance or crown wheel found in clockwork. Literature of the High and Late Middle Ages revealed a new penchant for meditation and humanist expression.

     Besides its penetrating visual allure in miniature, gilding, historiated initials, and borders, Froissart’s brilliant content provides art history students with valuable historical events such as the Hundred Years’ War, 1337-1453, and Edward II’s deposition in 1326. Scholars note that Froissart was a major focus of Burgundian art patronage by royalty and aristocracy, for his expressive tone was indicative of a fourteenth century revival of the chivalric spirit. The most fascinating fact about Froissart’s approach was his authenticity; he traveled all throughout Europe to collect data for his Chronicles. Froissart just happened to be a contemporary of the humanist Petrarch and famous writer, Chaucer.

       Another famous team who promoted a different genre of writing was that of the three Limbourg brothers, who Duke Jean of Berry commissioned for The Book of Hours. This publication was only one of many in type produced in the late middle ages as personal prayer books. Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry was written in Latin, as it contained matins, prime, and terce, daily prayers, psalms, as well as a reminder of Church Feasts, the Gospels, Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Penitential Psalms, Psalms of Degrees, Litany of Saints, Office for the Dead, and Hours of the Cross. Its backgrounds show the vibrant details of French Gothic fashions and architecture. Learning about these manuscripts does not need to be limited by genre, time period, theme, or country.

     Lessons about historical writing can be simple and focus on just two or three vital facts about each work.


Graph paper, notebooks, illuminated manuscript images, text readings of Canterbury Tales, Froissart’s Chronicles, and Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.


Charts can easily organize the collection of data using the variables of format, publication date, author, and title, such as

Petrarch, Il Canzionere, Italian Sonnet, c. 1346;

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Limbourg Brothers, Miniature Prayer Book, c. 1409,

Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, Narrative Tales,1386

     Here are just some other words that would fit into a unit on late Medieval Art and History:

Artisan Border Bulla Charter Chronicle Decasyllable Devotional Gilding Historiated Initial Iambic Pentameter Il Canzionere Illuminated Manuscript Italian Sonnet Latin Middle English Miniaturist Narrative Tale Novella Old French Parchment Patron Prayer Book Riding Rhyme Royal Rosary Terza Rima Treatise Vellum Vernacular

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