Preferred Citation: Sherman, Claire Richter. Imagining Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.



Under royal patronage, the translation of Aristotle's authoritative texts from Latin to French by Nicole Oresme constitutes an important and little-known development in medieval secular culture. Dating from the 1370s, two sets of manuscripts, both from the library of King Charles V of France, contain the first known cycles of images to accompany the complete texts of the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics . The brief treatise known as the Economics , also included in the manuscripts, was then considered an authentic work of Aristotle. Critical editions of the texts acknowledge their importance as the first complete versions in a vernacular language. Yet the cycles of illustration of the king's manuscripts have not received equal attention, particularly in relationship to the texts. The separation in the scholarly tradition of a study of the texts of the translations on the one hand and the images on the other has brought about an underestimation of the full dimensions of the translations' cultural significance. Treatment of the manuscripts as integrated systems of communication raises many interesting questions about how verbal and visual patterns of meaning were constructed, combined, and modified. My interpretation for the late twentieth century of a complex process of fourteenth-century culture led me to widen the scope and method of my research.

My interest in Charles V's four Aristotle manuscripts grew out of my work on the king's patronage and iconography. Initially, the problem appeared simple and iconographic, for the programs of illustration could not be found among the numerous Latin versions of these texts and were thus unique to the new vernacular translations. To interrogate the motives and functions of these programs, I soon realized that I had to move beyond the hunt for pictorial sources and examine the relationships between texts and images. This line of inquiry led me to consider the importance of Oresme's translations qua text. The published critical editions showed that Oresme adhered to academic tradition in supplying extensive glosses and commentaries. His inclusion of glossaries of new and unfamiliar terms made me suspect that the illustrations, too, probably had didactic functions related to the new audience for these vernacular translations.

The crucial textual link lay in Oresme's prologues to his translations. In his introduction to the Ethiques , he identified his audience as the king and his counsellors. The language and content of the prologues led me to investigate the possible


social and political dimensions of the king's commission of the Aristotle translations. This line of research raised questions relating to the king's larger project of commissioning more than thirty translations of both ancient and medieval texts. The first involved the new audience for translations of the Ethics and Politics and the implications for the diffusion of medieval Aristotelianism beyond clerical and university boundaries.

Next I studied the manuscripts themselves to see whether Oresme's linguistic concerns affected the placement, size, and content of the illustrations. At this point, a codicological approach proved essential. By examining the manuscripts as integrated physical structures, I began to see how their calligraphic and decorative organization worked with the illustrations and textual elements to organize the reader's understanding. For example, Oresme's introductory paragraphs and chapter headings highlight key concepts. I speculated whether in an analogous way placement of the illustrations at the beginning of each major text division pointed to way-finding and indexical functions linking text and image.

Who could have devised these extraordinary programs of illustration? For clues to their probable author, I looked at the career of the translator, Nicole Oresme, chosen by Charles V. Oresme's innovative Latin works in such diverse fields as mathematics, physics, and economic theory had established him as one of the outstanding intellects of the late medieval period. Oresme's long-standing relationship to Charles V as unofficial mentor suggested Oresme as catalyst of the Aristotle project.

From this framework I tested various forms of evidence that Oresme may have designed the programs of illustration. Again, the close links between the images and texts provided vital indications of the truth of such a hypothesis, particularly the correspondence of inscriptions in the images to various neologisms and unfamiliar terms. What were the connections between the representational modes of the illustrations and Oresme's authorship of the programs? Did certain of his rhetorical strategies in the translations apply to their visual analogues? Following this train of thought, I wondered if Oresme's training in Aristotelian thought had affected the illustrations' individual visual structures, that is, the textual sequence, format, and internal division of the picture field. From analyzing individual images, I proceeded to question whether Oresme's awareness of Aristotle's thought influenced the appearance of images as essential elements in the reader's cognitive processes. I had then to consider whether the illustrations themselves constituted another level of the translation, in which Oresme selected and explained important concepts.

Oresme's role as designer opened for discussion the nature of his collaboration with the book trade to produce the manuscripts in question. Colophons that identified the scribe of the second set of Charles V's manuscripts as Raoulet d'Orléans suggested that the latter's graphic intervention could offer important evidence about how he worked with Oresme. As author of the programs of illustration, Oresme would also have had to provide instructions for the various miniaturists and their workshops. Because specific documentation is lacking, I refer to the


unknown heads of these ateliers by the traditional term, masters , although I acknowledge the possibility that women could have headed these workshops.

Awareness of this collaborative process led to a comparison of the editorial formats and visual programs of the first and second sets of Charles V's copies of the Ethiques and Politiques . Such a procedure seemed useful in determining both the common and separate functions of the two cycles of illustrations and in providing clues to their contemporary reception. I also speculated on the possibility of another dimension to the reception process: the translator's continued interaction with his audience by means of oral explication.

Turning from an analysis of the programs of illustration in relationship to the texts and the manuscripts, I examined issues of cultural history relating to the broader significance of the Aristotle translations. Recent works on the development of the medieval and early printed book, for example, provided an important perspective on the verbal re-presentation of Aristotelian and other texts originally designed for university audiences. And analyses of rhetorical theory, patronage, and political goals of translations brought the realization that the transfer of meaning from one language to another is related to a similar transfer from verbal to visual language. I thus view Charles V's copies of the Oresme translations as cultural artifacts, as well as physical objects and self-contained systems of information.

I recognized also the crucial role that imagery plays in cognition and memory. Recent scholarship has emphasized Aristotle's own articulation of these ideas and Oresme's knowledge of them, and of other medieval approaches to psychology. These analyses led me to appreciate the inherent value of the images within the manuscripts, including the use of certain visual cues and mnemonic devices.

Other directions in recent scholarship also broadened the focus of my inquiry, particularly studies of gender roles and social class in medieval culture. Such insights have encouraged me to view the programs of illustrations as indications not only of the views held by the translator and his primary audience, the king and his counsellors, but also of the political and social mentality of contemporary secular culture. In my own field, critiques of the objective stance of traditional art history have encouraged me to voice my own interpretation of these manuscripts as another level of the translation process.

The organization of Imaging Aristotle emphasizes the interrelationships between texts and images in Oresme's translations. The first of this study's three major parts is divided into three chapters. Chapter I considers the scope and political and cultural meaning of Charles V's translation project. The second chapter discusses the king's patterns of patronage and interaction with Oresme, as well as the development of the latter's French writings. In the context of contemporary manuscript production in Paris, the last chapter of the first section analyzes Oresme's role as master of the text and designer of the illustrations. Part II of the study, comprising eleven short chapters, compares the programs of illustrations in Charles V's two Ethiques manuscripts according to textual sequence. The first official library copy (MS A , Brussels, Bibl. Royale Albert Ier, MS 9505–06) is compared to the second, smaller portable one (MS C , The Hague, Rijksmuseum Meermanno-West-


reenianum, MS 10 D 1). Among the major points discussed are the representational modes of personification and allegory, as well as gender, iconographic precedents, and visual structures. Part III repeats the organization of Part II in its comparison of the king's manuscripts of Oresme's translations of the Politics and Economics . The sister manuscript of A in the first set is MS B (France, private collection); and in the second, MS D (Brussels, Bibl. Royale Albert Ier, MS 11201–02), completes MS C . In this section, a contrasting representational mode offers paradigms of the body politic within varied and inventive visual structures. I also discuss the way the illustrations treat contemporary social classes as references to the formative historical experiences of the patron and the primary audience. The conclusion draws together the findings on the interrelationships among the three parts of the study and sums up the significance of Oresme's translations of the three Aristotelian texts. Four appendixes then provide descriptions of the manuscripts' contents, structures, and histories. A fifth appendix transcribes and translates the text of a unique second instruction to the reader preserved in Charles V's first copy of the Politiques (MS B ).

Concentration on the historical context of Oresme's translations in the first part of this study establishes the themes of the interrelationships between the visual and verbal representations of Aristotle's texts. The narrower focus on individual images in the two succeeding sections reflects, perhaps ironically, a broader aim of this study: a consideration of images as an integral element of the cognitive structure of the medieval manuscript book.



Preferred Citation: Sherman, Claire Richter. Imagining Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.