THE SENSE OF SMELL, miniature cut from a Propriété des choses, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Hainault, 1490s]145 x 124mm (cutting, with further 5-8 mm folded over), 134 x 197mm (miniature). Within a frame of brown and shell gold, a verdant castle garden under a blue sky with two men covering their noses from bad smells, one man picking a flower from a trellis and another holding a stem of flowers to his nose, in the left foreground a monkey mimicking his gesture, balanced by a dog on the right. Partly folded over are one line of text in two columns above and below the miniature, written in brown ink in a lettre bâtarde, that below with a rubric in red identifying the scene as the sens du odourer, the sense of smell, at chapter xix. This is from Book III of the French translation of Bartolomeus Anglicus's encyclopaedia De proprietatibus rerum of the 1340s, which retained its great popularity into the sixteenth century. It is on the verso of the leaf; on the recto are approx. 20 lines of text with two paragraph marks in shell gold on pink or blue from chapter xviii on the sense of hearing (slight fading, some darkening of white). Framed, with cutting pasted to back from W.R. Jeudwine exibition catalogue of 1961.
The miniature comes from what must have been an exceptionally large and luxurious Propriété des choses: in the lectern copy written in Bruges 1482, probably for Edward IV, the sense of smell was not distinguished by an illustration (London, British Library, Royal MSS 15 E ii - iii). Here both the pleasures and pains of smell are demonstrated, although the source of the unpleasant smell is tactfully not revealed. The costume with its gold highlights dates the miniature to the 1490s; the style of miniature and text decoration relate the cutting to books illuminated by the Master of Antoine Rolin, active in Hainault in the decades around the turn of the century, where he worked on several grand vernacular volumes for Hainault nobles (see T. Kren and S. McKendrick, Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Miniature Painting in Europe, 2003, pp.59-78, 407-09). This miniature shares something of his figure types, bright colouring and gift for telling gestures but lacks his characteristic formulae for sky and trees. The modelling here is generally more detailed, adding to the appeal of the unusual subject matter and its witty treatment.