First-person commentaries by artisans of the late Middle Ages rarely survive. Consequently, artistic output of the period is more easily examined in terms of iconography, patronage, and wider social and historical trends. However, a unique but neglected corpus of tiny inscriptions hidden in miniatures painted by assistants of the Bourges-based book illuminator Jean Colombe (c. 1430–1493) allows for an unprecedented glimpse into the concerns, grievances, and preoccupations of artists at the close of the fifteenth century. Complaining to the viewer about “temps perdu pour vous,” and “oeuvre sans profit,” these micrographic inscriptions raise a host of questions about workshop behaviour, problematizing the idea of a monolithic and harmonious workplace and shedding light onto an otherwise lost network of artistic relationships.
Nicholas Herman, Université de Montréal