Monthly Archives: June 2018

Reading in a Tanner’s Workshop in Amiens (1517)

Reading in a Tanner’s Workshop in Amiens (1517)

Amiens, Archives communales, FF 160/24

In 1517, after the trespassing of Nicolas Dupuis, a tanner living in Amiens in northern France, an inventory was made of the moveable goods in his home located in the Rue des Tanneurs. The possessions and debts Nicolas left behind indicate that he and his now widowed wife were of a very modest fortune. Next to clothing, furniture, some silver cups, and tanner’s tools, the inventory mentions some interesting items that are very informative about the domestic reading culture of Nicolas and his wife.

One of the two rooms upstairs was decorated with a small painting representing the Virgin. In the same room was a box containing precious belts, a Book of Hours “covered with black satin, embroidered with six pearls and with two gilded silver clasps”, and a painting on cloth representing the Trinity. The constellation of objects in this room suggest that reading and praying from the Book of Hours was performed by Nicolas and his wife in relation to the paintings of the Virgin and the Trinity.

In the “salette” downstairs was a chest (“ung buffet a deux huissetz”) containing silverware and the business administration. Among the documents on paper and parchment was also a small book on paper with the marvels of Rome, a French translation of the Mirabilia urbis Romae.

During the late Middle Ages texts were not only read from books, but information was also communicated to larger audiences by means of panels with texts. In the tanner’s workshop, also situated on the ground floor, was a panel with “the teachings of Cato” (“les enseignements Cathon”). The Latin Disticha catonis were often taught in schools during the Middle Ages and translations in most European vernaculars circulated widely. Humanist scholars were also interested in this work; for instance Erasmus of Rotterdam published a corrected edition of the Latin text in 1517.

The text on the panel in the workshop consisted most likely of several French excerpts from this work teaching the virtues of Christian Stoicism, for instance the importance of a modest, honest, and simple life: very suitable for a working space. Workshops were usually open spaces, allowing passers-by to look inside to see and check the ongoing work. As a consequence, the teachings of Cato must have been visible and readable for everyone outside.

The engagement of this tanner and his wife in religious life is once more revealed by the presence of two small chairs to sit on during sermons (“ii caielles a aller au sermon”), also found in the workshop.

The Rue des Tanneurs in Amiens as it looks nowadays (screenshot from Google Maps). It is situated in a lower part of town with several small waterways (one is visible on the right) that were very important for the tanning of leather.

The Rue basse des Tanneurs as it was in the early 20th century, before the two wars that destroyed the medieval town.

Margriet Hoogvliet

Lay Preaching in Fifteenth Century Florence

Lay Preaching in Fifteenth Century Florence

Manuscript Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Fondo Nuove Accessioni, 694, written in a very neat and elegant humanistic hand, was copied in Florence around 1475.

The scribe reveals his identity twice in the manuscript. After the first text, a vernacular version of the Life of St Paula (Comincia la vita di Sancta Paula composta da sancto Girolamo ad Eustochio sua figliuola), the scribe identifies himself as “Bernardo del Pachio Adimari” and affirms to have copied di mia propria mano (in his own very hand) the text on August 15th 1475. The strong affirmation of his writing performance, signaled by the use of the formula di mia propria mano, suggests that the manuscript could have been written for personal use or for circulation within a restricted circle of users, as family or professional circles.

The personal character of the manuscript is corroborated by a second colophon, placed at the end of the second text in the manuscript:

Finito el sermone di Eucharestia Recitato per me Bernardo di Pachio Adimari el giovedi sancto nella compagnia della fiamma adi xxiij di marzo 1474 quando si fe la lavanda de piedi

[The end of the sermon on the Eucharist recited by me Bernardo di Pachio Adimari on Maundy Thursday at the Compagnia della Fiamma on the 23 March 1474 (according to the Florentine style) during the washing of feet].

The colophon testifies of the personal character of the manuscript but it moreover refers to a practice common to Italian late medieval confraternities: the performance of short vernacular sermons by the lay members of the confraternity before the actual ritual of the washing. In his sermon, Bernardo reflects on the theme of the Eucharist and of the ritual connected to consecration of the host during Mass. He invites his fellow members to meditate and pray with him and to raise their heart in order to contemplate the mystery. The “special” gathering to commemorate Maundy Thursday is of course highly symbolic and essential for reinforcing the sense of community and the bond between the members.

Sabrina Corbellini