Jean Corbechon, Livre des propriétés des choses

Book 17: On trees and plants

Texts and Images

This enormous book contains 192 chapters in which the author summaries vast amounts of botanical knowledge. Plants of all sorts are discussed, including herbs, vegetables, flowers and exotic specimens. The entries are arranged in alphabetical order. The book opens with a miniature showing a master lecturing outdoors and pointing at trees.

Attired in a red robe, the master addresses two scholars. Two tall stalks of white lilies, emblems of the patron, Amadeus VIII of Savoy, are depicted in the background. A third stalk of lilies was initially designed to appear to the left of the master, as revealed by the infrared image (see Infrared Layer). However, after his assistants had painted the sky and grass, the Mazarine Master decided to include the two scholars instead. Evidently, the Mazarine Master’s ideas evolved while he was working, and he strove to improve his original composition. Because the two scholars were not part of his original plan, they are not depicted in the underdrawing and no area of blank parchment was reserved for them. Instead, they had to be painted directly on top of the background. This is apparent in the infrared image in which the head of the scholar in the centre appears to float in mid-air. The Mazarine Master wrote the word ‘himel’ (‘sky’ in German) in the upper left of the miniature, to inform his assistants that they should paint an outdoors scene.