Jean Miélot

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Jean Miélot was a 15th century author, translator, manuscript illuminator, scribe and priest. He served as secretary to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy from 1449 until Philip’s death in 1472, and then to his son Charles the Rash. He was mainly employed in the production of deluxe illuminated manuscripts for Philip’s library. He translated many works, both religious and secular, from Latin or Italian into French, as well as writing or compiling books himself and composing verse. Between his own writings and his translations he produced some twenty-two works whilst working for Philip.

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Self-portrait of Jean in his private workroom.

This wonderful self portrait shows him at work. He is seated by a window at a sloping desk equipped with ink horns, holding a quill pen in one hand and a small knife in the other. The quill was often made from a hardened, dried-out goose feather cut and shaped to form a nib. He used the knife for recutting the quill and also for making minor erasures on the manuscript and holding the parchment flat while writing. The parchment or vellum is made from the skin of sheep, goats or calves. His sloped desk facilitates the flow of ink and his chair has no arms, allowing him to move physically across the page. He even used a small magnifying glass for detailed work.

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Another self-portrait probably seated in the ductal library.

He had various formulations for ink, most commonly brown iron gall ink and black carbon ink. He would have also mixed his own special coloured and metallic inks for special work as well as gold leaf for gliding.

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American modern-day scribe Alice Koeth seated at a specially commissioned reproduction of Jean Mielot’s writing desk and chair, expertly made by Japanese craftsmen using the picture behind her. It is a faithful copy, even down to the horn inkwells, the holes to place the quills, the lead weight to hold down the paper and the magnifying glass. (Photo: Emiko Kinebuchi)

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