Jean Molinet (1435 – 1507)


(Click on the call number to view the digital facsimile of the book.)

Gordon 1531 .M65

Les faictz et dictz de feu de bōne memoire maistre Jehan Molinet : contenans plusieurs beaulx traictez, oraisons et champs royaulx comme lon pourra facillemēt trouuer par la table qui sensuyt. [Paris] : Nouuellement imprimez a Paris Lan Mil cinq cens trente et vng, le neufuiesme iour de Decembre. On les vend au Palais en la Gallerie ... a la bouticque de Jehan Longis et de la veufue Jehan sainct Denys, 1531.

Jean Molinet, who went through a long “traversée du desert,” in terms of popularity, from the mid-sixteenth through the late twentieth century, was quite popular in his day.  The collection of his works in verse, called the Faictz et dictz, was published several times in the sixteenth century, and certain poems in this collection, such as Le Temple de Mars, were published many times.  First compiled in the 1520s, there are two extant manuscript versions of  Molinet’s poetic works (Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, 692, and Bibliothèque de France, James de Rothschild 471).  The manuscript on which Noël Dupire based his critical edition from 1936 (Tournai, Bibliothèque communale, 105) was destroyed during a bombing raid in Tournai during the Second World War.  The edition of the Faictz et dictz in the Gordon Collection, which was published by Jean (or Jehan) Longis in Paris in 1531, is an important document for several reasons.  Not only is it the first edition of the Faictz et dictz, it is also, as Noël Dupire states in his Etude critique des manuscrits et editions des poésies de Jean Molinet, “la moins mauvaise.”¹ Although it contains errors of transcription (see Dupire 120), this edition contains two poems not found elsewhere, Oraison a la vierge Marie (fol. 86r. - 86 v.) and Dictier pour penser a la mort, composé par Molinet (fol. 126 r. – 126 v.) (See Dupire 120). Longis also kept the gothic script used in the manuscript editions and that was later abandoned for the “lettres rondes” favored by the humanists in later editions.²  This 1531 edition also replicates, if only imperfectly, the marginal drawings accompanying rebus poems that were found in earlier manuscripts, but reduced or eliminated in later editions.  (See fol. 120 v.)³

Molinet is one of the foremost members of what has been called the Grands Rhétoriqueurs school of poetry.  Very differently from the sort of inspired poetry vaunted by Pierre de Ronsard in his Ode à Michel de l’Hospital (1550), the Faictz et dictz exemplify, in fact, the sort of poetry that was understood as an “art” rather than a form of divine inspiration.  Filled with all the verbal pyrotechnics derided by Joachim Du Bellay in his Défense et illustration de la langue française (1549), Molinet’s Faictz et dictz can sometimes seem a bit arch for modern tastes.  Very differently from modern poetry, which does not often equate ornate speech with emotional authenticity, the Faictz et dictz features poems in which extreme emotion is expressed in explosions of rhetorical and poetic dexterity.  The equivocal rhymes, which include both a pun and homonym, found at the end of Le Chappellet des dames (1478) and in the Temple de Mars (1475), are both ludic and serious at the same time.

Jean Molinet was born in Desvres in the Boulonnais in the north of France in 1435.  He studied in Paris and became a Master of Arts.  The beginnings of Molinet’s poetic career are obscure.  In 1464, he began to celebrate the House of Burgundy with La Complaincte de la Grèce, and when Georges Chastellain died in 1475, Molinet became the chronicler of the Dukes of Burgundy.  After the death of Philip the Good in 1467, Molinet composed the Trosne d’honneur, in which nine heavens feature nine virtues, all beginning with the first letters of Philip’s name in Latin (PHILIPPUS). He then became the chronicler of perhaps one of the most problematic of Burgundian dukes, Charles the Bold, who would eventually die at the hands of the French king, Louis XI, at the battle of Nancy in 1477.  Following Charles the Bold’s death, and Mary of Burgundy’s marriage to Maximilian of Austria, Molinet worked as official chronicler for his new Austrian patrons.  When Maximilen made his son, Philip the Fair, governor of the Low Countries in 1494, Molinet continued his activities as court poet and historiographer until Philip’s death in 1504.  Molinet died on 23 August, 1507, and was buried in the church of Notre-Dame de la Salle alongside his master, Georges Chastellain.

The Faictz et dictz are filled with works describing the Burgundian court in all its glory and all its squalor.  If the Trosne d’honneur sang the praise of Philip the Good, L’Arbre de Bourgogne (1486) describes the sorry state of Burgundy following Charles the Bold’s militaristic hubris, and Le Naufrage de la pucelle (1477) describes the pitiful execution of Charles the Bold’s two chief advisors at the hand of the artisanal guilds in Ghent, while La Ressource du petit peuple (1481) sets out in very graphic detail just how the little people in Burgundy were being persecuted by their ducal and monarchical lords.  Besides chronicling the political aspects of the court of Burgundy, Molinet enjoyed a close relationship with musicians such as Jean Ockeghem, Anthoine Busnois, and Loyset Compère, and painters such as Simon Marmion, who helped create the artistic splendor for which the Burgundian dukes are so famous.  These musicians and artsists show up in several of Molinet’s poems.  Other works of note by Molinet include Le Roman de la rose moralisé (1501), which is a mystical retelling of the thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose; L’Art de rhétorique second (before 1492), which is a handbook of the poetic practices of the Grands Rhétoriqueurs; and the Chroniques, which follow the doings of the Burgundian court from Chastellain’s death in 1475 to 1506, just a few months before Molinet’s death in 1507.  All in all, Molinet left one of the most important, diverse, and undervalued literary œuvres from the period when the Middle Ages were slowly being transformed into what we now know as the Renaissance.

¹ Noël Dupire, Etude critique des manuscrits et éditions des poésies de Jean Molinet (Paris: Droz, 1932) 119.

² Longis keeps the gothic script in his edition from 1537, but it is lost in the edition published by Lotrian in 1540.  See Avenir Tchemerzine, Bibliographie d’editions originales et rares d’auteurs français des XVe, XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, vol. 8 (Paris : Marcel Plée, 1933) 382-86.

³ There are actually two different rebus poems stuck together on this page.  The three manuscripts place these two poems, “Domine my reverende,” and “Mon fran amy mirons nous en la mort,” in very different parts of the compilation.  Longis actually “makes” a poem by including these poems with the “A Monseigneur l’archeduc sur le voyage despaigne” on fol. 120r.  All three of these poems are indicated as being “one” poem in the table of contents under the title “Le voyage de l’archeduc en espaigne.”

Further Reading

Armstrong, Adrian. Technique and Technology: Script, Print and Poetics in France 1470-1550. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000.

Cornilliat, François. Or ne mens”: couleurs de l’éloge et du blame chez les “grands rhétoriqueurs.” Paris: Champion, 1994.

Devaux, Jean. Jean Molinet: indiciaire bourguignon. Paris: Champion, 1996.

Dupire, Noël. Jean Molinet: La Vie et les œuvres. Paris: Droz, 1932.

Molinet, Jean. Les Faictz et dictz, vols. 1-3, ed. Noël Dupire. Paris: Anciens Textes Français, 1936-39.

Rigolot, François. Le Texte à la Renaissance. Geneva: Droz. 1982.

Zumthor, Paul. Le Masque et la lumière: la poétique des grands rhétoriqueurs. Paris: Seuil, 1978.

Materials on this page were generously contributed by Michael Randall, Brandeis University (2008).