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I was reading about Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, and followed the track of the others famous historical persons involved in the Wars of the Roses, such as John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and the magnificent book he offered to Margaret of Anjou. My preliminary research shows that many "Master Illuminators" of this era are unknown, at least by their full names; they're mostly known by the name of the rich/famous person who bought/received the book/work, such as Maître de Talbot and Maître de Fastolf.

  1. L’essentiel des œuvres d’art créées entre le haut Moyen Âge et le xve siècle – toutes techniques confondues – est parvenu jusqu’à nous sans signature. Cet état de choses est la plupart du temps le fruit des hasards de la conservation et ne découle nullement, comme on a voulu le voir, de l’humilité du créateur œuvrant dans des structures collectives et renonçant à sa renommée pour la plus grande gloire de Dieu. Les « Maîtres » anonymes : des noms provisoires faits pour durer ?

Most of the works of art created between the early Middle Ages and the 15th century – all techniques combined – have come down to us without signature. This state of affairs is most of the time the fruit of the accidents of conservation and in no way results, as we wanted to see, from the humility of the creator working in collective structures and renouncing his fame for the greater glory of God. Anonymous Masters: provisional names that stuck?


  1. Les enlumineurs sont souvent anonymes, ce qui n’empêche pas leur travail d’égaler en beauté celui des plus grands peintres du temps. Enlumineurs messins du XVe siècle

Illuminators are often anonymous, which does not prevent their work from equaling in beauty that of the greatest painters of the time. Metz illuminators of the 15th century


Many of them (painter, sculptor, illuminator) are unknown, because no one can find a record of their name. That will explain the history of many (unknown) artists of (known) masterpieces. What puzzles me is that, when a book such as, for instance, the Talbot Shrewsbury Book is famous and perfectly tracked down history and time:

Why didn't the Master Illuminator sign his work, as a painter would? Is there any reason1 that would prevent them from claiming their masterpiece?

Exclusive work for a Lord/patron/sponsor comes to mind, as well as a "servant who did some work for a master needs no recognition".

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    As varied as the process of making books was, it is relatively clear that ilumminators were only one of a number of trades involved (others being stationers, scribes and bookbinders). As such, they would be most of the time subcontractors, if a commercial relationship applies, or at least work under the supervision or in collaboration with others. Signing implies a claim of some right on the work – but the work is the book, not its iluminations. I would speculate that a signature would be an overstatement of their role, as understood by contemporaries.
    – ccprog
    Commented Apr 19 at 21:28
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    Also, as the linked article says: "As J.J.G. Alexander reminds us, the practice of assigning names or workshops is linked with 'the values ascribed in our present Western society to individualism, and consequently with the need to ascribe achievement to a single, individual talent. It does not reflect contempor- ary, that is, late medieval, preoccupations.' "
    – ccprog
    Commented Apr 19 at 21:35
  • Thanks for the links, very interesting, I'll keep reading and digging. You turning that into an answer would usually make me tick it :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Apr 20 at 5:24
  • @ccprog Your comments read like a good answer, if you work them up into one I'd definitely upvote it. Commented Apr 21 at 11:52
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    @DaveGremlin Two reasons why I don't post it as an answer: 1. I used the word "speculate" because I can't base my understanding of labour division on scholary sources. 2. I havn't read the book by Alexander, but it is 30 years old, and I have seen a number of negative reviews, accusing him of on-sided argumentation.
    – ccprog
    Commented Apr 21 at 12:24

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