Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gears of Destiny

I stumbled on this wonderful image while walking through a music store: it appears to be blindfolded Fate, turning the Wheel of Destiny by means of a very simple, but possibly painful, gear mechanism. The guy on top is clearly... well, on top, holding a scepter and wearing nice clothes. The guy on the left is clearly trying to get up to where the upper guy is sitting. The other guy... I worry about him. Those teeth look sharp, and it seems he might have just come out from a rather unpleasant place.

The CD is a piece by Guillame de Machaut, who lived in the 1300s, and is put out by Ensemble Project Ars Nova, who do all kinds of interesting things, finding all kinds of ancient music and playing them well.

If anyone knows where this image comes from, I'd be indebted for the information; it is unfortunately not credited on the CD. I can always hope there are more like it...


Curtana said...

I don't recognize that particular image, but there certainly are more like it. The Wheel of Fortune was a popular medieval concept, often depicted in art. A google image search for medieval wheel of fortune turns up a goodly assortment to start with.

Jonathan said...

From searching around online, my guess is that it's an illustration in the Remede de Fortune manuscript itself. I haven't found that particular picture except in images of the CD cover itself, but other illustrations from it look to be in a similar style.

Liam said...

The wheel of fortune (rota fortunae) is a pretty common motif in the middle ages, and often you'll see the guys on the wheel saying things like "I will reign" (on the way up), "I reign" (on top), and "I have reigned" (on the way down), but I've never seen one with gears!

Liam said...

The 12th-century Hortus deliciarum has Fortuna with a winch. Your image appears at least a couple hundred years later than that.

Gris said...

The link you provided to Project Ars Nova actually tells you were the image came from, although not all that clearly, I'll give you.

The earliest manuscript containing Guillaume de Machaut's Oeuvres was contemporary to him, done around 1350-55 (there are strong suggestions that Machaut himself gave at least some artistic direction in the making of it), and heavily illuminated (ah, the joys of rich patrons). The miniature displayed here illustrates the "Remede de Fortune" section of that manuscript.

The manuscript is BnF fr. 1586 (MS C) f. 30v. In English (well, mostly French) that means the manuscript currently lives in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, in the Western manuscripts collection, identified there as francais 1586 (manuscript C); the miniature is found on folio 30, verso (the back side of the page-- medieval manuscripts don't have the pages numbered 1, 2, 3... as we do today, but 1(front), 1(back), 2(front), 2(back)...). The image is the second of two large miniatures on that page; the top one not shown here depicts Machaut himself as "the lover" sitting in the Park of Hesdin and writing his complainte "Tels rit.")

Credit where credit is due-- you can find all of this, as well as where else that particular image has been published, in Lawrence Earp's Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research (p. 153). If you read French, you can also find a listing of images in the manuscript in Mandragore, the database of illuminated manuscripts at the Bibliotheque Nationale.

-Your friendly non-local librarian

Heather McDougal said...

Wow! Such great responses, and so fast!

I am, of course, familiar with the Wheel of Fortune in many guises, but I had not seen any with machinery in them before. And as you probably know, I'm a gear-head... Always looking for strange places where clockwork might show up.

Thanks for all the great info, though I must admit that I can't get Mandragore to spit anything useful out.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the Wheel as gears either. Yeah, it does look a little painful! - vpxi Jean

Kate said...

That manuscript has now been digitised on Gallica (, so you can view the full page. Take a look here:

If that doesn't work, go to the page below for the manuscript, then choose (or click through) to folio 30v:

Add to Technorati Favorites

Stumble It!Stumble It!