The long-lost Codex Vogüé has for generations been one of the most elusive of all great medieval illuminated manuscripts. Consisting entirely of the works of Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300–1377), it preserves almost all of his poetry and music.
It dates from the author’s lifetime, around 1370–72, and it is the largest and most comprehensive of several surviving manuscripts very probably made under Machaut’s own supervision. The author himself evidently promoted the production of corrected manuscripts for presentation to members of the royal court of France.
It has recently been discovered that the Codex Vogüé was owned by Jean, duc de Berry (1340–1416), no less, brother of Charles V and the most famous royal bibliophile of the Middle Ages. From him it passed to Gaston Fébus (1331–1391), comte de Foix, author of the celebrated Livre de chasse.
He entrusted it in 1389 to Yolande de Bar (1365–1431), queen of Aragon, who never returned it. Instead, the manuscript entered the royal library of Aragon in Valencia, where it was recorded in 1417 in the possession of Alfonso the Magnanimous (1396–1458).
By the midnineteenth century it was owned by the Vogüé family in France, who eventually sold it to Nathan Wildenstein (1851–1934). For seventy years it then vanished utterly from sight, one of the most mysterious and invisible monuments of medieval music and literature.
Around 2000, it was acquired by the American collectors, James E. Ferrell and his wife Elizabeth J. Ferrell, who have placed it on deposit in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
It is a vast manuscript of royal luxury, 390 leaves of parchment, 314 mm by 220 mm, illustrated with 118 enchanting miniatures by a workshop of court illuminators led by the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy. They are pictures of gothic chivalry and romance, with mythology and natural history.
Music is included on 235 pages of the manuscript, with almost the entire corpus of the ballades, lais and motets of Machaut, as well as his great polyphonic setting of the Mass, the fourpart Messe de Nostre-Dame.