Dr Bryony Coombs: Immytateur de madame Nature,’ Jean Perréal and the humanists in early-sixteenth century France


  • 1.30pm

  • Online

Chair: Prof Carol Richardson

What was the purpose of the visual image in early-sixteenth century France? Jean Perréal was a celebrated painter, poet and architectural advisor during this period. As court artist and valet-de-chambre to three successive French kings, he was the best documented artist of this time. Yet very few securely attributed examples of his work survive. What does remain is an extensive series of documentary accounts attesting to his skills as an artist, but also to his friendship with French poets and intellectuals. The poet, Pierre Sala, wrote a treatise on friendship dedicated to Perréal and Jean Lemaire de Belges described him as a second Apelles.

Jean Perréal’s literary works frequently deal with visual material and, significantly, they explore the inherent limitations of the visual. In these works, Perréal unpicks the rich interstitial space between sign and signifier exploring both the limits and the potentialities of representation. In an allegorical poem, and accompanying illumination, Perréal uses a personification of Nature chastising the errant alchemist, to critique the artifice and ‘singerie’ of human creation. In this paper I explore Perréal’s written and visual work, demonstrating that he grappled with important theoretical concepts surrounding the nature of representation and what it meant to be an artist in early-sixteenth century France.

Dr Bryony Coombs is a Teaching Fellow specialising in late-medieval art in northern Europe. She studied Fine Art as an undergraduate and her doctorate at Edinburgh University focussed on Franco-Scottish cultural connections during the late-medieval and early-modern periods: ‘Distantia Jungit,’ Scots Patronage of the Visual Arts in France, c.1445 – c.1545. Her research interests include text and image relationships in late-medieval manuscripts.

Her recent published works include ‘Material Diplomacy: French Manuscripts and the Stuart Kings of Scotland, Edinburgh University Library, MS 195’ SHR (2019), and ‘From Dunbar to Rome: John Stuart, Duke of Albany and his Contribution to the Theory and Practice of Military Science in Scotland and Italy, 1514-1536.’ PSAS (2019). She is currently writing a monograph entitled Creating Identities: Visual Arts and the Auld Alliance c.1450-1550 and beginning a new project on text and image relationships in early-sixteenth century French manuscripts.