As you can guess, there is a story behind how exactly I came to own "The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking and Metalwork". It really is not a book for me. I am not a very crafty person. I cannot even make jewelry with any reliability. While I have a healthy RPG based history with medieval trivia I would be laughed out of any good SCA convention and cannot claim enough interest to really own this book. I am an armchair historian, at very best. So. How did I get here?
While I was hiking through France several years ago, I made do with English books that I found/stole/bought/borrowed along the way. If I was in a major town, I would go to the bookstore and hope that they were big enough to have a few English books in stock.
Anyhow, when I arrived in Vezelay, I was excited because there were several bookstores in the center. They turned out, however, to be a bit of a disappointment. The first two I went to had no English books at all in stock. The third, run by an enthusiastic and friendly Frenchman in wire-rimmed glasses, also apparently had no English books. However, he remembered that somewhere in the store, he had an English book.
That man turned over boxes, looked behind shelves, peered in closets, ran upstairs and down. I wanted him to give up, but he would not hear of it. Nearly a half an hour later, he appeared triumphant from the upstairs waving this book: On Divers Arts by Theophilus. It was actually way too big to be carried while hiking and, as I said, not exactly my subject matter, but after all that fuss there was no way that I could not buy the book. He was so very very pleased.
Anyhow, the book went in the post back to the Netherlands and I begged a few romance novels left behind from one of the local hotels. And here On Divers Arts has sat, to this very day, beaming guilt at me from my to-be-read shelf. While sick in bed this year, I decided to finally give in and read the darned thing.
It was surprisingly interesting. I will freely admit to not following the technical details of Theophilus and his work. However, I really appreciated the glimpse that it gave me of the medieval craftsman's mind. And despite myself the listings of exotic techniques and ingredients were really rather cool.
This is a completely vacuous review-- "really rather cool" as a key message. But there you are. I do not have anything smarter to say on the subject.
The book (in the Dover edition) is translated and edited by John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith. It comes with a neat bibliography at the back. I very much appreciated that the footnotes were apportioned per page rather than making me flip back and forth to the later pages.