In the last decades of the sixteenth century, an anonymous French-speaking craftsperson took the unusual step of setting down on paper his techniques for a number of processes that we would now classify as part of the fine arts, of craft, and of technology. The processes included drawing-instruction, pigment-making, metal-coloring, counterfeit gem production, life-casting in metal, cannon-casting, tree-grafting, land-surveying, a practice of taxidermy to manufacture monstrous composite animals (kittens and bats), making paper mâché masks, and much more.
We are producing an open-access digital critical edition and English translation of this intriguing text. The digital edition is only one dimension of this project, however, for the process by which this critical edition is being produced is as important as its product. Research for the edition forms an experiment in both pedagogy and humanistic research. It involves students working alongside academic and museum-based historians of art and historians of science, in collaboration with experienced makers, to reconstruct the technical recipes contained in the manuscript. Their findings are being used to understand and annotate the digital edition, and their experiences are fostering the sharing of expertise across disciplines as well as the engagement on the part of students with the material culture of the past.