Arthurian and Other Romances of the 13th Century


This 13th century manuscript, with text in two columns and superbly decorated, is an anthology of romances from the Middle Ages. The first two texts, L'Estoire del Saint Graal (The history of the Holy Grail) and L'Estoire de Merlin (The history of Merlin) are dedicated to the Arthurian legends and are attributed to Robert de Boron (circa 1200). The third text, Le Roman des Sept Sages de Rome (The romance of the seven wise masters of Rome), is a work of ancient Eastern origins, deriving from the Book of Sinbad, which was well-known in 12th century France in several French versions. The last text, the La Penitence Adam (The penitence of Adam), is a translation by a monk named Andriu of the Latin legend of the wood of the Cross, with a theme similar to that of the Holy Grail. The entire manuscript is adorned with richly painted illustrations and initial letters illuminated on a gilded background. The marginal extensions, the antennae, are decorated with characters, grotesque and fantastic animals that liven up the upper and lower sections of the pages with their antics, such as a school of monkeys seen on folio 355r. The expressive design, at times verging on caricature, fresh colors, and nuances give a particular vivacity to the narration, which is quite perceptible in such scenes as the conception of Merlin (f. 113v) or of the man falling from a bridge as predicted by Merlin (f. 138v). These stylistic qualities combining verve and elegance make the manuscript one of the most beautiful specimens of Artesian production from the end of the 13th century. The manuscript was part of the Visconti Library in Pavia, northern Italy, prior to coming into the French royal collections following its confiscation by Louis XII from the library of the dukes of Milan.

Last updated: January 8, 2018