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Illuminating the 'Roman d'Alexandre': Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264

Illuminating the 'Roman d'Alexandre': Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264: The Manuscript as Monument

Mark Cruse
Series: Gallica
Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Illuminating the 'Roman d'Alexandre': Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264
    Book Description:

    Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264 is one of the most famous and most sumptuous illuminated manuscripts of the entire Middle Ages. Completed in 1344 in Tournai, in what is now Belgium, the manuscript preserves the fullest version of the interpolated Old French 'Roman d'Alexandre' (Romance of Alexander the Great), and some of the most vivid illustrations of any medieval romance, ranking amongst the greatest achievements of the illuminator's art, its borders in particular offering a panorama of medieval society and imagination. A celebration of courtliness, a commemoration of urban chivalry, a mirror for the prince instructing in the arts of rule, and a meditation on crusade, it manifests the extraordinary richness and creativity of late medieval manuscript culture. This study examines the manuscript as a monumental expression of the beliefs and social practices of its day, placing it in its historical and artistic context; it also analyzes its later reception in England, where the addition of a Middle English Alexander poem and of Marco Polo's 'Voyages' reflects changing concepts of language, historiography, and geography. Mark Cruse is Assistant Professor of French, School of International Letters and Cultures, Arizona State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-993-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    It is often the fate of celebrities to be well known for their appearance rather than for their personal histories and inner qualities. The same is true of the many famous illuminated manuscripts whose images are reproduced with little or no discussion of the books’ origins, purpose, or written contents. One of the best examples of such a celebrity book is Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264. The first part of this manuscript, completed in 1344 in Tournai, contains the Old French Roman d’Alexandre (Romance of Alexander the Great) interpolated with the Prise de Defur, Voeux du paon, Restor du...

  7. 1 A Monument to Cortoisie
    (pp. 13-60)

    Bodley 264’s Provenance largely remains a mystery. We do not know for whom it was made or even where it was during the first seventy years or so after its completion. This study therefore begins not with the patron and court for which Bodley 264 was produced, but with another, imaginary audience by which Alexander the Great’s legend was also greatly appreciated. In the Roman de Renart le Contrefait, Renart the fox visits King Noble the lion’s court and, between exchanges with the sovereign and interventions by other animals, recounts the history of the world. Ostensibly about the many forms...

  8. 2 Urban Conquest and Spectacle
    (pp. 61-102)

    As the previous chapter demonstrates, a principal function of Bodley 264 was to vivify the imagined connection between ancient and medieval cortoisie. Yet Bodley 264 is exceptional not only as a courtly object, but as the manifestation of a remarkable moment in the history of European urbanization. Produced in Tournai, Bodley 264 belongs to the extraordinary profusion of urban cultural expression in northern France and the Low Countries (le Nord, ‘the North’) during the late Middle Ages.¹ as has long been noted, le Nord was among the first regions in Europe to become urbanized, to have powerful urban patriciates and...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. 3 “Apraigne d’Alixandre”: Illuminating Exemplarity in Bodley 264
    (pp. 103-144)

    After the discussion of the social and spatial contexts of Bodley 264 in the first two chapters, we now move in the next two chapters to a consideration of the manuscript as a portrait of exemplarity. The quotation in the title of this chapter is taken from the Entrée d’Espagne, a Franco-Italian poem composed c.1300 and based on the Pseudo-Turpin chronicle. It recounts Roland’s adventures in Spain and the Orient, and begins with the hero in Iberia fighting the Saracens for Charlemagne. After seizing the Castle Noble, Roland enters and finds painted on the walls the adventures of Alexander the...

  11. 4 Alexander, Crusade, and the East in Bodley 264
    (pp. 145-180)

    Among the many phenomena that influenced the creation of Bodley 264, the Crusades might appear to be one of the least relevant. Bodley 264 was completed more than fifty years after the fall of Acre in 1291, which marked the end of the most active period of the Crusades. During the 1330s and 1340s, when scribes were copying and artists illuminating the codex, France, Flanders, and England had begun their descent into the Hundred Years’ War. The internecine and international conflict that afflicted these realms largely prevented them from mounting military expeditions to the Holy Land.¹ Nevertheless, the dream of...

  12. 5 The Production, Patronage, and Later Reception of Bodley 264
    (pp. 181-198)

    As the preceding chapters have demonstrated, Bodley 264 is a monument in that it represents a sweeping array of the fundamental values and beliefs of the culture in which it was produced. This final chapter addresses another aspect of this manuscript’s monumentality — the ways in which its production drew together different individuals, national and linguistic communities, and generations. Bodley 264 marshalled the efforts of a large group of individuals over many years, and continued to attract the attention and intervention of readers and book artisans generations after it was initially produced. The intense and sustained social energies devoted to Bodley...

  13. Conclusion: Alexander in the Late Middle Ages
    (pp. 199-204)

    The later additions to Bodley 264 in England are important not only for what they tell us about the reception of this particular copy of the interpolated Roman d’Alexandre, but also as evidence for Alexander’s status in late medieval Europe more generally. Certainly the times caught up to the manuscript, but this does not mean that generations of readers, even in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, did not find the manuscript meaningful. Yet there has long been a view, most stridently articulated by George Cary in his study The medieval alexander, that the late medieval Alexander was an empty icon:...

  14. Afterword: Mirror in Pixels
    (pp. 205-208)

    Having examined what Bodley 264 meant in its medieval context, we turn now to what it means today and, equally important, to how its meanings can be expressed. Like all great monuments, Bodley 264 is a provocative mystery — it possesses an aura of significance, but its messages must be excavated and articulated in new languages for new audiences. The book you are reading is but one response to Bodley 264 — and, in its form and approach, a very traditional one at that. There are a myriad of other ways in which to think and talk about this manuscript. Bodley 264...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  16. Index
    (pp. 221-224)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-227)