Prof. Rosalind Brown-Grant
In residence at
Prof. Bernard Ribémont
Literary and visual representations of justice and power in late medieval French romances
The proposed project is an interdisciplinary investigation of the ways in which central issues of medieval law were inscribed in both visual and verbal terms in late medieval French prose romances, a genre that has been relatively neglected by modern literary scholars. These texts were works of courtly and chivalric fiction that featured stories of knights whose adventures in pursuit of their personal, amorous goals were largely subordinated to their proving their worth to the body politic as a whole through their ability to perform deeds of military prowess that could correct acts of injustice or moral transgression. These texts, which circulated in the form of often lavishly illuminated manuscripts in which the accompanying miniatures offer a succinct but interpretative précis of the key aspects of the narrative, were highly valued by the aristocratic audience for whom they were produced and whose value systems they helped to reinforce and propagate. This study will focus on a corpus of romances preserved in ten illuminated manuscripts produced in the mid-fifteenth century by the painter known to modern art historians as the ‘Maître de Wavrin’, these manuscripts having been commissioned and appreciated by some of the most important book collectors among the Burgundian nobility of the period. Combining methodologies derived from both iconographical studies and literary history, this study will examine the relationship between text and image in these works in order to show how both the narratives and the miniatures that illustrated them offer a systematic engagement with many of the key moral and legal precepts of the age.
Publications in relation with the research project
The separation of arma and amor that can be found in the chivalric tales of the fifteenth century allows the authors of these works to devote as much attention to the relationships between knights as to those between a knight and his lady. In particular, the bonds between knights who are also brothers are examined in various texts of the period, such as the Burgundian prose reworking of Florence de Rome, in which the brothers Milon and Esmeré, two young knights from Hungary, vie with each other for the hand of the eponymous heroine. In the version of this romance illustrated by the artist known as the « Wavrin Master » (Chantilly, Bibliothèque du château, ms. 652) the tensions between brotherhood and knighthood are foregrounded in both the narrative and its accompanying miniatures to the extent of taking on a political and ethical dimension. As I argue here, the way in which the two brothers act towards each other can be seen as an indicator of their suitability not only as the lady’s prospective husband but also as the future ruler of a realm, thus providing a trenchant and incisive lesson on chivalric mores at the end of the Middle Ages.