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This article is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Pictures from a Library 21: ‘People say we monkey around’: Taking the Piss out of Arthuriana Stella Halkyard
Rylands French Manuscript 1

Dating from the fourteenth century, Rylands French Manuscript 1, which contains the legend of Launcelot du lac and the death of King Arthur, is one of the Library’s great treasures. This luxurious object represents the crème de la crème of medieval French Gothic art, when French artists held sway throughout the realms of Europe.                      

This text occupies two volumes and the images shown here come from the recto side of folio 212. Glowing with gold, minuscule figures, human, animal and mythological, resplendent in vermillion, ultramarine and malachite, cavort and caper within the vine-scroll that corrals the flow of the mellifluent voice of the text.                    

Taking a closer look at the top left-hand corner, we see quite clearly the letter ‘A’, which introduces the first word of the text (Après). Sheltering within its curves is a tiny, coffered chamber. Replete with interlaced walls, floriate crockets and pointed arches, this little room houses two figures. One is seated and shown in the act of writing while the other stands, crowned in gold, imperiously pointing with highly mannered gestures that clearly command the writer to write. The Old French text that cleaves to the side of the miniature explains that these figures, actual historical char acters, portray King Henry II and Gautier, or Walter, Mapes, Mahap or Map. Some literary scholars are of the opinion that Map was responsible for  transforming the heroic, Celtic versions of the legends of King Arthur into the pseudo-spiritual chivalric ...

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