Library’s acquisition reunites two manuscripts once bound togetherBy Julia Morse
After a century-long separation, a 14th-century manuscript of the French love poem “Le Roman de la Rose” was reunited with its mate at the University Library.
“Bringing the two parts of this book back together will enable discoveries that would not be possible if they remained apart,” said Alice Schreyer, Director of the Special Collections Research Center at the library.
The manuscript of “Le Roman de la Rose” (“The Romance of the Rose”) was separated in 1907 from another 14th-century manuscript: Le Jeu des Échecs Moralisé (“The Moralized Game of Chess”), which the library had acquired in 1931.
Both manuscripts will be on display as part of the exhibition, “Romance and Chess: A Tale of Two Manuscripts Reunited.” The exhibition will be on view in the Special Collections Research Center from Thursday, Feb. 14 through Friday, March 14.
Daisy Delogu, Assistant Professor in Romance Languages & Literature, said, “This Le Roman de la Rose manuscript has extraordinary potential to enrich research and teaching opportunities here at Chicago, and will be of interest to scholars of manuscript culture and literary studies worldwide. Le Roman de la Rose is arguably the single-most influential vernacular text of the late French Middle Ages.”
Beginning next fall, Delogu and Aden Kumler, Assistant Professor in Art History and the College, plan to teach a graduate seminar focusing entirely on Le Roman de la Rose.
“This Le Roman de la Rose manuscript will make an ideal centerpiece for a wide range of teaching projects,” Kumler said. “I am excited to make it a focal point of several courses, including classes examining the commercial book trade in Paris, the politics of luxury in the Middle Ages and the history of medieval illuminated manuscripts.”
Added von Nolcken, “The reunion of parts of a medieval manuscript proves a rare and wonderful opportunity. This is especially the case today, when scholars tend to work with manuscripts rather than with individual texts.”
In the late 1230s, Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first section of Le Roman de la Rose, which is an allegorical poem on the art of love. Jean de Meun later completed the poem between 1270 and 1280. Many copies were made; the one acquired by Chicago dates from about 1365—nearly 100 years before the invention of the printing press. More than 40 illuminations adorn the manuscript, which were created by the Master of Saint Voult, who worked with other artists at the court of King Charles V and added hand-colored, painted and gold-leaf embellishments to manuscripts.
The library’s manuscript of Le Jeu des Échecs Moralisé also was created in France about 1365, and includes illuminations by the Master of Saint Voult as well.
After Sir Sydney Cockerell purchased the manuscripts in 1907 at Sotheby’s, the volume was disbound and its two parts separated. The University purchased the manuscript of Le Jeu des Échecs Moralisé 24 years later in 1931. Le Roman de la Rose was sold in 1957 to Pierre Berès, an antiquarian bookseller, who then sold the manuscript to a private buyer.
For many years, the manuscript remained in private hands, until the gallery Les Enluminures LTD of Chicago and Paris purchased it.
The University Library acquired the manuscript through donations by members of the Visiting Committee to the Library, the University of Chicago Library Society, individual donors and the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, in addition to library endowment funds—making it one of the highlights of the library’s collection of early manuscripts.
The University Library plans to make digital versions of both manuscripts available Thursday, Feb. 14 at http://roseandchess.lib.uchicago.edu