A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Roman de la Rose

Chicago, Newberry Library, MS folio Y 7675 .R7184

This allegorical poem about courtly love takes the form of a dream vision described by the Lover, whose quest for the Rose leads through an elaborate series of metaphorical adventures. Left unfinished upon the death of the author Guillaume de Lorris in 1238, the Roman de la Rose was completed by Jean de Meun, nicknamed ‘Clopinel’, by 1285 and had become enormously popular by the 15th century when the luxurious manuscript now in the Harley collection of the British Library was created. Though a modern print facsimile of the Harley Roman de la Rose has yet to be published, this hand-painted copy from the 19th century is now at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

This page shows Fair Welcome trapped in the castle of Jealousy and guarded by Resistance; the Lover looks on in consternation from the upper left-hand corner. It is not hard to imagine why such portrayals of women as ‘damsels in distress’ would have irked Christine de Pizan even as the book was enjoyed by many of her contemporaries.

An exceptionally beautiful example of its type, the Newberry copy follows its British Library model closely in composition and details, but also interprets the proportions and colors of the image according to its own aesthetic standards. The juxtaposition shown here between these two manuscripts, the original 15th-century book in London and its handmade copy in Chicago, helps us grasp the ways in which early facsimiles of missing or destroyed books, such as Scivias and the Hortus Deliciarum, offer an approximation but not a replacement for what has been lost.

The Newberry copy has yet to be fully digitized and made available online, but the original Harley manuscript can be viewed at the website of the British Library.


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