Beyond the Template: Aesthetics and Meaning in the Images of the Roman d'Alexandre en prose in Harley MS. 4979
Maud Pérez-Simon (notes)
The Roman d’Alexandre en prose is the translation into Old French of a Latin text known as the Historia de preliis. The processes of language conversion and transcription during the Middle Ages allowed patrons and manuscript-making ateliers to adapt and bring classical works up to date with medieval tastes and aesthetic imperatives. Iconographically, a stable program of images was likewise established from the onset. As can be expected from such an illumination-laden text, some variants arose.
From all the Roman manuscripts, three are more or less related to one and other iconographically, and can be isolated as a group: Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett 78.C.I, Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 11040 and London, British Library Harley 4979, all of which date from the late thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century, and were likely made in Flanders. By acknowledging and privileging the iconographic affinities of these three manuscripts, a closer examination of the variants within the illumination cycle that unites them can prove fruitful in reconsidering the relationship between text and images.
Harley 4979 proves an attentive reading of either the Historia or the Roman text. Furthermore, the coherence within these illustrative changes provoke a subtle reshuffling of the character of Alexander that ultimately underscores the exemplary nature of his behaviour and transforms, through the text-image relationship, an otherwise historico-mythical reading into that of a miroir de prince concerned with governance and jurisprudence.