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The Emperor in Italy, in the 'Romance of the Three King's Sons'

The Emperor in Italy, in the 'Romance of the Three King's Sons'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1485

Shelfmark: Harley MS 326

Item number: f.98v

Length: 23.3

Width: 17.1

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Medieval romances--stories of knights and their ladies--were written for courtly audiences which were largely female. Translated into English from French, the 'Romance of the Three King's Sons' has as its main characters three young princes who venture off to battle the Turks: Philip of France, Humphrey of England and David of Scotland. While the story concerns their campaigns and travels, much female input comes from characters such as Iolante of Sicily, and the entertaining plot has intrigue and some twists and turns. This illustrated manuscript of it was probably made in London, from the evidence of its London and Midlands flavoured Middle English and similarities with another manuscript. It is not known whether it was made to order for a particular person or speculatively for sale. Its numerous pictures, unlike earlier medieval illustrations on the whole, may have been 'invented' or adapted from illustrations of other stories, as no other copy of the story survives with such extensive illustration. Creating multiple scenes within one panel is a technique that goes back in western manuscripts at least to the late Roman period. The artist of the 'Three King's Sons' uses this technique in this picture, showing the emperor first being received en route by a group of lords and then being crowned by the pope in Milan. The artist maximises the opportunities for splendour in depicting rich costume, inserting as many groups of figures as possible, and ingeniously separates the scenes with landscape and architecture.

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