‡ Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, in Middle French, illuminated manuscript on parchment [northern France (probably Paris), mid-fourteenth century]
Two large leaves, each with double column of 40 lines of an early gothic French vernacular hand (with lines 7635-7791 of the poem), with one-line initials offset in margins, 2-line initials in gold on blue and dark-pink grounds heightened with white penwork, the two leaves with continuous text (hence probably the central bifolium of a gathering), but with an apparent quire signature "VII'" at foot of verso of second leaf, recovered from an account book binding (that dated "1622" and "1623"), and so with some stains, cockled areas, later scrawls, discolouration to outer surfaces of that binding and holes, but overall in good and presentable condition, each leaf approximately 330 by 225mm. (written space 226 by 167mm.)
These are exceptionally early witnesses to this most important literary text, the most popular secular work of the entire Middle Ages
Recently discovered in an American collection.
The Roman de la Rose is probably the single-most influential literary text of the Middle Ages, exceeding both Chaucer and Dante in the production and circulation of manuscripts. C.S. Lewis stated that in cultural importance it ranks second to none except the Bible and the Consolation of Philosophy ( Allegory of Love , 1936, p. 157). It is of fundamental importance for the history of French literature, and is the first example in French of a sustained first-person narrative and a narrative allegory.
The poem was begun c . 1240 by Guillaume de Lorris (d. c . 1278) who wrote the first 4058 lines. As he explains, he wished to tell the reader all that he knew of love, and the poem describes a dream in which Amant is taken by Oiseuse into a pleasure garden where he meets the allegorical figures of Pleasure, Delight, Cupid and others, finally catching sight of and falling in love with the Rose-in-bud. He is held back by the figures of Danger, Shame, Scandal and Jealousy who imprison the Rose in a castle. Thus far the tale is a rather innocent one of love in the abstract, however, some forty years later, another author, Jean de Meun (a friend of Dante) added another 17,724 lines (including the lines on the present leaves). These fundamentally changed its tone to a biting satire on contemporary society. His lover-hero makes war on the castle, debates with Reason, Nature and Genius, and finally enters the inner chamber of the Rose. His advice to the lover includes sections on how a man should keep his mistress (study the arts, ignore any infidelities, offer flattery but never advice) and how a lady might keep her male lover (use false hair, make up and perfume, avoid getting so drunk you fall asleep at dinner, only have intercourse in the dark to hide imperfections of the body, and avoid poor men and foreigners - except very rich ones). The only systematic census of manuscripts of the text is that of Langlois in 1910 ( Les Manuscrits du Roman de la Rose: Description et Classement ), although there has been a recent collaborative scholarly project between John Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France on the text resulting in a website that lists 324 extant manuscripts.
The parent manuscript of the present leaves was most probably a grand Parisian product, close in appearance to its contemporaries BnF. français 19156 and Bodleian, Selden, Supra 57, and part of a wave of production of copies of the text there for the French elites in the middle of the fourteenth century.
The text is far from common on the market, with the vast Schoenberg database listing only ten codices appearing at auction since the 1970s, and only three of those of the fourteenth century: Christies', 7 June 2006, lots 23 and 31 (once Phillipps MS. 2838 and 4185, now both Senshu University, Japan); and another in the same rooms, 9 July 2001, lot 12; Sotheby's, 17 June 1997, lot 6 (once Phillipps MS. 129); Drouot, 16 December 1994, lot 1; another in the same rooms, 9 December 1992, lot 371; Ader Picard Tajan in Paris, 16 September 1988, lot 152 (this previously in Sotheby's, New York, sale of Carleton Richmond's library in 1981); the Astor copy sold in Sotheby's, 21 June 1988 (then Beck collection and stolen); Christie's, 25 June 1980, lot 232 (once Phillipps MS. 4357, now in the Ferrell collection); another sold in Ader Picard Tajan in Paris, 20 May 1980, lot 60; and that sold in Sotheby's, 13 July 1977, lot 48, to Peter Ludwig and thence to the Getty Museum. Fragments seem to come to the market even less frequently, with the last examples in Christie's, 30 May 1984, lot 200 (a small miniature trimmed to its edges, from a manuscript of the second half of the fourteenth century); Alde Libraire Giraud Badin, 8 June 2012 (a fourteenth-century leaf most probably the missing first leaf of Columbia University, Plimpton MS. 284); and two fifteenth-century bifolia recovered from bindings, sold in our rooms, 6 July 2017, lots 34 and 35 (together realising £7000 hammer).
‡: A double dagger (‡) indicates that the lot is being sold whilst subject to temporary importation and that VAT is due at the reduced rate (5%) if the lot remains in the UK.