Blood, lust, romance: a rare page-turner goes on sale
WITH a print run of just one, the Rochefoucauld Grail is unlikely to top the festive bestseller list, but should anyone be lucky enough to unwrap the 14th-century manuscript on Christmas morning, it will probably raise a bigger smile than even the memoirs of comedian Michael McIntyre.
When the medieval manuscript goes on sale at Sotheby’s on Tuesday next week, the auctioneers hope it will fetch up to £2 million (R22m).
The three-volume work, with 107 illuminated illustrations, was produced in the early 14th century, probably for Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld, head of one of the leading aristocratic families of medieval France.
It is an encyclopedia of Arthurian legend, a very early copy of a work commissioned a few decades earlier, that brought together all the existing tales of King Arthur’s court.
From those penned by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century to Geoffrey of Monmouth and others that existed purely in oral form, all are collected here. In the seven centuries since its compilation, virtu- ally nothing has been added to the saga that the volumes do not feature.
It is from here that Thomas Mallory compiled Le Morte
The three-volume work, with 107
d’Arthur in the 15th century, translating the works into English before they became among the first books to be printed on William Caxton’s press in 1485.
The tales and their illustrations are, unusually, almost e n t i r e l y s e c u l a r, s h o wi n g friendship and love as well as lust, treachery and sin.
Sir Lancelot’s tragic infatua t i o n w i t h A r t h u r ’s w i f e, Guinevere, and the tales of the wizard Merlin are sagas that have inspired hundreds of authors and artists, not least Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Monty Python.
Without the Rochefoucauld Grail, there would have been no Lady of Shalott, or “Knights who say Ni”.
Dr Timothy Bolton, the specialist in charge of the sale at Sotheby’s, said: “This is a copy of the book that put King Arthur on the map.
“Few copies were made a n d eve n f e we r s u r v ive. (There are) scenes of jousts, tour naments and battles, noble adventures and daring tests of strength and courage.
“The scenes often have a riotous energy, and stretch beyond the boundaries of the picture frames, with lofty towers poking through the borders at the top and figures tumbling out of page as they scramble to escape their enemies.”
The volumes appeared on the market in the early 18th century and passed to Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1872. Since then they have changed hands only twice. – The Independent