Blood, lust, ro­mance: a rare page-turner goes on sale

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - AUCTIONS - TOM PECK

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

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