This late thirteenth-century Alexander romance in French is one of the most stunning examples of medieval manuscript art. Detailing both the historiographic and fantastical adventures of Alexander the Great’s travels to India, l’ystoire du bon roi Alexandre raises the status of illumination well above the text with over 100 gilded images.
In this manuscript we see Alexander exploring the highest highs of the celestial filament and the deepest depths of the sea, meeting dragons, griffins, cyclops, giant crabs, and horse-headed creatures along the way. Produced in Northern France or Flanders, the Berlin romance is arguably the most expert exemplum of the Gothic manuscript style.
Awash in Seas of Color
The true star of this manuscript is the level of illustration; each image is unique to this codex, despite the widespread popularity of the genre. Many of the images are treated with a technique called “washing,” wherein a single hue is applied to the whole miniature before other details and colors are added.
The drawings stand out with bold pen strokes against crimson and blue patterned backgrounds, and the faces and hands of figures are expressively made. Indeed, the minute detail in each and every illustration is breath-taking.
Alexander’s deeds and flight on a griffin are particularly spectacular (fols. 66-67), as are his explorations beneath the sea in an intricately wrought glass submarine (fol. 67). Alexander himself appears twice on the same folio (fol. 71v): once on top with full armor, while below he appears in short-legged riding gear with a youthful face. Both of these miniatures identify Alexander as the ideal ruler: advancing an army and serving as the head of honorable dignitaries.
Many folios have gorgeous borders with animated marginal animals, both real and imagined: dogs, stags, rabbits, elephants, dragons, and even unicorns.
A Precise and Expert Hand
The manuscript is written in an expert Gothic Rotunda script in two columns in black ink. Abbreviation is used sparingly.
Extensive rubrics in red announce what is being narrated with both text and image. Large gold initials with red and blue backgrounds announce each new section of text.
A Mysterious Provenance
The first folio sports a coat of arms with cardinals in white hats; the initials “H” and “R” appear on the same page and were likely added by a previous owner.
The manuscript’s original binding has been lost.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Berlin Alexander Romance": L'Ystoire du bon roi Alexandre: der Berliner Alexanderroman facsimile edition, published by Mueller & Schindler, 2002Request Info / Price