The Berlin Alexander Romance is a stunning example of medieval manuscript art. It was created in the 1290s in northern France for a member of the aristocracy. It is an Old French prose romance telling of the historical and fantastical exploits of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). The manuscript boasts nearly 100 miniatures, four of which occupy a full page. The manuscript's miniatures show Alexander exploring the heights of the celestial realm and the depths of the sea, meeting dragons, griffins, cyclops, giant crabs, and horse-headed creatures along the way.
The manuscript's text is an Old French version of the Alexander story based on the Latin text known as the Historia de Preliis Alexandri Magni. The Berlin manuscript is the finest of four of the earliest illuminated copies of the text, of which the Brussels Alexander Romance is one. All were made in northern France in the 1290s, and their picture cycles share many features—not least their extensiveness—but none seems to be directly modeled on one of the others.
Alexander the Adventurer and Leader
The representation of Alexander's flight in a contraption pulled by birds is particularly spectacular (fol. 66r), as is the image of his exploration beneath the sea in an intricately wrought glass submarine (fol. 67r). Alexander is shown twice on the same page (fol. 71v): once in full armor and below in riding gear, together identifying Alexander as the ideal ruler: advancing an army and serving as the head of honorable dignitaries.
Alexander the Dragon-Slayer
The manuscript's images mirror the text's interest in the "marvels" of far-off places in Asia. For example, Alexander is represented in full armor leading an army on horseback, lances drawn, that successfully attacks and defeats dragon-like creatures with rams' horns (fol. 68v).
A Precise and Expert Hand
The Berlin manuscript is written in an expert Gothic Textualis script in two columns in black ink. As is common in the writing of European vernaculars, abbreviations are used sparingly. Extensive rubrics in red describe what is being narrated in text and image. Large gold initials with red and blue backgrounds announce each new section of text.
Original Owner Unknown
It is unknown for whom the manuscript was created. It has been conjectured that it may have passed in the early fourteenth century through the hands of Fulcaud de Rochechouart, Bishop of Noyon, or Robert de Fouilloy, Bishop of Amiens. The manuscript was acquired by William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas-Hamilton (1845-1895), Duke of Hamilton, in 1882.
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