The Quest for the Holy Grail in Dijon is an illuminated manuscript of a portion of the text known to scholars as the Roman de Tristan in prose, an Arthurian romance that intertwines the story of Tristan with tales of the search by knights of the mythical king Arthur's round table for a vessel associated with Christ. It was made in the 1450s in the west of France, probably in the County of Maine. As such, it is a late example in the long tradition of manuscripts of Arthurian romances. The manuscript's one three-quarter-page and forty-five column miniatures are the work of the Master of Charles du Maine.
Remarkably, sixteen of the column miniatures are patched-in substitutions of the eighteenth century, with the appropriate text written on the other side of the parchment, so that both the cycle of illustrations and the text is complete. Presumably, the original miniatures had been excised from the manuscript long before these "repairs" were made.
An Illuminator with Connections in High Places
The Master of Charles du Maine is named for his principal patron, Charles IV, Count of Maine (1414–1472), son of Louis II, Duke of Anjou and King of Naples, and brother-in-law of and advisor to Charles VII, King of France. The master illuminated several manuscripts for the count, including a companion volume to this one with another portion of the Tristan romance (Chantilly, Musée Conde, MS 648).
Quest and Combat
The miniatures of the Quest manuscript show many scenes of travel and combat, as well as instances of knights consulting hermits for counsel. The traveling and battling figures are often reduced to silhouettes in lush landscapes. Heraldry plays an important role, with each of the protagonists identified by their fictive coats of arms: Perceval by two inverted gold chevrons on a blue field; Tristan by three gold crowns on a blue field; and Palamedes, Tristan's principal antagonist, by a checkered pattern of black and silver.
A Very Long Text
As is traditional for long literary works, the Old French text is written in two columns. The column miniatures, each followed by a six-line painted initial, announce new sections of the text. Subsections begin on a new line with the three-line painted initial. The script is French Bâtarde, especially favored in the fifteenth century for vernacular texts.
From the West to the East of France
It is entirely possible that the Quest manuscript was made for Charles du Maine, although the first certain knowledge of its ownership is its appearance in the collection of the French royal courtier Nicolas Moreau (1544-1619), for whom manuscripts of medieval French literature was a collecting focus. It was in the possession of Jean-Baptiste François Jehannin de Chamblanc (1722-1797) until his goods were confiscated at the time of the French Revolution. The "repair" of the manuscript was probably undertaken at his behest.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Quest for the Holy Grail": Roman de la quête du Graal = La búsqueda del Santo Grial facsimile edition, published by Ediciones Grial, 1997Request Info / Price