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Roman de la Rose
The Romance of the Rose

Workshop of Maître François, French (active Paris), active 1450 - 1499. Written by Guillaume de Lorris, and Jean de Meun, French, c. 1240 - before 1305. Revisions by Gui de Mori.

Made in Paris, France, Europe

c. 1440-1480

Illuminated manuscript on vellum

Book: 14 × 9 7/8 × 2 3/4 inches (35.6 × 25.1 × 7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Philip S. Collins Collection, gift of Mrs. Philip S. Collins in memory of her husband, 1945

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  • PublicationLeaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections

    The Roman de la Rose is the allegorical story of a young man's sentimental education and his successful search for love. The poet Guillaume de Lorris says (verses 42-44) that he writes for the girl "who is so precious and so worthy to be loved that she should be called Rose.1 The scene shown here, from the section of the poem composed by Guillaume, symbolizes the setting and circumstances propitious for the beginning of a love affair. Surrounded by trees crowded with birds singing "like angels" (verse 662), the elegantly dressed beauty, Lady Idleness (Oiseuse), holds a mirror and talks with the Dreamer-Lover (Amant), whom she has just admitted into the garden of Pleasure (Deduit). The rosebush with its enclosing hedge is visible on the right. Like the mirror held by Idleness, the dream vision of the narrative both reflects and distorts reality. Jean de Meun, who completed Guillaume's work, called the poem a "Mirror for Lovers," but Guillaume himself emphasized the deceptive and even dangerous properties of the reflection. Shortly after the scene pictured here, the Lover looks into the fatal fountain of Narcissus, where he sees in magic crystals at the bottom a reflection of the rose that will become the goal of his quest through the rest of the poem. The gold hatching highlights details in the scene, contributing to its luminescent, dreamlike atmosphere.

    Set in a dream vision, the Roman de Ia Rose begins by describing how the Lover approaches a garden wall on which are painted figures of the vices (Hatred, Villainy, Covetousness, and so on). Admitted to the garden of Pleasure by Lady Idleness, he is wounded by the arrows of the God of Love and falls in love with a rose. Fair Welcome and Friend encourage him; Resistance, Jealousy, and the other enemies of love repulse his advances. Lady Reason urges him to rise above his infatuation and accept the consolation of philosophy. Through most of the poem the Lover alternates between hope and despair. Jean de Meun's continuation of the poem extends and elaborates Guillaume's story with many allusions to classical literature, history, science, and theology. Finally, aided by the trickery of Deception and the bold assault of Venus leading the army of her son, the God of Love, the Lover achieves his quest. As the poem ends, the narrator awakens to discover that it has all been a dream.

    The Roman de Ia Rose is the work of two authors, both originally from the province of Orleans. It was begun by Guillaume de Lorris around 1225-30. At the beginning of the poem Guillaume writes that he is reporting a dream he had five years earlier, when he was twenty years old. He apparently died leaving the poem unfinished. It was completed, probably before 1278, by Jean de Meun (also spelled Meung and Mehun; died 1305), a well-known scholar and translator who lived in Paris.2 Jean's continuation is more than four times as long as Guillaume's original poem. The work of the two poets differs significantly. Guillaume's poem is a courtly allegory, while Jean's is a compendium of literary and intellectual paraphrases and allusions whose tone is often satirical and whose allegory is more pointedly erotic. The text of the Roman de la Rose in the manuscript in the Philadelphia Museum of Art also incorporates additions and revisions made in several stages, probably between 1290 and 1330, by Gui de Mori, a Picard cleric. Gui's revisions are more moralizing than the work of either of the original authors.3 This manuscript is noteworthy, too, for the more than two hundred marginal inscriptions of varying lengths, most in a single sixteenth-century hand, containing reader responses and commentaries on the text.4

    At least 316 manuscripts and fragments of the Roman de la Rose, dating from the thirteenth through the sixteenth century, are known to have survived, most of them produced in northern France. Of the extant manuscripts, 246 are illustrated, have spaces left for illustrations that were never executed, or once had miniatures that have since been cut out. Eighteen Roman de Ia Rose manuscripts each have a hundred illustrations or more. The earliest extant illustrated example is datable to within a decade of Jean's completion of the poem. Because visual mistakes owing to misreadings or unfamiliarity with the text are rare, we can infer that most planners and illustrators of Roman de la Rose manuscripts knew the text.

    The quality of Roman de la Rose manuscripts varies widely. Elegant, expensive copies were produced for such important patrons as Jean, duc de Berry, and the French monarchs Charles V and Francis I. There are also more modest bookshop copies, and even a few examples made by individuals for their own use. Manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Roman de Ia Rose may now be found in public and private collections in eighteen countries from Sweden to South Africa. Thirty-two manuscripts and fragments are now in North America.

    These manuscripts are particularly valuable for the study of medieval book illustration. The Roman de la Rose manuscripts are notable for the absence of a shared program of illustrations derived from either a single early manuscript or a small number of early examples, as is common among illuminated manuscripts, particularly overtly religious ones. Although the textual tradition is relatively stable, no two Roman de Ia Rose manuscripts from among the 246 designed for pictures have exactly the same program of illustration, with the exception of those manuscripts that have only a single frontispiece showing the dreamer in bed. The number of extant illustrations per copy ranges from one to 161. Most frequently, the number of illustrations is between twenty and fifty. The manuscript in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with seventy-five miniatures, is among the more abundantly illustrated. Its miniatures are the work of two artists, the opening miniature by the more gifted.

    The program of illustrations in the Philadelphia manuscript favors the text of Guillaume de Lorris, which has forty-four illustrations versus thirty-one for the much longer text of Jean de Meun. There is an emphasis on portraiture, with sixteen miniatures showing portraits of individual allegorical personifications. Two of the illustrations in the manuscript are significant in their rarity. The depiction of Pride (Orgueil) on folio 3, a personification not present in the original poem, is one of the few existing illustrations of Gui de Mori's additions. On folio 143 Venus is shown aiming her flaming arrow at Fear (Paour) and Shame (Honte) as they walk on a road in the open country. This scene is unique in Roman de la Rose manuscripts, and in fact it probably results from a misreading or reinterpretation of the text. At this point in the poem Venus has just threatened to destroy Fear and Shame, who are described as standing on the ramparts of the Castle of Jealousy. In the miniature she aims her arrow at the two personifications, rather than, as in the texts, at the notch between the legs of the female statue over the castle gate. Thus the artist of the miniature, in keeping with the moralizing revisions of Gui de Mori, has reduced the eroticism of the scene and focused not on Jean de Meun's sexual symbolism but on the military imagery that runs throughout both the original and the revised versions of the poem. Meradith T. McMunn, from Leaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination in Philadelphia Collections (2001), p. 210-214.

    De Ricci, vol. 2, p. 1658, no. 18; Faye and Bond, p. 470, no. 10; Collins, pp. 13-16, illus.; Paul Meyer, "Chronique," Romania, vol. 23 (1894), p. 300 (a report on Quaritch catalogue 138, 1893); O. A. Bierstadt, The Library of Robert Hoe: A Contribution to the History of Bibliophilism in America (New York: Duprat and Company, 1895), pp. 9-43, illus.; [Carolyn Shipman], A Catalogue of Manuscripts Forming a Portion of the Library of Robert Hoe (New York, 1909), pp. 127-29; Ernest Langlois, ed., Le Roman de Ia Rose par Guillaume de Lorris et Jean do Meun, publié d'apris les manuscrits (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1914), vol. 1, p. 50, note 1 (citing the Robert Hoe sale catalogue of 1912); Richard L. Hoffman, Ovid and the Canterbury Tales (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966), pp. 73-74; Maxwell Luria, A Reader's Guide to the "Roman de Ia Rose" (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1982). pp. 207-17; Maxwell Luria, "A Sixteenth-Ceniury Gloss on the Roman de Ia Rose," Mediaeval Studies, vol. 4 (1982), pp. 333-70; David Anderson, ed., Catalogue of the Exhibition Sixty Bokes Olde and Newe: Manuscripts and Early Printed Books from Libraries in and near Philadelphia Illustrating Chaucer's Sources, His Works, and Their Influence, exh. cat. (Knoxville, Tenn.: The New Chaucer Society, University of Tennessee, 1986), pp. 45-47, no. 29, illus.; Meradith T. McMunn, "The Iconography of Dangier in the Illustrated Manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose," Romance Languages Annual, vol. (1994), pp. 86-91, esp. pp. 87, 89, 91, fig. 4; Meradith T. McMunn, "Animal Imagery in the Text and Illustrations of the Roman de Ia Rose," Reinardus, vol. 9 (1996), pp. 87-108. esp. pp. 91, 99, 103; Meradith T. McMunn, "In Love and War: Images of Warfare in the Illustrated Manuscripts of the Roman de Ia Rose," in Susan J. Ridyard, ed., Chivalry, Knighthood, and War in the Middle Ages, Sewanee Mediaeval Studies, vol. 9 (Sewanee, Tenn.: University of the South Press, 1999), pp. 172, 186, fig. 4; Meradith T. McMunn, "Reconstructing a Missing Manuscript of the Roman de Ia Rose: The Jersey Manuscript," Scriptorium, vol. (1999), pp. 31-62, esp. pp. 45, 48, 62.

    1. Felix Lecoy, ed., Le Roman de Ia Rose par Guillaume de Lorris et Jean de Meun, Les Classiques français du Moyen Âge, 3 vols. (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1965-70; repr. 1973-75 and 1985); Charles Dahlberg, trans., The Romance of the Rose byGuillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971; 3rd ed. 1995).
    2. The manuscript also contains Jean de Meun's Testament (fols. 151-177v) and his Codicille (fols. 180-200v), as well as Songe rimé (fols. 178-179v), Les Lois des trespassez (fols. 200v-201v), and Miserere defunctorum (fols. 201v-202). Other surviving works of Jean de Meun include his translations of the letters of Abelard and Héloïse, the Consolatio philosophiae of Boethius, and the Epitoma rei militaris of Vegetius.
    3. See Ernest Langlois, "Gui de Mori et Ie Roman de la Rose," Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes, vol. 68 (1907), pp. 247-71; Marc-René Jung, "Gui de Mori et Guillaume de Lorris," Vox Romanica, vol. 27, no. 1 (1968), pp. 106-37; and Sylvia Huot, The "Romance of the Rose" and Its Medieval Readers: Interpretation, Reception, Manuscript Transmission, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, no. 16 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 85-129, for general discussions of Gui de Mori's revisions. Neither Langlois nor Jung saw the manuscript in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Huot does not cite it in her study of the Gui de Mori manuscripts.
    4. Maxwell Luria, "A Sixteenth-Century Gloss," has edited this marginal commentary. Luria writes (p. 333), "It would seem axiomatic that significant marginalia such as glosses ought to be surveyed for what they may have to tell us of early attitudes toward the Roman."