Quest for the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur

Manuscripts of the Institut de France – Faksimile Verlag – mss A - M – Institut de France (Paris, France)

France — July 4, 1470

Criticism of monarchy and an ideal image of late medieval chivalry in a classic of courtly literature: an extraordinary compilation of the legendary tales surrounding the Holy Grail and King Arthur

  1. Completed on July 4, 1470 on behalf of Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours and Count of La Marche and Castres

  2. Contains an exceptional compilation of the legendary tales, enriched with criticism of the French monarchy

  3. 133 artful miniatures from the workshop of Évrard d'Espinques illuminate especially the dramatic battle and tournament scenes

Quest for the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Quest for the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur

On July 4, 1470, a precious and extraordinary manuscript was completed in the workshop of the gifted illuminator Évrard d'Espinques for the Count of Nemours, Jacques d'Armagnac (1433–1477): The Quest for the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur. It contains a monarchy critical compilation of the legendary tales about the search for the mystical cup of the Last Supper and was richly decorated with 133 smaller and larger miniatures, gold decorated borders and beautiful decorated initials. The images not only emphasize the martial facets of the stories, but also give us today a vividly colored glimpse into an idealized world of late medieval chivalry.

A Noble Commission

A great lover of the legends surrounding King Arthur, Jacques d'Armagnac (1433–1477), Duke of Nemours and Count of La Marche and Castres, had four illuminated manuscripts on this subject produced for his library at his residence in Castres in Languedoc. While the first volume was already lost in the 16th century, the other three precious codices survived the ravages of time and are now kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The fourth manuscript, Quest for the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur, was finished for the Duke on July 4, 1470 and is the most elaborately decorated one. It is an artistic testimony to the patronage of the Duke of Nemours, who was not only a great patron of book illumination, but made history in particular for his rebellion against the French crown, which eventually cost him his head in 1477.

Critique of the Monarchy in a Classic of Medieval Literature

This magnificent manuscript contains an extraordinary compilation of the legendary tales of the quest for the Holy Grail (fol. 1r-182r) and the legend of King Arthur's death (fol. 182r-233r). The Quest is presented in a version in which King Arthur, together with the Knights of the Round Table, goes in search of the mystical vessel with which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper and in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of Christ on the cross. In the late medieval codex, the famous narratives that emerged in the 12th and 13th centuries were adapted to the changing cultural and social context. For example, an episode about the death of King Mark from the Tristan legend (fol. 160r-163r) was included, which is quite unusual in the French tradition. It is also remarkable that a critical attitude towards the centralist monarchy in France is implied on both the textual and pictorial levels.

A Glimpse into the World of Chivalry

The two-column text was written by Micheau Gonnot, a scribe in the Duke's service, in an eminently legible bastarda with a dynamic momentum. The neat script is repeatedly interrupted by a total of 133 differently sized, colorful and mostly gold-decorated miniatures. Many of them extend across both columns taking up nearly half a page. Most of them, however, can be read like small windows into the stories and are only one column wide. Here, tournament and battle scenes, which idealize and romanticize late medieval chivalry, take up a particularly large amount of space, emphasizing the martial aspects of the tales. At the same time, however, the miniatures also provide order and structure and help readers find their way around the codex, which comprises 233 parchment folios. Vegetable borders and ornamental initials with many golden details additionally emphasize important passages in the text, introduce new sections and chapters, and together decorate the clearly structured pages.

Masterly Book Illumination

The pictorial decoration of this beautiful manuscript was done by the workshop of the prolific illuminator Évrard d'Espinques. The latter was actually from northern Germany, but was active in Paris from 1440 and later in the county of La Marche, and was "employed" as an illuminator by Jacques d'Armagnac from 1461. As such, he was responsible for the artful illumination of several manuscripts of courtly literature, some of which still survive today.

In royal possession

After the duke's death, the codex came into the possession of Montjehan family. Later it was in the library of Charles III (1490–1527), Duke of Bourbon. There too, the manuscript did not remain for too long, as it soon passed into the hands of the French King Francis I. (1494–1547). There the manuscript remained until the dissolution of the royal library in 1792, which led to the establishment of the Bibliothèque nationale, where the manuscript still resides today.


Alternative Titles
Il manoscritto Français 112(3)
Die Suche nach dem Heiligen Gral und der Tod des Königs Artus
La Queste del Saint-Graal, La Mort du roi Artu
Re Artù
I Cavalieri della Tavola Rotonda e la Ricerca del Santo Graal
Compilation arthurienne de Micheau Gonnot
Le denier livre de messire Lancelot du Lac
Size / Format
466 pages / 43.0 × 30.0 cm
July 4, 1470
French littera bastarda
9 large and 121 column-wide miniatures, numerous decorated initials and floral borders
A unique compilation of texts that brings together the legends of the quest for the Holy Grail, the death of King Arthur and Tristan
Jacques d'Armagnac
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Montjehan family
Charles III, Duke of Bourbon

Available facsimile editions:
Manuscripts of the Institut de France – Faksimile Verlag – mss A - M – Institut de France (Paris, France)
Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani – Rome, 2022
Limited Edition: 308 copies (299 hand-numbered, 9 with Roman numbers)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Il manoscritto Français 112(3)

Limited Edition: 308 copies (299 hand-numbered, 9 with Roman numbers)
Binding: Gold-stamped red morocco leather. Both the facsimile and the commentary volume are presented in a red slipcase.
Commentary: 1 volume by Lino Leonardi, Claudio Lagomarsini, Nicola Morato and Ilaria Molteni
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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