Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

Northern France - France — Around 1446

The splendor of a knight’s tournament for the King of Naples and Jerusalem: masterful miniatures based on the lost original drawings by Barthélemy d'Eyck

  1. The sumptuous knights’ tournament at Saumur in 1446 put all other tournaments to shame

  2. These masterfully executed pictures are based on the lost original drawings of Barthélemy d’Eyck (ca. 1420 – ca. 1470)

  3. Commissioned by René d’Anjou (1409–80), King of Naples and Sicily, Duke of Anjou, Bar, and Lorraine

Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

Cod. Fr. F. XIV. Nr. 4 National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia)
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

One of the most common images to come to mind when thinking of the Middle Ages is that of the knights' tournament. These events were the perfect mix of violence and splendor. The ritualized combat was a means for the knights to demonstrate their ideals of life: braveness and generosity, honor and glory, fealty and courtly love. The Pas de Saumur, a sumptuous tournament that King René had organized for his knights at Saumur in the year 1446, is supposed to have put all other tournaments to shame. The manuscript recording it features both the kind of lavish and detailed miniatures of arms, armor, and escutcheons one would expect, as well as a masterfully-composed text in verse describing the controlled combat of the tournament.

Tournament Book of René d’Anjou

One of the most precious manuscripts now kept in the Russian National Library in Saint Petersburg is the Tournament Book of René d’Anjou, which is famous throughout the world for its remarkable contents and text. Produced in the 1470's, the manuscript contains the only known version of a poetic description of the Pas de Saumur, a sumptuous tournament that King René had organized for his knights at Saumur in the year 1446. The codex encompasses 91 illustrations of great historic value, which fascinate through their momentum and great feel for vivid detail. These masterfully executed pictures are based on the lost original drawings of Barthélemy d’Eyck, an excellent painter who was active for a long period at René’s court. The great value of the poem as a historic and literary monument of the 15th century and the undisputed rarity of the text have not only drawn the attention of researchers specialized in medieval history, literature and culture. The manuscript also offers a wealth of valuable material for studies in medieval heraldry, as the illustrations show a great number of escutcheons and crests.

The Only Account of the pas d’armes at Saumur

The Saint Petersburg manuscript is the only historic witness to the sumptuous knights’ festival organized in Saumur, which put all other tournaments to shame. It enables us to reconstruct the course of this great event in full detail. This very important aspect makes the manuscript an informative document on the history of the knightly mock battles of the late Middle Ages. The author reports on the organization and the ceremony of the joust (in which only two knights at one time were allowed to charge each other), on actors and combatants; description of the knights' equipment, especially the bascinets, as well as the harnesses and mantling worn by the combat horses. He goes even further and tries to present tournaments, which were obviously among the essential themes of the courtly and knightly culture, in their true significance.

René d’Anjou: a Politician, Patron, and Poet

René d’Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily, Duke of Anjou, Bar, and Lorraine, was one of the most generous tournament hosts of his era. He was not only an ambitious sovereign but also an educated patron of the arts. Beyond that, he also tried his luck as a poet. Numerous works from his pen, among them the Livre du Cuer d’Amours Espris, a romantic allegory, bear testimony to the king’s talent for this genre among others. René also knew how to hold glorious festivals. The tournaments he arranged were famous throughout the country and sung by a great many poets.

A Mirror of the Knightly Way of Life

The organizer of the tournament, René himself, probably commissioned the Saint Petersburg manuscript. He hired a poet, whose name has been lost in the course of history, to write a poetic description of the sumptuous pas d’armes. However, out of all festive events that took place there, the writer chose to describe only the combat scenes, with only a few exceptions. He was obviously less keen on the results of the competition than on an extensive description of the arms depicted on the shields, the horses’ harnesses, and the helmets worn by the participants. This might be due to the king’s wish according to which each participant was to display his own heraldic device, the cuir bouilli, the crest and the coat of arms on his shield, and these instructions conferred the arms and helmets the greatest importance. The 3,952 verses also contain statements concerning the significance of tournaments in the contemporary knightly society as well as indications of the code of behavior and honor to which every participant had to bow. The ritualized combat was a means for the knights to demonstrate their ideals of life: braveness and generosity, honor and glory, fealty and courtly love. In this commission, the author reveals himself as a master of the poetic form used, keeping strictly to the verse structure and rhythm in each stanza. He appears to have been an enormously learned poet, well experienced in the making of a poetic text.

The Miniatures

The narrative of the work is visually supported by numerous illustrations, whereby picture and text are closely related to each other. The illustrations are all drawn with a pen and then painted with watercolors. Differences in color and the reproduction of landscapes as well as different representations of knights and their bascinets make us assume that the manuscript is the work of several hands. The miniatures often constitute a valuable addition to the text and one may say that the illustrated cycle as well as the text both determine the value of the work as a historic source to the same extent.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Turnierbuch für René d´Anjou
Size / Format
108 pages / 37.0 × 27.0 cm
Origin
France
Date
Around 1446
Language
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Tournament Book of René d´Anjou – Cod. Fr. F. XIV. Nr. 4 – National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1998
Limited Edition: 580 copies
Detail Picture

Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

Two Knights Jousting

As their retainers look on, two knights in full plate armor and separated by a “tilt barrier” charge at one another in the tournament’s most iconic event – the joust. Both knights wear elaborate helmets adorned with colorful bands and birds, which were considered to be the most noble of animals and as such were the most highly prized on aristocratic dinner tables. Their horses wear spike chanfrons to protect their faces and are adorned by caparisons with elaborate designs.

Das Turnierbuch für René d´Anjou
Single Page

Tournament Book of René d´Anjou

A Splendid Parade

Tournaments originated as little more than brawls between knights who were bored and up to no good. These often-lethal contests could spill into lanes, farmer’s fields, and even peasants’ houses. Tournaments became much more organized and theatrical during the Late Middle Ages – as well as safer – and as such spectacles like a parade increasingly became a part of the festivities.

This procession of noble knights is preceded by two lions, the kings of beasts, which are led along on chains by two handlers. Armored knights and noble ladies ride out from the castle gate and across the drawbridge as they wind their way toward the beholder. Trumpeters with flags hanging from their instruments announce the procession’s approach to the tournament field.

Das Turnierbuch für René d´Anjou
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Turnierbuch für René d´Anjou

Tournament Book of René d´Anjou – Cod. Fr. F. XIV. Nr. 4 – National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Tournament Book of René d´Anjou – Cod. Fr. F. XIV. Nr. 4 – National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg, Russia) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 580 copies
Binding: Marmored paper; facsimile and commentary in a slip case.
Commentary: 1 volume by Natal'ja A. Elagina, J. Malinin, T. Voronova and D. Zypkin
Language: German

The scholarly commentary published to accompany the facsimile edition is divided into two sections, one of which analyses the manuscript from different angles: J. Malinin, a specialist in French medieval history, deals with the author and his work; the contribution by N. Elagina, curator of the Collection of western manuscripts in the Russian National Library, contains a detailed description of its character, the results of the text analysis and an analysis of the illustrations; D. Zypkin presents the outcomes of his codicological examination; and T. Voronova analyses the stocks of King René’s library now kept in the collections of the Russian National Library. The second section of the commentary volume offers the first complete transcription of the original text in Old French.

N. Elagina, J. Malinin, T. Voronova, D. Zypkin, St. Petersburg. Detailed schol-arly commentary on contents, structure, history of origin and the significance of the codex with respect to history of art and history; transcription of the Old French text.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) All folios are cut according to the original.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
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