The first author, Guillaume de Lorris, wrote, circa 1230, a courtly allegorical poem of about 4000 verses, which sought to be an ‘art of love’, and which was continued, circa 1270, by Jean de Meun, who added about 17000 verses in a very different style and ideological frame. The whole opus is one of the most important literary works of the late Western Middle Ages, its influence upon the world of literature running until late in the Renaissance. This encyclopaedia of love (which also, in the second part, deals with politics, religion and social issues) is said to be the object of the first written scholarly argument in the history of literature, when, circa 1400, intellectuals such as Christine de Pizan and Jean Gerson argued against its misogyny. The 14th century may be considered the climax of the work’s reception (cf. ‘Le Roman de la Rose au XIVe siècle’)
The general description frame for manuscripts of ‘Roman de la Rose’ is given by Ernest Langlois in ‘Les manuscrits du Roman de la Rose’.
(i) ‘Roman de la Rose’ by Guillaume de Lorris (folios 1–30), composed circa 1230, in French verses.
Incipit: “Maintes gens dient que songes / n’aient se flables non et mençonges”.
Explicit: “Se je per vostre bienveillance / Que je ne mes ailleurs fiance”.
Folio secundo: “Vers une riviere m’adresce”.
Since the text speaks of a total of only three companions to Dangier, it can be classed in Langlois’ group II (lines 2834-2837: “Que li avoit II compaignons, / une fame et un vilain homme. / Li hons male bouche se nomne, / et la fame si a non honte.”; and lines 2859-2861: “Or sont au rosez garder III, / pour ce que nus sans leur ostrois, / ne rosez ne bouton nen port.”).
Manuscripts of group II are subdivided on the basis of verses 109-111. In this manuscript, the text is close to sub-group 1, but with a slight error (folio 2: “Descendoit l’eve grant et roide, / clere et froide l’eve et aussi froide / comme puis ou comme fontaine”).
Therefore, this manuscript contains a member of Langlois’ ‘group’ II.1 of Guillaume de Lorris’ poem.
(ii) Continuation of ‘Roman de la Rose’ by Jean de Meun (folios 30–145).
Explicit: “Atant fu jours et je m’esveillie. / Explicit li romans de la rose / Ou l’art d’amour est toute enclose. / Fin”
There is no transition between the two texts, as is found in some other manuscripts.
The manuscript includes the interpolation between lines 8178 and 8179 described by Langlois as the criterion for group II, though with an error in the last verse (folio 55 verso: “mieux vent mourrir que povrez estre / et ceux qui povrez aparront / leurs propres leur sauront”).
Group II is broken down on the basis of five variants. The manuscript includes the interpolation between lines 4400 and 4401, a description of love in a style much poorer than Jean de Meun’s (folio 32 verso: variant 1 of group II), as well as the wrong variant of line 9628 (folio 65: “Et touz et toutez li baillierent” instead of “Treuz et rentes li baillierent” = variant 2 of group II). It also includes an interpolation between lines 11222 and 11223; that is, a text about False Seeming’s monopoly on confession (variant 3, which itself is subject to several sub-variants, but at this stage, Langlois’ classification is no longer useful and reliable).
The manuscript of Jean de Meun is close to the families M and N described by Langlois.
(iii) On folio 145 verso, a scribe, contemporary to the writing of the poems, wrote a compendium of popular tips and proverbs, including mnemonics on remembering important dates in both religious and secular calendars; for example, the last sentences list the famous fairs of Champagne (at that time, educated people were expected to ‘know their fairs’; that is, know by heart the dates of these events, which were the heart of European trade and financial circuits during the 13th century and beyond). Also included are dietetic proverbs (column 2).
This page is annotated with notes which, though barely legible, seem to deal with the same subject – possibly addenda or summary notes.
The variety of inks and bad condition of many folios make it hard to distinguish all the scribes. Three at least can be identified. Two appear on folios 41 verso and 42 (cf. differences in capital ‘S’, abbreviated ‘et’, points on ‘i’, and the handwriting on folio 42 being a little more skilled).
It is often unclear, in the many cases where there is a change of ink, a break in the general appearance of the writing (though not in the type of each letter), or (in fewer cases) evidence of correction, whether these are examples of the same scribe correcting or rewriting with another ink, or of collaboration between scribes correcting each other:
- Cf. folio 2 verso (first column: addition of two little spots of black ink in the fourth verse, in order to link the three minims of an ‘m’), and folio 34 verso (first column: same addition of a spot of black ink in between two minims, in order to make an ‘n’, plus addition of a forgotten tilde, above the same letter).
- Cf. folios 24 verso, 32 (first column) and 32 verso (first column), 75, 124 verso and 125, where patches of verses have been coloured in black. Idem for folios 37-42, where it is unclear if fading has occurred, the same scribe has written over this script with another ink, or another scribe has done so. Idem, cf. folio 8 (second column) where a verse (“mez cil atant bonne manaie”) stands out against the page, with some words seemingly either corrected or rewritten (for example, capital ‘Q’ in the following line: an abbreviated ‘i’ has been added).
The most likely explanation remains that a later hand, possibly the one who wrote “vilenie plainne” (folio 2, second column) and the missing letters of the new paste initials of folios 138 verso and 139 verso, is responsible for most of the changes described above. The owner of the manuscript may have found it hard to read in some places and had it rewritten.
Missing verses with footnotes have been added in the borders of folios 10 verso, 12 verso, 13 (textura currens), and, by another hand (notula) on folios 34 verso and 50 – the latter obviously being the same as one of the two annotators (cf. folio 50).
The level of the manuscript’s use is shown by the great number of annotations throughout the text. Two hands have annotated the text (for example, on folio 24 verso, second column, where there is one occurrence of each hand).
There is one large-scale miniature on folio 1 and seven smaller miniatures on folios 2 verso, 3, 3 verso, 4, 4 verso and 13.
There are champie initials throughout, typically made of golden letters on a variety of red-and-blue backgrounds spotted with slight white motifs. These are usually two lines high, but measuring four lines high on folio 30 (the beginning of Jean de Meun’s poem), and three lines high on folios 1, 10 verso, 12, 20 verso, 22, 31, 138 verso and 139 verso (the last two are later illuminated champie initials, painted on a piece of parchment pasted into the volume). There is a cut initial on folio 28.
The border on folio 1 frames the whole page, though it is made of two distinct ornamentations of foliage, only one of them being an extension of the first illuminated capital letter, the other being a symmetrical reflection of the first, with a dragon at its top, disconnected from any part of the text or main miniature.
The first miniature is in two compartments. The left compartment depicts the Narrator/Author nude, asleep, in a red-covered bed, his head resting on both his right hand and a red pillow. He is represented tonsured. Behind the bed, painted roses represent the space and object of the dream. Next to the bed, on the right, Dangier stands dressed in brown, bearded, holding a club. The right compartment (damaged) depicts Fair Welcome, imprisoned in the tower of Jealousy, looking to the left. These two scenes illustrate the beginning and the end of Guillaume’s poem.
Six smaller miniatures depict some of the allegorical figures painted on the garden’s wall: Greed (folio 2 verso), Avarice (folio 2 verso), Envy (folio 3), Sadness (folio 3 verso), Hypocrisy (folio 3 verso), Poverty (folio 4 verso), while the seventh depicts the God of Love (folio 13)
This iconographical programme is common, though much more modest than those of the many great 14th century ‘Roman de la Rose’ manuscripts which can contain more than a hundred miniatures. A study of these programmes may be found in ‘Die Illustration des Rosenromans’, page 60.
The manuscript dates from the middle of the 14th century. Two bars inside capital ‘Q’, the aigrette on the ‘l’, the top stroke on the double ‘l’, the capital ‘L’, the gap in the bar of the ‘r’, among others, show great similarities with other ‘Roman de la Rose’ manuscripts of the mid-14th century (Walters 143 and Bodleian, Selden Supra 57; Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, MS.1126). The annotations on folio 145 verso are typical of mid-14th century good cursive scripts (cf. the capital ‘L’).
Though Langlois’ classification of manuscripts has been discussed and criticised, it remains the reference frame for an analysis of ‘Roman de la Rose’ manuscripts. This manuscript, cf. above, seems to be a member of, or close to, the large families L and M (at least, as far as Jean de Meun’s poem is concerned), and it happens that most, though not all, of the manuscripts of these groups relate to the first half or middle of the 14th century. It also happens that most, though not all, of the manuscripts which have the same excipit (for example: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fr.1558, Fr.1560, Fr.1564, Fr.1566, Fr.1569, Fr.1575, Fr.2196, Fr.9345, Fr.19156, Fr.24389, Fr.25526) belong to the first half or middle of the 14th century – the second half of the century having a tendency to translate ‘explicit’ into French as ‘cy fine’.
Folio 145 verso alludes to the fairs of Champagne. Amongst the few readable comments in the margins is “lendite”. The fair of Lendit, held by the Abbey of Saint-Denis, grew in importance in the beginning of the 14th century with the decline of the fairs of Champagne (due to changes in the European flows). It is possible that the owner of the manuscript, finding that the record of the fairs of Champagne had become useless, preferred to add (now illegible) information about the fair of Lendit. This would only tend to corroborate the general hypothesis.