Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Literature > 191. La Mort le roi Artu

191.  La Mort le roi Artu. Manuscript on palimpsested parchment and paper, 94 leaves,. Northeastern Italy, 14th century. RBML, Western MS 24

This Arthurian romance is an amalgam of contradictions, proof of the divide between today's world and the world that produced the manuscript. Its 19th-century owner was the famous bibliophile, Baron Horace Landau, a representative of the Rothschild banking house in various cities across Europe. It must have been Landau who had the book bound by one of the foremost Florentine binders, G. Berti, in a sumptuous purple morocco binding with inlays of gilt-patterned green morocco at the corners, and gilt dentelle on the turn-ins. Clearly, the codex was highly valued by its aristocratic owner. But in its day, the book was a casual way to pass the time: a fairy tale, in the vernacular, partially copied on cheap second-hand parchment (the underlying text seems to be a notarial register from the province of Vicenza), and partially copied on poorly sized paper; even the effort to provide good penwork initials petered out after the first four gatherings. The book provoked confusion in today's scholars, as well: it was registered as French in origin, according to the too-simple logic that its language declared its place of birth.

Bequest of Prof. Roger Sherman Loomis, 1968

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