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Chaucer's House ofFame and the French Palais deJustice Laura Kendrick Rutgers University In the spring of 1377, Chaucer was in Patis on the king's business. 1 At that time, if not on one of his earlier trips to the Continent, Chaucer must have seen the buildings of the French Palais deJustice on the Ile de la Cite. The palace, the seat of the Parlement de Paris and the official residence of the king, was described in the following terms byJean deJandun around 1322 in his Traite des louanges de Paris (Treatise in Praise ofParis): In this most illustrious seat ofthe French monarchy, a splendid palace has been built, a superb testimony to royal magnificence .... In honor oftheir glorious memory, the statues of all the kings of France who have gone before up to today are in this place, shaped to such a perfect individual likeness that, on first inspection, one would judge them very much alive.2 From later descriptions and engravings (see plate 1), we know that the Great Hall of the Palais, built between 1301 and 1313, was more than seventy-five yards long and thirty yards wide, with a gilded, doubled-vaulted ceiling supported by a row of eight central col­ umns with additional columns attached to the side walls. The outstanding ornamentation of this room was the series of statues of the kings of France painted in gold and azure in standing postures about fifteen to eighteen feet offthe floor atop the central and side 1 Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 46-53. 2 Translated from Antoine Le Roux de Lincy and L. M. Tisserand, Paris et ses historiens auxXJVe et XVe sz'ecles (Paris: Imprimerie imperiale, 1867), p. 48. 121 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Interior view of the Great Hall of the Palais from a 16th-century engraving by Jacques l" Androuec du Cerceau (Paris, BibliothequeNationale, Estampes, Vx. 15). columns. In 1377, when Chaucer probably saw the Great Hall, there were forty-seven statues of French kings, beginning with the mythical king Pharamond on a pillar attached to the center of the west wall and proceeding, in chronological order, away from the dais toward the east entrance, one statue mounted on the south side ofeach of the eight central pillars and one on the pillar attached to the east wall-ten kings in all. The series continued east to west with ten more kings positioned on the north side ofthe eight central and two side pillars. Back at its starting point, the series ran down the side walls with nineteen statues, one atop each pillar, proceeding from east to west along the north wall; in 1377 only eight statues were mounted on the pillars of the south wall, proceeding west to east from Saint Louis throughJean II. Carved in stone beneath the statues ofeach king were his name and the dates ofhis reign.3 3 Sources for this architectural description areJ. H. Shennan, The Parlement of Pans (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968), pp. 103-105;). Guerout, "Le Palais de la Cite aParis des origines a1417," Memoires de la Federation des societes htstonques et archeologiques de Paris et de /'fie-de-France 2(1950):132-37; N. 122 THE PALAIS DEJUSTICE In book 3 of The House ofFame, Chaucer mimics this famous series ofFrench kings, which to my knowledge is the only use ofsuch a combination of pillars and sculptured figures inside a secular hall up to Chaucer's time.4 Like the Great Hall ofthe Palais, Fame's hall has rows of pillars topped with statues running down the room on both sides from the dais to the doors (3.1419-28): 5 Valois, "Les statues de la grande salle du Palais," Bulletin de la Sociiftif de l'histoire de Paris et de /'lie-de-France 30(1903):87-90. 4 As J. A. W. Bennett points out in Chaucer's "Book of Fame" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), pp. 171-72, there are many precedents both in literary description and in the decoration ofcontemporary buildings for pictorial presenta­ tion ofthe "theme ofthe famous deadwhen given the setting ofa...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 121-133
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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