- Studies in Arthurian Illustration by Alison Stones
Alison Stones, Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh, is a renowned art historian best known for her study of illuminated manuscripts. In addition to collaborating on Les Manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes, she has co-edited the critical edition of the Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela, written the commentary for the devotional picture-book Le Livre d’images de Madame Marie, and co-edited Gautier de Coinci: Miracles, Music and Manuscripts. More recently, she completed a four-volume study of Manuscripts Illuminated in France, Gothic Manuscripts 1260–1320 (published in 2013 and 2014) and worked with an international team of scholars to ‘map’ the Lancelot-Grail manuscripts and analyze the relationship between text and illustration. She is also active in creating databases of images of medieval art and architecture.
The thirty-nine essays that comprise Studies in Arthurian Illustration represent nearly fifty years of Professor Stones’ research on French Arthurian manuscript [End Page 86] illustration. The volumes open with several essays that discuss general approaches to French secular illustration. These studies treat such topics as ‘cross-fertilisation’ between secular and liturgical illustration (p. 52) and the function of illustration in manuscripts. The essay on ‘Text and Image in Arthurian Manuscripts,’ for example, asks the essential question ‘what do images do?’ in medieval manuscripts and offers some answers from contemporary sources, including improving understanding of the text and aiding in remembering what it says.
In ‘Arthurian Art since Loomis’—that is, in the nearly fifty years between Roger Sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis’ 1938 Arthurian Legends in Medieval Art and the original publication of the essay—Stones outlines newly discovered Arthurian art in Europe since the publication of the Loomises’ seminal work. Her essay concludes with the observation that Arthurian art is ‘more than a footnote to the history of medieval art, or a handmaid to medieval literature,’ but rather should be seen as ‘pointers towards important aspects of cultural and intellectual history of the Middle Ages’ (p. 92). This survey is updated further in a brief epilogue that lists exhibitions and art discovered in the period from 1987 to 2014 and that also suggests a general direction for future work on Arthurian illustration.
The volumes include the introduction to The Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes and a descriptive survey of ‘The Illustrated Chrétien Manuscripts,’ written for that work. There is also a study of the illustrations to Wace’s Roman de Brut in Egerton MS 3028, which, unlike most Brut manuscripts, is extensively illustrated and which includes often-reproduced images of the giant of St. Michael’s Mount and of Merlin directing the disassembling of the Giant’s Ring, the monument that will be conveyed to Britain and reassembled at Stonehenge. Another essay surveys illustrated Tristan manuscripts and suggests the need for comparative studies of their iconography.
The vast majority of the essays in this collection, however, treat manuscripts of the Lancelot-Grail cycle and range from commentary on a single manuscript to studies of groups of manuscripts and overview essays offering observations about the scope of these manuscripts. Many of the 209 manuscripts and fragments of this cycle are illustrated, some of them profusely. As the essay on ‘Stories in Pictures and Their Transmission: A Comparative Approach to the Manuscripts of the Lancelot-Grail Romance’ notes, one manuscript (British Library Additional 10292-4) contains 748 images, the most by far, though several manuscripts contain hundreds of images.
In the nearly thirty essays focused on this cycle, there is necessarily some repetition; nevertheless, there is a great variety of approaches and insights. Several of the essays focus on the extension of Professor Stones’ work to the web, most notably in the Lancelot-Graal Project. Others discuss heraldry in illustration. One essay, ‘Lancelot and Identity,’ treats a specific narrative, the murder of King Lancelot and the reuniting of his head and body by his grandson and namesake. Other essays consider specific...