Reunited and it feels so good. After 100 years apart, medieval manuscripts rejoin their mates at the Regenstein Library.
As with any couple, one sparkles a bit more than the other. Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose), a 13th-century allegory of courtly love—begun by the poet Guillaume de Lorris and completed 40 years later by the more cynical Jean de Meun—is perhaps the Middle Ages’ most popular love poem. Jacobus de Cessolis’s Le Jeu des échecs moralisé (The Moralized Game of Chess) is an allegory of a different sort, describing an ideal society through the moves on a chessboard.
Romantic advice: “How Openness and Pity face Resistance to reprimand him for his cruelty” and “How Openness rebukes Fair Welcoming for having left the Lover alone for too long.”
Yet their shared background makes the two a perfect match. Both were produced in France around 1365—100 years before the printing press—and boast hand-painted miniatures (40 in Le Roman, 13 in Le Jeu) by the Master of Saint Voult, an artist who worked with manuscript illuminators in the court of King Charles V. Although no one knows for sure when the two were bound together as one book, the recorded ownership history shows that they were a couple by the 16th century, staying together until 1907, when Sir Sydney Cockerell bought them at auction and had them rebound (above) as separate works.
The University acquired Le Jeu in 1931, while Le Roman remained in private hands until Les Enluminures LTD, a gallery based in Paris and Chicago, bought it last year. Sandra Hindman, AB’66, of Les Enluminures then played matchmaker: “Very few manuscripts of Le Roman now exist in private hands, so the opportunities for collectors—individuals or libraries—to acquire a copy remain very limited.” Recognizing the opportunity, members of the Library Visiting Committee, the University of Chicago Library Society, individual donors, and the B. H. Breslauer Foundation helped with the purchase. At Chicago Le Roman will be more than just a pretty face. Several courses, both undergraduate and graduate, will use the manuscripts as focal points, including classes on the commercial book trade in Paris and the politics of luxury in the Middle Ages. Medievalists who can’t make it to the Regenstein’s Special Collections Research Center can trace the similarities via digital surrogates [roseandchess.lib.uchicago.edu].