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Romance of Gillion de Trazegnies
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Lieven van Lathem
Flemish, after 1464
Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment, bound in blind-tooled orange morocco
15 5/16 x 11 x 3 11/16 in.
MS. 111

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This manuscript follows the adventurous and romantic exploits of the medieval nobleman Gillion de Trazegnies, who journeys to Egypt on pilgrimage, mistakenly becomes a bigamist, and dies in battle as a glorious hero. Alongside detailed depictions of European architecture and contemporary dress, there are also imaginative references to exotic Eastern travel and customs, such as camels, flashing scimitars, and figures in turbans.

The tale includes faithful love, nefarious villains, family loyalty, and violent combat. The artist, Lieven van Lathem, takes full advantage of the tale's dramatic possibilities in the book's eight miniatures and 44 historiated initials. Lively figures, light-filled landscapes, and complex visual narratives are distinctive traits of his style that reflect the greatest developments of Renaissance panel painting and anticipate others. Rather than having other artists complete the decorations in the margins, as his contemporaries might have, this manuscript also features the elegance and delight of his figures in the borders, too.

This is one of only four known manuscripts in French of this romance. Designed to be read aloud, a reader would likely have shown images to the audience and broken off each evening at a cliffhanger moment to be continued the next evening.

The book was commissioned by Louis de Gruuthuse (1422-1492), trusted advisor of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and one of the great book collectors of the Middle Ages. He amassed a library of almost two hundred volumes at a time when the English royal collection was composed of less than half that number.

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