French Renaissance Paleography


Paris, ca. 1320-1340
Le roman de Tristan de Léonois
Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XV 5


While nothing is known of the original patrons of this copy of Le roman de Tristan de Léonois, we have the rare advantage of being able to identify the artist responsible for the illuminations found throughout this manuscript. Based on surviving tax records, colophons found in related manuscripts, and stylistic analysis of this and other books, we know that the artist of the Getty Roman de Tristan was a woman named Jeanne de Montbaston. Along with her husband Richard, Jeanne de Montbaston was a libraire or bookmaker in Paris in the first half of the 14th century; together, the two were responsible for creating at least 50 known manuscripts. The Getty Tristan is the product of the commercial book trade and, as was typical, multiple artisans were involved in its creation: scholars have discerned the hands of at least two scribes and four artists. By necessity, artists like Jeanne and Richard often had to prioritize quantity over time-consuming details, and the sketchy, minimalist quality of some of the illustrations in the Getty Tristan attest to the speed at which these artists worked. This large manuscript of 388 folios contains 89 illuminations in all, though a note at the end of the book indicates it was meant to have even more, for a total of 127.

Like the Newberry Library’s prose Lancelot du Lac (Newberry VAULT folio Case MS 21), the Getty’s Roman de Tristan _is an Old French prose romance composed in the first quarter of the 13th century. Also like the prose Lancelot, the text is a lengthy elaboration of earlier legends that circulated orally and in verse form during the 12th century (and perhaps even earlier). The prose _Roman de Tristan reworked existing stories of Tristan’s love affair with Isolde and his deeds of knightly prowess, integrating the hero into the world of King Arthur’s court and thus updating the hero for a 13th-century audience. In the prose Roman de Tristan, the titular hero becomes the friend (and sometimes competitor) of Lancelot, though they do not often meet. Lancelot’s adulterous passion for King Arthur’s wife Guinevere provides an obvious parallel with Tristan’s illicit love for Queen Isolde, the wife of King Mark of Cornwall. 


-Morrison, Elizabeth, and Anne Dawson Hedeman. Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010 [cat. no. 18, pp. 153-154]. -Stones, Alison. “The Artistic Context of Some Northern French Illustrated ‘Tristan’ Manuscripts.” In Visuality and Materiality in the Story of Tristan and Isolde, ed. Jutta Eming, Ann Marie Rasmussen, and Kathryn Starkey. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012, 299-336. -Rouse, Richard H., and Mary A. Rouse. Manuscripts and Their Makers: Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris, 1200-1500. Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller, 2000 [for Jeanne and Richard de Montbaston, see vol. 1, pp. 235-60]. -Fabre-Baudet, Sylvie. “Mise en texte, mise en page et construction iconographique dans les manuscrits enluminés conservant la version IV du ‘Roman de Tristan en prose’ (ms. Getty Ludwig XV-5, Paris, BnF, fr. 99 et Chantilly, Musée Condé, 645).” PECIA: Le livre et l’écrit 13 (2010): 345–66.