Nectanebus as dragon kissing Olympias (London, British Library, Royal MS 19 D I, f. 4v)

Illuminated Manuscript. Alexander the Great. British Library. Royal MS 19 D I. Le Roman d’Alexandre en prose. Prose Alexander-Romance

“Comment Neptanabus se transfigura en guise de dragon en tour le lit de la royne Olympias & puis habita ola royne et engendra Alixandre”


The Prose Alexander results from a long and rich literary tradition. It is the French translation of the Historia de Preliis, which was translated from Greek to Latin in the 10th century. The Prose Alexander has two known redaction. The first is dated between 1206 and 1252. It is recognizable from its short Christian prologue and long prologue, centered on Alexander’s heirs. The second redaction on the opposite has a long prologue about the history of Macedonia. It is generally dated between 1252 and 1290 because it mentions the Speculum Historiale at the end of its prologue.


Manuscript description from the British Library:

The manuscript includes eight works forming a compendium of the wonders of the East combined with crusading texts: 1. Roman d’Alexandre en prose (ff. 1r-46r); 2. Jean le Nevelon (or le Venelais), La Venjance Alixandre in Old French verse (ff. 47r-57r);3. Marco Polo, Le devisement du monde (Travels) in revised version attributed to Thibault de Cépoy (ff. 58r-135r); 4. Jean de Vignay, Merveilles de la terre d’outremer, translation of Odoric de Pordenone, Itinerarium (ff. 136v-148r);5. Iohannes de Plano Carpini, Historia mongolorum quos nos tartaros appellamus (Travels to the East) in French translation perhaps by Jean de Vignay (ff. 148v-165v);6. Directorium ad faciendum passagium transmarinum (Le Directoire a faire le passage de la Terre Sainte) translated by Jean de Vignay (ff. 165v-192v); 7. Primat of St Denis, Chronique, translated by Jean de Vignay (ff. 192v-251v); 8. Bible historiale (extracts) (ff. 252r-267v).Decoration: 2 large miniatures in colours and gold with foliate initials in colours and gold and full bar borders with heraldic devices and vine leaves (ff. 1r, 58r). 162 one or two-column miniatures in colours and gold, at the beginning of book or chapters, 124 of which are accompanied by preliminary sketches (e.g., ff. 11v-15v, 17v-19v, 39v, 40r, etc). Foliate initials in colours and gold, or puzzle initials in red and blue with red and brown pen-flourishing, at the beginning of some books or chapters. Initials in blue with red pen-flourishing, or in red with brown pen-flourishing. According to Rouse 2000, illuminated by two artists: Jeanne de Montbaston, widow of the Parisian libraire Richard de Montbaston (d. 1353), illuminator and libraire, from 1353 ‘Illuminatrix libri jurata universitatis’ (quires i-iv, ix-xviii, xx-xxi, xxiii-xxix, xxxi-xxxvii) and another illuminator (quires v-viii). The present manuscript was probably used as a model for the text and illustrations of Marco Polo, Travels, in Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodley 264, ff. 218-271, added in England c. 1410, which in 1466 belonged to Richard Wydevill, lord Rivers, father-in-law of Edward IV (see Dutschke, 1998).

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