Versions of Pygmalion in the Illuminated Roman de la Rose (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Douce 195): The Artist and the Work of Art
By Marian Bleeke
Art History, Volume 33 Issue 1 (2010)
Introduction: Roman de la Rose is an acknowledged medieval best seller, its former popularity amongst patrons and readers being indexed by the number of surviving manuscript copies of the poem, over three hundred, in libraries around the world today. Many of these manuscripts are illuminated and this provides a second sign of the poem’s popularity in the resources that medieval patrons and producers were willing to lavish on its physical form. Among the most elaborately illuminated copies of the Roman de la Rose is the late fifteenth-century manuscript known as Ms. Douce 195, which is one of a number of luxurious books produced by the illuminator Robert (or Robinet) Testard for Charles d’Orléans, Comte d’Angoulême, and his wife Louise de Savoy.
This manuscript’s rich programme of imagery includes an unusual sequence of miniatures illustrating the so-called ‘Pygmalion digression’ that appears near the end of the poem. Where most Roman de la Rose manuscripts include one or two miniatures for this portion of the text, Ms. Douce 195 contains a sequence of nine images that covers the complete story of Pygmalion, from the creation of his sculpture through to his giving thanks for its animation. This article focuses on differences between the story of Pygmalion as told in the text of the Roman de la Rose and in Testard’s miniatures in Ms. Douce 195, differences that I see as deliberate and meaningful.