The Rochefoucauld Grail, a 14th century manuscript that offers illustrated Arthurian tales, is going to be sold at auction on Tuesday, December 7th. Sotherby’s, who is holding the auction in London, estimates that the three-volume work will sell for betwettn £1.5 and £2 million.
The Rochefoucauld Grail has stories of the quest for the Holy Grail, of the Lady of the Lake, of King Arthur and his court at Camelot, and of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. Written and illuminated in Flanders or Artois in the early-14th century (circa 1315-23), it was probably produced for Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld, head of one of the leading aristocratic families of medieval France, and representative of King Philip V of France in Flanders.
Dr Timothy Bolton, specialist in charge of the sale at Sotheby’s, said: “This is one of the principal manuscripts of the first significant medieval work of secular literature. It is a grand book, in a monumental format, with 107 miniatures, each a dazzling jewel of early gothic illumination. The subjects are almost entirely secular – a breathtakingly unusual thing at the time – with scenes of jousts, tournaments and battles, noble adventures and daring tests of strength and courage. The scenes often have a riotous energy, and often stretch beyond the boundaries of the picture frames, with lofty towers poking through the borders at the top, and figures tumbling out of the miniatures onto the blank page as they fall or scramble to escape their enemies.”
The volumes appeared on the market in the early-18th century and passed to Sir Thomas Phillipps (d.1872), possibly the greatest modern collector of medieval manuscripts. Since then, the work has changed hands just twice, passing through the hands of the most eminent dealer of the 20th century to one of the greatest collectors of our day. The Rochefoucauld Grail ranks among the finest medieval manuscripts in private hands. It is now being sold by its current owner Mr J. R. Ritman, with the proceeds to go of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.