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Romance of Alexander

Romance of Alexander

Myths and legends – the life of Alexander the Great, exemplar soldier and king

In 1757 King George II donated to the British Museum the Old Royal Library which included a manuscript with the deceptive reference of MS Royal 20 B XX. In the flyleaf of this remarkable manuscript was added ‘HR’ implying that Henricus Rex, Henry VIII, was once its owner.

The Romance concerns Alexander, a pupil of Aristotle, who inherited a powerful but volatile kingdom when his father, Philip II of Macedon was assassinated in 336 BC. As king he not only skilfully reasserted Macedonian authority within Greece, but led his army to successive victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. By the time of his early death at the age of 32, his kingdom united by a common Greek language and culture extended across three continents and covered around two million square miles: from Greece to as far east as the Indian Punjab, and from the Danube in the north, to Egypt.

The Romance of Alexander is a remarkable, opulently illustrated manuscript of Alexander’s legendary journeys, which was created around 1420/25 in Paris. At that time, Paris was English territory, following Henry V’s military victories in France and was also the unrivalled artistic centre of Europe.

The story concerns an ancient hero who was considered a role model for medieval European knights and rulers particularly during the turbulent Hundred Years War, when a ruler’s military prowess was important. Young knights and princes reading the manuscript would have been captivated by its eighty-six beautifully illustrated miniature pictures framed in gold decorate on almost every page.

The illuminator, known as the Master of the Royal Alexander, created landscapes, interiors, city panoramas, knights in battle, life at court, animals and mythical creatures to illustrate the legendary life of Alexander Great. One can see the drama of the story taken up in the illustration where animated figures were scrupulously portrayed – each face individually rendered – combined with naturalistic images of horses and the detailed work on the sumptuously ornamented robes and armour.

A facsimile of the Romance of Alexander is now available in a limited edition of 680 hand-numbered copies, enabling you to enjoy the same manuscript which Henry VIII once prized.

Like the original, the facsimile is bound in brown leather with gold tooling displaying the arms of King George II. Floral gilding on the inside edges frames the open book. The facsimile and commentary are delivered in a gold-tooled linen box.

A transcription of the entire Old French text and extensive descriptions of all of the miniatures bring Alexander’s story to life. Commentaries by renown specialists: Maud Pérez-Simon (Sorbonne University), Joanna Fronska (British Library), and Siegbert Himmelsbach (University of Graz), unlock the Romance of Alexander in all its aspects.

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