The Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César in Italy (1270-1400): An overlooked episode in the history of book illustration

  • Rodríguez Porto, Rosa María (Project participant)

Project: Research

Project Details


Since the pioneering article by Paul Meyer (1885), the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César (c. 1214-1219; hereafter HAC) has been singled out among the first historiographical compilations written in the vernacular on account of its remarkable broad dissemination in the Western Middle Ages from its native Flanders to the Holy Land, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula (Spiegel 1993; Punzi 1995; Palermi 2004; Montorsi 2016). The unprecedented integration of pagan history and Old Testament episodes in a continuous account from the Creation to the times of Julius Cesar seems to have been the reason for the success of this work well into the early Modern Era, as attested by the eighty-nine extant manuscripts of the three different redactions of the text (Avril 1969; Jung 1996; Visser van-Terwisga 1999; Trachsler 2013; Rochebouet 2016). However, it should rather be remembered that the feature contributing most decisively to the enduring allure of this textual tradition for lay audiences was the inclusion—from very early on and in more than a half of the preserved copies of the text—of lengthy pictorial cycles supplementing the narrative (cf. Oltrogge 1988). As such, the place of the HAC in the consolidation of the illustrated history book in the Middle Ages cannot be underestimated, as argued already by Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl (1933) and by Hugo Buchthal (1957 and 1971) in their studies on the beginnings of ‘secular illustration’. The equally important role of the HAC in the development of new layouts and pictorial systems in Northern France and the Outremer has been highlighted in recent decades as well (Folda 2005; Morrison and Hedeman 2010; Mahoney 2010; Rodríguez Porto 2013; Maraszak 2015). And yet, a sustained inquiry into the illuminated copies produced in Italy roughly between 1270 and 1400 may shed new light on the reception of the HAC outside the Franco-Flemish area and, most crucially, on the dynamics governing late medieval historiographical writing and illustration as a whole.
Effective start/end date01/02/2019 → …


  • Medieval literature
  • Histoire ancienne
  • Illustrated history book


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