Image permission and credit: The British Library
The text of the Roman de la rose was begun around 1220, possibly by Guillaume de Lorris and continued by Jean de Meun between 1269-1278. It is around 20,000 octosyllabic lines of French verse narrating the dream of a young lover, in which the long quest he has undertaken ends when he breaches the castle of Jealousy and obtains the rose. The earlier text is around 4,000 lines, and is lyrical and courtly, while the later addition is more didactic, scholarly, and pessimistic.
Rubrics noted in the margins in brown ink, probably by the scribe (e.g. f. 168); many instructions for the painters in the same hand (e.g. ff. 19v, 126, etc.).
Oxford, a community of like minds, youth and the excitement of discovering new fields of endeavour led the aspiring artist to discover the Bodleian Library. It was in that august institution that his lifelong passion for medieval art began. Georgiana and her sisters became the inspiration for this the first, most innocent period of his work. His skill as a draughtsman had developed under the tuition of Rossetti and George Frederic Watts and his childlike drawings are characterised by a gentle humour imbued with the optimism of youth. There is a sweetness in the virginal maidens that are centre stage in his annunciations, fairy tales and designs for stained glass and tiles that belong to the period up to 1865. For example, his painting “Green Summer” (1864) deals with an idyll of maidens seated by a greenwood listening whilst one of them reads from an illuminated manuscript. A quiet introspection engrosses the figures and the atmosphere is one of early spring warmth. His models, as often at this time, were the four Macdonald daughters. In an earlier work-list, for 1860, he had written: “In the summer … I painted in watercolour three women. 1. Belle et Blonde et Colorée” , 2. Sidonia von Bork, 3. Clara von Bork”. Even when evil villainesses enter the scene their potential for harm is hardly convincing. “Sidonia von Bork” (1860) and “Morgan Le Fay” (1862) are more charming than threatening, but perhaps “Clerk Saunders” (1861), 11. an episode from a Border ballad, does have a darker expression of a battle of wills as the maid resists her lover’s advances. The visual source for the design originated in a 14th century copy of the Roman de la Rose in the British Museum, which is a different version from the one he is thought to have shown his friends on their visit to the museum on April 14th 1860.
11. The composition for Clerk Saunders derives from: Guillaume de Loris (c.1215–c.1278) and Jean de Meun (c.1250–c.1305), Roman de la Rose (c.1230-c.1275); British Library, BL Egerton 881 f6v