Cleopatra and the line of the kings of Egypt

The beautiful image of Cleopatra as an African queen is probably the best-known detail of L’Abreujamen de las estorias. The image differs strongly from that of her counterpart in the Latin-language illustrated history known as the Compendium (known also as the Chronologia magna), now in Venice (produced in Avignon as well as Venice c.1321-26). Why are the kings of Egypt shown as African rulers in this vernacular text but not so in the Latin versions?

Several answers spring to mind. L’Abreujamen is a text written mostly in the vernacular, Occitan, language. It adds legendary/romance details into its summaries of Latin sources such as Justin’s Epitome (see the post below on Alexander the Great). It is likely that the manuscript’s French-speaking artists (one of whom noted Sarrazin – Saracen – as an instruction in a margin) identified the kings of Egypt with familiar figures in vernacular epic poetry, the Saracens of the chanson de geste. Furthermore, L’Abreujamen contains a summary history of the crusades, and its artists make a deliberate visual association of the biblical kings of Egypt with some of the medieval rulers of the Islamic kingdoms involved in the crusade. However, the rulers of Persia and of Assyria are depicted in a different way, with a wash of grey, as are their successors. The same grey wash is used for the Visigothic rulers of parts of Iberia and southern France, thus creating a visual connection between these lines of succession, and separating them from the Egyptian rulers. Are these encodings of appearance part of the history’s drive to map history onto geography, or are they ideological markers? There were negative associations with Egypt, some of them intellectual (some calendars included ‘Egyptian days’), some political (crusading treatises of the early 14th century proposed a blockade of Egypt), but religious conflict, and religious ideology, may well be the underlying theme, running from a founding king, Mesraim, through pharaohs and on to the powerful rivals to Venetian interests (in trade as well as war). Paolino drew heavily on the crusading treatise by his fellow-Venetian Marino Sanudo, and Paolino’s later work, the Satyrica Historia, includes anti-Islamic material, but polemical writing is absent from the Avignonese manuscripts. Instead, the images contain that polemical content.

The artists’ use of bared teeth for the rulers of Egypt (also used for some Persians and for ‘Tatar’ rulers of the end of the thirteenth century) is clearly a mark of aggression. These teeth appear in an attenuated form in the image of Cleopatra as two lines of dots. Tooth-gnashing is a feature of some (by no means all) Saracen warriors in some chansons de geste, and it may therefore also point to some vernacular, literary influences. In the Latin, Venice-Avignon Compendium, produced at the same time as L’Abreujamen, the kings of Egypt are depicted without bared teeth, with similar features to other kings and queens, except for a wash of grey ink (the images are not painted in this Latin version but rather in pen-and-ink). Does the visual choice of this vernacular manuscript reflect a different literary and ideological context?

It remains however that visual representation is slippery and can allow the viewer to develop their own interpretations, far away from the written text (for example, none of Paolino’s histories have yet been edited in full). The images of Cleopatra and her forebears and successors have their own significance as a representation of an African presence in papal and royal Avignon.

These ideas are developed in my article, ‘The Kings of Egypt in L’Abreujamen de las estorias‘, currently forthcoming (arising from a conference organised by Roberta Morosini, held in Venice on 24 October 2016, ‘Paolino Veneto. Storico, narratore e geografo’). More details to follow once it is in press.

See also Federico Botana, ‘The Making of L’Abreujamen de las estorias’, eBLJ, 2013.

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The Dominican connection : Bernard Gui

Is this a Franciscan work or a work that involved a Franciscan? One of the many sources of L’Abreujamen de las estorias was a famous visual representation of the kings of France, from a mythical foundation by exiled Trojans to the last Capetians, by the inquisitor and Dominican friar, Bernard Gui (c.1261-1331). Gui’s scheme is a tree, the Arbor genealogiae regum francorum, reproduced in many surviving copies by different artists, most if not all based in the Toulouse region (see in particular the recent work by Maria Alessandra Bilotta on the illuminated manuscripts of the Toulouse school). The many copies of Gui’s chronicle (‘catalogue’) of the kings of France acquired the scheme around 1314, as the French royal family entered a series of succession problems that culminated in the end of the direct Capetian line when Philip of Valois inherited the throne in 1328. It was used as a source by the teams who produced L’Abreujamen as well as the Latin Compendium (or Chronologia magna). Yet Gui’s scheme proved too rigid for Paolino’s explosion of discontinuous, converging and cross-fertilising genealogies. It is as if the somewhat austere, politically-driven depiction of a single, patrilinear ‘tree’ clashed with the rich and diverse forest of world history.

Gui visited Avignon several times in the years 1321-23, and it is an interesting thought that he could have been in direct contact with the teams who worked with Paolino.

On Gui and his treatment of Charlemagne, see the commentary by Catherine Leglu, in a virtual exhibition, ‘Medieval Manuscripts and imagery’, in Charlemagne-Icon. I look in particular at the copy of the Arbor in Trinity College, Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.4.23. I thank Marianne Ailes for asking me to contribute this commentary and for publishing it as part of her project on Charlemagne, a European Icon (on Twitter, @CharlemagneIcon).

I have completed an article that examines the reception of Bernard Gui’s work in L’Abreujamen de las estorias, now forthcoming, entitled : ‘Crowned heads and succession crises : the creation and reception of Bernard Gui’s Arbor genealogiae regum francorum‘. This is a developed version of a paper that I gave at a conference organised by Andrea Worm and Wolfgang Augustyn in Munich, in March 2016. More details will follow once the article is in press.

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The Angevin (dis)connection : Robert of Anjou, King of Naples

Shortly after the creation of L’Abreujamen de las estorias, Paolino Veneto was appointed bishop of Pozzuoli (near Naples) and became a prominent figure at the famous Neapolitan court of Robert of Anjou. He had probably already cultivated Robert’s patronage in Avignon, as Robert was also count of Provence and his court was based there in the early 1320s. As a Franciscan, Paolino would also have been sensitive to this royal patron’s longstanding affection for his order. Yet there is one glaring omission from L’Abreujamen : Robert of Anjou’s head was meant to appear in a prominent location, as the culmination of the French Capetian and (through his mother) the Arpadian Hungarian genealogies, both of which abounded with saints. Robert is not there and roughly where he should appear, we find the head of his rival and nephew, Carobert, king of Hungary and claimant to Robert’s title as king of Naples.

We know from his later writings, in his universal chronicles produced in Naples in the 1330s, that Paolino opposed the ‘Spiritual’ Franciscans who found a haven with Robert and especially his queen, Sancia. However, it is likely that the omission of Robert from the Occitan-language manuscript reflects a Provence-based political tensions between Angevin power and local magnates. The Abreujamen‘s Latin-language counterpart (drafted and illustrated in Avignon as well as in Venice) includes Robert along with his siblings. As the Francophone Angevin court wove lines of power between Provence and the kingdom of Naples, with families holding lands in both regions, concerns rose that found expression in the Occitan language of Provence.

This is developed in full in my article : Catherine Leglu, ‘Ambivalent visual representations of Robert the Wise in Occitan illustrated texts’, Italian Studies, 72.2 (2017) 192-204.

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British Library MS Add. 17920 : the other half of “L’Abreujamen de las estorias”

The rest of the codex produced in Avignon in the early 1320s survives in another manuscript, one that has no illustrations and that also made its way into the British Museum manuscripts collections in the 1840s. It was probably split from its prettier sibling shortly before that time. It was not until the 1980s that W.C.M. Wuestefeld identified BL MS Add. 17920 as the other part of BL MS Eg. 1500 (see references below).
The compilation of Occitan texts in Add. 17920 includes the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle in Occitan (one of only two surviving versions in Occitan or Poitevin), a small collection of Marian miracles, the allegory of the Seven Daughters of the Devil, and a short version of Gerald of Wales’s description of Ireland by Philip of Slane, bishop of Cork, which was given to Pope John XXII at Avignon in 1324-25. Ireland, Spain and Marian miracles : the codex tried to map the world, from the westernmost parts of its creators’ known world to the eastern Tatar kings depicted in the closing folios of “L’Abreujamen”. Furthermore, there is a distinctly west-facing aspect to these texts, linked as they are to the lands ruled by King Edward II of England : Philip of Slane visited Avignon on his behalf, and that Poitevin Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle is connected to another history, a Poitevin translation (in part) of the early-medieval Liber Historia Francorum called Tote listoire de France. Aquitaine and Gascony were also part of the ‘English’ realm. Furthermore, the creators of L’Abreujamen and its Latin counterpart used one of the French-language genealogies of the kings of England.
Paolino’s subsequent world chronicles include a mappa mundi, and a blank space in the Latin counterpart of “L’Abreujamen” also indicates that even in the 1320s, there was an ambition to link history with geography. Restoring BL Add. 17920 to Eg. 1500 amounts to reconstructing a codex that sought to represent the world from west to east.

W.C.M. Wustefeld,‘Le manuscrit British Library additional 17920 et son contexte socio-culturel.’, in: Critique et édition de textes. Actes du XVIIe congrès international de linguistique et philologique romanes (Aix-en-Provence, 29 Aout – 3 Septembre 1983). Vol. no. 9, Marseille, 1986, 100-110.

___, ‘La_chronique_du_pseudo-Turpin_version_occitane. la_traduction_et_le_manuscrit’, in Contacts de langues, de_civilisations, et_intertextualite. IIIe congres international de l’association internationale_d’etudes_occitanes, Montpellier_20-26_septembre_1990, ed. G. Gouiran (Montpellier : Centre d’Etudes_Occitanes_de_lUniversite de Montpellier, 1993), pp.1201-1211.

On these Occitan texts, see:
Catherine Leglu, ‘The Devil’s Daughters and the question of translation between Occitan and Anglo-Norman French : “De las .vii. filhas del diable’, Revue d’Etudes d’Oc : La France latine, 160 (2015) 93-123.
See also Catherine Leglu, ‘The Vida of Queen Fredegund in Tote listoire de France : vernacular translation and genre in thirteenth-century French and Occitan literature,’ Nottingham French Studies, 56 (1) (2017) 98-112.

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Alexander the Great in “L’Abreujamen de las estorias”

The universal history attributed to Paolino Veneto contains fragments of a late antique work, Pompeius Trogus’s biography of Alexander the Great, as abbreviated by Justin (‘Epitoma historiarum Philippicarum’). This may be one of the earliest examples of a vernacular rendering of Justin’s work, which is part of the ‘historical’ as opposed to the ‘legendary’ Alexander tradition. Perhaps unsuprisingly, Paolino’s team also wove in a few fragments of the ‘legendary’ material (the ‘Historia de Proeliis’).
I identified and analysed these extracts thanks to a simple google search, turning an Occitan phrase into what I though (rightly) would have been its Latin original. Looking at this unedited, fragmentary translation sheds light on the decision-making processes of medieval translators.
The findings are in my article, ‘Just as fragments are part of a vessel : A translation to medieval Occitan of the Life of Alexander the Great’, published in a special issue on medieval translation of the journal ‘Florilegium’, 31 (2016) 55-76.

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Three articles in Electronic British Library Journal, 2013.

This project has its first outputs! We have a series of three in the 2013 issue of Electronic British Library Journal (eBLJ). Our thanks to the British Library, and above all to Barry Taylor, for making this possible. The journal is readable on the URL

Federico Botana, ‘The Making of “L’Abreujamen de las estorias” (Egerton MS. 1500),’ article 16.

Alexander Ibarz, ‘The Provenance of the “Abreujamen de las estorias” (London, British Library, Egerton MS. 1500) and the Identification of Scribal Hands (c. 1323),’ article 17.

Catherine Leglu, ‘A Genealogy of the Kings of England in Papal Avignon: British Library, Egerton MS 1500,’ article 18.

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Forthcoming articles

We are currently looking forward to the appearance of the first published outputs from our Levehulme Trust project, which ended in April 2013. These three interlinked articles are going to be published online in the ‘Electronic British Library Journal’.


Federico Botana, ‘The Making of British Library Eg. MS 1500.’

Alexander Ibarz, ‘The Provenance of the “Abreujamen de las estorias” (London, British Library Eg. MS 1500) and the Identification of Scribal Hands (c. 1323).’

Catherine Leglu, ‘A Genealogy of the Kings of England in Papal Avignon: British Library Eg. MS. 1500.’

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Italian Angevins

A brief notice about a very exciting and fruitful one-day conference, held at UCL, on June 5th 2013: “The Italian Angevins: Naples and Beyond”, organised by Ella Williams.
Thank you to Ella, and please see her own online description of the event and its aims and objectives:

Speakers included Marilynn Desmond, Jean Dunbabin, Alessia Ronchetti, Fabio Zinelli, Laura Morreale, Charmaine Lee, and Catherine Leglu.

Catherine presented a paper on the possible connection between Paolino and Robert of Naples, with reference to the manuscripts of the “Satyrica Historia”, as well as to the many studies by art historians of this royal court’s patronage of the Franciscan order.

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Peter Ricketts, BA, PhD, OBE.

Peter Ricketts, in many ways the instigator of our project, who had offered his advice and encouragement throughout, died in May 2013.
Obituaries of Peter have been published on the following websites:
(The AIEO, Association internationale d’etudes occitanes, which Peter co-founded, and which he led as its first president for many years).
(commemorating Peter’s years as James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool in the early 1980s. A minor correction to Charles Forsdick’s notice – Catherine was never Peter’s student! But in many ways, those of us who went through the AIEO and who had our work read and critiqued by Peter were his students).

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L’Abreujamens de las estorias and Time – conference paper

“L’Abreujamens de las estorias” and time:

On June 27th, 2013, University of Reading GCMS Summer Symposium, organised by Lindy Grant, “Telling Time in the Middle Ages”, with papers on the medieval calendar (Anna Tarassenko, Anne Lawrence-Mathers), the astrolabe (Josephina Arribas Rodriguez of the Warburg Institute) and clocks (David Thompson of the British Museum).
Andrea Worm (University of Augsburg): The diagrammatic histories of Peter of Poitiers, and his influence.

Catherine Leglu: “Telling Time through Genealogy in Fra Paolino Veneto’s ‘Compendium’ (c.1321-28)”.

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