Building the Text: Architecture as Metaphor in Late Medieval and Early Modern France

By David Grant Cowling | Go to book overview
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Aprées ce la dame mena le Beau Doulx veoir le chasteau, lequel estoit a l'environ fermé de murs de saphirs, et au milieu avoit une malson en maniere de palais, laquelle estoit par dehors de rubis et de cristail, et le dedans estoit de emeraudes, les planchiez estoient de fin or et les tables de jacintes et les treteaulx de fin albatre; le bane estoit d'ung dyamant, le buffet estoit d'ung charboucle fait d'ung grant entendement, la salle estoit pavee de grisopates, de berilz, d'aca[t]es, de c[ri]sollites, d'amatistes, de gagates et de jaspres. Il y avoit une cour aussi pavee de marguerites et de medes et plusieurs autres choses, lesquelles seroient longues a racompte, et difficilles a croire.1

The anonymous author of the Conqueste du Chasteau d'Amours conquestee par l'umilité du Beau Doulx, writing at the start of the sixteenth century, is acutely conscious of belonging to a tradition of architectural writing that can be traced back, without much difficulty, to the description of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. The lavish, fantastic building materials are a constant of this tradition, as is the tenuous relationship with contemporary architectural practice. The modern reader is perhaps tempted to cast aside these decorative encrustations, to ignore the building that they adorn, and to concentrate on the narrative whose progress they so irritatingly delay. Here, for once, the author of the description seems to share this irritation, and rapidly resumes the narrative. Yet the interest of the building, both for the Beau Doulx author and for this study, is not exhausted by its brilliant surface. Rather, the incredible nature of its decoration alerts the reader to its allegorical status within the narrative, and triggers a reading that draws on a range of commonly used metaphors to arrive at an interpretation whose complexity and sophistication may surprise. Such allegorical

BN, Rothschild IV. 4. 197, fol. b ivv. Further references will be incorporated into the text. In this, as in all subsequent quotations from manuscript and early printed sources, abbreviations (including the ampersand) are silently expanded, and and and distinguished according to modern conventions, elisions marked with an apostrophe, and acute accents added to final stressed . Punctuation has been added. Emendations are indicated within square brackets.


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Building the Text: Architecture as Metaphor in Late Medieval and Early Modern France


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