Scenes from the story of Lancelot painted on castle walls. Manuscript illumination, about 1470, from a French prose romance of Lancelot. In the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Fr. 112, vol. III, fol. 193

CASTLES PAINTED WITH ARTHURIAN SCENES

Mediaeval literature contains many descriptions of castle walls painted with scenes from romances. The prose romance of Lancelot, for instance, tells that the hero, imprisoned by Morgan le Fay because he had refused her love, passed his time in painting upon the walls of his room scenes showing how he "was abashed at the great beauty of his lady when that he first saw her" and the happenings at "the tourney when he wore the red armour, the day when the King of the Hundred Knights wounded him." In the manuscript illumination above Arthur is studying these frescoes, which the jealous Morgan showed him. Not content with painting the scenes, Lancelot had also added inscriptions identifying them and making unmistakably clear his love for Arthur's queen. Such inscriptions still accompany some of the actual wall paintings which exist today--in the castle of Saint-Floret, for instance, or at La Manta or Castle Runkelstein.

Boccaccio Amorosa Visione, written about 1342, has a famous description of imaginary Arthurian paintings on the walls of the allegorical castle of Mundane Life: "KingArthur was among the first there, riding in front upon a great destrier, armed at all points, fierce and proud. Bors followed spurring close after him, and with him Perceval and Galahad at a slow pace, talking together. Behind them came Lancelot armed and gracious of carriage, a lance in his hand, uttering no word, often striking his powerful horse in order to be near the sweet lady whom to touch seemed to him the end of desire. How beautiful and how excellent was she! At his side came Guinevere upon a palfrey, smiling in manner, full of grace, holding sweet converse with him in silent, sober words. She was with him for whose sake she had lived in joy, loving him long and without measure, even though afterwards she wept therefor. . . . Close behind came good Tristram upon a mighty and swift horse; Ysolt the Blonde came beside him, his hand clasped in hers, often looking into his face. How anguished was her visage by the power of love, with which all the soul within her seemed to burn, so that it sited light through all her outward acts."

The paintings of Arthurian stories which still remain on a few castle walls show no such sympathetic treatment or suggestion of emotion as Boccaccio's description. Even the greatest painters of the time--Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti-- could scarcely have conveyed the passion which the poet could express in words. But neither then nor in the fifteenth century were the greatest painters likely to be employed upon the castles whose walls still show paintings of Arthur and his knights. The castles which have kept their mediaeval decorations most unspoiled are those of the lesser nobles or wealthy citizens, situated in remote, quiet places--castles whose owners could not command the services of master painters from the great cities. The châteaux and town dwellings of kings and powerful nobles, who might have employed such artists to paint their palace walls, have been redecorated and changed to follow the fashions of the times, and if any Arthurian paintings ever existed in them they were destroyed or hidden long ago.

The most complete remaining example of a mediaeval castle with wall paintings from Arthurian romance is Castle Runkelstein, or Roncolo, as it is called by Italians, shown opposite. It stands on a steep porphyry crag overlooking the swiftly flowing Talfer, near Bolzano, in southern Tyrol, where the foothills of the Alps begin to rise toward the Brenner Pass. This castle, founded in 1237, was bought in 1385 by Niklas Vintner, a Tyrolese banker, and his brother Franz. Niklas probably finished his building and redecorating by 1400. His interest in Arthurian stories must have been great, for he decorated his new wing, the Summer House on the north side of the open courtyard, chiefly with scenes from German versions of these romances.

The view of Runkelstein opposite shows the cliff and terraced vineyards rising above the Talfer, with the steep, narrow path which is its only approach wind

-10-

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