Exhibit | January 25, 2012

The Romance of the Middle Ages at the Bodleian

Oxford, 24 January 2012 - The Bodleian main exhibition opens to the public this Saturday, 28 January. It celebrates the stories of medieval romance and how they have influenced our culture, literature and art over the last thousand years.  It includes the dramatic love stories about King Arthur and Tristan and Isolde as they are illustrated in sumptuous medieval manuscripts, alongside works of art and draft papers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and Monty Python, the last on public display for first time.

The Romance of the Middle Ages exhibition at the Bodleian Library draws on the Bodleian’s outstanding collection of manuscripts and early printed books containing medieval romances. These range from lavishly-illustrated volumes to personal notebooks and fragments only saved by chance. Alongside these will be works of art from across Europe that illustrate romance legends; these include ivory carvings, jewellery and caskets, on loan from national museums and collections.

Romance writing developed in Britain after the Norman Conquest and flourished as a form of storytelling right through to the Middle Ages, forming the basis for many kinds of later drama, poetry and prose fiction. This colourful exhibition tells how these compelling medieval stories have inspired writers and artists across the centuries; from the early modern period (including Shakespeare, Ariosto and Cervantes) through to medievalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (including Walter Scott, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris) and, finally, to contemporary versions and adaptations (including manuscripts and drafts by J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and the Monty Python team). From the Knights of the Round Table to the Knights that say ‘Ni!’, The Romance of the Middle Ages exhibition tells the fascinating story of medieval romance across the ages.

Highlights of the exhibition include:
    ??    The Song of Roland - the earliest copy of France’s national epic (mid-12th century)
    ??    Exquisite ivory carvings from France (14th century)
    ??    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - One of the most precious manuscripts of Middle English poetry. On loan from the British Library (c.1400)
    ??    The Red Book of Hergest - amongst the most important books written in Welsh, containing The Mabinogion and many other texts, on loan from Jesus College, Oxford (c.1400)
    ??    William Caxton’s The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye - a copy of the first book ever printed in the English language (1473/4)
    ??    A draft illustrated page from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1946)
    ??    Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Terry Jones’s own working copy of the screenplay for the film, never shown to the public before (1973)

Dr Nicholas Perkins, exhibition curator said: ‘It’s a great pleasure to open up the Bodleian’s wonderful collections for this exhibition. They are of huge importance in telling the story of romance, and include some of the most spectacular books from medieval Europe. They have also offered inspiration to those captivated by the Middle Ages as a time of romance and wonder. From the young William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones beguiled by the Arthurian legends as Oxford students, to providing a working base for J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the Library has nourished both scholarly and imaginative engagement with the medieval for centuries.’

An online exhibition (http://medievalromance.bodleian.ox.ac.uk) with the same title will be launched on 29 January.  It will feature nearly all the items on display in the exhibition room, along with many additional items. A 12-min video with the curator of the exhibition and scholars from the University of Oxford introducing the exhibition and the ideas behind it is also available. Twitter hashtag is #BODromance

Events accompanying the exhibition include lunchtime talks, special school activities and a show A Love Like Salt inspired by the exhibition to be held in the Divinity School, Bodleian Library on 20 April.

28 January - 13 May 2012
Exhibition Room, Bodleian Library, Old Schools Quad, Catte Street, Oxford
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm; Saturday 9am - 4.30pm; Sunday 11am - 5pm CLOSED EASTER SUNDAY