Arturian Legend
 


Pre-Raphaelite's Vision

 

 

 

Toward the middle of the 19th century, a small group of young artists in England reacted vigorously against what they felt was "the frivolous art of the day": this reaction became known as the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
Their ambition was to bring English art back to a greater "truth to nature". They deeply admired the simplicities of the early 15th century, and they felt this admiration made them a brotherhood

 

The body of stories and medieval romances, known as the matter of Britain, centring on the legendary king Arthur (q.v.). Medieval writers, especially the French, variously treated stories of Arthur's birth, the adventures of his knights, and the adulterous love between his knight Sir Lancelot and his queen, Guinevere. This last situation and the quest for the Holy Grail (the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper and given to Joseph of Arimathea) brought about the dissolution of the knightly fellowship, the death of Arthur, and thedestruction of his kingdom.

Stories about Arthur and his court had been popular in Wales before the 11th century; European fame came through Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (between 1135 and 1139), celebrating a glorious and triumphant king who defeated a Roman army in eastern France but was mortally wounded in battle during a rebellion at home led by his nephew Mordred. Some features of Geoffrey's story were marvelous fabrications, and certain features of the Celtic stories were adapted to suit feudal times. The concept of Arthur as a world conqueror was clearly inspired by legends surrounding great leaders such as Alexander the Great and Charlemagne. Later writers, notably Wace of Jersey and Layamon, filled out certain details, especially in connection with Arthur's knightly fellowship.

Using Celtic sources, Chrétien de Troyes (q.v.) in the late 12th century made Arthur the ruler of a realm of marvels in five romances of adventure. He also introduced the theme of the Grail into Arthurian legend. Prose romances of the 13th century began to explore two major themes: the winning of the Grail and the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere. An early prose romance centring on Lancelot seems to have become the kernel of a cyclic work known as the Prose Lancelot, or Vulgate cycle (c. 1225). The Lancelot theme was connected with the Grail story through Lancelot's son, the pure knight Sir Galahad, who achieved the vision of God through the Grail as fully as is possible in this life, whereas Sir Lancelot was impeded in his progress along the mystic way because of his adultery with Guinevere. Another branch of the Vulgate cycle was based on a very early 13th-century verse romance, the Merlin, by Robert de Boron, that had told of Arthur's birth and childhood and his winning of the crown by drawing a magic sword (see Excalibur) from a stone. The writer of the Vulgate cycle turned this into prose, adding a pseudo-historical narrative dealing with Arthur's military exploits. A final branch of the Vulgate cycle contained an account of Arthur's Roman campaign and war with Mordred, to which was added a story of Lancelot's renewed adultery with Guinevere and the disastrous war between Lancelot and Sir Gawain that ensued. A later prose romance, known as the post-Vulgate Grail romance (c. 1240),combined Arthurian legend with material from the Tristan romance.

The legend told in the Vulgate cycle and post-Vulgate romance was transmitted to English-speaking readers in Thomas Malory's late 15th-century prose Le Morte Darthur. At the same time, there was renewed interest in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia, and the fictitious kings of Britain became more or less incorporated with official national mythology. The legend remained alive during the 17th century, though interest in it was by then confined to England. Of merely antiquarian interest during the 18th century, it again figured in literature during Victorian times, notably in Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In the 20th century an American poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, wrote an Arthurian trilogy, and in England T.H. White retold the stories in a series of novels collected as The Once and FutureKing (1958). Camelot (1960), a musical by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe, was based on White's work.

 Encyclopædia Britannica

 

 

 

   


(from left to right):
Sir Perceval, Sir Bors, Angels, Sir Galahad, Grail Chapel and the Holy Grail
 

(Tapestry by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
The Attainment of the Holy Grail by Sir Gallahad and Sir Percival
1898

Based on the legend as told by Thomas Malory in Morte d'Arthur,
printed in 1483, this tapestry shows Sir Galahad,
Bors, and Perceval, before the Holy Grail.

 

Holy Grail Tapestry - The Knights of the Round Table Summoned to the Quest by the Strange Damsel

 

Holy Grail Tapestry - The Arming and Departure of the Knights

 

 


Holy Grail Tapestry - The Failure of Sir Gawaine

 

 


Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
 

Group of young British painters who banded together in 1848 in reaction against what they conceived to be the unimaginative and artificial historical painting of the Royal Academy and who purportedly sought to express a new moral seriousness and sincerity in their works. They were inspired by Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries, and their adoption of the name Pre-Raphaelite expressed their admiration for what they saw as the direct and uncomplicated depiction of nature typical of Italian painting before the High Renaissance and, particularly, before the time of Raphael. Although the Brotherhood's active life lasted less than 10 years, its influence on painting in Britain, and ultimately on the decorative arts and interior design, was profound.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by three Royal Academy students, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was a gifted poet as well as a painter, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, all under 25. The painter James Collinson, the painter and critic F.G. Stephens, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, and the critic William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel's brother) joined them by invitation. The painters William Dyce and Ford Madox Brown were also notable practitioners of the Pre-Raphaelite style.
The Brotherhood began immediately to produce highly convincing and significant works. Their pictures of religious and medieval subjects emulated the deep religious feeling and naive, unadorned directness of 15th-century Florentine and Sienese painting. The style that Hunt and Millais evolved featured sharp and brilliant lighting, a clear atmosphere, and a near-photographic reproduction of minute details. They also frequently introduced a private poetic symbolism into their representations of Biblical subjects and medieval literary themes. Rossetti's work differed from that of the others in its use of blurred lines, a more sculptural and suggestive chiaroscuro, and a hazy, dreamlike atmosphere. Vitality and freshness of vision are the most admirable qualities of these early Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
The Brotherhood at first exhibited together anonymously, signing all their paintings with the monogram PRB. When their identity and youth were discovered in 1850, their work was harshly criticized by the novelist Charles Dickens, among others, not only for its disregard of academic ideals of beauty but also for its apparent irreverence in treating religious themes with an uncompromising realism. Nevertheless, the leading art critic of the day, John Ruskin, stoutly defended Pre-Raphaelite art, and the members of the group were never without patrons.
The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had ceased to exhibit together by 1854 and soon went their individual ways, but their style had a wide influence and gained many imitators during the 1850s and early '60s. In the late 1850s Dante Gabriel Rossetti became associated with the younger painters Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and moved closer to a sensual and almost mystical romanticism. Millais, the most technically gifted painter of the group, went on to become an academic success. Hunt alone pursued the same style throughout most of his career and remained true to Pre-Raphaelite principles. Pre-Raphaelitism in its later stage is epitomized by the paintings of Burne-Jones, in which a lyrical if slightly insipid medievalism is given hauntingly sensuous overtones.

Encyclopædia Britannica


 


The Legend of
 
the
 
Holy Grail



 

Depending on the source, the Holy Grail was either the dish that Christ used at the Last Supper, or the vessel used to catch his blood at the Crucifixion.
The Quest for the Holy Grail, which becomes a test of each knight's purity and worth, is initiated when a vision of the Grail appears to King Arthur and his knights. Although Christian, this legend is built on a sub-structure of Celtic mythology, which abounds in horns of plenty and cauldrons and in quests in which the hero must venture into the otherworld to win some precious prize. It is, therefore, no surprise that there are several versions of the legend. But they all agree that Arthur never went on the Quest and that only one knight (in later versions, Sir Galahad - shown on the left) finally proved worthy of finding this most precious object.

         

Holy Grail
 

 

Also called Holy Grail, object of legendary quest for the knights of Arthurian romance. The term evidently denoted a wide-mouthed or shallow vessel, though its precise etymology remains uncertain. The legend of the Grail possibly was inspired by classical and Celtic mythologies, which abound in horns ofplenty, magic life-restoring caldrons, and the like. The first extant text to give such a vessel Christian significance as a mysterious, holy object was Chrétien de Troyes's late 12th-century unfinishedromance Perceval, or Le Conte du Graal, which introduces the guileless rustic knight Perceval, whose dominant trait is innocence. In it, the religious is combined with the fantastic. Early in the 13th century, Robert de Borron's poem Joseph d'Arimathie, or the Roman de l'estoire dou Graal, extended the Christian significance of the legend, while Wolfram von Eschenbach gave it profound and mystical expression in his epic Parzival. (In Wolfram's account the Grail became a precious stone, fallen from heaven.) Prose versions of Robert de Borron's works began to link the Grail story even more closely with Arthurian legend. A 13th-century Germanromance, Diu Krone, made the Grail hero Sir Gawain, while the Queste del Saint Graal (which forms part of what is calledthe Prose Lancelot, or Vulgate cycle) introduced a new hero, Sir Galahad. This latter work was to have the widest significance of all, and its essence was transmitted to English-speaking readers through Sir Thomas Malory's late 15th-century prose Le Morte Darthur.

Robert de Borron's poem recounted the Grail's early history, linking it with the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper and afterward by Joseph of Arimathea to catch the blood flowing from Christ's wounds as he hung upon the Cross. The Queste del Saint Graal went on to create a new hero, the pure knight Sir Galahad, while the quest of the Grail itself became a search for mystical union with God. Only Galahad could look directly into the Grail and behold the divine mysteries that cannot be described by human tongue. The work was clearly influenced by the mystical teachings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the states of grace it describes corresponding to the stages by which St. Bernard explained man's rise toward perfection in the mystical life. The work gained an added dimension by making Galahad the son of Lancelot, thus contrasting the story of chivalry inspired by human love (Lancelot and Guinevere) with that inspired by divine love (Galahad). In the last branch of the Vulgate cycle, the final disasters were linked with the withdrawal of the Grail, symbol of grace, never to be seen again.

Thus, the Grail theme came to form the culminating point of Arthurian romance, and it was to prove fruitful as a theme in literature down to the 20th century.

Encyclopedia Britannica

 


Round Table




The Round Table at Winchester



 

The Knights of the
Round Table

(from left to right):

Bedivere
Gareth
Gaheris
Lancelot
Galahad
Gawain
Agravain
Percival
Arthur
Bors


This 15th-century illumination shows the vision of the Holy Grail appearing
to Arthur and his knights the day that Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot and sits in the Siege Perilous





Round Table


 

In Arthurian legend, the table of Arthur, Britain's legendary king, which was first mentioned in Wace of Jersey's Roman de Brut (1155). This told of King Arthur's having a round table made so that none of his barons, when seated at it, could claim precedence over the others. The literary importance of the Round Table, especially in romances of the 13th century and afterward, lies in the fact that it served to provide the knightsof Arthur's court with a name and a collective personality. The fellowship of the Round Table, in fact, became comparable to, and in many respects the prototype of, the many great orders of chivalry that were founded in Europe during the later Middle Ages. By the late 15th century, when Sir Thomas Malory wrote his Le Morte Darthur, the notion of chivalry was inseparable from that of a great military brotherhood established in the household of some great prince.

In Robert de Borron's poem Joseph d'Arimathie (c. 1200), the Grail, which had been sought by the hero Perceval, was identified as the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper. Joseph was commanded to make a table in commemoration of the Last Supper and to leave one place vacant, symbolizing the seat of Judas, who had betrayed Christ. This empty place, called the Siege Perilous, could not be occupied without peril except by the destined Grail hero. During the 13th century, when the Grail theme was fully integrated with Arthurian legend in the group of prose romances known as the Vulgate cycle and post-Vulgate romances, it was established that the Round Table—modelled on the Grail Table and, likewise, with an empty place—had been made by the counsellor Merlin for Uther Pendragon, King Arthur's father. It came into the possession of King Leodegran of Carmelide, who gave it to Arthur as part of the dowry of his daughter Guinevere when she married Arthur. Admission to the fellowship of the Round Table was reserved for only the most valiant, while the Siege Perilous was left waiting for the coming of Galahad, the pure knight who achieved the quest of the Grail and who brought the marvels of Arthur's kingdom to a close.

In the city of Winchester there is a great hall—all that remains of a castle begun by William the Conqueror and finished in 1235—where the so-called King Arthur's Round Table can be seen fixed to the wall. Measuring 18 feet (5.5 metres) in diameter, it dates from the 13th century, having been repainted in green and white, the Tudor colours, during the reign of Henry VII.

Encyclopedia Britannica


 

  
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-1882)
How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Perceval
were Fed with the Sanc Grail;
But Sir Perceval's Sister Died by the Way
1864

 



Sir Perceval

 

Hero of Arthurian romance, distinguished by his quality of childlike (often uncouth) innocence, which protected him from worldly temptation and set him apart from other knights in Arthur's fellowship. This quality also links hisstory with the primitive folktale theme of a great fool or simple hero. In Chrétien de Troyes's poem Le Conte du Graal (12th century), Perceval's great adventure was a visit to the castle of the wounded Fisher King, where he saw a mysterious dish (or grail) but, having previously been scolded for asking too many questions, failed to ask the question that would have healed the Fisher King. Afterward, he set off in search of the Grail and gradually learned the true meaning of chivalry and its close connection with the teachings of the church. In later elaborations of the Grail theme, the pure knight Sir Galahad displaced him as Grail hero, though Perceval continued to play an important part in the quest.

The story of Perceval's spiritual development from simpleton to Grail keeper received its finest treatment in Wolfram von Eschenbach's great 13th-century epic, Parzival. This poem was the basis of Richard Wagner's last opera, Parsifal (1882).

Encyclopedia Britannica

 


George Frederick Watts
(1817-1904)
Sir Galahad


Sir Galahad
 

 

 

 

The pure and saintly Galahad is the knight who finds the Grail, asks the relevant questions and frees the land from misery.
He was the son of Sir Lancelot by Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, the Fisher King.
Lancelot had been made drunk, and led to believe that Elaine was his true love, Queen Guinevere.

 
   

The pure knight in Arthurian romance, son of Lancelot du Lac and Elaine (daughter of Pelles), who achieved the vision of God through theHoly Grail. In the first romance treatments of the Grail story (e.g., Chrétien de Troyes's 12th-century Conte du Graal), Perceval was the Grail hero. But during the 13th century a new, austerely spiritual significance was given to the Grail theme, and a new Grail winner was required whose genealogy could be traced back to the House of David in the Old Testament. Galahad was, moreover, made the son of Lancelot so that an achievement inspired by earthly love (Lancelot inspired by Guinevere) could be set in contrast to that inspired by heavenly love (Galahad inspired by spiritual fervour). This theological version of the Grail story appeared in the Questedel Saint Graal (“Quest for the Holy Grail”), which forms part of the Prose Lancelot, or Vulgate cycle. The Queste shows signs of strong Cistercian influence, and similarities can be seen between it and the mystical doctrines of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Encyclopedia Britannica

 

 

 

Edward Burne-Jones
(1833-1898)

The Beguiling of Merlin
1874


Merlin. Dragon

 

 

 

 

Merlin was Arthur's mentor, and a caster of spells and reader of dreams.
It was hw who enabled Arthur's father, King Uther Pendragon, to take on the appearance of the Duke of Cornwall and lie with Cornwall's wife Igraine.

 

 

 

Enchanter and wise man in Arthurian legend and romance of the Middle Ages, linked with personages in ancient Celtic mythology (especially with Myrddin in Welsh tradition). He appeared in Arthurian legend as an enigmatic figure, fluctuations and inconsistencies in his character being often dictated by the requirements of a particular narrative or by varying attitudesof suspicious regard toward magic and witchcraft. Thus, treatments of Merlin reflect different stages in the development of Arthurian romance itself.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1136), adapted a story, told by the Welsh antiquary Nennius (flourished c. 800), of a boy, Ambrosius, who had given advice to the legendary British king Vortigern. In Geoffrey's account Merlin-Ambrosius figured as adviser to Uther Pendragon (King Arthur's father) and afterward to Arthur himself. In a later work, Vita Merlini, Geoffrey further developed the story of Merlin by adapting a northern legend about a wild man of the woods, gifted with powers of divination. Early in the 13th century, Robert de Borron's verse romance Merlin added a Christian dimension to the character, making him the prophet of the Holy Grail (whose legend had by then been linked with Arthurian legend). The author of the first part of the Vulgate cycle made the demonic side of Merlin's character predominate, but in later branches of the Vulgate cycle, Merlin again became the prophet of the Holy Grail, while hisrole as Arthur's counsellor was filled out; it was Merlin, for example, who advised Uther to establish the knightly fellowship of the Round Table and who suggested that Uther's true heir would be revealed by a test that involved drawing a sword from a stone in which it was set. It also included a story of the wizard's infatuation with the Lady of the Lake, which eventually brought about his death.

Encyclopedia Britannica

 

 

 

 


Dragon


legendary monster usually conceived as a huge, bat-winged, fire-breathing, scaly lizard or snake with a barbed tail. The belief in these creatures apparently arose without the slightest knowledge on the part of the ancients of the gigantic, prehistoric, dragon-like reptiles. In Greece the word drakon, from which the English word was derived, was used originally for any large serpent (see sea serpent), and the dragon of mythology, whatever shape it later assumed, remained essentially a snake.

In general, in the Middle Eastern world, where snakes are large and deadly, the serpent or dragon was symbolic of the principle of evil. Thus, the Egyptian god Apepi, for example, was the great serpent of the world of darkness. But the Greeks and Romans, though accepting the Middle Eastern idea of the serpent as an evil power, also at times conceived the drakontes as beneficent powers—sharp-eyed dwellers in the inner parts of the Earth. On the whole, however, the evil reputation of dragons was the stronger, and in Europe it outlived the other. Christianity confused the ancient benevolent and malevolent serpent deities in a common condemnation. In Christian art the dragon came to be symbolic of sin and paganism and, as such, was depicted prostrate beneath the heels of saints and martyrs.

The dragon's form varied from the earliest times. The Chaldean dragon Tiamat had four legs, a scaly body, and wings, whereas the biblical dragon of Revelation, “the old serpent,” was many-headed like the Greek Hydra. Because they not only possessed both protective and terror-inspiring qualities but also had decorative effigies, dragons were early used as warlike emblems. Thus, in the Iliad, King Agamemnon had on his shield a blue three-headed snake, just as the Norse warriors in later times painted dragons on their shields and carved dragons' heads on the prows of theirships. In England before the Norman Conquest, the dragon was chief among the royal ensigns in war, having been instituted as such by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur. In the 20th century the dragon was officially incorporated in the armorial bearings of the prince of Wales.

In the Far East, the dragon managed to retain its prestige andis known as a beneficent creature. The Chinese dragon, lung (q.v.), represented yang, the principle of heaven, activity, and maleness in the yin-yang (q.v.) of Chinese cosmology. From ancient times, it was the emblem of the Imperial family,and until the founding of the republic (1911) the dragon adorned the Chinese flag. The dragon came to Japan with much of the rest of Chinese culture, and there (as ryu or tatsu) it became capable of changing its size at will, even to the point of becoming invisible. Both Chinese and Japanese dragons, though regarded as powers of the air, are usually wingless. They are among the deified forces of nature in Taoism.

The term dragon has no zoological meaning, but it has been applied in the Latin generic name Draco to a number of species of small lizards found in the Indo-Malayan region. The name is also popularly applied to the giant monitor, Varanus komodoensis, discovered on Komodo, in Indonesia.
 

Encyclopedia Britannica

 
 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy