Images at the Interface: Orality, Literacy, and the Pictorialization of the Roland Material

  • James A. RushingJr
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


T he legend of Roland is one of the most frequently pictorialized nonbiblical stories in the Middle Ages, as the enormous body of images cataloged by Lejeune and Stiennon testifies.1 It is thus perhaps a little surprising that the two texts that, more than any others, define the material for both medieval and modern minds—the Old French Chanson de Roland and the Latin Pseudo-Turpin —are barely touched by pictorial traditions.2 Why is the Roland material, so popular in a variety of verbal and visual traditions, virtually never pictorialized in direct association with its most primary texts? If not in association with these texts, under what circumstances is the Roland material adapted into the visual arts? Can any answer be offered other than the idiosyncrasies of manuscript makers and artists, and the chances of survival?


Oral Tradition Literary Material Latin Text Pictorial Tradition Modern Mind 
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  1. 1.
    Rita Lejeune and Jacques Stiennon, La legende de Roland dans l’art du Moyen Âge, 2 vols. (Brussels: Arcade, 1966).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Pope Gregory I, Registrum Epistolarutn, MGH: Epistolarum 2, ed. Ludwig Hartmann (Berolini: Weidmann, 1899), p. 270.Google Scholar
  3. 19.
    Paul Zumthor, “The Text and the Voice,” New Literary History 16 (1984), p. 75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. cf. David P. Sudermann, “Hortus Temporum: Beginning the Middle High German Rolandslied,” Modern Philology 92 (1995): 434 [413–37].Google Scholar
  5. 53.
    Clark Maines, “The Charlemagne Window at Chartres Cathedral: New Considerations on Text and Image,” Speculum 52 (1977): 803–04 [801–23]. On the window, in addition to Maines, see generally Lejeune and Stiennon, La legende [n. 2], pp. 192–99, plates VII-XVIII, figure 153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel 2005

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  • James A. RushingJr

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