The legend of Gillion, the western knight goes back to medieval history. He makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, becomes imprisoned in Egypt, but eventually rises to command the Sultan’s army. Married to a Christian noblewoman whom he mistakenly believes to have died, Gillion also marries a Muslim princess. The controversial situation of bigamy is resolved when he dies a hero in battle, defending Cairo. His two wives eventually retire to a convent together amicably.
Credit goes to UCLA professor Zrinka Stahuljak who has spent the last three years helping the J. Paul Getty Museum bring an important 15th-century Flemish manuscript to life for the general public.
“The Romance of Gillion de Trazegnies” is a lushly illustrated tale of chivalry and romance. It follows a fictional 15th-century Burgundian knight on his adventures in medieval Egypt and Jerusalem. The prized manuscript was recently acquired by the Getty Museum and is currently on display at the Getty Center.
Stahuljak joined Getty senior curator of manuscripts Elizabeth Morrison to produce a lavish large-scale commercial publication “The Adventures of Gillion de Trazegnies: Chivalry and Romance in the Medieval East,” exploring the cultural, historical and artistic contexts through images, translations and companion essays.
“For me it was really a new challenge,” said Stahuljak, who is a professor in the departments of French and Francophone studies and comparative literature. “It was interesting to write a serious scholarly piece, and at the same time make it as accessible as possible, and in a way that lets the vibrancy of the story and the manuscript’s history shine through. It’s a different kind of writing.”
Stahuljak provided translations for sections of the story that accompany reproductions of all the images from the manuscript as well as one of the two contextual essays.
The story documents the real routes and practices of many people who made pilgrimages to the Holy Land at the time. She also poses questions and theories as to the text’s unknown author, the manuscript’s patron who might have initially commissioned its creation, and traces the manuscript’s ownership through nobles of the court of Burgundy.
The text was written in Middle French, which sounds different from the French we know today, Stahuljak emphasized.Morrison and Stahuljak produced an episodic Tumblr post titled “Historical Serial” in which they released parts of the story in short, digestible segments, mimicking the popular podcast “Serial.”
The manuscript is on display at the Getty as part of the exhibition, “Traversing the Globe through Illuminated Manuscripts,” which runs through June 26. The book is available for purchase on Amazon and through the Getty bookstore.