To exemplify the medieval perception of the world, the Foundation has exhibited manuscripts by Macrobius, Boethius and William of Conches, one of the masters of the French School of Chartres.
The great literary works of the Middle Ages are represented by French manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose and the Lancelot-Grail cycle (Codex Bodmer 147: text of the story of the Grail and Merlin dating from the end of the 13th century; Codex Bodmer 105: 15th-century text of the great Lancelot prose). There are also two famous manuscripts in Middle High German that contain, along with moral works by ‘der Stricker’, parts of Reinhart Fuchs by the poet Henry the Hypocrite from Alsace, and the Maihingen Codex of the Song of the Niebelungen. Other examples include a 14th-century manuscript of the Aeneid by Heinrich von Veldecke and the poem Gregorius by Hartmann von Aue.
Martin Bodmer was a great admirer of Dante whom he considered the third ‘pillar’ of his collection. The exhibit includes:
An entire cabinet is devoted to the Italian Quattrocento. The town of Arezzo in Tuscany was at the centre of the movement. It was home to great figures of the time: the monk Guido, Petrarch, Masaccio, Piera della Francesca, Michelangelo, Vasari and Pietro Aretino.
The Italian manuscript of the Canzoniere (1502) is proof of an outstanding mastery in the art of copying and illumination.
Short stories and moral literature are represented by a 1470 manuscript of Boccaccio in French, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, and by a copy in English of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The manuscript, dated c.1430, is extremely rare in that it retains its original binding.
The art of illumination was at its peak at the court of Burgundy in the 1460s, as exemplified by Christine de Pizan’s Letter of Othea (Epître d’Othéa). Similar illuminations were found at the court of King René in the 1470s: the Mortification of Vain Pleasure illustrated by Jean Colombe. The end of the Middle Ages was heralded by the Danses macabres, the Repues franches and François Villon. The first edition of François Villon in lettres rondes appeared in 1532. It was the last edition of the original text before the revisions to the poems that Marot would make the following year.
The section concludes with the French Renaissance:
Finally, a placard of Luther’s Theses (1517) and the Edict of Nantes (1599) represent the Reformation and the wars of religion.