Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Knight Receiving his Helmet from a Lady
  • Creator: Jehan de Grise, painter, and workshop
  • Description: This painted miniature decorates the bottom margin of a fourteenth-century manuscript of The Romance of Alexander and shows a kneeling knight receiving a helmet from a seated lady. The image is one half of a symmetrical composition that depicts two ladies bestowing helmets on two knights, with the pair of knights jousting in the center. On this side of the scene the helmet in the lady’s hand is topped by a swan-shaped crest and two red plumes. Large ornamental crests were common in tournaments where pageantry and showmanship took precedence over practicality, and they were often made of leather, fabric or papier-mâché. This edition of the Romance of Alexander is lavishly and elaborately illustrated with numerous scenes of courtly life, suggesting a wealthy and possibly royal patron. Mark Cruse characterizes the manuscript as a “bible of court life” and observes that the images in the marginalia frequently reinforce the central themes in the main illustrations and also the text (Cruse, 2011). The knight and lady appear under a full-page illumination of a tournament joust and therefore amplify the spectacle taking place. Furthermore, the couple adds an important chivalrous and sensual dimension to the scene. Women who showed attention and favor to knights reinforced notions of masculine achievement and honor, while simultaneously indulging the rare opportunity to dress or undress a desirable man (Karras, 2002; L’Estrange, 2008).
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Armor Chivalry Courtly Love Courtship Favors Jousting Romance, Literary Tournaments
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1338- 1344
  • Related Work: View of the entire folio: http://image.ox.ac.uk/images/bodleian/ms.bodl.264/101v.jpg; A full page view of the entire manuscript is available through the Bodleian Library: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/view/all/what/MS.%20Bodl.%20264,%20pt.%20I/when/1338-1344?os=0&pgs=50
  • Current Location: London, Bodleian Library MS 264 f. 101v
  • Original Location: Belgium, W. Tournai
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 41.5/29.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barber, Richard and Juliet Barker. Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989. pp. 30-5;
    Cruse, Mark. Illuminating the Roman d'Alexandre: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264 The Manuscript as Monument. Boydell & Brewer, 2011. pp.;
    Hayward, Maria and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles c. 450-1450. Brill, 2012. pp. 264-5;
    Karras, Ruth Mazo. "Young Knights under the Feminine Gaze" in The Premodern Teenager: Youth in Society, 1150-1650. Ed. Konrad Eisenbichler. Publications of the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2002. pp. 189-205;
    L'Estrange, Elizabeth. "Gazing at Gawain: Reconsidering Tournaments, Courtly Love, and the Lady Who Looks," Medieval Feminist Forum 42:2 (2008), pp. 74-96;