A novel of chivalry in pictures

The painted decoration of the main room of the Châtel de Theys has the particularity of containing historiated medallions illustrating a novel of chivalry.

Perceval arrives at a tent and mistakes it for a church

The narrative of this story is divided into a multitude of small scenesThe narrative of this story is divided into a series of scenes, like so many paintings adorning the walls of the room. This is a decorative choice which, while very effective in occupying the space and animating it with living figures, is not particularly conducive to reading the story being told. However, we realize that the designers of the set wanted the spectator to be able to follow the course of the chivalrous adventures represented in three superimposed registers.

For this reason, in order to facilitate the understanding of the whole, the story is read horizontally: from left to right in the upper register, starting on the left side of the chimney hood. Then, once they have gone around the room, the viewer is on the left of the fireplace and can continue reading in the middle register, this time from right to left. Thus, the reading is no longer interrupted by the volume of the fireplace. Similarly, once the reading of the second register is completed, i.e., once the viewer has returned to the right of the fireplace, he or she returns in the opposite direction to finish deciphering the scenes represented in the lower register.

This reading system dates back to ancient Greece and the word used to describe it comes from the Greek: boustrophedon. It refers to the ox “bous” that plots furrows and turns “strophê” when it reaches the end of the field.

Overview of the medallions’ boustrophedon organisation