Cover Crush: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby

I first heard William Marshal’s name when I was about ten years old, though didn’t learn much about him, perhaps because our lessons at that time focused on Magna Carta, as opposed to individual figures. I wasn’t a gigantic history buff back then, though the medieval captured my attention on any day and I loved to listen to tales of jousting knights, well-dressed horses and beautiful standards that fluttered in the breeze. This sort of perspective lent very well to the cover of Georges Duby’s William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry, which I think I first saw when I was perhaps fourteen or so. I have always liked it, this lovely cover image, registering various thoughts throughout time as to why something was placed or created as it was. Quite recently I began to put the pieces, in my head, together in a more formal, specific sense, beyond just that it is a beautifully constructed piece of art. We are so frequently told not to judge a book by its cover, though this is exactly what we do, and publishers know it. Nothing on a cover is accidental; it is created to attract particular attention, which this one does with grace and style.

Designed by Paul Gamarello with hand lettering by James Lebbad, this cover is a PR dream – the background pink and red horses are within the family of color most able to efficiently capture the human eye. Once the attention has been roped in, the clearly medieval image, Codex of 1028 A.D. from the Encyclopedia of Mauro Rabano, is one of action and pairs with the energy, passion and danger of the red horses. Lest it evoke a too-strong perception of brutality, the muted, rosy pink tempers this, with its feminine and romantic feel. Here is where the lettering also joins the duty roster, with its font evocative of a flowering vine, a visual to carry on the title’s floral theme. Its teal also contrasts remarkably with the background pink, even helping to bring out the medieval manuscript lettering of the more distant background, conjuring more of the Middle Ages that many are familiar with and even admire. The variety of lettering takes it all one step further by linking to the playfulness associated with pink and forming a smaller O in between the L and W of Flower, sort of superscripted, bestowing upon it a lively, spirited sort of feel matched only by the dot in the center of of’s O, perhaps to remind that even the serious Middle Ages had a frisky side to it. We don’t often see this in the many drawings we are shown in school, the style of which is also not quite that of this cover’s. Like many of its day, this battle drawing lacks depth, but with its round-headed horses and soldiers that appear to be of more modest stature, it doesn’t strike the eye as quite so distant. This could also be because we see their faces, unlike so many other drawings, which show helmeted knights, whose thoughts, intentions, worries and dreams—their humanity—we so often cannot look into on so many images. Here we can gaze upon their being to get a better idea that they are not quite so distant or different to us as we often are led to believe.

Book Information and Blurb:

 William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby

Published 1984 as Guillaume le Maréschal by Librairie Arthéme Fayard

Translated from the French by Richard Howard, 1985, Pantheon

Georges Duby, one of this century’s great medieval historians, has brought to life with exceptional brilliance and imagination William Marshal, adviser to the Plantagenets, knight extraordinaire, the flower of chivalry. A marvel of historical reconstruction, William Marshal is based on a biographical poem written in the thirteenth century, and offers an evocation of chivalric life—the contests and tournaments, the rites of war, the daily details of medieval existence—unlike any we have ever seen.

“Behind the silhouette of his hero, Georges Duby re-creates the whole theater of chivalry—the splendor of its rituals and its decorum, the strength of its moral code. Through this code, to which William Marshal clings with all his strength, all his immense energy, Duby tells us of the last glories before its decline, the vestiges of a world coming to an end, and we quickly understand that the best of the knights will also soon be the last.” –Le Nouvel Observateur

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