Roman de Fauvel

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The Roman de Fauvel is a 14th-century French allegorical poem by the French royal clerk Gervais de Bus and Chaillou de Pesstain. It tells of Fauvel, a fallow or "muddy beige"-colored horse who has risen to prominence in the French royal court.

The work consists of two books, the first dated to 1310, the second to 1314. The Roman de Fauvel is best known for its lavish presentation in the deluxe manuscript Paris, BN fr. 146 (c. 1317–20), which augments du Bus's book with newly composed poetry, 77 miniatures, and 169 musical insertions which span the gamut of thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century genres and textures. Some of these can be linked with Philippe de Vitry and the nascent musical style referred to as Ars Nova. Fr. 146 is the earliest copy of Fauvel to survive and the only one to include music, but the book in its non-interpolated form continued to be copied into the fifteenth century.

Following in the literary tradition of the thirteenth century, the Roman de Fauvel is sometimes compared with the Roman de la Rose.

The Roman de Fauvel is laden with allegories and political satire. The antihero's name, which when broken down forms fau-vel, or "false veil", also forms an acrostic in which each letter stands for a sin: Flatterie (Flattery), Avarice (Greed), Vilenie (Guile), Variété (inconstancy), Envie (Envy), and Lâcheté (Cowardice).[1] The romance also gave rise to the English expression "curry favor" (originally "curry fauvel").


An horse named Fauvel (meaning "muddy beige"[2] or "fallow"[3] tint of brown), an ambitious and foolish beast, decides that he is unsatisfied with his residence in the stable and decides to move into the largest room of his master's house. Upon moving there, he changes it to suit his needs and has a custom hayrack built. Dame Fortune, the goddess of Fate, smiles upon Fauvel and appoints him leader of the house. Subsequently, Church and secular leaders from many places make pilgrimages to see him, and bow to him in servitude, symbolizing Church and state rulers quickly bowing to Sin and corruption. In one scene, the potentates condescend to brush and clean the horse from tonsured head to tail, an this is where the English expression "curry fauvel" (now "curry favor") has originated.[2][4]

Upon receiving Dame Fortune's smile, Fauvel travels to Macrocosmos and asks for her hand in marriage. She denies him, but in her stead she proposes he wed Lady Vainglory. Fauvel agrees, and the wedding takes place, with such guests present as Flirtation, Adultery, Carnal Lust, and Venus, in a technique similar to that of the Morality plays of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Finally, Dame Fortune reveals that Fauvel's role in the world is to give birth to more iniquitous rulers like himself, and to be a harbringer of the Antichrist.


Of all the surviving manuscript versions of Le Roman de Fauvel, BN fr. 146 has attracted the most musicological attention due to hundreds of interpolated musical items woven into a complex mise-en-page together with text and image. The large volume compiled by a certain Chaillou de pesstain expands Gervais' original poem as well as 169 interpolated and notated musical pieces, some of which has been thought to have been composed by Philippe de Vitry. While these pieces were once thought of as arbitrarily selected repertory for textual "accompaniment" (Paris, 1898; Langfors, 1914; Gagnepain, 1996), recent scholarship (such as "Fauvel Studies" and Dillon's "Music-Making") has tended to focus on the ingenious intertextual/glossing role(s) played by musical notation – both visual and aural – in augmenting and diversifying the (political) themes of Gervais' admonitio (Herbelot, 1998). Amongst other curious discoveries are the inclusion of numerous "false" chants (Rankin) interspersed between actual liturgical material, perhaps a direct musical play on the deceptive qualities of its equine trickster. Much attention has also been paid to fr. 146's numerous polyphonic motets, some of which (In Nova Fert, for example) exhibit red notation of newer mensural notational innovations generally described under the umbrella of ars nova.

Although the text of the Roman de Fauvel is not particularly well known, the music has been frequently performed and recorded. The question of how the entire work would have been read or staged in the 14th century is the subject of academic debate. Some have suggested that BN146, the copy with additional 3000 verses and 169 musical pieces, could have been intended as a theatrical performance (Dankh, Herbelot). This hypothesis is of course in contradiction with the concurrent opinion that the Roman de Fauvel is mainly an anthology (Gagnepain).

Surviving copies[edit]

The copy designated BN146 is attributed to Chaillou de Pesstain. Its particular value resides in the additional 3000 verses and 169 musical pieces (56 in Latin and 113 in French) which constitute a veritable anthology of thirteenth and early fourteenth century music (this includes Latin and French liturgical and devotional, sacred and profane, monophonic and polyphonic, chant, old and new music). The BN146 has often been said to mark the beginning of the stylistic period Ars Nova.

The first recording of the work has been made in 1972 by the Studio der Fruehen Musik (Studio of Early Music) on the EMI Reflexe – label, directed by Thomas Binkley. This recording is currently available as part of a 5-CD box-set on the Virgin-label. The speaker of the verses uses the original old-French, including some now very odd-sounding pronouncing of -still familiar- French words. The musical interludes have some, especially for that time, poignant dissonances/counterpoint; which likely serve to illustrate the mocking nature of the whole Roman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dillon (2002), p. 14.
  2. ^ a b Dillon (2002), p. 15.
  3. ^ "favel". Oxford English Dictionary 4 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1933. p. 107. 
  4. ^ "curry favel, curry-favor". Oxford English Dictionary 2 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1933. p. 1272. 

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