Date: 19th century
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: Height: 149 cm (58.6″); Width: 114 cm (44.8″)
Collection: Private collection
What I love about this image:
First of all, this shows the battle as being dark, ugly, and doomed, which history tells us, it was.
Doré chose to illustrate a historic battle that took place in the year 778. However, he painted a heroic image of Roland, surrounded and his unbreakable sword held high. This is as the battle was portrayed three centuries later by medieval authors whose embellishments were romanticized fantasies rather than accurate historical descriptions.
About the Artist:
Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré, born 6 January 1832 – died 23 January 1883, was a French artist, print-maker, illustrator, comics artist, caricaturist, and sculptor who worked primarily with wood-engraving.
Doré was famous for his highly detailed, romantic engravings of heroic classical literature and also the Bible. His illustrations are still considered to be among the finest ever produced.
What he is not as well-known for are his paintings, which are both detailed and vivid, and portray a wide variety of subjects.
About the Story of Roland
The story of Roland’s death at Roncevaux Pass was embellished in later medieval and Renaissance literature. The first and most famous of these epic treatments was the Old French Chanson de Roland of the 11th century.
Two masterpieces of Italian Renaissance poetry, the Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso (by Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto), are further detached from history than the earlier Chansons, similarly to the later Morgante by Luigi Pulci. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durendal, his horse Veillantif, and his oliphant horn.
Roland also appears as a sometimes tragic hero in some Arthurian legends, and many Norse and Germanic tales.
The true history of Roland’s Demise at Roncevaux (via Wikipedia):
The Battle of Roncevaux Pass (French and English spelling, Roncesvalles in Spanish, Orreaga in Basque) in 778 saw a large force of Basques ambush a part of Charlemagne‘s army in Roncevaux Pass, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees on the present border between France and Spain, after his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Basque attack was a retaliation for Charlemagne’s destruction of the city walls of their capital, Pamplona. As the Franks retreated across the Pyrenees back to Francia, the rearguard of Frankish lords was cut off, stood its ground, and was wiped out.
Among those killed in the battle was a relatively obscure Frankish commander, Roland, whose death elevated him and the paladins, the foremost warriors of Charlemagne’s court, into legend, becoming the quintessential role model for knights and also greatly influencing the code of chivalry in the Middle Ages.
There are numerous written works about the battle, some of which change and exaggerate events. The battle is recounted in the 11th century The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, and in Orlando Furioso, one of the most celebrated works of Italian literature. Modern adaptations of the battle include books, plays, and works of fiction, and monuments in the Pyrenees.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Gustave Doré – Roland à Roncevaux.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Gustave_Dor%C3%A9_-_Roland_%C3%A0_Roncevaux.jpg&oldid=369725623 (accessed February 20, 2020).
Wikipedia contributors, “Gustave Doré,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gustave_Dor%C3%A9&oldid=939834558 (accessed February 20, 2020).