Pierre Sala Back to Lyon, 500 Years Later

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From now until the 25 January, “Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love” is on display in the “Lyon Renaissance Arts et Humanisme” exhibition in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.

Pierre Sala was born in 1457 in Lyon, the son of an affluent and established bourgeois family. Around 1480 he found employment in the service of the French royal family, initially working for Charles VII.

Portrait of Pierre Sala, Stowe MS 955, f. 17r
Portrait of Pierre Sala, Stowe MS 955, f. 17r

Le Petit Livre d’Amour, an Intimate Gem from the Renaissance

Le Petit Livre d’Amour, one of the most intimate Renaissance manuscripts of the world, is a little book that the French poet Pierre Sala from Lyon presented to his future wife Marguerite Bullioud when they were still courting.

A man playing blind man’s bluff with three women, from Pierre Sala's Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, fol. 7r
A man playing blind man’s bluff with three women, from Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, fol. 7r

His chivalrous courtship is expressed in a number of different ways and culminates in the presentation of a little book in which pictures and text are combined to convey the presence of the absent lover. Through this action, Sala successfully attracts the attention of his beloved and gains a place in her heart.

Detail from Pierre Sala's Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, fol. 6r
Detail from Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, fol. 6r

From the British Library blog on Pierre Sala:

Diminutive illustrations, filling the book’s small pages, transform the object into a sumptuous jewel, while also illustrating the love between author and reader.  In one particularly striking picture, a man – representing Pierre Sala himself – drops his heart into the cup of a large, red-and-white flower.  The flower is a daisy, a ‘marguerite’ in French, and so an allegorical representation of Pierre’s beloved.  Close inspection of Pierre’s face in this miniature reveals hints of a plan for the picture that was never fully realized.  The man’s face is unfinished, showing only the rough sketch of facial features to be added later.  The illuminator left the face blank so that another artist – most likely Jean Perréal, a friend of Pierre’s – could complete the allegory with a likeness of Pierre himself.  We can imagine how this would have looked by referring to the larger, full-page portrait of Pierre that Perréal did provide, at the end of the volume.

Love and Morality

The core of the work is composed of twelve iconologues thus forming an entity of pictures and text. While five relate to love, the others refer to moral topics such as wisdom and insanity, lies, success and favour.

Pierre Sala's Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, f.9*r
Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, f.9*r

With their veiled irony and underlying resignation, some passages betray a somewhat pessimistic view of the world and society.

Pierre Sala - Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, f.9 r.
Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love, Stowe MS 955, f.9r

Don’t miss the opportunity to view the Pierre Sala’s Little Book of Love at Lyon Renaissance Arts et Humanisme until 25 January 2016.

If you Want to Know More:

All images courtesy of the British Library.