Jean de Montchenu, a nobleman, apostolic prothonotary, Bishop of Agen (1477) and later of Viviers (1478-1497), commissioned this codex of medieval Italian and French love songs, living up to his reputation as a gallant.
A surprising and unique format
The closed book is shaped like a heart which opens into a butterfly composed of the hearts of the two lovers who send love messages to one another in each one of the songs. Obviously, the heart shaped manuscript is extremely rare, but this one is even more unusual because, while there are other books that open into the shape of a heart, there are no others like this one which opens into two or which are as beautifully decorated.
The most beautiful love songs
The songs in French and Italian, written for different voices, are the work of some of the finest medieval composers. When the word "heart" appears in the texts, it is represented by a delicate pictogram. Two full-page illustrations appear in the codex. In the first, Cupid throws arrows at a young girl while at his side Fortune spins his wheel. In the other, two lovers approach one another lovingly. Throughout the manuscript, the pentagrams, music and love poems are surrounded by borders, animals, birds, dogs, cats and all kinds of flowers and plants in abundant and delicate gold.
Along with the entire collection received from his father, James de Rothschild, and to which he himself added, Henri de Rothschild donated this book to the National Library of France in a memorable act which took place on 22 March 1933.
Heart shaped in blood red velvet.
- Images courtesy of the Publisher and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France