The Little Book of Love

A Valentine’s gift to top all Valentine’s gifts – the Petit Livre d’Amour (Little Book of Love) was an ornate bespoke book given by the 16th-century Lyon-born poet Pierre Salas to his then lover and future wife Marguerite Bullioud. It measures just 5 by 3.7 inches, hand-written by Salas with gold ink and beautifully illuminated by an artist identified as the “Master of the Chronique scandaleuseas”. The work begins with a few pages of prose describing the relationship between the author and the woman he loves before then presenting the rest of the book, 12 “iconologues”, a combination of prose and poetry on the left-hand page – including the initials M, for Marguerite and P, for Pierre, scattered about in various forms – and on the right-hand page a corresponding picture. Five of these relate to love, the others to more moral topics, but all turning away from a sickly-sweet tone, instead portraying a more realistic picture of love. Here below we’ve picked out some highlights from the book.

The “iconologue” section begins with Pierre declaring to Marguerite that he wants to place his heart inside a daisy (a play on words here as Marguerite means “daisy” in French), and that his thoughts will always be with her. Opposite, in the picture we see a man literally placing his heart into an enormous daisy. The blank and somewhat abstract face of the figure is most likely not intentional but rather was left so on purpose by the artist so that someone else (most likely court painter Jean Perréal, a friend of Pierre’s) could make him look like Pierre at a later point, a stage which for whatever reason was not completed (perhaps on a strange whim by Pierre?). Jean Perréal certainly had time enough to complete a portrait of Pierre which comes at the end of the book (see end of the post).

This is perhaps one of the most enigmatic of the “iconoclogues”. The poem reads “chiere amyable & cortoyse maniere / au coing du boys ont tendu leur pantiere / en atendant leure plus atreable / que par la passe <3 vollant peu estable" – a wonderful detail being the fact that instead of the word "heart" Pierre has simply placed a little icon of a heart, rather like a Renaissance version of the emoticon (the first instance of such a thing?). We had a go at translating* the quatrain into English:

Friendly Welcome and Courteous Manner,
in a corner of the wood have their snares pulled taught,
awaiting the favourable hour,
for there to pass a fickle and flighty heart.

The rather self-effacing poem from the spread below reads: ‘I have no support but this branch, nor hope of having any other help, but by folly, I cut it, and so will fall under the water’.

The last of the double spreads features a portrait of Pierre, painted by court painter and friend Jean Perréal, accompanied by a page of mirror writing.

The book came in a beautifully crafted leather carrying case, coloured green and gold with floral decoration, and emblazoned with the initials ‘P’ and ‘M’, for Pierre Sala and Marguerite Builloud. The rings on the edge of the box are intended for a chain to suspend the volume from a girdle.

For more on the book check out Sarah J Bigg’s post over on the British Library blog, this piece on the History Blog, and also this from Faksimile Verlag.

* Many thanks to translator Thierry DeCottignies for his help!