11 January 2010
Now that the red and green of Christmas and the blue and silver of Hanukkah are gone scarlet hearts will replace them for Valentines Day. The day named for martyred saints became a holiday associated with noble love during the High Middle Ages. Courtly Love developed in contrast to the violence and wars of the times. Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu is a heart shaped songbook, elegantly bound in red velvet from the early Renaissance. When it is opened it represents two lovers hearts with forty-three corresponding songs in French and Italian. Created for a nobleman who sadly did not practice courtly love, Montchenu was known for his vices rather than his virtues. This is one of the few heart books that have survived. Master of the View of Sainte Gudule of the Netherlands features one in his painting Young Man Holding a Book, ca 1480. The illustration of the Chansonnier is from a facsimile and depicts Cupid throwing arrows at a maiden. Next to him is a Janus faced Fortune figure with one side showing light and an illuminating mirror and the other side dark with a dangerous sword much like the fortunes of love.