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Picturing a World

Heart-shaped books

This image from the heart-shaped songbook, Chansonnier cordiforme de Montchenu in the Bibliothèque nationale, in Paris delighted me when I came across it. Story, story, story! There must be a story to go with the illustration, but just as much fun to make one up. Perhaps a love story with Cupid, an ultra-sophisticated Fortuna, and a wasp-waisted maid? a mystery about a stolen medieval artifact? a fantasy about a book with magic powers indicated by its shape?

The clothes are delicious. Click on the image to admire the thin veil on the conical hennin. I love the damask and the what? black velvet? Why so much black?

What else about the image strikes the imagination?

And then there’s the actual history. Happening across the songbook sent me searching for the history of such books. The long answer comes in Eric Jager’s The Book of the Heart (2000), which explores the metaphor of a person’s heart as the book on which his character or devotion is written. It began in antiquity, was used in religious devotion, and eventually entered the language of erotic love. The phenomenon of actual, physical books like this one was confined to the 15th C.

For a painting by the so-called Master of the View of Sainte Gudule of a young man holding a heart-shaped book in an ecclesiastical setting, click here. For a similar painting by the same artist, click here.

For a University of Cincinnati library blog post on its facsimile of the Chansonnier Cordiforme, click here.

For a take on heart-shaped books from the American Bookbinders’ Museum, click here.

And Happy Saint Valentine's Day, 2018!
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