I’m not really the romantic type, but even I can appreciate Pierre Sala’s “Le Petit Livre d’Amour”, the little book of love that French poet Pierre Sala presented to his future wife Marguerite Bullioud in the early sixteenth century. For me, the combination of illuminated miniatures and Sala’s verse are a testament to both personal and courtly love, for Sala was that ideal Renaissance Man, an accomplished courtier to three French kings. But he was also a rather whimsical poet, and the images (énigmes attributed to the mysterious “Master of the Chronique scandaleuse”) are so completely charming that one cannot help being……….charmed. A look at this little book is the perfect way to start off what has become Valentine’s Day week.
Sala declares himself right at the beginning, when he gives his strawberry-like heart to Marguerite, or drops his heart in a marguerite flower, a rather more exotic example of our own marguerite daisies. Then it’s games and desperation, as he is parted from the object of his affection. The most captivating miniature is of a pair of maidens capturing hearts, literally: hearts that can easily fly away!
British Library MS Stowe 955.
Sala’s book is one of several iconic manuscripts (including da Vinci’s notebooks and Beowulf) recently digitized by the British Library: you can find out more about these treasures here, and additional information and images of the “Petite Livre” here. The book was presented (and still is) in its own wooden carrying case, covered with tooled, painted and gilded leather, with the letters “P” and “M” prominently displayed, of course. At the end, there is a stunning portrait of Sala, in which he even looks like the ultimate Renaissance man! It was painted by his fellow courtier, the royal painter and limner Jean Perréal, who, according to the British Library catalogue notes, was also supposed to paint in Sala’s face in the book’s first heart-dropping image. Somehow that never happened, which makes the book even more charming in its imperfection.
British Library MS Stowe 955, folio 17: Pierre Sala (1457-1529).
P.S. There is an apparently-beautiful facsimile of The Little Book of Love out there in limited quantities (for you Romantic types out there) but I wasn’t able to find a copy that was either available or for less than $6500.