I have always focused on hearts for St. Valentine’s Day and this year will be no exception: even in the midst of my Phillips frenzy. Actually, I could showcase some Phillips materials because for some reason, among the thousands of materials in its possession, the PEM in all of its wisdom has chosen to digitize valentines, as opposed to, say, invaluable records about the trades in pepper, or opium, or slaves, or all the papers of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s family. But featuring these scraps would be too easy; and I’d rather leave Salem for a while and go back to a more distant and detached time: the Renaissance. There and then we find a man literally draped with titles: René of Anjou, Count of Provence, Duke of Anjou, Bar and Lorraine, and (titular) King of Jerusalem and Sicily, who was associated in one way or another with all the celebrated figures of the fifteenth century: he carried on an influential correspondence with Cosimo de Medici, was comrade-in-arms with Joan of Arc, fathered a Queen of England, and commissioned Christopher Columbus. “Good King René” was in many ways the perfect Renaissance Man, not only for his associations but also for his activities: in addition to his military and political roles he was also a noted author and patron of the arts. The Angevin Duke idealized courtly life and love in several compositions, including Les Coeur d’ Amours Espris, which is alternatively translated as The Book of the Heart Possessed/Seized by Love or (my favorite), The Book of the Love–Smitten Heart (1457).
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 24399
I think there are six extant copies of the manuscript, to which the illuminations were added later. Above is text from the manuscript in the Bibliothèque nationale; there is another in the Austrian National Library (Codex Vindobonensis 2597), with illuminations by Barthélemy d’Eyck. Both are beautiful in their variant ways, as the heart-sick Duke narrates a dream journey of the Knight-Heart (wearing a spectacular helmet festooned with winged hearts), in league with Desire and in search of his lady, Mercy. There is trouble along the way, of course, including an encounter with the truly monstrous dwarf, Jealousy. A more aesthetic moment occurs when the Knight-Heart is rescued from the River of Tears by Hope, having been deposited there by Melancholy.
The tone is sentimental throughout, but things lighten up at the end of the French manuscript, in which hearts are picked, lassoed, espaliered, caged, and in one way or another, captured, trained, and no longer allowed to run free. And here you have perfect valentines for René’s time–and ours.
He awakes, and immediately writes down his dream. …which is all here!