Tag Archives: St. Valentine’s Day

The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

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The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

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The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


Hastened Hearts

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 valentinesas 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 LoveSmitten Heart (1457).

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Heart 5Bibliothèque 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.

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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.

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René_d'Anjou_Le_livre_du_[...]_btv1b60005361He awakes, and immediately writes down his dream. …which is all here!


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