A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Chansonnier Cordiforme

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Rothschild 2973

This unique heart-shaped songbook features richly illuminated borders inhabited by birds, insects, and frolicking hybrid creatures. A man and woman walk together in a room decorated with red, blue, and gold hangings, oblivious to the cupid-like figure in the left-hand margin who aims a golden crossbow in their direction. Birds and berries also appear in this opening along with a playful bear, a delicate moth, and a graceful snail; such details may allude to the themes of courtly love while also delighting the viewer with their mismatched sizes and fine craftsmanship. On another page, a blond man with a green hat and the legs of an animal plays a golden horn. The luxurious and fashionable decorations of the manuscript are matched by its musical content, which includes love songs in French and Italian. This reflects the elite background of its patron, the aristocratic soldier, diplomat and later bishop Jean de Montchenu.

The manuscript entered the French National Library in 1933 as a donation from Henri de Rothschild, a member of the same renowned family as James de Rothschild who gave the eponymous Rothschild Miscellany to the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem. Both manuscripts date to the 1460s and are represented by state-of-the-art facsimiles in Pitt’s collection; these volumes reproduce the thin parchment and delicate gilded details of the refined late-medieval originals with almost uncanny precision.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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