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Old Masters, Botanical Illuminated Manuscript, Gouache on Vellum, Antique Watercolor, 1480-90
Lisez Très Cher Obiet le Plus Tendre des Billets
[Read, Very Dear Object of Affection, the Most Loving of Notes]
France: c. 1480-90
Gouache on vellum
14.5 x 11.5 inches
Colorful late Renaissance illumination on vellum, a botanical design of flowers and fruit with a central landscape village view within a C-scroll reserve, apparently created as a romantic message from one lover to another, with possible religious overtones. A goblet-shaped vase rests below the inset image, out of which grow leafy branches bearing colorful flowers, including pansies, a thistle and a rose, as well as yew berries, strawberries, and grapes. The landscape includes homes, people, a windmill, ship, birds, and two flaming hearts, one of which has landed on a hilltop and the other descending from the sky. An arrow, also descending from the sky, bears a sign reading “Mon Coeur” [My Heart]. The title is in a gadrooned reserve in the lower portion. The whole picture is set within a simple rectangular border. The grapes and flowers are shaded, giving a feel of dimension, though the era of creation is reflected in the lack of consistency in light source location and the naïve rendering of the images. Originally this was a leaf from a Renaissance illuminated manuscript.
The iconography of the scene is predominantly romantic. The arrow in the sky is the heart of the artist, and the two additional flaming hearts are an attribute of Venus, goddess of love, in Renaissance symbolism. However, in Catholic iconography the Immaculate Heart of Mary is also represented as a flaming heart, and so the hearts may also have religious significance in this particular painting. It can be assumed that the flowers also have definite symbolic associations — for example, the sprig of yew emerging from the center of the vase. The yew traditionally stood for all that is evergreen and immortal and, in this context, implies a devotion that will last forever.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall wear and toning. Border with various scattered abraded losses. Vellum cockled overall. Some scattered book worm holes.