(Lyon or Paris): Ca. 1550-1570 (?). The coffret measures (in mm) ca. 280 (long) x 190 (wide) x 115 (high): around sides are four looped metal fittings for leather straps, all five original hinges on back, on front the original iron hasp facade with forged "pine leaf" decoration, keyhole & lock mechanism; on slightly dome top nine iron reinforcements, the whole fixed with original nails; original linen lined interior. This artifact has many serious condition problems: the left side of the lid is present but detached; many areas of the wood are chipped, wormed, and/or defective, but there are no signs of restoration whatsoever. Affixed to the inside of the lid is a large woodcut (ca. 250 x 170 mm) of two lovers (see below). The woodcut is torn, chipped and damaged, with evidence of old insect activity; there is loss of considerable portions of text and image, including the left portion of the man, the banderole above him, and the dog at his feet. With many significant faults, and priced accordingly. Preserved in a museum quality hardshell protective case. Item #3224
An important discovery, hitherto unknown and completely unpublished.
Late Medieval / early Renaissance coffrets are rare in any condition, unrestored examples rarer still. Of even greater rarity are Medieval "coffret à estampe," or coffrets in which a woodcut was pasted inside the lid and is still preserved in situ -- as here. Almost all of the bespoke woodcuts are of religious subjects: Jesus, the Virgin, the saints, sacred monogram, etc., and the text is in Latin. By contrast, the woodcut in our coffret illustrates COURTLY LOVE, and the text (appropriately) is in the vernacular. Whereas the present coffret has been damaged and much neglected over the centuries, it conforms to all four criteria of the rarest possible "coffret à estampe" that one could ever hope to acquire.
"Coffrets à estampe" comprise a very small subset of the Medieval "coffrets de messager" (or messenger boxes). Identically constructed, both were designed to be carried like a backpack, as is evidenced from Medieval tapestries and paintings. The iron loops on the sides of our coffret attest to the leather straps that were once laced through them. That our coffret contains an illustration of a man quite literally begging for the affection of his lover suggests that the first owner was not a man but a woman.
Inside the lid of our coffret is a large woodcut of two lovers: "L'Amant et l'Amye," below which are two quatrains in Old French, one spoken by the man, the other by his beloved. Two other early Renaissance coffrets containing a copy of this woodcut have been located by us:
1). Bibliotheque nationale de France, Dept. des Estampes (Reserve Musee OBJ-430-Pt FT, newly discovered and purchased by the BnF from Laurance Fligny, Marseille Encheres Provence, Dec. 9, 2018, lot 162) - woodcut colored. 2). Musee Fenaille, Rodez in the South of France (provenance indeterminate) - woodcut colored. To which we add the present example.
These three coffrets are apparently unique in that they contain a woodcut illustrating COURTLY LOVE in any form whatsoever. Seventy-two "coffrets à estampe" were presented in the epic 2019 exhibition at the Musee de Cluny entitled "Mystérieux coffrets. Estampes au temps de la Dame à la licorne." While several coffrets held secular woodcuts, the bespoke BnF "L'Amant et l'Amye" coffret was the ONLY one featuring courtly love. It was described in the catalogue (no. 70, p. 29) as: " Lyon (?), vers 1550-1570 (?)." The editors mentioned the Musee Fenaille coffret, as well as another with the "L'Amant et l'Amye" woodcut in private hands ("en mains privées") which we have been unable to locate.
An impression of this woodcut outside a coffret is preserved at the Ecole nationale superieure des beaux-arts, Paris (Est Mas 323); the woodcut is colored, but the typographical border was cropped and the margins extended.
Whereas the woodcut in the present coffret is mutilated and in many ways illegible, the ENSBA example is not. Thus we are able to describe the woodcut and the accompanying two quatrains in considerable detail, apparently for the first time:
The man (on the left) is presenting a valentine, and his beloved (on the right) a rose; between them are roses pruned in the shape of an estrade tree with three levels of foliage, issuing from a basket, at the foot of which is a rabbit cavorting, and to its left a dog (obliterated from our copy). At the top of the woodcut is a blindfolded cupid standing on a winged "globus cruciger" (orb and cross) while pointing arrows at the man and his beloved. Below the two lovers are two quatrains in Old French, printed in letterpress (sic):
"L'AMANT / Dame par amour ie vous prie / Que voftre amour vous me donnez / Et tant que ie feray en vie, / De mon cueur iouiffance aurez. / L'AMYE / Vous l'aures quand me donnerez / Ce que n'ay point, & point n'auez / Onques (sic) n'eustes, oncques n'aurez / Et si donner me le pouvez."
Lady for love, I beg you
May your love you give to me
And as long as I live
My heart will be proud.
You will get [my love] when you give me
What you have not had, and what you do not have
[What] you never had, and never will
And if you can give [your love] to me."
Such coffrets are much prized today not only as relics of truly Medieval craftsmanship, but for preserving a number of unique woodcuts. There are approximately 140 known "coffrets à estampe," almost all in European museums, with a handful present in American collections (SOURCE: Les Enluminures, Coffrets, see below). Most often they are of religious subjects and/or have been heavily restored.
The coffret itself seems to be closely related to one formerly in the Marie-Therese and Andre Jammes collection (sale at Pierre Berge, Paris, 7 Nov. 2007, lot 19) which contained a different woodcut. The catalogue dates the Jammes coffret "end of the 15th - beginning of the 16th century." NB: NONE of the 22 coffrets in the Jammes sale held woodcuts of courtly love.
Provenance: Messrs. Ball & Ball of Exton, PA (see accompanying letter from the V&A dated 9 June 1967, describing a similar coffret in the V&A collection: Casket M.280 acquired 1928). NB: Ball & Ball have been purveyors of antique (and reproductions of antique) hardware since 1932. -- Discovered in 2020 in a Pennsylvania estate by John Hillebrand. Offered in Palinurus Antiquarian Books 2020 "Artifacts" Catalogue (item #1). -- Purchased by Michael Laird Rare Books.
Further literature: Sandra Hindman, “Gothic Traveling Coffers Revisited,” in Le Livre, La Photographie, L’Image & La Lettre: Essays in Honor of André Jammes, ed. Sandra Hindman, Isabelle Jammes, Bruno Jammes and Hans P. Kraus Jr., Paris, 2015, pp. 312-327. -- Severine Lepape, “When Assemblage Makes Sense: An Example of a Coffret à Estampe,” Art in Print, 2 (2012), pp. 9-14. Ibid, “Du nationalism au surréalism: Une petite histoire de coffrets,” Bulletin du Bibliophile, 1 (2012), pp. 11-23.
Cataloguer's note: Concerning the iconography of the present woodcut, see Pierpont Morgan Library Glazier Collection, MS G.46, a miniature illuminated in Bruges, ca. 1510, which also features an estrade tree within a basket, a dog, and cavorting rabbits.
We have additional information concerning this important bibliographic / art historical relic; please inquire.