La Guirlande de Julie – a floral masterpiece

I recently came across La Guirlande de Julie whilst conducting some research, and frankly, I had to share it. It is, quite possibly, one of my favourite objects in this world. La Guirlande is a book of love poetry, compiled by a French Noble in a bid to woo the love of his life, Julie. The book is filled with poems, illustrated with the most beautiful hand-painted flowers, each one singing her praises and comparing her beauty to those of the stunning floral examples.  It is truly a magnificent object, with a very interesting history.

The French Literary Salons

The first half of the seventeenth century witnessed the emergence of the Salon as a fashionable and educational way of socialising, discussing the latest political and scientific developments and being an active member of the cultural elite. Salons were an alternative space to the royal court, hosted, generally, by women within their homes, but were a meeting place for men and women alike. Indeed, they encouraged discussion, debate, playfulness and sociability. Their members were authors, musicians, politicians, nobles, artists, scientists etc. so it really was a melting pot of ideas. One of the most prolific salons was hosted by Catherine de Vivonne, the Marquise de Ramboiullet, at the hotel de Rambouillet in Paris.

“The hotel de Rambouillet…was, so to speak, the theatre of all their entertainments and was the rendezvous for all the most honourable gentlefolk at Court, as well as for the most polished of the century’s wits.”

The Marquise held her salons in what she called her chambre bleu. They were intimate gatherings and ones that relied heavily on literary wit but with a strict code of behaviour. These were not raucous parties, they were intellectual, sociable gatherings. It was at this particular Parisian salon, that Charles de Sainte-Maure, Marquis de Montausier, met Julie.

The most romantic gesture of all time?

Whilst frequenting the salon at the hotel de Rambouillet, Charles fell in love with Julie d’Angennes, daughter of Catherine, the hostess. In keeping with the salon’s emphasis on culture and literature, Charles commissioned the most famous and talented poets of the day (all members of the same salon) to write tens of individual love poems dedicated to Julie. Not only this, but he chose Nicolas Robert, the finest illustrator, to paint the flowers held within the book. Le Gascon, a famed book binder, bound the book and Nicolas Jarry, a notable calligraphist, wrote the poems in his perfect, ornamental hand. In short, the book was a masterpiece.

And for the record, it worked! Charles arranged for the book to be placed on Julie’s bed upon waking one morning in 1641. She waited, tantalisingly, four years to answer him but eventually, she accepted and the pair were married.

It is such an amazing piece of history, and a brilliant example of the literary production of the French salons during this period. If you would like to read it, thanks to the internet, you can! The entire book has been digitised by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and you can scour the pages to see the beauty and read the poems yourself:

View La Guirlande de Julie online here

Alexandra Kate