Music for the Eyes: Manuscripts from the Frank Cooper Facsimile Collection
Music for the Eyes: Facsimiles: Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu

Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu


This beautiful, heart-shaped codex was compiled around 1470 for a nobleman named Jean de Montchenu. It contains forty-four polyphonic chansons (thirty in French and fourteen in Italian), written by such notable composers as Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Antoine Busnois. True to the chansonnier’s design (the codex opens into the shape of two hearts joined as one), the subject of these chansons is courtly love. The pages are detailed with illuminated miniatures, gold-flecked initials, and fantastical flora and fauna. The chansonnier made its way from the hands of Jean de Montchenu in the 15th century to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 1933. This meticulously reproduced facsimile, one of a limited edition of 1380 copies, brings this musical and historical treasure from France to our collection.

For more information about the Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu, visit the publisher's website: Vicent García Editores.

(Click on each image to enlarge. Image will open in a new window.)

Cupid's arrow

One of only two full-page illustrations in the codex, this image shows a young woman (below, right) whose breast is pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows. Cupid flies in the upper left corner, while the figure directly below him is Lady Fortune, standing on her wheel. She is depicted as half in bright color and half in shadow to represent the dual nature of Fate: sometimes kind, sometimes cruel.  

Young couple

The second full-page illustration shows the same young woman, now arm-in-arm with her beloved. As with the first illustration, the edges of the pages are decorated with flowers, animals, and other figures and designs. The song illustrated by this image, "Zentil madona deh non m’abandonare," is from the viewpoint of a young man, exhorting his estranged love to “not desert me… do not make me die.” The despairing mood of the text does not match the image of the loving couple seen here.

Dufay - Vostre bruit

Dufay’s "Vostre bruit et vostre grant fame" shows the typical presentation of each song in the codex. Three parts (for voices and/or instruments) appear on these pages. The upper right page contains the middle voice, called the tenor. The upper left page contains the upper voice and text for the first verse, while the lower page contains the lower voice, called the contratenor. On the extreme left-hand of the page, perpendicular to the music, is the second verse of the song’s text, while the third verse is written just above the contratenor. The initial letters of the first and second verse, the “T” of tenor, and the “C” of contratenor are written in gold and decorated by boxes of blue and/or rose. Whimsical human/ beast hybrid creatures populate the upper, lower, and right-hand edges of the pages, while an angel playing a stringed instrument poses on the left-hand edge.

Heart pictogram

This example contains a notable bit of decoration. The text of "Ma bouche plaint" includes the phrase Mon cuer mauldit de mes yeulx l'entreprise ("My heart curses the ambition of my eyes." Instead of writing out the word “heart” (cuer), the scribe has used the pictogram .