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La Guirlande de Julie

La Guirlande de Julie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salons are often looked upon as a French institution when in fact Italians brought salons to France.  However, although the salon was imported, it became a French institution and it never fully disappeared.  Gertrude Stein’s home: 28, rue de Fleurus, was a salon.

Madame de Rambouillet

“l’incomparable Arthénice” (Arthénice is an anagram of Catherine)
l’honnête homme

Born in Rome to Jean de Vivonne (marquis of Pisani [1530-1599]) and Giulia Savelli, Madame de Rambouillet (1588-1665), the wife of Charles d’Angennes, marquis de Rambouillet (1577–1652), opened the first famous seventeenth-century French salon.  Salons were a gathering place for various distinguished persons: aristocrats of all ranks, cardinals (Richelieu), Louis XIII (at least once), and l’honnête homme, who could be a bourgeoisFor the most part, habituées (regulars) were well-educated men and women who shared an interest in literature, philosophy and music.  Moreover, they were witty.  L’incomparable Arthénice, an anagram of Catherine, established the first and the best of salons and received her guests every Saturday.  On fine summer days, they had a cadeau (literally a gift) which was an outing in the countryside: une fête champêtre.

L’Hôtel de Rambouillet

rue Saint-Honoré
rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre
la ruelle (the side of a bed)

Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, lived in a private house, then called un hôtel particulier, l’Hôtel de Rambouillet, rue Saint-Honoré.  But l’Hôtel relocated in 1618. Its new address was rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre.  Arthénice received her guests in her blue room, la chambre bleue d’Arthénice.  She usually sat in bed and her guests, la crème de la crème of French society, gathered in a ruelle (literally a narrow back street), one side of the bed.  Bedrooms were very large in the best homes of the seventeenth century and beds were canopied beds featuring somptuous drapes that were drawn closed at night, especially on wintry days.

Salons are remembered as places where anything crude was quickly rejected.  Only the purest French could be spoken in a salon and one’s manners had to be refined.  A male guest was, at the very least, an honnête homme.  French galanterie is a sturdy institution dating back to medieval courtly love.  It reached a summit in seventeenth-century French salons.

Giovanni Battista Guarini & Honoré d’Urfée

Il Pastor fido

However, seventeenth-century salons were not always as they had been at l’Hôtel de Rambouillet.  Some salon habitué(e)s were people who made believe they were not what they seemed.  The salonniers and salonnières, gave themselves new names and, at one point, the aficionados of salons were so influenced by Guarini’s Il Pastor fido, a pastoral set in Arcadia and published in Venice in 1590 and, later, by Honoré d’Urfée’s L’Astrée (1607-1627), that they played shepherds and shepherdesses (see Pastoral, Wikipedia).  Fantasy took over.

As well, salons are one of the birthplaces of feminism.  Medieval courtly love was revived and revised, and women started looking upon themselves as “précieuses.”  They were précieuses, of course, everyone is, but not so précieuses that they could not call a chair a chair.  Chairs became “commodités de la conversation.”  A comfortable armchair does facilitate conversation, but… Préciosité, was not one of the better moments of la querelle des femmes, the woman question (the term “querelle des femmes” was first used in 1450). 

In some cases, women kept suitors waiting for several years, before marrying.  The Duc de Montausier (1610–1690), courted Julie d’Angennes (1607-1671), Madame de Rambouillet’s daughter, from 1631 until 1645, before she consented to marry him. She was 38 when she married Montausier.  The couple had one daughter.

La Guirlande de Julie: a gift

62 madrigals (poems)
flowers representing facets of love (allegory)

Out of this courtship, a book emerged, entitled La Guirlande de JulieIt was given as a present to Julie in 1641 and contained sixty-two madrigals (poems not songs), each featuring a flower.  The collection of poems is therefore allegorical, or symbolic.  Montausier wrote sixteen of the madrigals (the poetic rather than musical form), but the preparation of the book was a bit of a contest disguised as a game.  Among the authors are Racan, Tallemant des Réaux and others.  The challenge consisted in finding the “pointe” or conceit, a clever and witty way of saving “little nothings.”

Only the finest authors contributed madrigaux to the collection.  The Guirlande‘s calligraphist was famed Nicolas Jarry and each flower was painted by Nicolas Robert on vellum. It is an illuminated manuscript.  The book is now housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and can be read and looked at online at Gallica BnF.  Many can also be seen at Bridgeman Images.


Source and Resources

(Photo credit: Bridgeman and BnF, Paris)


My kindest regards to all of you.


Marie-Nicole Lemieux (b. 1975):
Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix, Camille Saint Saëns

Frain-Irene-La-Guirlande-De-Julie-Livre-836443603_ML© Micheline Walker
2 October  2011
revised on 30 July 2014
(Photo credit: Google images)