What could be a more fitting environment for love emblems than the bedroom walls in a Renaissance family castle? A bedroom redecorated on the occasion of a wedding in the highest circles of French nobility? Where a series of emblems was rearranged to tell the story of a love, ending in an embrace that even death cannot undo?
This seems to be the case in the castle of Coulon, in Graçay (Cher) in central France. The Emblem Project Utrecht was recently contacted by the owner of the castle. On the EPU site she had found in Heinsius’s emblems a possible source for the wall paintings that had been discovered behind the nineteenth-century wallpaper of her castle. The art historians she consulted since the discovery in 1994 had not been able to identify the subjects of the paintings.
If we place a short account of these wall paintings in the proceedings of the EPU conference ‘Learned Love’ (November 6-7, 2006), it is because it shows not only the wide influence of the Dutch love emblem in its day, but also the effects of emblem digitisation and the internet. The discovery of the wall paintings was a nice present that almost coincided with the completion of the Emblem Project Utrecht’s initial mission, the digitisation of 25 canonical works in the Dutch love emblem tradition.
To tell the truth, we do not know for sure whether the room that contains the emblematic wall paintings was a bedroom. We are not sure whether the wall paintings were commissioned because of a wedding. What we do know is this: in the north room on the main floor of the Chateau de Coulon, on the upper part of the walls, someone has painted frescoes that contain the pictures of eight love emblems. The scenes are apparently taken from the picturae of Théâtre d’Amour, an anonymous early seventeenth-century adaptation of Heinsius’s collection Quaeris quid sit amor.
The castle was declared a historic monument in 1994. Experts from the Administration des Monuments Historiques have estimated the wall paintings were executed somewhere between 1600 and 1610. At the time, the castle was owned by François de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1558-1614), who had inherited it from his first wife, Jeanne de Coeme (†1601). In 1605, the prince de Conti remarried. His second wife was Louise Marguerite de Lorraine-Guise (1574-1631). It is certainly tempting to speculate the prince ordered the wall paintings as a surprise for his new wife.