It was at the request of the University of Mons that the Léon Courtin-Marcelle Bouché Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, acquired this 17th century manuscript, decorated with superb miniatures and in an excellent state of preservation. The songbook, entitled ‘Recueil des plus beaux airs de ce temps’ (Book of the most beautiful airs of our time), was commissioned by the Mons lawyer Melchior Dassonleville and dated 1620. The Dassonleville family’s coat of arms and motto (‘Tum demum satiabor’ – Not before being satisfied) appear in three different parts of the manuscript.
The work contains 74 French songs on the theme of love and are listed alphabetically in an index at the end under ‘New airs’, ‘New songs’, ‘Love songs’, ‘Courtly songs’, ‘New ballets’ and ‘Rousing songs’. However, it is the miniatures in the book that are of the greatest artistic interest. The songbook has 17 full-page illustrations of mainly mythological scenes, many of which are inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Thus, there is the goddess Diana and the hunter Actaeon being changed into a stag, as well as Mars and Venus. There is Andromeda in chains being saved by Perseus, the Judgement of Paris, Apollo and Daphne being turned into a laurel tree and so on. The final scene is the funeral cortège of Cupid, accompanying the song ‘Bells chiming at love’s funeral’. One of the illustrations was created on silk, which is quite exceptional. The songbook also presents a bestiary, which includes 16 illustrations of horses, a lion, dog, monkey, elephant … and a unicorn.