An Antique Map Illustrates the Territory and the Adventure of Falling in Love
Created in the 17th century, the Carte Tendre maps the landscape and winding paths of love.
Of all the metaphors used to describe the processes of love, perhaps those relating to geography, especially to bodies of water, are the most accurate and poetic. Think of rivers that flow into the sea. La Carte de Tendre, made in the 17th century, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and accurate analogies, as it illustrates the sinuous paths of romantic love with an all-enveloping and feminine fidelity.
Drawn by several hands between 1653 and 1654, La Carte de Tendre is known to have been made by the Marquise de Rambouillet, Catherine de Vivonne – a crucial figure in the French literature of the time – and by Madeleine de Scudéry, a writer who included the beautiful map in her novel, Clélie.
The plan, which could also function as an instruction manual, illustrates a fictional country called Tendre. It’s an idyllic pastoral land of mountains, rivers, and lakes, and which metaphorically emulates the process of love, its stages, and its traps. Every journey through the country of romance begins in a place called Nouvelle Amité (New Friendship). The traveler is then presented with three possible routes ( that is if he doesn’t fall into the “Lake of Indifference” or the “Sea of Enmity”). The Tendre-sur-Inclination is a path of mutual inclination, the fastest and least scaled route. The Tendre-sur-Reconnaissance (recognition) or the Tendre-sur-Estime (esteem) are two routes which include stops at the small villages graciously illustrated on the map.
The villages along the routes of love have also been named suggestively: Generosité (Generosity), Billet Doux (Love Letter), Petis Soins (Little Gifts). If the traveler takes the wrong route, it’s quite possible he’ll arrive in Probité (Forbidden), Oubli (Forgotten) Perfidie (Duplicity) or in Indiscretion. The passion along this loving route is located near the edges of the map, near La Mer Dangereuse (The Dangerous Sea), and with all that this thus implies.
Later feminist readings of La Carte de Tendre recognize the strong political implications in the document, although in the most philosophical sense of the word. This romantic route, full of dangers and pitfalls, re-discovers the importance of the female prerogative in the process of courtship and the triumph of a loving relationship.
With any reading of this map – as a beautiful geography of loving feelings and as a witness to the deeper conventions of its time – it’s undeniable that it channels clues, even allegorically, about infatuation that remain with us even today. In short, we’re reminded that both the complex and the timeless are still two qualities of romantic love.
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