17nd century Liber Amicorum rebus

Rebus from a 17nd century Liber Amicorum (book of friends: a sort of facebook).

The rebus, a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters, contains three pictorial symbols:

  • The first, a heart, is a common element of rebuses of the period, and stands for what is seems: “heart”.
  • The last symbol is a Globus Cruciger, also known as the orb and cross, which in Christian iconography usually indicates Christ’s dominion over the earth, however in contemporary rebuses interpreted more generally as the “world”.
  • The middle symbol is crucial, yet is the least understandable. On the face of it, it appears to have the shape of a key, allowing for a sentimental phrase that reads “The hearts of women are the key to the world”. However, further investigation of the symbol complicates this interpretation, for its similarity to a key is vague at best, suggesting it is either poorly painted or meant to represent something else entirely. It actually most closely resembles a jaw harp. The possibility that this is the intended meaning of the symbol at first seems illogical, as it does not appear to fit the phrase in any way. Inserting the common French term for the instrument, Guimbarde, gives us nothing, as does the German term Maultrommel. However, discovering earlier French names for it, Jeu-Trompe and Trompe de Béarn, suddenly supplies the image with a double meaning. If the word “Trompe” is inserted in the phrase, an unexpectedly phrase emerges: “Le coeur de Dames trompe le Monde”, or “The hearts of women deceive the world”. This is a known proverb from the 17nd century.