Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource, NY

“Osculetur me”—Latin for “kiss me”—is inscribed on this chaste portrait of the Song’s lovers. (The initial letter “O,” called a historiated initial, serves as the frame for the scene; the subsequent letters run down the right side.)

For centuries, Jewish and Christian commentators have searched for allegorical interpretations of the Song of Songs. According to the Talmud, the book depicts God’s love for Israel. In Christian tradition, it represents God’s relationship to the church. Christian images like this illumination from the early 13th-century Lothian Bible, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, often portray this love as a wedding between Jesus (enthroned at right) and the personified Church.