Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 1731
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Wolfthal , Diane.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Picturing Same-Sex Desire: The Falconer and his Lover by Petrus Christus and the Housebook Master
  • Source URL: Seeing Gender: Perspectives on Medieval Gender and Sexuality. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, King's College, London, January 4-6 2002. Conference program available online. target = '_blank'>Seeing Gender: Perspectives on Medieval Gender and Sexuality. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, King's College, London, January 4-6 2002. Conference program available online.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Art History- Painting Falcon, Image of Homosexuality in Art Housebook Master, Artist- Falconer Petrus Christus, Painter- Couple in a Goldsmith's Shop Woodcuts
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century:
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  • Abstract: This paper will explore two previously unrecognized images of same-sex desire, Petrus Christus’s Couple in a Goldsmith’s Shop and the Housebook Master’s Falconer, which both employ the falcon as a sign of love. These works reveal that although some Early Netherlandish images reinforce the idea of sodomy as sin, others, to quote Jacqueline Murray, “extend beyond a litany of prohibitions and condemnations.” Christus’s panel shows a couple in a shop purchasing a marriage ring; the man tenderly puts his arm around the woman; a wedding girdle is prominently displayed on the counter. A second couple appears in the painting, whose presence has never been satisfactorily explained. The two men, who stand in the street, are depicted as reflections in a small cracked and spotted mirror located in the lower left margin of the painting. Scholars generally agree that the painter is criticizing them, but the nature of the criticism has been debated. The falcon that rests on the wrist of one of the men in the mirror demands an explanation, since falcons were not paraded through city streets, but rather reserved for the hunt, which took place in the countryside. The falcon was a common symbol of love, but additional factors support the conclusion that this couple represents same-sex desire. Christus constructs the fiancé, surrounded by markers of heterosexuality, as the “proper” virtuous path, but represents the male couple as a sinful choice that is to be condemned. The Housebook Master’s print shows two men walking arm-in-arm with a falcon. Again, a constellation of factors suggests that they represent same-sex desire. But unlike Christus’s painting, which was publicly displayed, this private image leaves room for a positive interpretation of same-sex love. Until the recent rise in gay studies, art historians’ minds were not open to the possibility that art could depict same-sex love. For this reason, in both images that will be discussed, false interpretations based on class were proposed and accepted. But it is precisely because art historians have until recently failed to consider the possibility of interpretations based on sexuality that it today presents such a potentially fruitful category of analysis. [Reproduced by permission of the Gender and Medieval Studies Conference Organizers].
  • Author's Affiliation: Arizona State University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2002.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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