Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Woman who leaves her husband’s house
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This illustration is part of a legal text known as Vidal Mayor. This initial “S” opens a chapter on marriage law and the property rights of husbands and wives. The artist is unknown, but the illustrations were done between 1290-1310 and there is a clear influence from contemporary French illumination. The author of the original law code in Latin was Vidal de Canellas, bishop of Huesca, (1236-1252) and the scribe, and possible translator, was Michael Lupi de Candiu (1297-1305). Candiu identifies himself in an inscription in the manuscript. The translation is in Navarro-Aragonese. King Jaume I of Aragon and Catalonia commissioned the code in 1247 to create a new set of laws for his kingdom in the aftermath of the victorious reconquest of territories from the Muslims.

    This chapter is titled “On Moveable Things” (De las cosas que son movidas). The text in this section states that when a woman leaves her husband he is able to reclaim both the wife and “his” belongings. The scene depicts a woman three times as she takes her belonging, a red curtain, and moves it to a new house, either the house of a male relative or a new husband. There are three men in the image, her former husband, her husband’s bondsman to settle the affair, and the new man she is going to live with. The husband is using the bondsman to attempt to reclaim his property.

    The image uses color to connect the men and woman. The red color of the curtain corresponds to the red color of the husband’s garment, making a statement about to whom the property belongs. The woman’s blue undershirt is connected to the blue garment of the man to whose house she is moving. The purple sleeveless tunic she is wearing may demonstrate her state of transition in terms of households and legal status.

    In Spain at this time repudiations, separations and annulments were not uncommon among people of higher social status. Grounds for separation were not always rigorously enforced, so that reasons of consanguinity or physical defect could be alleged with little evidence. In the 13th century law code from Aragon’s neighboring kingdom, Las Siete Partidas, created by King Alfonso X of Castile, a marital separation could be undertaken in various situations including a religious conversion and fornication. In cases of a religious difference, the divorce would be done through the church court. If it concerned adultery, the marriage would be annulled through the secular court.

  • Source: J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Rights: Public domain. Made available under the J. Paul Getty Museum's Open Content Program.
  • Subject (See Also): Divorce Family Law Marital Separations Marriage
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 13- 14
  • Date: Ca. 1290- 1310
  • Related Work: Incipit illumination from the Vidal Mayor manuscript in which the author offers the text to King Jaume.
    Illustrated initial from the Vidal Mayor manuscript with two scenes involving women.
  • Current Location: Los Angeles, California, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XIV 6
  • Original Location: Northeastern Spain
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Tempera; Gold; Ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 36.5/24 [leaf]/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: “Fourth Partida, Title X: Concerning the Annulment of Marriages.” Las Siete Partidas: Family, Commerce, and the Sea: The Worlds of Women and Merchants. Trans. Robert I. Burns. Vol. 4. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001;
    Grautoff, Gwendollyn Gout. “Vidal Mayor: A Visualization of the Juridical Miniature.” Medieval History Journal 3, 1 (2000): 67-89;
    “Initial S: Woman Leaving Her Husband’s House". The J. Paul Getty Museum website;
    Rodriguez Ortiz, Victoria. “La disolución del vínculo conyugal y otras formas de separación entre los cónyuges en la historia del Derecho castellano.” Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 77 (2007): 658-663;
    “Vidal Mayor.” The J. Paul Getty Museum website.