Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Christine de Pizan presents her book to Louis of Orleans
  • Creator: Master of the Cité des Dames and workshop
  • Description:

    This image, created in France c. 1410-1414, illustrates Christine de Pizan presenting her book to her patron, the Duke of Orléans, and appears in the preface of the Épistre Othéa. Christine, dressed modestly in black, kneels before Louis d’Orléans, who is seated wearing a red-orange headdress and lavish blue robe decorated with golden accents as well as golden prints of wolves (loup in French being a play on his name). He wears an elaborate necklace that Sandra Hindman identifies as the chivalric collar of the Order of the Porcupine, which Louis established in 1394. Three courtiers surround Louis in elaborate robes and multi-colored headdresses adorned with feathers, while the figure on the right holds his porcupine pendant and gestures toward Christine’s manuscript. The wall in the background is a rich blue decorated with images of the gold fleur-de-lis, the royal arms of France. Louis and his courtiers’ range of bright colors, indicative of expensive fabric, contrasts greatly with Christine’s sober yet dignified black dress. Her appearance, while far less intricate, conveys substantive meaning. An Italian treatise on color in 1430 observes: “Even though the color black seems sad, it is of high standing and great virtue.” Furthermore, the neckline of her dress sports a subtle decorative detail, and she also wears her signature bi-horned white headdress known as Attor de Gibet. The Épistre Othéa appears as a large, metal-clasped green book, its size representative not only of the immense amount of time and physical labor dedicated to the process of writing, but also of the skilled craftsmanship and expense of the raw materials required to produce it.

    This image appears in a manuscript known as the The Book of the Queen. Remarkably, Christine, herself, supervised the production of this manuscript of her collected literary works at the request of Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, the wife of King Charles VI. At the helm of an ambitious creative project, Christine was responsible for organizing the contents, layout, copying, and decoration of the book. With 30 texts and 132 miniatures, the manuscript provides an elegant and luxurious experience for readers. It also serves as the largest and most complete witness to Christine’s writings.

    The Épistre Othéa was one of Christine de Pizan’s most widely disseminated texts. It is a didactic work which presents a political commentary as well as a celebration of the wisdom of women. Christine invented the character of Othea, the goddess of Prudence and Wisdom, who instructs her pupil, Hector, on wisdom and knightly valor. Through the goddess, Christine experiments with political language in discussions of sexual politics, personal morality, and enlightened government. Christine roots her book in her own reinterpretation of the classical gods and both mythological and historical patriarchal failings. The Épistre Othéa consists of a hundred texts in verse which offer guidance on matters of chivalric qualities and morality, as well as feminine glosses and spiritual allegories centered in a rereading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Chrstine defines what it means to be a “good” knight and establishes Hector of Troy as both a model of knighthood and an embodiment of the ideal Christian.

    Louis d’Orléans was the younger brother of King Charles VI whose periods of mental instability further complicated ongoing political conflicts. The French crown had long-established ties with the papacy, which had settled in Avignon in 1309. Since 1378, French kings had supported the papal claimants in Avignon during the Great Western Schism which saw two, sometimes three, rival popes in competition. King Charles VI saw an opportunity to declare a new pope who would reunite the church under one pontiff, but a Spanish cardinal had himself elected as Benedict XIII to maintain the Roman Curia in Avignon. Along with two of his uncles, Louis d’Orléans served as an ambassador to try and convince Benedict XIII to step down as pope. Despite the entreaties proposed by the French monarchy, Benedict XIII refused, and French forces ultimately drove him from Avignon. In domestic politics, Louis was at odds with other male members of the royal family, especially the dukes of Burgundy, as they struggled for power during the king’s illness. This would culminate in the murder of Louis d’Orléans in 1407 on the orders of his cousin, John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy.

    Due to her close involvement with the court, Christine de Pizan was aware of these dangerous tensions and the advice she provided in the Épistre Othéa in 1399-1400 would have been relevant to the crises Louis d’Orléans was facing. In fact, the description of Christine presenting her book to Louis d’Orléans actually mirrors the act of the goddess, Othea, presenting her letter to Hector of Troy. Christine establishes herself as a legitimate author in relation to male patrons and figures of authority, and invokes her own extensive achievement and success in patronage. She demonstrates tremendous self-awareness of character as she asserts herself as a female interlocutor of a male-dominated practice and publicizes her own voice. In dedicating the Épistre Othéa to Louis d’Orléans, Christine not only publicly endorses his actions, but also aligns herself with him politically. By appealing to the power and authority of the Duke of Orléans and his court, Christine validates her own authority as a woman writer as well as a political and moral advisor. The grand dedication and presentation of her book to Louis d’Orléans is representative of the influence that Christine had already come to hold in her service to the French court.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Christine de Pizan, Poet- Epistre d'Othea a Hector Classical Influences Dedicatees and Dedications Louis, Duke of Orleans Manuscripts- Production Patronage, Literary Politics Women Authors in Art
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1410- 1414
  • Related Work: Full manuscript page of Christine presenting her book to Louis d’Orléans, British Library, Harley MS 4431, fol. 95r.
    Othéa presents her epistle to Hector, British Library, Harley MS 4431, fol. 95v.
    Full manuscript page of Othéa presenting her epistle to Hector, British Library, Harley MS 4431, fol. 95v.
    Christine presenting her book to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, British Library, Harley MS 4431, fol. 3r.
    Digitized manuscript pages at full view, British Library, Harley MS 4431. From the website, Christine de Pizan: the Making of the Queen's Manuscript.
    Digitized manuscript, including image details, British Library, Harley MS 4431.
    Christine presents her book to Louis d'Orléans, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 848, fol. 1r. The manuscript is dedicated to Louis and in Christine's hand. It is dated circa 1400-1401.
    Othéa presents her epistle to Hector, BNF, MS Français 848, fol. 2r.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Harley Ms 4431, fol. 95r
  • Original Location: Central France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Gold; Colored inks
  • Donor: Laywoman; Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France and wife of Charles VI
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 36.5/28.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    Adams, Tracy. Christine de Pizan and the Fight for France. Penn State University Press ,2015.

    Christine de Pizan. Othea's Letter to Hector. Translated by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Earl Jeffrey Richards. Iter Press and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2017.

    Cooper, Charlotte E. "Ambiguous Author Portraits in Christine de Pizan’s Compilation Manuscript, British Library, Harley Ms 4431." Performing Medieval Text. Edited by Ardis Butterfield, Henry Hope and Pauline Souleau. Legenda, 2017. Pages 89-107.

    Cooper, Charlotte E. "Learning to Read Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea." Pecia 17 (2014): 41-63. Available on academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/30888379/_Learning_to_Read_Christine_de_Pizan_s_Epistre_Othea

    Green, Karen. "Isabeau de Bavière and the Political Philosophy of Christine de Pizan." Historical Reflections 32, 2 (2006): 247-272.

    Hindman, Sandra. Christine de Pizan's "Epistre Othéa": Painting and Politics at the Court of Charles VI. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986.

    Laidlaw, James. "The Date of the Queen’s MS (London, British Library, Harley MS 4431)", 2005. Available on the website, Christine de Pizan: The Making of the Queen's Manuscript: http://www.pizan.lib.ed.ac.uk/harley4431date.pdf.

    Pastoureau, Michel. Black: The History of a Color. "A Fashionable Color: Fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.” Princeton University Press, 2009. Pages 77-111.

    Regalado, Nancy Freeman. “Page Layout and Reading Practices in Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea: Reading with the Ladies in London, BL, MS Harley 4431.” Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies: Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns. Edited by Laine E. Doggett and Daniel E. O'Sullivan. Boydell & Brewer, 2016. Pages 219-234.

    Schieberle, Misty. "The Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod, Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea, and the Problem with Authorial Manuscripts." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 118, 1 (2019): 100-128. Available with a subscription: https://www.muse.jhu.edu/article/719380