Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4691
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  • Title: Battle of the Sexes? Punishment as a Hermeneutic in Medieval Martyrdom Iconography
  • Source: Gender and Conflict in the Middle Ages. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, York, January 5-7 2001.. 2001.
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  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Iconography Martyrs Violence
  • Geographic Area: General
  • Century: General
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  • Abstract: Representations of virgin-martyrs are frequently interpreted through the lens of gender. Researchers emphasise the disjunction between (patriarchal) pagan power and (feminine) Christian passivity, implying that narratives of female martyrdom operate on a continuum with actual sexual violence. Indeed, certain commentators have dubbed depictions of this sort "religious pornography," a rhetorical strategy that holds that the underlying subtext of virgin-martyr representation constitutes a veritable "battle of the sexes." Without wishing to downplay the validity of these interpretations, this paper will attempt to (i) reformulate the rape-pornography reading in less victimological terms, and (ii) suggest that allusions to pain, sexual violence and bodily dissolution are also the setting for a hermeneutical exploration of the dialectic of power and powerlessness that transcends simple subject-object polarities. More specifically, I will demonstrate that images of this sort present a space in which to explore other kinds of tension, for instance class conflict, racial prejudice, and religious heterodoxy--and that, stopping simply at rape and objectifying looks, critics do not acknowledge all the other contents of the unconscious that late-medieval martyrdom iconography exudes. [Reprinted by permission of the Gender and Medieval Studies Conference organizers].
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  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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