Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 5741
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Caviness , Madeline H.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: A Contemplative Life in Washington
  • Source URL: Gesta (Full Text via JSTOR) 37, 2 (1998): 150-157. Link Info target = '_blank'>Gesta (Full Text via JSTOR) 37, 2 (1998): 150-157. Link Info
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Art History- Decorative arts Contemplative Life, Religious Ideal Glass Windows Iconography Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 12
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence: Glass Window; Washington, D. C., National Museum of American Art, 1929.8.366, on loan to the National Gallery of Art. Possibly from Châlons -en-Champagne, church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, 1160-1170.
  • Illustrations: Six figures. Plate One Color reproduction of the Personification of Contemplative Life. Possibly from Châlons-en-Champagne, church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, 1160-1170 (Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art 1929.8.366). Figure One Personification of Contemplative Life. Figure Two Virgin and Child of an Adoration of the Magi from Châlons-en-Champagne, collegiate church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, circa 1160-1170. Figure Three Floreffe Bible, pictorial exegesis of the Book of Job (London, British Library, Add. MS 17738, fol. 3v.). Figure Four Virgin from a Jesse Tree window, circa 1160-1166 (Soest, church of St. Patroclus). Figure Five Chartres Cathedral, north transept, left portal, Contemplative Life as a seated woman holding a book.
  • Table:
  • Abstract: A stained-glass medallion with a seated woman holding a scroll that labels her as a personification of the contemplative life, was found in storage in the National Museum of American Art in 1986. Its composition and colors, and the style and technique of the painting, led the author to attribute it to Châlons-sur-Marne (now officially renamed Chalons-en-Champagne), and to date it in the third quarter of the twelfth century. The majestic veiled figure resonates with representations of the Virgin, Ecclesia, and Sapientia, and is more likely to have formed a set with the contemplative virtues than to have had the active life as a pendant. Whereas the contemplative and the active lives were sometimes polarized, as in the quarrel between Mary and Martha in Luke's gospel, some sources viewed the Virgin Mary as having attributes of both. Yet there is no sign of activity in the Washington figure. This sapiential personification, who neither writes nor reads her scroll, symbolizes the silent Word with God, a sign of the eternal contemplation of God within the soul. This essay treats the iconography of the figure in relation to the theological debates over the merits of the contemplative and the active life-styles that were engaged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The foundation of such orders as the Cistercians and Premonstratensians, and the greater prestige of episcopal over abbatial centers as institutions of learning, produced many advocates of the active life. The Washington figure appears conservative in this context, an additional argument for associating it with the collegiate church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux in Châlons-sur-Marne, which was splendidly decorated in the period 1160-1185. [Reproduced by permission of the International Center of Medieval Art.]
  • Author's Affiliation: Tufts University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1998.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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