Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9042
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Frugoni , Chiara.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Imagined Woman [The author provides an overview of visual representations of women in the medieval Christian West. Women were represented in a variety of art forms (including manuscripts, paintings, frescos, and sculptures). These images of women reflected perceived expectations of their roles (as virgins, wives, or widows) and reinforced Church doctrine on the sexual regulation of women, women’s roles within marriage, and women’s perceived duties within the domestic and religious spheres. The author argues that most of these representations are misogynistic; although women sometimes appear as saints (like the Virgin Mary) they often take the form of sinners and temptresses (like Eve). The author also examines how the visual arts use women as personifications of virtues and vices or other abstract concepts. In addition, the author argues that images provide insights into women’s private and daily lives, as well as the nature of women’s literacy and the variety of their occupations. Title note supplied by Feminae.].
  • Source: A History of Women in the West. Volume 2: Silences of the Middle Ages.  Edited by Christiane Klapisch-Zuber.  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.  Pages 336 - 422.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Essay
  • Subject (See Also): Art History- General Gender Iconography Misogyny in Art Woman, Image of Women in Art Women's History Women's Status
  • Geographic Area: General
  • Century: General
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations: Fifty Seven Figures. Figure One “The Story of Adam and Eve,” circa 840, manuscript illustration depicts the story of the Fall in a sequence of images: the creation of Adam and Eve, the Serpent’s temptation of Eve, Adam and Eve covering their nakedness, the expulsion of Adam and Eve, and a final image of Eve nursing a child while Adam toils in the field. From the Môutier-Grandvaal Bible (London, British Library, MS. Add. 10546, fol. 25v.). Figure Two Manuscript Illustration of The Three States, twelfth century, from “Speculum virginum." The drawing depicts a family tree with Adam and Eve at its root. The tree represents the three states of virginity, in descending order of spiritual perfection. The lowest section of the tree contains married couples (Noah, Abraham, and Isaac with their unnamed wives, and Zachariah with Elizabeth). The middle of the tree is occupied by widows. The highest portion of the tree contains virgins, and at the top of the tree is a bust of Christ (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS. pal. lat. 565, fol. 71r). Figure Three “The Birth of Alexander the Great,” mosaic, fourth century (Beirut, Baalbek Museum). Philip turns away from his wife Olympia, who tends to the infant Alexander. Figure Four “Mary’s Wedding,” circa 1100 (Utrecht, Aartbisschoppelijk Museum, MS. 1053, Lezionario, fol. 7v). Illustration depicts a priest holding Mary’s hand as he marries her to Joseph (both Mary and Joseph lack halos); a second illustration depicts Joseph and Mary in the manger with animals, angels, and the infant Jesus (both Mary and Joseph now have halos). Figure Five “The Temptation of Saint Benedict,” twelfth century (Vezelay, Church of Saint Madeleine, Capital). Sculpture depicts Benedict’s temptation by distorting conventional wedding iconography. In the place of a priest, a devil holds a woman’s hand and introduces her to the man. Figure Six Capital, early twelfth century (Civaux, Church of Saints Gervaise and Protaise). Sculpture depicts a married couple holding hands; they are approached by a siren, who causes the man to fall from his boat into the sea. Figure Seven “Hugo I of Vaudmont and His Wife,” after 1163 (Nancy, Church of the Cordeliers). Funereal effigy depicts the count clutching a walking stick and leaning on his wife, who holds one arm around his neck (in the iconographic tradition of Mary holding crucified Jesus).~~Figure Eight Tebaide Buffalmacco, “The Devil Dressed as a Pilgrim,” circa 1343 (Pisa, Monumental Cemetery). Fresco depicts a monk holding the hand of a female pilgrim who has black hooves (i.e., the devil dressed as a woman); the monk gazes into the pilgrim’s eyes. Figure Nine “Saint Francis: A Story from his Life,” late thirteenth century (Pisa, Museum of San Matteo; temporarily in the Church of San Francesco). Painting depicts Saint Francis performing an exorcism for a woman possessed by the devil; the woman has bared breasts and disheveled hair and clothing. Figure Ten “Inferno: The Throat of Hell,” early fourteenth century. Fresco in the triumphal arch of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Viterbo. Painting depicts a wolf’s head with mouth open and sharp teeth; the wolf swallows women, who are pushed into his mouth by fork-wielding devils. Figure Eleven “Inferno,” second half of eleventh century (Vatican City, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Inv. N. 526). Detail of painting depicts the Last Judgment; on the left are holy women with halos, and on the right are women who suffer the torments of Hell. Figure Twelve Herrad of Hohenbourg, "The Ladder of Virtue,” twelfth century, from “Hortus deliciarum." Miniature from drawing by A. de Bastard d’Estaing (formerly at the Strasbourg Municipal Library, now destroyed). Illustration depicts Christians of various walks of life climbing a ladder toward perfection; a married couple (a knight and his wife) are the first to fall off, at the bottom of the image. Figure Thirteen “The Temptation of Adam and Eve" (Cambridge, Saint John’s College, MS. K26 (231), fol. 4r). Illustration depicts Adam and Eve, and the Serpent in the tree in the Garden of Eden. The Serpent, who bears a woman’s face and wears women’s clothing, offers the fruit to Eve, who accepts the fruit with her left hand. With her right hand, Eve offers the fruit to Adam, who stands on the opposite side of the tree. Figure Fourteen “The Repentant Mary Magdalene,” capital, twelfth century (Toulouse Museum Toulouse). On the left is a figure of Mary untying her hair; on the right is a figure of Mary in a bent posture with her hair hanging loose. Figure Fifteen Tebaide Buffalmacco, “The Triumph of Death” (detail), fourteenth century (Pisa, Monumental Cemetery). Painting depicts Death as an old woman with clawed hands and feet and bat’s wings. Figure Sixteen Bartolo di Fredi, “Inferno,” 1368, fresco (Paganico (Siena), Church of San Michele Arcangelo). Painting depicts a naked female sinner whose hands are tied behind her back; a skeletal female devil flies above her before a rocky landscape. Figure Seventeen Bartolo di Fredi, “Purgatory,” 1368, fresco (Paganico (Siena), Church of San Michele Arcangelo). Painting depicts souls in Purgatory (mostly women) turning toward the Virgin Mary in gestures of supplication. Figure Eighteen Ambrose Autperto, “The Battle between Vices and Virtues,” late eleventh century. Manuscript Illustration depicts Avarice as a male miser (crushing a peasant with his foot) and Mercy as a man with his back turned to the miser and a palm leaf in his hand (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. 2077, fol. 170r). Figure Nineteen Ambrose Autperto, “The Battle between Vices and Virtues,” late eleventh century. Manuscript illustration depicts Lust as a richly dressed woman accompanied by a devil, while Chastity is a woman with her back turned to Lust; she holds a palm leaf in her hand and stands atop a vanquished devil (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. 2077, fol. 173r). Figure Twenty, “The Quadrivium,” circa 850, from “De arithmetica” by Boethius (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Cod. II J. IV. 12, MS. Class. 5, fol. 9v). Manuscript illustration depicts Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astrology as similarly-clothed women. Figure Twenty-One “Synagogue,” Atelier of Godefroy de Claire, 1155-1160. Detail of portable altar, Stavelot (Brussels, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire). Painting depicts Synagogue as a woman with her eyes shut. In her right hand she holds a sponge and a spear; in her left hand she holds a crown of thorns. Figure Twenty-Two Manuscript illustration depicts Lambert of Saint Omer with female personifications of Church and Synagogue, from “Liber Floridus,” early twelfth century (Gand, Bibliothèque van de Rijksuniversitet, MS. 92, fol. 253r). Figure Twenty-Three Bonifacio Bembo or Francesco Zavattari, “Papess Joan,” Visconti-Sforza tarot cards, 1451-1453 (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library). Illustration depicts the legendary Pope Joan sitting on a throne, holding a cross in her right hand and a closed book in her left. She wears a papal tiara that partially covers her white veil and wimple. Figure Twenty-Four Manuscript illustration depicts the crucifixion. The female patron of the manuscript (Judith of Flanders) is portrayed as a woman embracing the foot of the cross (in the place of Mary Magdalene), from the "Gospels" of the Countess Judith of Flanders, mid-eleventh century (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS. 709, fol. 1v.). Figure Twenty Five Manuscript Illustration depicts King Charles the Bald on his throne, surrounded by male and female attendants, from the "Bible" of King Charles the Bold, circa 875 (Rome, San Paolo outside the walls, fol. 1r.). Figure Twenty Six Manuscript illustration depicts Count Dirk II of Holland and his wife Hildegard donating a manuscript to the Egmont Monastery, 940-970 (Aia, Koninklijksbibliotheek, Hague, MS. 76 T 1, fol. 214v.). Figure Twenty Seven Manuscript illustration depicts Werner and Irmengard offering their evangelistary; Irmengard is partially hidden by her husband, who stands in front of her, from Saint Mihiel’s evangelistary, circa 1040 (Lille, Bibliothèque des Facultés Catholiques, fol. 253v.). Figure Twenty Eight Manuscript illustration depicts Donizone, Matilda, Hugo of Cluny, and King Henry IV; Matilda sits under a pavilion as she mediates, from “Vita Mathildis,” 1115 (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS. Vat. Lat. 4922, fol. 49r.). Figure Twenty Nine Witches (detail from the “Inferno”), fresco, late fifteenth century (Triora (Imperia), Church of Saint Bernardino,). Detail of painting depicts a group of witches inside a furnace. They are being skewered by demons. Each woman wears on her head a miter with a black devil painted on it (the miters identify them as sorceresses). Figure Thirty “Salome the Midwife” (detail of “Nativity”), fresco, eighth century? (Foris Portas (Castelseprio), Church of Santa Maria). Salome has a withered arm (an allusion to the story in which Salome insisted on testing Mary’s virginity and was punished with paralysis). Figure Thirty One Manuscript illustration of Aesculapius (who is portrayed as a doctor examining a flask of urine) and Circe (depicted as an old woman who is capturing toads). Miniature from Christine de Pizan, “Epistre d’Othéa,” early fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Collection, Ms. fr. 848, fol. 19v.). Figure Thirty Two Manuscript illustration of a woman performing a Caesarean section; the woman giving birth is surrounded by midwives and female attendants. From a miniature in Jean Bondol, “Histoire ancienne jusqu’à Cesar,” 1375 (Spikkestad, Martin Schogen Collection, Vol. 2, fol. 199). Figure Thirty Three Meister Bertram, Painting of the Virgin Mary knitting, detail of “Buxtehuder Altar,”circa 1400 (Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle). Figure Thirty Four Manuscript illustration depicts a woman at a storefront selling fish to a male customer, from “Tacuinum sanitatis,” 1385 (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS. s. n. 2644, fol. 82v.). Figure Thirty Five Manuscript illustration depicts women cutting and sewing clothes in a tailor’s workshop, from “Tacuinum sanitatis,” 1385. (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS. s. n. 2644, fol. 105v.). Figure Thirty Six Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, “May: A Knight and His Wife Hunting with a Falcon,” 1278 Perugia, Fontana Maggiore, Relief). Sculpure depicts a married couple riding on horseback; above the wife is an inscription reading “uxor” (Latin for “wife”). Figure Thirty Seven Wiligelmo, “Adam and Eve at Work,” early twelfth century (Modena, relief on the façade of the Duomo). On the left, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden; on the right, Adam and Eve bend to hoe the ground. Figure Thirty Eight Anonymous, Carved capital showing “Minstrel, Devil, and Woman,” twelfth century (Vézelay, Church of Saint Madeleine, Capital). Sculpture depicts a minstrel playing the flute. A devil standing next to the minstrel holds a woman in his hands as if she were a musical instrument. Figure Thirty Nine Manuscript Illustration depicts a woman seated by a fire as she prepares a recipe (with recipe book in hand), from Jean du Ries, “Quart volume de l’Histoire scolastique," 1470 (London, British Library, MS. Royal 15 D 1, fol. 18). Figure Forty Maestro di Borsigliana (Pietro da Talada?), “Madonna and Child,” fifteenth century (Capraia di Sillico, Church of Santa Maria). Painting depicts the Virgin Mary teaching the child Jesus how to read. Mary holds an open missal in her right hand, and in her lap sits Jesus, who looks down at a chalk palette he is holding; the letters of the alphabet are written in this palette along with a series of legible syllables. Figure Forty One Anonymous, “Panel with Scenes from the Life of the Virgin” (detail), circa 1335 (Paris, Musée National des Thermes et de l’Hotel de Cluny). Painting depicts Saint Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read. Anne points at an open book, which contains the text of Psalm 45: 10-11. Figure Forty Two Manuscript illumination of Claricia the miniaturist, psaltery, circa 1200 (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, MS. W. 26, fol. 64). The initial “Q” of Psalm 51 (52), as executed by a female manuscript illuminator. Figure Forty Three Manuscript illustration depicts a woman painting a fresco, from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Le livre des cleres et nobles femmes,” fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Fr. 599, fol. 53v.). Figure Forty Four Manuscript illustration depicts a woman seated at a desk who is copying a manuscript, from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Le livre des cleres et nobles femmes,” fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Fr. 598, fol. 43r.). Figure Forty Five Manuscript illustration depicts a woman sculptor chiseling a tombstone of a young maiden, from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Le livre des cleres et nobles femmes,” fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Fr. 599, fol. 58). Figure Forty Six Manuscript illustration depicts a seated woman painting an image of the Virgin and Child; to the right her male assistant stands at a table assembling paints and colors, from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Le livre des cleres et nobles femmes,” fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Fr. 12420, fol. 86.). Figure Forty Seven Manuscript illustration depicts three scenes: Radegund kneeling in a chapel, Radegund seated at table with her husband, and Radegund abandoning her husband in order to pray (Poitiers, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 250, fol. 24r). Figure Forty Eight Anonymous, “The Young Saint Clare with the Child Jesus,” 1333, Fresco, (Montefalco (Umbria), Church of Santa Chiara, Chapel of Santa Croce). Figure Forty Nine Manuscript illustration of nuns seated in choir stalls, from Henry VI’s Psaltery (London, British Library, MS. Cott Dom. A XVII, fol. 74v.). Figure Fifty Manuscript illustration depicts Abbess Hitda offering a book to Saint Walburg, the founder of her monastery. Miniature in Abbess Hitda’s evangelistary, early eleventh century (Darmstadt, Hessische-und-Hochschul-Bibliothek, MS. 1640, fol. 6r.). Figure Fifty One Manuscript illustration depicts Abbess Ute of Niedermünster, donor of the manuscript. Miniature in the Ratisbon evangelistary, early eleventh century (Munich, Staatsbibliothek, MS. lat. 13601, fol. 2r.). Figure Fifty Two Manuscript illustration depicts Isidore giving a book to Sister Florentine. Miniature from Isidore of Seville, “Contra Judaeos,” circa 800 (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 13396, fol.IV). Figure Fifty Three Manuscript illustration is a self-portrait of Sister Guda; she is portrayed as a veiled woman within an initial letter D for Dominus. The caption reads: “Guda, peccatrix mulier, scripsit et pinxit hunc librum” (Guda, sinful woman, wrote and illustrated this book). From Guda, “Homilia super Evangilia,” late twelfth century (Frankfurt, Stadt-und-Universitätsbibliothek, MS. lat. 13601, fol. 2r.). Figure Fifty Four Pietro Lorenzetti, “Storie della Beata Umilta,” fourteenth century (Florence, Uffizi). Painting depicts Saint Umilta reading a book aloud from a pulpit to her nuns who are seated in the refectory. Figure Fifty Five Pietro Lorenzetti, “Storie della Beata Umilta,” fourteenth century (Florence, Uffizi). Painting depicts Saint Umilta teaching two nuns outside her abbey. She stands with a book in her hand, and the two nuns crouch on the floor, each woman writing down the abbess’s words into her own book. Figure Fifty Six Pizzocorno, “Catherine of Alexandria Preaches,” fifteenth century, fresco (Butrio, Abbey of Sant’Alberto). Painting depicts Saint Catherine holding a book in hand as she preaches before a king and male philosophers, who also wave their own books. Figure Fifty Seven Follower of Tommaso da Modena, “Saint Catherine with a Model of Her City,” 1360-1370, fresco (Treviso, Church of Saint Catherine). Painting depicts the saint holding the city in her hand; words coming from her mouth read: “haec est civitas mea Tarvisina pro quam Deum meum rogo” (This is my city of Treviso on which I invoke God’s blessing).
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  • Author's Affiliation: University of Rome II
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1992.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 0674403711
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