Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Image of the Month

September 2022

  • Title: Love Magic
  • Creator: Unknown Rhenish master, painter
  • Description: Painted in the second half of the fifteenth century, Love Magic is by an unknown Rhenish artist. The painting is oil and tempera on wood, and currently resides in the Museum der Bildenden Künste, in Leipzig. Though the scene was long thought to portray a female folk ritual for finding love, recent scholars suggest that Love Magic connects with late medieval beliefs concerning the power of women, magic and women's privacy.

    This work depicts a young woman, completely nude aside from a strip of fabric and wooden pattens on her feet, as she drops water and sparks into a chest containing a large red heart. About the room float five blank, scrolling pieces of paper. They align with the heart, woman, the young man in the background, parakeet and dog. The scrolls may have been included to create an air of intrigue. To the right of the panel are the dog and parakeet, while a fire is lit in the fireplace to the left. The background of the painting has become obscured, but it is possible to make out shelving with different objects on it. Behind her, the young man has entered the doorway and stands gazing at her. Presumably it is his heart that lies in the casket and receives the streams of sparks and water, demonstrating that only the beloved can cool the flames of love.

    The painting likely refers to the Power of Women topos, the idea that women had control over men through their sexuality and could humiliate and destroy them. Witness the story of Delilah and Samson as well as the way in which Phyllis makes a fool of Aristotle. Women, moreover, were considered especially prone to enacting feminine "love magic" by which they could manipulate men's desires. This reversal of roles threatened the gendered power balance by granting women dominance.

    Changes in the late medieval period led to a new idea of privacy that had previously been unavailable to the majority of the population. Along with women's newfound domestic spaces for privacy came a rise in male voyeurism into those feminine spaces. Men were anxious about what women might be doing. A desire for privacy was seen as suspicious and secretive. It was ultimately tied to magic and mischief due to the idea that such activities were practiced in secret and alone.

    Given the broader context of the power of women, magic and women's privacy, what specific meaning/s did the painting covey to viewers? In recent years Dechant has argued that the scene with its many objects is intended to be ambiguous. In his view it presents the viewer with a fascinating mystery involving women's sexuality rather than a puzzle to be decoded. Wolfthal underlines the artist's naturalism in the representation of flowers, sparks and water droplets, suggesting that the painting captures a powerful erotic vision by including many realistic details
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Love Charms ; Magic ; Nude in Art ; Power of Women Topos ; Privacy ; Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1470
  • Related Work:
    Hans Memling, Bathsheba at Her Bath, ca. 1480, Netherlands, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
    After van Eyck, Woman at Her Toilet, ca. 1500, Netherlands, Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University.
    Tristan and Iseut drinking the love potion, 15th century, BnF, manuscrit Français 112, fol. 239r
    Alexander the Great's mother sleeping with a dragon, while her husband observes, ca. 1468-1475, Low Countries, British Library, Burney MS 169, fol. 14r.
    Melusine in her bath, spied upon by her husband Raymondin, ca. 1490, Flanders, BnF, Ms. Francais 24383, fol. 19.
  • Current Location: Leipzig, Germany, Museum der bildenden Künste, inv. no. 509
  • Original Location: Vicinity of Cologne
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel ; Oil paints
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 24/18/
  • Related Resources:
    Broedel, Hans. "Witchcraft as an Expression of Female Sexuality." In The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief. Manchester University Press, 2013. Pages 167-188.

    Dechant, D. Lyle. "Fascinated by Fascination: Female Privacy and the Leipzig 'Love Magic' Panel." Visions of Enchantment: Occultism, Magic and Visual Culture: Select Papers Form the University of Cambridge Conference. Edited by Daniel Zamani and Judith Noble. Fulgur Press, 2019. Pages 39-49.

    Lorenzi, Lorenzo. "The Daughter of Venus: The Image of the Witch in the Fifteenth Century." In Witches: Exploring the Iconography of the Sorceress and Enchantress. Centro Di Della Edifimi Srl, 2005.

    Nenno, Nancy P. "Between Magic and Medicine: Medieval Images of the Woman Healer." Women Healers and Physicians: Climbing a Long Hill. Edited by Lillian R. Furst. University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Pages 43-63.

    Warburton, Greg. "Gender, Supernatural Power, Agency and the Metamorphoses of the Familiar in Early Modern Pamphlet Accounts of English Witchcraft." Parergon 20, no. 2 (2003): 95-118.

    Wolfthal, Diane. "From Venus to Witches: The Female Nude in Northern Europe." The Renaissance Nude. Edited by Thomas Kren with Jill Burke and Stephen J. Campbell. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. Pages 81-91.

The Feminae database presents images of medieval art with descriptions, data, and subject indexing. Each thumbnail picture has a link to a higher quality image often with a zoom view and added content from a museum. Images included represent women and gender 450 to 1500 C.E. in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Beginning in June 2012 we have highlighted each month a newly added image that is rich in documentary evidence or iconographic significance.

As images build up in the database, users can browse for aggregated evidence. The Donor field groups people together in the categories layman/men, laywoman/women, female religious and male religious. The Current Location field allows users to see artwork that is all housed in the same museum. Image records are integrated with all the other Feminae content, so that a search on Mary Magdalen will include results for essays, journal articles, translations, book reviews, and images (which come at the end of the list which is sorted by date). Feminae Research Assistants

Feminae Research Assistants:

Collin Kawan-Hemler worked on Feminae during the summer of 2021. He is majoring in History at Haverford College with a minor in Health Studies.

Caroline Ford was the Feminae intern during the 2020-21 academic year. She majored in English at Haverford College with a minor in psychology.

Joe Ding worked on Feminae during the summer of 2020. She is majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy at Haverford College.

Rebecca Chen was the Feminae intern during the summer of 2020. She is an English major at Haverford College with interests in pursuing medicine.

Jonathan Sudo worked on Feminae in summer 2019. He majored in History and East Asian Studies at Haverford College.

Drew Forte worked on images from Spring 2018 through Spring 2020 . He had a particular interest in the occult and magic as represented in medieval art.

Jessica Urban researched and wrote about images from fall 2016 through fall 2017. She concentrated on archaeology and material culture. She majored in Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College.

Bill Ristow worked on manuscript images during the 2015-16 academic year. He majored in history and wrote his senior thesis on medieval kingship with reference to Wace's Roman de Rou and Henry II.

Rachel Davies worked on the brass rubbings during the 2013 summer session for the exhibit Lasting Impressions. During 2015-16 she researched and wrote entries concerning Spanish art.

Leigh Peterson worked on images during the Fall 2012 through Spring 2015 academic years. She was an undergraduate student who majored in art history at Bryn Mawr College. She was an intern at the Cloisters Museum during summer 2013.

Shannon Steiner added images during the summer and fall of 2013. Shannon was a doctoral student in History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. She holds a B.A. from Temple University (2009) and M.A.s from The University of Texas at Austin (2011) and
Bryn Mawr College (2013). Her research focused on the visual culture of saints' cults and the role of art in forming community and gender identities in Byzantium.

Sarah Celentano worked on the initial 300 image records. She was a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focused on the visual culture of female monastic communities with a specialization in twelfth-century German-speaking areas. Her dissertation, "Embodied Reading as Political Action in the Hortus deliciarum," explored the textual and visual responses in the twelfth-century Hortus deliciarum to papal schism and imperial challenges to Church authority. Additional areas of examination were the use of medieval mnemonic techniques, and conduits of artistic exchange between northern and southern Europe.

Independent College Programs 142 Women and Gender in the Middle Ages: Representations in Art Margaret Schaus Haverford College, Spring 2021
Students in the class researched and wrote about medieval art in groups and as individual projects. They contributed their work to Feminae as image records.

Elinor Berger is a Literatures in English and Medieval Studies double major at Bryn Mawr College.

Jia Jing Ding is a History of Art and Economics double major at Bryn Mawr College.

Helena Frisbie-Firsching is a Physics major and Health Studies minor at Haverford College.

Bella Gerstmann is a prospective Linguistics or Anthropology major at Bryn Mawr College.

Leela Krishnan is a Math major and a Chemistry minor at Haverford College.

Faith Meacham is a Computer Science major and Math and Visual Studies minor at Bryn Mawr College.

Lipi Paladugu is a Computer Science major with minors in Visual Studies and Math at Bryn Mawr College.

Sadie Pileggi-Proud is a Political Science major with a concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights at Haverford College.

Caroline Quillen is an English major at Haverford College.

Esmé Read is a History of Art major, with a prospective minor in French and Francophone studies at Bryn Mawr College.

Annabelle Renshaw is a History of Art major and a Classical and Near-Eastern Archaeology minor at Bryn Mawr College.

Aviva Soll is a prospective Biology or Chemistry major and Environmental Studies minor with a Biochemistry concentration at Haverford College.

Lauryn White is at Haverford College, and their major is Religion.