Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Image of the Month

May 2022

  • Title: A wild woman and two wild men with fantastic animals
  • Description: This tapestry depicting a wild woman and two wild men, is dated to the 15th-century, between 1430 and 1470, and was made in German-speaking, modern-day Switzerland. The tapestry is a fragment (cut) with a top edge width of 2212mm, bottom edge width of 2141mm (Note: Measured by conservation), proper right edge height of 910mm, and a proper left edge height: 913mm (Note: Measured by Victoria and Albert conservation). The tapestry is dyed wool, and the patterns/imagery are created through the use of slit joins. The tapestry was likely a soft furnishing, probably a wall hanging although it might also have been a furniture cover or tablecloth. At the center of the tapestry, we see a wild woman covered in fur, flanked by two wild men also with fur. The figures have the typical folkloric features of the medieval “wild” person, as seen in the comparanda referenced in the metadata. In the tapestry there are also three fantastic beasts, floral imagery, and several small rabbits and birds. The image of the wild person evokes a sense of freedom, in particular, sexual freedom. Coupled with fantastic beasts, this tapestry is also a reference to the bestial side of the Self and how it might manifest in the non-Christian, uncourtly wild.

    Not much is known about the origins of this tapestry. There is no indicated artist or patron, and while it was most likely a wall hanging, the fragmentary nature of the textile does restrict our understanding of its function. The Victoria and Albert Museum purchased the tapestry from art dealer F.A. Drey during the 1930s. The Museum website states that it originally came from the convent of St. Anna Kloster in Bruck, a monastery whose order has been based in Lucerne since 1498, close to the time when the tapestry was made. However, it is unlikely that a tapestry with this imagery would have been made for an ecclesiastical setting. The image of the wild person is notably of a non-Christian tradition, with possible pagan origins, as well as an emphasis on freedom and sexual liberties that run counter to Christian doctrines. Because of these non-Christian implications, a tapestry like this one would have likely been hanging on the walls of a wealthy merchant or even someone of noble status. The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries (see metadata for link), while not including images of wild people, are stylistically similar and were owned by the dukes of Devonshire starting in the 16th century. Again, with these tapestries, the exact origins are unclear, but they are known to have furnished Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. This is not to say that the tapestry might not have had Christian origins, as we see wild people appear in Books of Hours and other Christian settings during the late Middle Ages.

    The Victoria and Albert Museum catalog references another tapestry from the mid-15th century that used the same cartoon as this tapestry. This older version of the same design is presumably in the Landesmuseum Zurich (LM 1178). We can infer from this how common the wild person motif was in the 15th-century German-speaking world, and indeed, across Western Christendom. This is apparent in the comparanda accumulated here as well. The furry figure of the wild person is consistent in the “Armorial Tapestry” from Flanders and the tapestry of “Wild Men and Moors” from Alsace, Germany, among the other tapestries listed. But this motif is not exclusive to tapestries. It appears in manuscripts, in architecture; it even emerges on a 16th-century bread mold also from Switzerland. It is clear then that the wild persona was a prominent fixture of later medieval Western culture, as it frequently manifested across both the fine and decorative arts.

    As mentioned previously, this tapestry likely functioned as a wall hanging, as most late medieval tapestries did. However, many medieval tapestries were multi-functional due largely to their warmth and durability. Therefore, this tapestry might also have been used as a bed cover, cushion, tablecloth or seat furniture. Tapestries were what provided color and detail to individual chambers and often presented viewers with narrative sequences or consistent themes throughout the room. A household might even have had an inventory of tapestries in a designated “tapestry chamber,” and these tapestries would be taken out and put on display when the family was in residence or to entertain guests (Cavallo, 27). This alludes to the very mobile aspect of medieval tapestries. They were not permanent fixtures but were rather taken from place to place to be shown off. Tapestries might play a part in a processional ceremony, as the decorative fabrics would be carried along the routes of secular, religious or royal processions. These textiles crafted environments, shaping a space with their color and their stories. Of course, due to the complex and detailed nature of tapestries like the one of the wild people, they were likely only viewed by those of wealthier status. Complicated (and expensive) tapestries served the houses of great princes, who would use these tapestries to express their wealth and status. Tapestries like this then might be found in a courtly setting, which is almost ironic, as the scene depicted is an expression of freedom from the regimens of the court.
  • Source: Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Rights: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Subjects: Art History- Decorative Arts ; Gender ; Nature ; Sexuality ; Tapestries ; Wild Woman
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1430-1470
  • Related Work:
    1) Related tapestries:
    Armorial Tapestry with wild woman and wild man, 1480-1520, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
    The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, 1430s, Victoria and Albert Museum.
    Wild Men and Moors Tapestry, ca. 1440, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    Wild Woman with Unicorn, tapestry cushion panel, ca. 1500-1510, Historisches Museum Basel.
    Wild people working as farmers, tapestry, 1460, Osterreiche Museum.
    2. Wild people in other mediums:
    Jamb figures in the form of wild men, detail of right jamb of main portal of the College of San Gregario, Valladolid. Spain, about 1490.
    Wild man, detail of manuscript illumination from the Luttrell Psalter, 1335-40, The British Library, Ms. Add 42130, fol, 70.
    Wild man, woman and child, manuscript page from a Book of Hours, ca. 1490, The Morgan Library and Museum, Ms. S.7, fol. 30r.
  • Current Location: London, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.117-1937
  • Original Location: Switzerland, possibly Lucerne or Basel
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Textiles;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wool; Discontinuous weft-facing weave/tapestry weave; Tapestries;
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 91/221.2/
  • Related Resources:
    Campbell, Thomas P. “European Tapestry Production and Patronage, 1400-1600.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. Available open access.
    Cavallo, Adolph S. Medieval Tapestries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. Available open access.
    Grössinger, Christa. Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. Manchester University Press, 1997.
    Husband, Timothy B. Wild Man: Medieval Myth and Symbolism. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Available open access.
    Moseley-Christian, Michelle. “From Page to Print: The Transformation of the 'Wild Woman' in Early Modern Northern Engravings.” Word & Image 27,4 (2011): 429-442.
    Stock, Lorraine K. "Wild Woman." Medieval Folklore: A Guide to Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs and Customs. Edited by Carl Lindahl. ABC Clio, 2000. Pages 435-436.
    Yamamoto, Dorothy. The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature. Oxford University Press, 2008.

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.