Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Previous Images of the Month

November 2023

  • Title: Women reaping while a man binds sheaves
  • Description:

    This illustration represents the collaborative activity of harvesting ripe grain. Three women are pictured, two bending at the waist to cut the ripe grain with sickles, while the other arches her back to rest from the task. A man behind them gathers and binds the cut grain into sheaves. The image is surrounded by blue, orange, and green foliage and decorations. The illumination appears at the foot of the page with verses 7-12 of Psalm 95. Immediately above the image, readers would see:
    Lætentur cæli, et exsultet terra:
    commoveatur mare et plenitudo ejus;
    gaudebunt campi, et omnia quæ in eis sunt.
    (Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad,
    let the sea be moved, and the fulness thereof:
    The fields and all things that are in them shall be joyful.)

    This image appears in the Luttrell Psalter, a medieval manuscript well-known for illustrating both everyday life and fanciful figures. Scenes include men plowing, a woman tending chickens grinning hybrid animals, and a mermaid with mirror and comb. The psalter was originally commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276 - 1345) of Irnham, Lincolnshire. It was written and illuminated by one scribe and at least six different artists. Though their names remain unknown, art historian Michael Camille refers to them as "the Decorator," "the Animator," "the Illustrator," "the Luttrell Master," "the Hurrier," and "the Finisher." The manuscript is thought to have been made in the diocese of Lincoln circa 1325 and 1335- though some experts have attributed it to different time periods. Besides the psalms, the manuscript also contains a calendar of church festivals and saints' days, liturgical songs, the Athanasian Creed, the litany with prayers and the Office of the Dead.

    There are differing views on whether this and other scenes in the Luttrell Psalter accurately represent rural life. In Mirror in Parchment, art historian Michael Camille discusses how among almost one hundred reaping scene images studied, only one other image represents women doing reaping and harvesting work, indicating that this task was carried out mostly by men while others argue that harvesting with sickles was a mixed activity. Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies, Michelle Brown, however, argues that the image symbolizes procreation and different but related cycles. The women are bending and "raising their buttocks provocatively towards the man who is flanked by a curious corn dolly resembling a phallus pointing in their direction." According to her, the woman arching her back portrays the cycle of pregnancy, childbearing, and child burying. The scene of reaping also represents the cycle of “seed-sowing and bearing the fruit of the souls for the Lord - and workers for the local Lord” and the agricultural year.

    This scene, as manuscript expert Janet Backhouse pointed out in in Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter, shows that during harvest time everyone was required to help. The Psalter was written between a difficult time with famine in 1315-1318 and with the Black Death in 1347-1351. These brought many changes to the rural economy, but were there any changes for women's wages? In late medieval England, both men and women had to work hard to earn a living, and both produced goods for sale. However, women were still excluded from the better-paid agricultural activities such as mowing with scythes, and they generally earned less than men. There are differing views as to why this was the case. John Hatcher, professor of Economics and Social History, has argued that the difference in physical strength, stamina, and hours available to work - since women bore the responsibility of caring for children and the house - were reasons for the difference and not systemic discrimination that devalued women's work.

    Sandy Bardsley, professor of Medieval History, on the other hand, finds that women received the same rate paid to boys, older men, and men with disabilities, and that strong healthy men always earned more than women. Although women's wages increased after the Black Death due to labor shortage, they continued to receive 70 per cent of a healthy men's wages. In that sense, she finds that the wage gap remained relatively the same before and after the Black Death. Bardsley argues that gender in and of itself was an important factor in determining wages. This is further demonstrated in work by de Pleijt and van Zanden in which wage gaps of 50 per cent are found in southern Europe while the gap in northern and western Europe varies between 40 and 80 percent. Furthermore, in later medieval England, there is evidence that women suffered labor market discrimination since they were the first ones to lose their jobs to men when the labor market tightened. That is, men would take on work previously done by women and receive the lower pay.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Agriculture Discrimination Economics Luttrell Psalter Peasantry Psalters, Liturgical Books Wages Work
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1325- 1335
  • Related Work: Full page view with the reaping scene in the margin.
    Digitized version of the Luttrell Psalter.
    Men plowing, Luttrell Psalter.
    Men stacking sheaves, Luttrell Psalter.
    Old woman carrying grain to a mill, Luttrell Psalter.
    Men harvesting with sickles, Queen Mary Psalter, English, 1st quarter of the 14th c., British Library, Royal MS 2 B VII, fol. 78v.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Additional 42130, fol. 172v
  • Original Location: Lincolnshire
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Ink; Paints; Gold;
  • Donor: Layman; Sir Geoffrey Luttrell III (1276-1345), lord of the manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 35/24.5
  • Related Resources:

    Backhouse, Janet. Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter. University of Toronto Press, 2000.

    Bardsley, Sandy. " Women's Work Reconsidered: Gender and Wage Differentiation in Late Medieval England." Past & Present 165 (1999): 3-29.

    Bardsley, Sandy. [Women's Work Reconsidered: Gender and Wage Differentiation in Late Medieval England]: "Reply." Past & Present 173 (2001): 199-202.

    British Library. "Add MS 42130." This manuscript description is available open access.

    Brown, Michelle P. The World of the Luttrell Psalter. British Library, 2006.

    Camille, Michael. Mirror in Parchment: The Luttrell Psalter and the Making of Medieval England. University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    de Pleijt, Alexandra and Jan Luiten van Zanden. "Two Worlds of Female Labour: Gender Wage Inequality in Western Europe, 1300-1800." Economic History Review 74, 3 (2021): 611-638. Available open access.

    Hatcher, John. "Debate: 'Women's Work Reconsidered: Gender and Wage Differentiation in Late Medieval England." Past & Present 173 (2001): 191-198.

    Whittle, Janet. "Rural Economies." The Oxford Handbook of Women & Gender in Medieval Europe. Edited by Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras. Oxford University Press, 2013. Pages 311-326.

    Wright, Sharon Hubbs. "Medieval English Peasant Women and Their Historians: A Historiography with a Future?" History Compass 16, 8 (2018): 1-11.

October 2023

  • Title: Madonna of Mercy with Foundlings
  • Creator: Domenico di Michelino, painter
  • Description:

    This work, produced by Florentine painter Domenico di Michelino (1417-91), was commissioned by the city of Florence and its silk guild for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, a charitable institution providing shelter and care to orphans and foundling children. The Madonna degli Innocenti follows an archetypal model of the Madonna of Mercy which was a popular subject for Italian artists throughout the 15th century. Here under the cloak draped over her outstretched arms, the children of the hospital seek protection from the Virgin and the charitable institution she represents. These supplicants are divided into three age groups distinguished by their dress and size. The youngest, at the lowest level are swaddled tightly in white cloth according to their ability to stand. The intermediate group are dressed in short, white tunics, their hands holding up the youngest boys. One child grasps Mary's dress and looks upward toward her face. The eldest children, indicated by their black garb with the swaddled infant insignia of the Ospedale, mostly clasp their hands in prayer and look reverently upward. All are clothed in decent garments, not rags, and are well-nourished. These children, while ostensibly without parents, live comfortably thanks to the intercession and protection of the Mother of Mercy.

    The scene takes place before the portico of the hospital, a well-known architectural monument designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in 1426. The arcade of rounded arches draws on the heritage of classical antiquity to confer a gravitas to the institution and its work. The roundels shown in the painting as empty were filled in 1487 with terracotta figures of swaddled infants made by Andrea della Robbia. The Ospedale was founded by the Prato merchant, Francesco Datini, with his legacy of one thousand florins in 1419. In his will he wrote: "...in order to increase the alms and devotions of citizens, rural dwellers, and others who have compassion for the boys and girls called 'throwaways' and so that these little children shall be well fed, educated and disciplined.” (Gavitt, 1990, p. 52) Though Datini and his wife raised his daughter, Ginevra, whose mother was an enslaved woman, he had no male heirs to inherit. He arranged instead to have his business enterprises dissolved in order to fund his charitable bequests. Datini in point of fact bequeathed his money for foundlings to the Florentine hospital, Santa Maria Nuova. The amount by itself was not sufficient to build a new hospital, but authorities at Santa Maria Nuova did nothing with the funds for ten years. Members of the Florentine silk guild, a powerful and well-financed group, then intervened with the Commune of Prato to take over the project.

    In January 1445, the Ospedale opened its doors for business. taking in foundlings and orphans. Three years later the administrators reported that they had more than 260 infants placed with wet nurses in the countryside and the numbers were increasing daily. While girls rather than boys were more likely to be abandoned at the Ospedale (1445-1466), their survival rates were generally lower than those of male infants. Hospital officials had to check on wet nurses regularly and records document frequent cases of inadequate care and infant deaths. When children reached the age of weaning, they went to live with foster parents. Around the age of four they returned to the Ospedale for further care and education. Some were reclaimed by a parent or adopted, while the rest, often by the age of seven or eight, were put to work, boys in apprenticeships and girls as servants or weavers. Girls received a small dowry, indicating the priority the Ospedale placed on the creation of new families and a reinforcement of the city’s population following waves of plague.

    Recent scholarship suggests that the painting may have been carried in public processions accompanied by children from the institution. In this way Florentines would connect the care of young children with the Ospedale, represented by its signature architecture. Agostino di Porto described this during a celebration of Saint John the Baptist in the city in the early 1450s:
    After I had been there a while, the procession started to move past. The first thing
    was the three [foundling] hospitals, and each one had its cross and banner: the
    first was San Gallo, and the second was the Scala, and the third was the Innocenti.
    First came the cross, then many loads of tiny children in big baskets covered all
    over with flowers and they all had garlands on their heads. Each of these hospitals
    had many loads and behind them, two by two, came all the wet nurses, and it was
    a devout and moving sight. Behind them followed the friars of each hospital with
    their rectors and priests and relics and other adornments. (Presciutti, p. 32)

    Furthermore, in the painting the love and compassion shown by the Virgin Mary, with both arms outstretched, was a promise of salvation not only to the foundlings but also to all those who supported the work of the Ospedale. The older children engaged in prayer reminded viewers of the benefits of those prayers on their behalf coming from young innocents under the protection of the Virgin.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Charity Children Florence- Ospedale degli Innocenti Hospitals Madonna of Mercy Mary, Virgin, Saint in Art Orphans Patronage, Ecclesiastical
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: Late 15th century and heavily restored in the first half of the 16th century
  • Related Work: Selected architecture and artworks from the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence.
    Portico designed by Filippo Brunelleschi for the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence.
    Two of Andrea della Robbia’s terracotta figures of infants from the portico of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence.
    Jacopo Bedi (attributed), Madonna della Misericordia, ca. 1450, Italy, Gubbio, Museo Civico. Painting made for the hospital of Santa Maria dei Laici in Gubbio which provided care for foundlings, poor people who were sick, and pilgrims. Members of the hospital’s confraternity cover their faces to avoid taking pride in their good works.
    Benedetto, Bonfigli, Madonna della Misericordia, 1464, Italy, Perugia, Church of San Francesco al Prato. Banner made for the church in Perugia affirming the Virgin’s protection from the plague.
    Domenico di Bartolo, Care and Marriage of Foundlings, 1442-43, Italy, Siena, Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala, Sala Pellegrinaio. Detail of Infants and wet nurses.
    Paintings by Domenico di Michelino, Wikimedia Commons.
  • Current Location: Florence, Ospedale degli Innocenti, inv. AFS 236479
  • Original Location: Florence, Italy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images ; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Canvas; Oil paints
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 160/100/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    Asperen, Hanneke van. "The Sheltering Cloak: Images of Charity and Mercy in Fourteenth-century Italy." Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 11, 3 (2013): 262-281. Available in Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/5228172/The_Sheltering_Cloak_Images_of_Charity_and_Mercy_in_Fourteenth_century_Italy

    Brown, Katherine T. Mary of Mercy in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Art: Devotional Image and Civic Emblem. Routledge, 2017.

    Crabb, Ann. The Merchant of Prato's Wife: Margherita Datini and Her World, 1360-1423. University of Michigan Press, 2015.

    Gavitt, Philip. Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence: The Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1410-1536. University of Michigan Press, 1990.

    Gavitt, Philip. "The Reinvention of Childhood in Everyday Life: Observations on the Recent Renovation of the Museo Degli Innocenti." Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 11, 3 (2018): 303-323.

    Levin, William R. "Advertising Charity in the Trecento: The Public Decorations of the Misericordia in Florence." Studies in Iconography 17 (1996): 215-309.

    Presciutti, Diana Bullen. Visual Cultures of Foundling Care in Renaissance Italy. Ashgate, 2015.

    Pullan, Brian. Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue: Dishonoured Women and Abandoned Children in Italy, 1300–1800. Manchester University Press, 2016.

September 2023

  • Title: Historiated initial of Guda
  • Description:

    In this self-portrait, found in the twelfth century manuscript MS.Barth. 42, Guda,depicts herself within the confines of an initial letter D. The colors are simplified and feature mostly red, yellow and green. In addition to the colorful background, there are small ornate details and patterns. Guda, herself, is situated in the center of the illustration. She has one hand raised, palm facing outward, and the other holds a curved banner of text that arcs along the shape of the capital D letter. This text banner contains her name, identity and role: "Guda a sinner [and] a woman wrote and painted this book." Guda is wearing a green headscarf and lightly decorated red robe. The rest of the space is filled with acanthus leaves, decorative flourishes and blocks of color. In analyzing what her position as a scribe and illuminator offered in terms of agency, we can gain insight into how and where women might find opportunities to create art and gain recognition for doing so.

    This manuscript was written, illustrated and rubicated by Guda. Because she did this work, she was likely also in control of its layout. The texts within the manuscript were religious sermons and homilies. Each new section was prefaced with a large initial letter, usually in red. Following these large red letters were typically titles that indicated the religious season or year to which the sermon or homily related. These titles were also written in the same red color. Guda likely highlighted the sections in this manner to help readers locate the text or story they wanted with more ease. Additionally, these features acted in place of other commonly used locating tools like a table of contents or citations. The intended audience for this manuscript was likely other nuns, like Guda herself, who would listen to the homilies read aloud during meals or reflect on them in private. In using these visual cues over more textually based ones, Guda may be indicating an organizational preference shared by other women during this period.

    There is little background information about Guda herself. She was a German nun active in the second half of the twelfth century who is known for the scribal work done in this manuscript. While she is clearly a well-trained scribe, as the image proves, this manuscript is the only one which can be attributed to her. Suzanne Lewis argues that Guda casts her self portrait in the form of an episcopal seal, conferring authority on her words. Her figure embodies a narrative of redemption linked to the adjacent homily text (David's victory over Goliath) with Guda's extended right hand (palma) recalling the "victory prize." The banderole ending in acanthus leaves further extends the idea of the celebratory wreath. This narrative also recognizes the ongoing work that Guda is doing to create the pages, work which gives her hope for salvation.

    Female scribes were active in the twelfth century, particularly in monasteries. Women worked independently (as Guda did in this manuscript), with each other, and sometimes in partnership with male scribes. Female scribes in monasteries generally received far more opportunities and visibility than women in secular workshops. Their manuscripts were frequently displayed and stored in monastic libraries alongside works produced by their male counterparts. Scribal work, in addition to textile production, were some of the primary ways women could take part in artistic creation and receive the appropriate recognition for such work.

    Scribes often placed a signature of some kind in their work in order to indicate authorship of the item. This was even done within the religious context, despite the tendency there to reject attention and the vanity that might be associated with such an act. In this self-portrait of Guda, her name included in the illustration within the sweeping banner of text, was one of the first documented instances where a woman constructed a signature of this kind. Here the concern in the self-portrait was to make her work in this manuscript known as part of her spiritual development. We can see this concern for religious understanding in comparing the depiction of Guda with her representation of the Virgin Mary in the same manuscript. The two illustrations show the figures in the same position and with the same gestures. The only clear difference between the two is the inscription in the curved banner Guda holds in her portrait, while the Virgin Mary’s banner is blank since her words appear in the accompanying homily. In modelling her self-portrait after the Virgin's assumption, Guda hopes to attain forgiveness for her sins. This act of asserting authorship validates her spiritual progress in a way that some women were able to achieve.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Artists Guda, Scribe and Illuminator Manuscripts- Production Nuns Portraits Scribes and Scriptoria Self Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 12
  • Date: 1150-1200
  • Related Work: Guda, Assumption of the Virgin, Frankfurt am Main, MS Barth 42, fol. 196r.
    Digitized manuscript, Frankfurt am Main, MS Barth 42. See decorated initials on folios 4v, 23v, 85v, 94r, 171r and 214v.
    Claricia, thought to be an artist's self-portrait, ca. 1200, Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W.26, fol. 64R.
    Self-portrait of Gisela von Kerssenbrock (detail), among a group of Cistercian nuns, Golden Gradual, end of the 13th c., Diözesanarchiv Osnabrück, Inv.-Nr. Ma 101. Full manuscript page, Wikimedia Commons.
  • Current Location: Current Location: Frankfurt am Main, Staats- und Universitäts-bibliothek, MS Barth 42, fol. 110v
  • Original Location: Middle Rhine region, Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paints; Colored ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 36.5/24/
  • Inscription: "Guda peccatrix mulier scripsit et pinxit hunc librum" (Guda a sinner [and] a woman wrote and painted this book)
  • Related Resources:

    Beach, Alison I.Women as Scribes: Book Production and Monastic Reform in Twelfth-Century Bavaria. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Bleeke, Marian, Jennifer Borland, Rachel Dressler, et al. "Artistic Representation: Women and/in Medieval Visual Culture." A Cultural History of Women in the Middle Ages. Edited by Kim M. Phillips. Pages 179-213.

    Kauffmann, Martin. "Decoration and Illustration." The European Book in the Twelfth Century. Edited by Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thomson. Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pages 43-67.

    Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. "Guda et Claricia: deux 'autoportraits' féminins du XIIe siècle." Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire 19 (2004): 159-163.

    Lewis, Suzanne. "Narrative, Narratology, and Meaning." A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe. Second edition. Edited by Conrad Rudolph. Wiley Blackwell, 2019. Pages 147-169.

    Mariaux, Pierre Alain. "Women in the Making: Early Medieval Signatures and Artists’ Portraits (9th–12th c.)." Reassessing the Roles of Women as "Makers" of Medieval Art and Architecture Edited by Therese Martin. Vol. 1. Brill, 2012. Pages 393-427.

    Warinner, Christina and Alison Beach. "Anonymous was a Woman: Illuminating the Writing and Art of Religious Women in the Middle Ages. In Situ Spring 2020: 11–18. Available open access.

    Winston-Allen, Anne. "Guda: Frankfurt am Main, Stadt- und Universitatsbibliothek, MS Barth 42." Repertorium of Manuscripts Illuminated by Women in Religious Communities of the Middle Ages. Available open access.

July 2023

  • Title: The Prodigal Son at the Brothel
  • Creator: Follower of Hans Schilling (German, active 1459 - 1467), painter, from the workshop of Diebold Lauber (German, active 1427 - 1467)
  • Description:

    This image of the prodigal son comes from a manuscript of Barlaam und Josaphat. On the viewer's left, the young man enters a brothel wearing rich clothing and a feather circlet only later to be forced out looking unkempt and dirty. The story of the prodigal son is often depicted in works of art due to its themes of human frailty and redemption. The prodigal son walking into the brothel wears fashionable particolored hose and a very short belted gown. The length and beauty of men's hair was highly prized in Germany according to foreign travelers and here serves to emphasize how low the prodigal son has fallen when he has spent his money. At the entrance to the brothel, the sex workers are welcoming and wear beautiful clothing and flowers in their flowing hair. On the viewer's right side, women are forcing him out with a distaff and other implements. One woman has her dress tucked up as if she were cleaning house. The manuscript features 138 illustrations in ink and colored washes on paper. It was produced in the workshop of Diebold Lauber, a manuscript illuminator who specialized in illustrated books on paper using a serial method of production that streamlined the copying and artwork.

    This image refers to the biblical parable of the prodigal son that comes from Luke 15:11-32. It concerns a second son who requests that his father give him his inheritance. The father complies and the son goes out and squanders his wealth with sex workers until he has no money. Unfortunately, a famine affects the country, and he is forced to take a job feeding pigs, unclean animals in Jewish law. Realizing that instead of living with pigs he could be living with his father, he decides to return home, apologize and beg to be treated as a servant. When he returns, he finds that his father welcomes him with open arms and provides all that he needs. The older brother is upset and the father reassures him of his love while explaining why they are celebrating the return of their lost family member.

    This parable is one of the moral tales in Barlaam und Josaphat which is a retelling of the story of the Buddha that first appeared in Europe around the eleventh century. Rudolf von Em wrote this account in the 1220s in Middle High German. The titular character's name, Josaphat, derives from the Sanskrit Budhasaf or Bodhisattva. Josaphat meets a hermit named Barlaam who converts him to Christianity through telling parables. One of them is the parable of the prodigal son. In the illustrations the prodigal son entering the brothel closely resembles Josaphat both in physical features and clothing, emphasizing the parallels between the two lives. Both Barlaam and Josaphat were recognized as saints in western Europe as early as the thirteenth century and Jacobus de Voragine included their story in The Golden Legend. This collection of saints' lives, written around 1260, is viewed as second only to the Bible in popularity with over a thousand medieval manuscript copies surviving.

    Though the text and illustrations of Barlaam und Josaphat focus on the men in these stories, the women in the prodigal son's parable are integral to that account. The sex workers in this illustration are part of a public brothel. Brothels were not necessarily a place where women were exploited and had no autonomy. In continental Europe brothels were legalized ways that civic authorities sought to control men's lust and guard "honest" women's virtue. This rationale was encouraged by religious thinkers including St. Augustine. The brothel keeper rented the building from municipal authorities and charged the sex workers for room and board. The brothel workers managed their fees and could hope to leave by saving money for a marriage dower that would allow them to "turn to honor." The figure of Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute supported this act of redemption and change in status. While regulations survive for these business arrangements, there is also evidence of brothel keepers who used violence and intimidation to force women into sex work and debt bondage. Jamie Page has studied the case of the public brothel in Nördlingen in 1471 in which the keepers were brought to trial and banished. Women from the brothel testified to the abuses they suffered including a forced abortion and inability to leave the brothel. Subsequently the city council rewrote the regulations to avoid exploitation and required that brothel workers report any violation of the rules, so that the council could remedy it.

  • Source: J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Rights: Public domain. J. Paul Getty Museum, Open Content Program.
  • Subject (See Also): Bible- New Testament in Art Buddha and Buddhism Fashion Houses of Prostitution Prodigal Son (Biblical Figure) Prostitutes in Literature Sexuality in Art
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1469
  • Related Work: The Return of the Prodigal Son, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 9 (83.MR.179), fol. 107v.
    King Avenir Converses with Josaphat, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 9 (83.MR.179), fol. 29v. Note Josaphat's similarities in appearance and clothing with the prodigal son.
    Selected pages, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 9 (83.MR.179).
    Woman crowns the Prodigal Son with flowers, window, Chartres Cathedral, 1205-1215.
    The Prodigal Son window, Chartres Cathedral, 1205-1215.
    In the brothel (‘Frauenhaus’), German woodcut, c.1450. From "Inside the Medieval Brothel." History Today 69, 6 (June 2019).
  • Current Location: Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 9 (83.MR.179), fol. 106r
  • Original Location: France (formerly Germany), Alsace, Hagenau
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paper; Ink; Colored washes; Tempera colors
  • Donor: Male religious (?); Johann IV. Von Falkenstein, Canon of Trier and from 1469 archdeacon of St. Kastor in Karden an der Mosel. Possible first owner if not original patron. The Falkenstein coat of arms appears on folio 2r.
    Source: Norbert H. Ott: Barlaam und Josaphat. Rudolf von Ems, ›Barlaam und Josaphat‹. Handschrift Nr. 12.2.3. In: Katalog der deutschsprachigen illustrierten Handschriften des Mittelalters (KdiH). Begonnen von Hella Frühmorgen-Voss. Fortgeführt von Norbert H. Ott zusammen mit Ulrike Bodemann. Band 2. München 1996. http://kdih.badw.de/datenbank/handschrift/12/2/3; zuletzt geändert am 22.01.2020.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 28.6/20.3/
  • Inscription: The heading on this page may be translated as: Here rides the prodigal son the beautiful women welcome in a proud young man and leave him in a bad way so that he is out with the pigs
  • Related Resources:

    Kren, Thomas. Illuminated Manuscripts of Germany and Central Europe in the J. Paul Getty Museum. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.

    Page, Jamie. “Inside the Medieval Brothel.” History Today 69, 6 (June 2019); 28-39. Available open access.

    Page, Jamie. "Masculinity and Prostitution in Late Medieval German Literature." Speculum 94, 3 (2019): 739-773.

    Page, Jamie. Prostitution and Subjectivity in Late Medieval Germany. Oxford University Press, 2021.

    Paolella, Christopher. Human Trafficking in Medieval Europe: Slavery, Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution. Amsterdam University Press, 2020. Chapter 5 "The Late Medieval Sex Trade", pages 215-245.

    Scott, David A., Narayan Khandekar, Michael R. Schilling, et al. "Technical Examination of a Fifteenth-Century German Illuminated Manuscript on Paper: A Case Study in the Identification of Materials." Studies in Conservation 46 (2001): 93-108.

    Scott, Margaret. Fashion in the Middle Ages. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011.

June 2023

  • Title: Guinevere questioning Lancelot
  • Description:

    In this manuscript illustration, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot sit together. Guinevere, the figure on the right, can be identified by her crown and veil. She is clad in a blue gown with a sleeveless pink surcoat on top. Lancelot wears a maroon cloak over a dark blue tunic. Both Lancelot and Guinevere gesture at each other in a manner that implies speech and response and their mouths curve up in smiles, thus demonstrating a playful interrogation common to narratives of courtly love. Guinevere clasps Lancelot's outstretched hand, taking the lead in advancing their relationship. Both figures are seated together on a bench, rendered in green and orange. The image is elaborately framed by a blue and maroon border; the top section of this reaches down to create an illusion of three arches above the couple.

    This illustration is from a circa 1316 manuscript including Lancelot du Lac that is now bound in four volumes containing the prose Lancelot-Grail, a popular French Arthurian romance cycle. Additional MS 10293 includes 436 images detailing scenes from the romance. Each illustration was done in color on gold ground, within pink, blue and red borders decorated with penwork in white. Rubrics in red were added above most of these miniatures. This particular image portrays Guinevere questioning Lancelot about his love for her. Both Lancelot and Guinevere embody the type of graceful, flowing movement typical of gothic art. This sense of "flowing lines" is further emphasized by the folds in the clothing of both figures. Lancelot and Guinevere are depicted wearing different shades of red and blue; that the image is also framed with these colors forces the viewer's eye to move around the picture and notice both figures. This suggests a portrayal of a certain level of equality or balance in their relationship, which is also highlighted by the two being seated at the same level.

    It is interesting to compare Lancelot and Guinevere's relationship as presented here with the way it is represented in other medieval texts. Later in the fourteenth century, Thomas Chestre in his poem Sir Launfal depicted Guinevere in a very negative light. He criticizes Guinevere for her adultery even before her marriage and sees her as an evil figure of deceit. In general Guinevere is not portrayed as a typical woman in Arthurian texts. Longley has drawn attention to the queen's role as a "female lord," commanding Lancelot's actions, in the prose Lancelot from the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, dating from the thirteenth-century. Guinevere's initiative could potentially account both for Chestre's dislike of the character, and the way she is pictured with Lancelot in this image, wherein they seem to be presented as equals.

    Popular ideas about adultery in the medieval period tended to paint women as the figure in the relationship who exclusively should be punished. However, in her article, "The Opposite of the Double Standard," Sara McDougall argues that we should reconsider this, using court records from Northern France - also the area of France where this image of Guinevere and Lancelot was created - to back up her claim that there was not as much of “an emphasis on punishing adulteresses, at least in the courtroom.” McDougall gives examples of church courts that prosecuted more men than women. She seeks to understand how this phenomenon might have come about, arguing that “the majority of men so prosecuted were mostly wives' lovers rather than married men prosecuted for extramarital sex with unmarried women.” She theorizes that men might not want to expose their wives' infidelity in court, preferring instead to punish their wives at home, or attempt to reconcile with them. She also points out that men likely committed adultery more frequently than women, which would also help account for these prosecutions.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Arthurian Literature ; Courtly Love ; Guenevere, Queen (Literary Figure) ; Lancelot (Literary Figure) ; Man Woman Relationships in Literature
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1316
  • Related Work:
    Full page view of Guinevere questioning Lancelot, British Library, MS Additional 10293, fol. 199r.
    MS Additional 10293 digitized, British Library, ca. 1316.
    Selected images from "Lancelot du Lac", British Library, Ms Additional 10293.
    Selected images from MS Additional 10292, from the same atelier as 10293, and likely the same manuscript. Texts are L'estoire del Saint Graal (ff. 1-76) and L'estoire de Merlin (ff. 76-216).
    Selected images from MS Additional 10294, from the same atelier as 10293, and likely the same manuscript. Texts are La Queste del Saint Graal (ff. 2-53) and Morte Artu (ff. 53-96).
    Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, first quarter of the 14th c., France, British Library, Royal 20 D IV, fol. 1.
    First kiss of Guinevere and Lancelot, 1310-1315, Northern France, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.805, fol. 67r.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, MS Additional 10293, f. 199r
  • Original Location: France, Northern (Saint-Omer or Tournai)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paints; Gold; Colored ink
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 39.5/29.5/
  • Inscription: Ensi que la royne requeroit Lancelot de ses amours (Translation: Thus the queen questioned Lancelot about his loves) - Rubric above the manuscript illumination
  • Related Resources: Archibald, Elizabeth. "Malory's Lancelot and Guinevere." A Companion to Arthurian Literature. Edited by Helen Fulton. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pages 312-325.

    Arthur of the French. Edited by Glyn Burgess and Karen Pratt. University of Wales Press, 2006.

    Camille, Michael. The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire. Abrams, 1998.

    Hahn, Stacey. "Feminine Sexuality in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle." Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: New Approaches to a Fundamental Cultural-Historical and Literary-Anthropological Theme. Edited by Albrecht Classen. Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pages 485-502.

    Longley, Anne P. "Guinevere as Lord." Arthuriana 12, 3 (2002): 49-62.

    McDougall, Sara. "The Opposite of a Double Standard: Gender, Marriage and Adultery Prosecution in Late Medieval France." Journal of the History of Sexuality 23, 2 (2014): 206-225.

    Stones, Alison. "Illustrating Lancelot and Guinevere." Lancelot and Guinevere: A Casebook. Edited by Lori J. Walters. Routledge, 2002. Pages 125-57.

    Stones, Alison, assisted by Michael Gullick. "London, British Library, MS Additional 10292-4 (hereafter Add.)." Lancelot-Grail Project.

March 2023

  • Title: Annunciation
  • Creator: Rogier van der Weyden, painter
  • Description:

    Van der Weyden's painting presents the Annunciation, the event in which the archangel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that as a virgin, she would give birth to the Son of God. Symbols, gestures and setting all convey important meanings. The lilies in the left foreground are white, signifying Mary's virginal purity but also indicating the season, spring. March 25 is the day on which the Annunciation is celebrated. The windows are open, as seen by the open shutter above Mary in the foreground, and the fireplace behind Gabriel is dark and blocked by a bench, signifying that it is not in use.

    Mary is presented as a figure of obedience and humility in this work, as she often is in late medieval iconography of the Annunciation. When Mary receives word from Gabriel, her palm faces outward. This gesture signals her acceptance of the news. Her placement on a cushion positions her lower than the angel, and this is viewed as her submission to the orders of the Lord. The open book in her hands implies that she was in prayer before the angel arrived. The book is a symbol of the Old Testament's events that come before the Annunciation, and its presence reinforces Mary's decision to accept God's mission for her. Mary's humility is illustrated by her plain, black robe. In contrast the angel wears embroidered, priestly robes and elaborate gold and jewelry indicating his holiness. Neither Gabriel nor Mary have halos, a practice in line with other early Netherlandish art that depicts Mary's humanity. This image of Mary provides a role model for women. When viewing the painting, they see the importance of obedience to the word of God and the path to salvation.

    There is also evidence of the holiness of the moment through the use of light. There are various pieces of shiny metal in the chandelier, the ewer by the bed, and the medallion above the bed. There is also a glass container filled with oil on a shelf that reflects from the window in front of Mary. The light on Mary's face, on the page she was reading, on the angel's robes, and on the bed all show the glory of the moment. Furthermore, light passing through the windows stands as a metaphor for the Incarnation. Mary's chastity is preserved, just as the sun passes through glass without breaking it.

    Fifteenth century Flemish painters depicted religious scenes in luxurious bourgeois rooms with high-end furnishings and rich materials. One piece of furniture that stands out is the red canopy bed behind Mary. The bed, known as thalamus, is a visual metaphor for the union of the divine and human and consequently, Mary's virginal divine motherhood. The bed was also seen by theologians as a symbol of the Virgin's fallow womb where Jesus spiritually marries his virgin Mother. Viewing the bed in its grand, vibrant, and neat presentation highlights the transformative implications of the Annunciation.

    Furthermore, the enclosed room that surrounds Mary when Gabriel arrives physically protects her from a world filled with sin, and provides solitude for her dedication to prayer and reading. For viewers the inclusion of Mary's book promotes the importance of literacy as well as engagement with the Bible and prayer. Female literacy was legitimized with images such as the Annunciation, and it also called for solitary readings of scripture. In fact, Christian works that encouraged active devotion often opened with an image of the Annunciation wherein which Mary is seen reading. Viewing this scene assured the devotee that she or he was performing a successful act of prayer.

    This work was originally a triptych, a work of art that is made up of three panels connected by hinges that can be opened and closed. The original location and purpose of this Annunciation triptych is unknown, but it was likely an altarpiece in a Belgian church. Altarpieces were usually found on altars throughout Europe beginning in the thirteenth century if not earlier. The creation of altarpieces was influenced by the changing shape of the altar itself. By becoming wider and thinner, altars invited the display of artwork. The sensory experience of viewing altarpieces consisted of chanting, candles burning, bells chiming, and incense wafting in the church. Viewing vibrantly painted religious scenes aroused all the senses of the worshipers.

    In this triptych, the Annunciation is the centerpiece, the leftmost panel depicted the donor with folded hands and rose-colored robes, and the right panel showed the Visitation. The original patron was a member of the de Villa family. They were Piedmontese financiers with family living in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. The Annunciation was painted by Rogier van der Weyden, and it is likely that the outer panels were painted by other artists in his workshop. Van der Weyden was a Flemish artist, and he specialized in painting religious triptychs, altarpieces, and portraits with a wide range of rich colors and shades. His religious triptychs were painted using life models and he created statuesque renditions of them in his work. The facial expressions of his figures are often sympathetic. He became the official painter of Brussels, Belgium in 1435 and received commissions from Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and other noblemen. Today he is recognized as one of the most influential Northern painters of the fifteenth century though his career is not very well documented.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Angels in Art ; Books in Art ; Humility ; Iconography ; Mary, Virgin, Saint-Annunciation ; Obedience
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca. 1435
  • Related Work:
    Rogier van der Weyden, Annunciation in reconstructed triptych.
    The donor and Visitation panels are in Turin at the Galleria Sabauda.
    Rogier van der Weyden, Annunciation panel, Saint Columba altarpiece, ca 1455, Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
    Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), 1427-1432, New York, Metropolitan Museum.
    Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation, 1434-1436, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art.
    Hans Memling, The Annunciation, 1465 - 1470, New York, Metropolitan Museum.
    Fra Angelico, Annunciation panel from the Cortona Altarpiece, 1433-1434, Cortona, Museo Diocesano.
    Sandro Botticelli, Annunciation, 1485-1492, New York, Metropolitan Museum.
  • Current Location: Paris, Musée du Louvre, INV 1982
  • Original Location: Brussels, Belgium
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Oil paints
  • Donor: Layman (?); Member of the Villa family, Italian bankers working in the Low Countries. In Italy they were connected to the town of Chieri near Turin.
  • Related Resources: Blum, Shirley Neilsen. The New Art of the Fifteenth Century: Faith and Art in Florence and the Netherlands. Abbeville Press Publishers, 2015.

    Grootenboer, Hanneke. “Reading the Annunciation,” Art History 30, 3 (2007): 349-63.

    Miles, Laura Saetveit. "The Origins and Development of the Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation." Speculum 89, 3 (2014): 632-669.

    Nuechterlein, Jeanne. "The Domesticity of Sacred Space in the Fifteenth-Century Netherlands." Defining the Holy: Sacred Space in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Edited by Sarah Hamilton and Andrew Spicer. Ashgate, 2005. Pages 49-79.

    Richardson, Carol M. Locating Renaissance Art. Yale University Press, 2007.

    Rogier van der Weyden 1400-1464: Master of Passions. Edited by Lorne Campbell and Jan Van der Stock. Davidsfonds, 2009.

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