Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Previous Images of the Month

December 2022

  • Title: Tomb of Katherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp
  • Description:

    This image shows the tomb effigies of Katherine Mortimer, Countess of Warwick (1314-1369) and Thomas de Beauchamp, eleventh Earl of Warwick (1313/14-1369). In the sculpture, Katherine and Thomas are lying on their backs with heads on pillows that are supported by small figures. Katherine, to the viewer's left, is wearing a fashionable dress and elaborate fretwork veil befitting her status as an elite married woman. Thomas wears armor and is holding the hilt of a sword in his left hand. His right hand reaches out to hold Katherine's right hand, which is drawn across her body. Her left hand was originally resting near the center of her chest. Their feet rest upon animals, Thomas with a bear (unlike here in the Warwick family badge it wears a muzzle) and Katherine with a lamb. This may be an Agnus Dei in reference to her religious devotion to Christ as the lamb of God. The sides of the tomb depict male and female mourners in a variety of fashionable clothing. Windows nearby presented the couple's nine daughters and their five sons. The two windows were destroyed during the English Civil War, but Dugdale includes drawings of the daughters in his Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656)(page 320).

    The tomb is located before the high altar in the chancel of the Warwick Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick, England. It dates to shortly after 1369 and was commissioned by Thomas de Beauchamp, the twelfth Earl of Warwick, eldest surviving son of Katherine and Thomas. The double tomb was sculpted from two pieces of alabaster, joined at Thomas's wrist. The choice of alabaster is typical of English nobility at the time. Popularized by the tomb of King Edward II, it held a special appeal for high status memorials. The unpainted stone was valued for its translucence and purity, which gave the faces of tomb effigies a spiritual luminosity. At the same time, clothing and decoration, often painted, were faithfully rendered in durable detail. These properties are shared by the marble used for effigy tombs in France but unlike marble, alabaster is a fairly common English stone.

    As is the case for most examples of double tombs, Katherine and Thomas were a married couple. In 1314, the infants were pledged for marriage by their fathers, Roger Mortimer V and Guy de Beauchamp. This agreement was in part motivated to end a dispute between the two families over the manor of Elvel in Wales. Katherine and Thomas's tomb is notable as the first known double tomb made for members of the high nobility in England. The effigies of Katherine and Thomas serve as their lasting representations on Earth, commemorating the most important aspects of their lives and personhood, such as success in military leadership represented by Thomas's sword and armor. With the double tomb, the marriage of Thomas and Katherine is memorialized, because it calls viewers to remember them together rather than separately. Tombs and memorials also helped garner prayers for the deceased, which was believed to help decrease the amount of time souls would spend in Purgatory before ascending to Heaven. By having a double tomb, prayers would likely be said both for Katherine and Thomas, linking the fates of their souls. In this sense, the memorial contradicts the idea that marriage vows only last "til death do us part."

    The importance and lasting nature of Katherine and Thomas' marriage is heightened further because they are holding hands. Hands being held, and more specifically clasped right hands, is a gesture which symbolizes marriage in medieval imagery. This is because holding right hands was an important part of the marriage ceremony, as it was a physical element in the exchange of vows. The presence of this imagery on a tomb is associated with a deeply felt marital bond and strengthens the emphasis on a couple's marriage more than a double tomb alone. Their tomb is the oldest known example of hand holding in a three-dimensional monument. A common feature of most hand-holding monuments is that the woman is to the man's right, as seen in Katherine and Thomas' tomb. This is a reversal of the standard pose, where the man is to the woman's right. However, this switch lets the husband easily hold his wife's right hand in his own. This makes the man the active figure of the memorial, albeit at the sacrifice of the more honorable position at the viewer's left. Another frequent feature of hand-holding monuments is that the woman brought property or wealth into the marriage. However, this is not the case in the marriage of Katherine and Thomas. She did not have any dowry for the marriage, but this is likely because her father held the right to Thomas's marriage through royal favor.

  • Source: Memorial tomb of Thomas Beauchamp cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Philip Halling -
    geograph.org.uk/photo/6066520 (Image #1)
    Wikimedia Commons (Image #2)
  • Rights: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (Image #1)
    Public domain (#2)
  • Subjects: Beauchamp, Thomas, Earl of Warwick ; Burials ; Death ; Marriage ; Mortimer, Katherine, Countess of Warwick ; Noble Men ; Noble Women ; Tomb Effigies ; Wives in Art
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1369- 1380
  • Related Work:
    Side view of the tomb of Catherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp, including mourners. Photograph by Philip Halling.
    View of the tomb effigies and mourners, tomb of Catherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp.
    View of the tomb of Catherine Mortimer and Thomas de Beauchamp, including a church visitor for scale.
    Chancel of the Warwick Collegiate Church, with the tombs of Katherine and Thomas de Beauchamp.
    Tomb of Edward II, Gloucester Cathedral, 1330-1335.
    Tomb of Katherine Clifton and Ralph Green, 1419-20, Lowick, Church of St Peter. The effigies of the wife and husband are holding hands.
  • Current Location: Warwick, Collegiate Church of St. Mary, chancel
  • Original Location: Warwick, Collegiate Church of St. Mary, chancel
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Alabaster; Iron
  • Donor: Layman ; Thomas de Beauchamp, the twelfth Earl of Warwick, eldest surviving son of Katherine and Thomas
  • Related Resources: Barfield, Sebastian. "The Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, 1268-1369." PhD diss., University of Birmingham, 1997.
    Barker, Jessica. Stone Fidelity: Marriage and Emotion in Medieval Tomb Sculpture Boydell Press, 2020.
    Dressler, Rachel. " Identity, Status, and Material: Medieval Alabaster Effigies in England." Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture 5, 2 (2015): 65-96. Available open access.
    Dugdale, William. The Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated from Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombes, and Armes: Beautified with Maps, Prospects and Portraictures Printed by Thomas Warren, 1656.
    Gilchrist, Roberta. Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course. Boydell & Brewer, 2012.
    Tuck, Anthony. "Beauchamp, Thomas, Eleventh Earl of Warwick (1313/14-1369), Soldier and Magnate." Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography Oxford University Press, 2008.
    Woods, Kim W. Cut in Alabaster: A Material of Sculpture and Its European Traditions 1330-1530. Harvey Miller, 2018.

November 2022

  • Title: Jewish blacksmith's wife forging nails for the crucifixion
  • Description:

    This image is an illustration of a Jewish woman, married to a blacksmith, who is forging nails for Christ's crucifixion. It appears in the Holkham Bible Picture Book which presents over eighty pages of of drawings. While the woman's dress does not mark her identity, she has glowering eyes, dark brows, a bulbous nose, as well as a grimacing expression. These kinds of grotesque distortions were first associated with Jews in the late twelfth century in scenes of Christ's mockery before the crucifixion. By the early fourteenth century, they had become an anti-Jewish stereotype. Such a depiction is not just a reflection of antisemitism. Rather it is thought to be an early artistic rendition of of a Jewish woman who appears different from her Christian counterparts. Just twenty years before the illustration in the Holkham Bible, the very same scene of the Jewish blacksmith's wife in the Queen Mary Psalter was depicted quite differently. The woman had small and fair features, was graceful, and could not be distinguished in any way from the Christian women depicted in the text. This change in illustration embraces societal values that mark Jewish difference as both moral and physical.

    Michelle Brown has argued that the Holkham Bible Picture Book originated as an artist's pattern book of scenes from the life of Christ for textiles or altarpieces. It was then expanded to include more full-page illustrations from Genesis and the Apocalypse. A prefatory illustration shows a Dominican instructing the artist: "Now do it well and thoroughly for it will be shown to rich people." The artist replies: "Indeed, I certainly will, if God lets me live, never will you see another such book." The illustration suggests that the manuscript was revised for a lay audience. When the illustrations were completed, a brief commentary was added in Anglo-Norman French. The Holkham Bible, through its over 230 illustrations and text descriptions, provided direct access to many stories from the Bible and the Apocrypha.

    The story portrayed in the image above concerns a Jewish woman whose husband refused to forge nails because he did not want to have any part in the crucifixion. He told those who ordered the nails that his hand was crippled. When asked to show his hand, God rendered his right hand unusable. At that point, his wife volunteered to make them. It was the Christians' perception of the Jewish people's role in the crucifixion of Christ that turned a generalized anti-Jewish belief into anti-Semitism. There was a shift in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from a religious divide between Judaism and Christianity, to a significant hatred of Jewish people by Christians. New forms of affective piety emphasized Christ's suffering at the hands of Jewish tormentors. Additionally, in England Jewish people were active in finance, often lending money to many people in urban areas. This provided Christians with more reasons for enmity, blaming Jews for monetary problems and claiming they had robbed them. In the late thirteenth century, a series of anti-Jewish laws were enacted, culminating in King Edward I's expulsion of all Jews from England in 1290.

    Throughout medieval Europe resentment and violence against Jewish people was not uncommon, and researchers note that violence was often directly targeted at Jewish women. They were blamed for inspiring their husbands to fight back and even for fighting back themselves. Accounts of female martyrdom date back to the Hellenistic period in Maccabees (a mother who commits suicide after exhorting her sons to resist) and to the Babylonian Talmud. Medieval Jewish chronicles from France and Germany recognize women killed in pogroms and those who chose suicide over attacks by passing Crusader armies. In 1196 Dolce of Worms and her two young daughters were killed by local intruders, while her husband, his students and the couple's son were wounded. The attackers were likely attracted by Dolce's work as a moneylender. Her husband, Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, wrote two elegies in their honor:

    What a rare find is a capable wife [31:10]: Such a one was my saintly wife, Mistress Dolce.
    A capable wife [31:10]: the crown of her husband, the daughter of community benefactors. A woman who feared God, she was renowned for her good deeds.
    Her husband put his confidence in her [31:11]: She fed him and dressed him in honor to sit with the elders of the land [31:23] and involve himself in Torah study and good deeds. …
    She was like a merchant fleet [bringing her food from afar] [31:14] to feed her husband so that he might immerse himself in Torah. Her daughters saw her and declared her happy [31:29] for her merchandise was excellent [31:18]… Poetic Elegy 1 (trans. Judith Baskin; quotations from Proverbs)

    … Let me tell about the life of my younger daughter [Hannah]. She recited the first part of the Sh'ma prayer every day.
    She was six years old and spun and sewed and embroidered. She entertained me and she sang.
    Woe is me for my wife and for my daughters! I cry out in lamentation.…Poetic Elegy 2 (trans. Judith Baskin)

    In categorizing all Jews as hateful and morally corrupt, medieval Christians established a classification that would have a profound impact and would generate exclusionary practices for additional groups of people. The antisemitism perpetuated in the fourteenth century and amplified by the Holkham Bible still has a large presence in the world today.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subjects: Antisemitism ; Jesus Christ- Passion in Art ; Jews ; Wives in Art ; Work in Art
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: ca. 1327 - 1335
  • Related Work:
    Full manuscript page including the blacksmith's wife, Holkham Bible Picture Book, British Library, Add Ms 47682, fol. 31r.
    Christ mocked and scourged (upper scenes), Holkham Bible Picture Book, British Library, Add Ms 47682, fol. 29v. The Jewish tormentors are caricatured with grotesque noses, bestial faces and pointed hats.
    Smith's wife forging nails, Queen Mary Psalter, Library, Ms Royal 2 B VII, fol. 252v.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Add Ms 47682, fol. 31r
  • Original Location: Southeastern England, London (?)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Ink
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 26.5/20/(image and text space
  • Related Resources:

    Baskin, Judith. "Dolce of Worms: The Lives and Deaths of an Exemplary Medieval Jewish Woman and Her Daughters." Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period. Edited by Lawrence Fine. Princeton University Press, 2001. Pages 429-437.

    British Library, "Add MS 47682." Description and images. Available open access.

    Brown, Michelle P. The Holkham Bible Picture Book: A Facsimile. British Library, 2007.

    Caroselli, Susanna Bede. "Illuminating Difference: Christian Images of Jews in Medieval English Manuscripts." Jews in Medieval England: Teaching Representations of the Other. Edited by Miriamne Ara Krummel and Tison Pugh. Springer, 2017. Pages 191-207.

    Einbinder, Susan. “Jewish Women Martyrs: Changing Models of Representation.” Exemplaria 12, 1 (2000): 105-27.

    Heng, Geraldine. England and the Jews: How Religion and Violence Created the First Racial State in the West. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    Kirkland, Brad. "'Now thrive the armourers': The Development of the Armourers' Crafts and the Forging of Fourteenth-Century London." PhD diss. University of York, 2015. Available open access. See sections concerning women in Chapter 3, The Armourers' Households.

    Lavezzo, Kathy. The Accommodated Jew : English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton. Cornell University Press, 2016.

    Lipton, Sarah. “What's in a Nose? The Origins, Development, and Influence of Medieval Anti-Jewish Caricature.” The Medieval Roots of Antisemitism: Continuities and Discontinuities from the Middle Ages to the Present Day. Edited by Jonathan Adams and Cordelia Hess. Routledge, 2018. Pages 183-203.

    Lipton, Sarah. “Where Are the Jewish Women?" Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography.” Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2014. Pages 201- 238.

    Strickland, Debra Higgs. “Gazing into Bernhard Blumenkranz's Mirror of Christian Art: The Fourteenth-Century Tring Tiles and the Jewishness of Jesus in Post Expulsion England.” Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe: The Historiographical Legacy of Bernhard Blumenkranz. Edited by Philippe Buc, Martha Keil and John Tolan. Brepols, 2015. Pages 149 - 187. The book is available open access.

October 2022

  • Title: Initial G with the Birth of the Virgin
  • Creator: Don Silvestro de' Gherarducci, painter
  • Description: This manuscript illumination from a gradual of 1375 represents the letter G, surrounded by lilies, and depicting the interior of Saint Anne's bedroom, where she has just given birth to the Virgin Mary. Her bedchamber is decorated with cassoni and beautiful silks. A young woman is holding the holy child in her left arm and testing the temperature of the water in the bowl, while another young woman is adding more water to it. Gathering around Saint Anne, female servants and possibly a midwife and family member with a halo are taking care of her. The artist brilliantly used the letter G to create a cozy, domestic space. Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, the artist, was a member of a distinguished team of illustrators among the monks of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. Vasari, while noting the skill of Don Jacopo (“a better writer of large letters than any who lived either before or after him, not only in Tuscany, but in all Europe”), wrote that Don Silvestro "illuminated the said books no less excellently than Don Jacopo…" Don Silvestro's most famous works are the initials and illuminations from choir books, especially the gradual illuminated for Santa Maria degli Angeli in the 1370s. He was also responsible for the final decoration of this book by furnishing the large historiated initials. Initial G with the Birth of the Virgin is one of the illuminations from this manuscript. A gradual is the principal choir book used in the mass. It can also refer to the versicle and response of the Epistle reading that constitutes one part of the mass. The introits, here the letter G, are the first sung elements of the mass, often introduced by historiated initials. In this illumination, the capital letter G is the initial of the first word of the introit to the Mass for the feast of the birth of the Virgin (September 8). This scene, however, was first interpreted as the Birth of Saint John the Baptist when the second holy woman was identified as the Virgin Mary. However, if that is the case, the illumination would have been decorated with the initial D as the beginning of the introit to the Mass of the feast day of the birth of Saint John. Additionally, the beautiful lilies surrounding the scene are iconographic symbols of the purity of the Virgin, which further suggests that this image is a representation of the birth of Mary. The second woman with a halo in this picture is identified as Saint Anne's sister, Hismeria, the grandmother of John the Baptist. This illumination from a gradual created for the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli thus represents the scene and celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary. The iconography of the scene is Sienese, faithfully following the composition of Pietro Lorenzetti's altarpiece for Siena cathedral. The presence of relatives, servants and midwives in this image connects with historical sources and material culture that emphasize a female, family-centered childbirth in medieval Italy. In 14th century Italy, doctors were less in evidence in the birthing room than midwives, whose knowledge of childbirth came through experiences including both pre- and postnatal care. In Leon Battista Alberti's I Libri della Famiglia, he addresses issues concerning the mother's care.
    The woman, then who thinks she is pregnant should live discreetly, contentedly, and chastely - light nourishing foods, no hard, excessive labor, no sleepy or lazy days in idle solitude. She should give birth in her husband's house and not elsewhere. Once she is delivered, she must not go out into the cold and the wind until her health is fully restored and all her limbs have fully regained their strength.
    The birth of the Virgin Mary is quite special in Christian dogma, particularly with regard to the discussion of her Immaculate Conception. This is the idea that Mary, unlike other human beings, is free of original human sin. Original sin is the Christian doctrine that each human being is born in a state of sin inherited from the first man, Adam, who disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The story of the Virgin Mary's mother Anne comes from apocryphal sources rather than the Bible. She and her husband, Saint Joachim, are infertile. When God hears their prayers for a child, Mary is conceived and born. In the earliest texts, the conception occurs without sexual intercourse, though it does not advance the idea of an Immaculate Conception. Legend said they conceived by embracing before the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. The belief in the Immaculate Conception raised controversy, was long championed by Franciscans and opposed by Dominicans and only gradually emerged through centuries of disputation. It was not proclaimed a dogma of faith until 1854. The fourteenth century marks a significant period in the doctrine because of both theological and popular developments. Duns Scotus refuted the points raised by Thomas Aquinas against the Immaculate Conception, affirming Mary's sinless state and, at the same time, reconciling this with her seemingly contradictory need for Christ's universal saving work through his incarnation. Moreover, lay people came to celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Virgin increasingly in the fourteenth century, and even some Dominicans, who were opposed to the doctrine, joined in the celebration by the end of the century. However, during the time this illumination was painted, there was no official proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith. In 1431, the Council of Basel declared Mary's Immaculate Conception a “pious opinion”consistent with faith and scripture. Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, commissioned two offices for the feast of Mary's conception (December 8) during his papacy (1471-1484).
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Anne, Mother of the Virgin, Saint ; Childbirth in Art ; Illumination of Manuscripts ; Infants ; Mary, Virgin, Saint- Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception ; Mass
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1375
  • Related Work:
    Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Historiated initial 'R' of the Annunciation, British Library, Additional 35254C. Cutting comes from Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Corale 2, fol. 60, a Gradual (Sanctorale) dated 1370.
    Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Historiated initial 'S' of the Madonna and child holding a globe, Cleveland, Museum of Art, 1924.1012. Cutting comes from Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Corale 2, fol. 137, a Gradual (Sanctorale) dated 1370.
    Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Illumination cuttings from Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Corale 2, a Gradual (Sanctorale) dated 1370.
    Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Assumption of the Virgin, panel painting, ca. 1365, Vatican, Pinacoteca.
    Pietro Lorenzetti, The Birth of the Virgin, ca. 1342, Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
  • Current Location: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 21.168
  • Original Location: Florence, Santa Maria degli Angeli, a Camaldolese monastery for men
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Tempera ; Ink ; Gold
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 29.2/29.8/
  • Related Resources:
    Ellington, Donna Spivey. From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul: Understanding Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Catholic University of America Press, 2001.

    Kanter, Laurence B. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art; distributed by H.N. Abrams, 1994. Page 150.

    Kanter, Laurence B. Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. Pages 124-125. Available open access.

    Musacchio, Jacqueline Marie. Childbirth in Italy: The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy. Yale University Press, 1999.

    Sella, Barbara. "Northern Italian Confraternities and the Immaculate Conception in the Fourteenth Century." Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 49, 4 (1998): 599-619.

    Twomey, Lesley K. The Serpent and the Rose: The Immaculate Conception and Hispanic Poetry in the Late Medieval Period. Brill, 2008.

    Wight, C. "Gradual." Glossary for the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Available open access: https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/GlossG.asp#GRADUAL

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.

July 2022

  • Title: Joan of Arc
  • Creator: Bastien-Lepage, Jules, painter
  • Description: Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc (1879), or Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices, depicts the eponymous figure receiving a vision. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a peasant girl from Lorraine who asserted that she heard the voices of saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine urging her to don men's clothing, help restore the French monarch and drive the English out of France by fighting in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Her campaign in Orléans was notably successful and credited with turning the tide of the war. But as a cross-dressing female prophet, Joan was treated with suspicion, particularly by the Church, and she was eventually condemned to be burned at the stake.

    Bastien-Lepage's painting depicts her at the beginning of this narrative, receiving her vision from the saints in her parents' garden in Domrémy, France. She is barefoot, wearing a traditional peasant dress, and holding the branch of a tree. To her left there is a spinning wheel and overturned chair, suggesting the dramatic and arresting nature of her vision. Three translucent apparitions float above the spinning wheel, representing Saints Michael (in armor), Margaret and Catherine. These were well-known saints during Joan of Arc's lifetime. St. Michael was the patron saint of France, St. Margaret was the patron of peasants, and St. Catherine mystified her interrogators (as Joan of Arc would later do during her trials). A diagonal gray line connects them to her, signifying the vision the three are giving to her. However, she uncharacteristically does not face the saints speaking to her; instead, she stares out of the picture frame, her gaze haunting and mysterious.

    The composition of the painting evokes the biblical Annunciation scene, in which the Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus. Like Mary, Joan of Arc is depicted receiving her divine vision in the middle of spinning. However, while most imagery of the Annunciation presents Gabriel and the Virgin together, in Bastien-Lepage's painting Joan of Arc is the sole central figure, with the saints only faintly visible in the background. Bastien-Lepage has painted Joan of Arc as naturalistic, she— along with several of the tree branches around her— appear as if in sharp focus, while the rest of her surroundings are more abstracted, almost blurred.

    The painting was originally shown in the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts [The Academy of Fine Arts] in Paris. In this yearly exhibition, prominent artists' work from the past year would be on display together, usually with works filling the entirety of the gallery's walls. The exhibition was open to the public, and frequented by the middle and upper classes. After the painting was exhibited in the Salon, it was bought by American collector Erwin Davis, who then gave the work to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1889 (where it has remained since). Bastien-Lepage was one of these prominent artists, from the region of Lorraine. He was intrigued by hypnosis and contemporary early studies of psychology, which heavily influenced his depiction of Joan of Arc's vision.

    In late nineteenth century France there were two important diverging art movements. The first and slightly older movement focused on realism and upheld the tradition of participating in the Salon; the second emphasized impressionism and a break from the Salon culture. Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc straddles these two, incorporating both hyper-realistic details and an impressionistic landscape. The painting received mixed reviews from critics when it was exhibited in 1880. One writer, Frédéric de Syène, compared it with Renaissance works and declared it possessed a rigorous truth, while another, asserted that the saints appeared too precise and byzantine against the charming and unconventional landscape.

    There is only one known depiction of Joan of Arc created during her lifetime, by Clément de Fauquembergue in the margins of the register for the Parlement of Paris announcing her victory in Orléans. As Joan of Arc had not been to Paris yet, he could not have actually seen her when he created the image. Like many peasants of the period, she was reportedly rather short, muscular, and stocky, yet depictions of her have rarely maintained these details of her appearance. Furthermore, because she was burned at stake there are no relics. Her condemnation by the Church and her cross-dressing made her a complicated symbol, though her reputation was rehabilitated in the decades after her death. As a virgin and French military hero, she eventually came to represent a pure, united France. Since the fifteenth century, Joan of Arc has been most commonly depicted in armor. However, in the nineteenth century a new category of imagery developed, Joan listening to voices.

    A plethora of Joan of Arc imagery emerged in France after 1871. At this point, France had just lost the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), after which the formerly French regions of Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by the victorious German Empire. This defeat left France humiliated, and in need of re-establishing itself as a powerful and influential state in Europe. A manifestation of this effort to reassert French authority was this revitalization of imagery of Joan of Arc, who had been from recently annexed Lorraine. In the early years of the decade, artworks depicted Joan of Arc in armor, drawing upon her military role during the Hundred Years War. This imagery highlighted vengeful sentiments of the period, and solidified her position as a symbol of French strength and pride. However, by 1879, when Bastien-Lepage painted Joan of Arc, France had sufficiently redeemed itself as a European power. Around this time, artworks depicting Joan of Arc shifted from the theme of warfare to that of saintly voices, highlighting her role as an innocent and simple peasant girl. Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc was one of the most important and successful works of the category, and inspired a variety of other works on the same theme through to the beginning of the 20th century.

    During the Middle Ages there were strict customs concerning dress, with men and women prohibited from wearing the clothing of the opposite gender; of course, there were some exceptions in necessary circumstances. There are, in fact, many accounts of crossdressing female saints that were well known during the medieval period. Since generally only men of the period served in the military and held power, Joan of Arc's crossdressing in some ways allowed her to assume these masculine gender roles. Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc suppresses the centrality of her crossdressing and military capabilities, in favor of emphasizing her position as a prophet and peasant.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Art History-Paintings ; Hagiography in Art ; Joan of Arc, Saint ; Medievalism ; Nationalism ; Peasantry ; Spirituality ; Visions ; Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 19
  • Date: 1879
  • Related Work:
    Jeanne d'Arc [Joan of Arc] by Emmanuel Frémiet, 1872-1874, La Place des Pyramides, Paris.
    Jeanne d'Arc [Joan of Arc], François Rude, 1848-1852, Musée du Louvre.
    Jeanne d'Arc à Domrémy [Joan of Arc at Domrémy] by Henri Chapu, 1870-1872, Musée d'Orsay.
    Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1854, Musée de Louvre.
    Jeanne d'Arc écoutant ses voix [Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices] by Léon-François Bénouville, 1859, Musée des Beaux-arts de Rouen.
    Joan of Arc, in the protocol of the parliament of Paris, drawing by Clément de Fauquembergue, 1429, French National Archives.
    Johan of Arc by unknown artist, ca 1485, French National Archives.
    The Vision and Inspiration (Joan of Arc series: I) by Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel, c. 1907-1909, The National Gallery of Art
  • Current Location: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 89.21.1
  • Original Location: France, Damvillers
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Canvas; Oil paints;
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 254/279.4/
  • Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (lower right): J.BASTIEN-LEPAGE, DAMVILLERS Meuse, 1879
  • Related Resources:
    de Syène, Frédéric. "Salon de 1880."L'Artiste (May-June 1880). Available open access in Gallica: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2557352/f360.highres

    Foxwell, Elizabeth. "Saint, Soldier, Spirit, Savior: The Images of Joan of Arc." Minerva 12, 3 (Sep 30 1994): 36.

    Heimann, Nora M. "Joan of Arc: From Medieval Maiden to Modern Saint." Joan of Arc: Her Image in France and America. Edited by Nora M. Heimann and Laura Coyle. Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2006. Pages 15-51.

    Igra, Caroline. "Measuring the Temper of Her Time: Joan of Arc in the 1870s and 1880s." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 68 (1999): 122-23.

    "Le Salon de Paris, 1880: Correspondance particulière de l'Indépendance, Paris, 30 avril, le vernissage." L'indépendance belge (May 2, 1880, page 2, col. 3). Available open access: https://uurl.kbr.be/1066663

    Oliphant, Elayne. "Voices and Apparitions in Jules Bastien-Lepage's 'Joan of Arc'". Looking and Listening in Nineteenth-Century France. Edited by Martha Ward and Anne Leonard. Smart Museum of Art and the University of Chicago, 2007. Pages 42-49.

    Pappas, Sara. "Reading for Detail: On Zola's Abandonment of Impressionism." Word & Image 23, 4 (2007): 474-484.

    Rosenfeld, Jason. "The Salon and The Royal Academy in the Nineteenth Century." Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. Available on the website: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/sara/hd_sara.htm

    Sexsmith, D. “The Radicalization of Joan of Arc before and after the French Revolution.” RACAR: Revue D'art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review 17, 2 (1990): 25-199.

June 2022

  • Title: Transgressive bodily desires (Bible Moralisée, Codex Vindobonensis 2554
  • Description: This illumination appears in the Bible Moralisée commonly referred to as Vienna 2554, produced around 1220 in Paris and written in French. It was likely commissioned by Blanche of Castille, who served as regent of France for eight years beginning in 1226. Set on a background of gold leaf, the image shows two same-sex couples embracing. The female couple, on the left side, appear at the point of kissing. As for the male couple, one, identified by his headgear, appears to be Jewish; the other's tonsured hair style indicates he is a cleric. The demons who encourage the couples highlight the sinful nature of the scene.

    The Bibles Moralisées, English “moralized Bibles”, were extremely opulent Bibles first produced in France and Spain in the thirteenth century. Each contained the original text of the Bible accompanied by a commentary applying it to contemporary life, and the texts possessed masterful illuminations. On a given page, each biblical illumination would appear above that of its corresponding commentary, allowing viewers to directly compare biblical scenes with related contemporary ones. In total, each page contained eight medallions: four biblical and four contemporary, along with the text of the Bible and the commentary text. Due to the sheer quantity of skilled illuminations included, the Bible Moralisée was a luxury only the richest could afford. Vienna 2554 has 1,032 medallions and one full page miniature.

    The format of the Bible Moralisée suits medieval views of sin and sinful behavior well. While certain images are explicitly intended to be compared by the viewer, the eight-medallion structure leads readers to compare and associate all images on a page, and possibly across pages. Likewise, the medieval worldview tended to associate all sinful behaviors together. Overindulgence in one area, such as gluttony, might cause an imbalance leading one to overindulge sexually and engage in sodomy. Even the term sodomy, while most widely identified with male homoeroticism, could also be used to refer to forbidden heterosexual acts, female homoeroticism, or sinful acts that were not sexual at all. In this image, multiple forms of sexual misbehavior occur at once. The male couple represents both same-sex and inter-religion relations. Both couples are of the same scale and are given the same compositional weight, suggesting an equality or similarity between male and female homoeroticism.

    The perceived association of sinful behaviors is explained by medieval Christian beliefs about the Fall. This particular illumination is the complement to an illumination depicting Adam and Eve and the Fall (see below in Related Work). The accompanying commentary text links the couples' sexual misbehavior with the Fall: "That Eve and Adam were deceived and transgressed the commandment of God through the enticement of the devil signifies those who through the desire of their bodies transgress the commandment of God, and the devil ensnares them by the neck and by the mouth and by the loins and pulls them into hell."

    At its root, homoerotic behavior was a form of disorderly, transgressive desire. Adam and Eve abstractly represent this phenomenon, which could manifest in homoeroticism, but also in gluttony (disordered desire for food), greed (disordered desire for wealth), vanity (disordered desire for oneself), et cetera. As such, the Bibles' format grouping multiply apparently distinct scenes of sin together is a natural choice. The broad extension of the term “sodomy”, too, reflects the medieval emphasis on the root cause of unchecked or disordered desire, rather than the specifics of its physical manifestation or target. Metaphorical associations could also be drawn between sins. Homoeroticism was sometimes construed as a form of vanity, wherein loving a person of the same sex was akin to loving oneself.

    This illumination may be surprising to contemporary viewers who subscribe to the general view that lesbianism was absent or unacknowledged in the Middle Ages. Indeed, recognition of female homoeroticism as a possibility or as equally concerning as male homoeroticism was not universal. Representations like this one are rare, and became more so in the later Middle Ages. The general medieval erasure of same-sex relations between women was largely due to predominantly phallocentric views of sex. Sodomy, for example, was most widely defined as an act in which semen was spilled outside the vagina or a vessel other than the vagina was used. Under this definition, sodomy between women would have been impossible. However, if a kind of phallus was introduced into a lesbian encounter, it was generally taken more seriously. Court cases against alleged lesbian lovers record more severe punishments for cases involving dildos. Phallocentrism also manifested in scientific texts about female anatomy. Many texts warn of disorders wherein the clitoris enlarges to be penis-like, or a completely new phallic growth emerges, and consequently a woman begins to desire other women. This, too, presumes a phallus is naturally associated with or required for sex with a woman.

    Medieval thought condemned lesbian encounters primarily for their transgression against “natural” gender roles. A woman who assumed a “passive” role in same-sex affairs, or primarily received penetration instead of penetrating, would generally be given a lighter punishment. Her crime appeared to involve a lesser degree of gender transgression than her “active” partner's. Towards the later Middle Ages, however, lesbian encounters were more harshly condemned, often punishable with burning at the stake. Still, far fewer court cases exist alleging homoerotic activity between women than among men. Phallocentrism may have allowed lesbian encounters to go unsuspected and undiscovered.

    Even as lesbian encounters were dismissed by authorities, women themselves were viewed as more at risk for committing sexual transgressions. The medieval gender binary labelled women the morally weaker sex, whose nature predisposed them to seduction by the devil. Notably, some medieval interpretations of the Fall paint Eve's sin as caused by her seduction by the Serpent, who commonly also had characteristics of a female virgin. In these interpretations, the Fall is caused by an exaggerated spiritual weakness in Woman, which manifests specifically in a weakness for homoeroticism. As the original woman, Eve's moral shortcomings, including her potential for homoeroticism, represent the sinful natures of all the women who came after her. Indeed, medieval thought did not link sexual behavior to identity. Moral failings or overindulgence could draw anyone to transgress the laws of nature, including through same-sex encounters; this behavior was not attributed to a specific class of people. Any woman might devolve in character and consequently engage in sexual activity with a female partner.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subjects: Bibles ; Homoeroticism ; Homosexuality ; Lesbians ; Sexuality ; Sins in Art ; Sodomy ;
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 13
  • Date: 1220- 1230
  • Related Work:
    Full page with eight historiated medallions, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex Vindobonensis, MS 2554, fol. 2r.
    Digitized manuscript, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex Vindobonensis, MS 2554.
  • Current Location: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex Vindobonensis, Ms 2554, fol. 2r
  • Original Location: France, Paris
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Gold; Colored Inks;
  • Donor: Laywoman; Queen Blanche of Castile, Wife of Louis VIII, king of France
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 34.4/26/
  • Inscription: "Ce qeve et adam sunt deceu et ont trespassei le commandement deu par antiscement del deiable senefie cels qi por la volentei de lors cors trespassent le commandement deu et deiables les enlace et par col et par boche et par rains et les trabuche en enfer"
    [That Eve and Adam were deceived and transgressed the commandment of God through the enticement of the devil signifies those who through the desire of their bodies transgress the commandment of God, and the devil ensnares them by the neck and by the mouth and by the loins and pulls them into hell.] (Mills, Speculum, 421)
  • Related Resources:
    Hamilton, Tracy Chapman. "Queenship and Kinship in the French "Bible moralisée": The Example of Blanche of Castile and Vienna ÖNB 2554." Capetian Women. Edited by Kathleen Nolan. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pages 177-208.

    Lochrie, Karma. Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn't. University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

    Lowden, John. The Making of the "Bibles moralisées". 2 vols. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. See especially Volume 1, Chapter 2 "Vienna,Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 2554", pages 11-54.

    Mills, Robert. “Seeing Sodomy in the Bibles moralisées.” Speculum 87, 2 (2012): 413-468.

    Mills, Robert. Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press, 2015.

    Same Sex Love and Desire among Women in the Middle Ages. Edited by Francesca Canade' Sautman and Pamela Sheingorn. Palgrave, 2001.

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.

April 2022

  • Title: Joan of Arc
  • Creator: Fauquembergue, Clément de, notary(Image #1)
    Pichore, Jean, illuminator (Image #2)
  • Description: The image on the left depicts a marginal sketch of Joan of Arc by Clément de Fauquembergue, notary of the Paris Parlement, in his record book for May 1429. This simple drawing shows a profile of Joan with her hair falling down one shoulder. She is wearing a long-sleeved gown that emphasizes her figure. In one hand she grasps a large sword; in the other a banner with the letters HIS for the name of Jesus. This is the only contemporary representation of Joan, although the notary never saw her. In the text accompanying the drawing, Clément noted news about the siege of Orléans that was circulating in Paris including that "a Maid alone bearing a banner" was in the midst of the Dauphin's forces. The depiction of Joan on the right is from a 1504 manuscript, Les vies des femmes célèbres by Antoine Dufour and presents her on horseback before the walls of Orléans. This illumination is remarkably detailed compared to the 1429 sketch, its colors contrasting to the ink drawing. Dressed in full golden armor and her hair concealed by a golden helmet, Joan sits astride a white horse with red decorative caparisons against the ornate buildings of Orléans in the background. Joan carries a banner with the inscription, “In the name of God."

    The manuscript was commissioned by Anne of Brittany, twice queen of France. She asked Dufour, a Dominican at the royal court, to compile this account of famous women whom he presents as models to emulate or avoid. He praises Joan for her celibacy and religious devotion and makes careful note of her rehabilitation including an annual celebration in Orléans, while the illustration by Jean Pichore emphasizes her military persona. Pichore ran a large workshop in Paris that specialized in book illustration for prominent patrons including Louise of Savoy and Cardinal Georges of Amboise as well as Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. Scholars have speculated that Anne may have intervened here to solidify this portrayal of a strong female leader, adding a political emphasis to Joan's life.

    Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc, was a fifteenth century French heroine who led French troops to relieve the siege of Orléans by English forces during the Hundred Years' War. Born in 1412 to a peasant family, Joan grew up in Domrémy, a village in northeastern France. As a teenager, she reported hearing saints' voices and receiving visions of angels. These she interpreted as signs from God to help Charles, the Dauphin, reclaim France from the English. Joan pledged her virginity to the service of Christ and to the divine task of rescuing France. Over the years, images of Joan of Arc have varied greatly in their portrayals, depending upon the particular viewpoint of the group involved. Representations have ranged from a humble maiden to a saintly savior, from a personification of liberty to a symbol of right-wing nationalism.

    Both images above showcase the fluidity of Joan of Arc's appearance and her identity in both feminine and typically masculine spaces. In the sketch, she wields a sword, a phallic object, and in the manuscript image, she fully straddles her horse in a typically masculine manner. Her dress in both images connotes flexibility in the representation of her gender. The manuscript portrays Joan androgynously in total body armor with her hair encased in a helmet, whereas the sketch displays her in a gown and with her hair plaited but holding a massive weapon. The manuscript's portrait of Joan has her brandishing the banner in place of a weapon. Despite the difference in dress and appearance across these images, they both present Joan's readiness to command in battle. The banners signify her religious connection. Joan's public appeal won France a tremendous victory in a major turning point of the war.

    The Hundred Years' War, growing from a dynastic conflict, pitted England against France from 1337 to 1453. It was compounded by the Black Death, the loss of the city of Calais to England, the capture of the Valois king of France Jean II, and the seizure of almost one third of France's territory by the English. Civil conflict also erupted between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, the latter loyal to King Charles VI and his brother, despite the king's increasing insanity. From October 12th, 1428 to May 8th, 1429, the English army besieged the French city of Orléans. After convincing a French captain of her divinely-ordained mission, Joan joined a relief convoy of soldiers bringing supplies to Orléans on March 6th. Once she had entered the city, Joan regularly participated in discussions of tactics, paraded the streets to raise morale, and distributed supplies to the people and the garrison. Joan also sent out messengers to the English demanding that they depart in the name of God, referring to herself as “the Maiden."

    Joan of Arc participated in several assaults, and was wounded twice. Despite being injured, she led troops to retake the fortress of Tournelles, freeing hundreds of French prisoners and pushing back the English forces with immense losses. This led to the lifting of the siege. This was a major victory for the French royal army, and the first victory during Joan of Arc's service. After the siege of Orléans, the Maid of Orléans led droves of volunteers to join the French army, serving under her banner.

    Joan of Arc, unfortunately, did not live long past this victory. At the age of 19 in 1431, a prisoner of war, she was tried by her English enemies. She was first accused of heresy and witchcraft and acquitted with a warning. However, she ultimately was convicted and burned as a relapsed heretic for wearing men's clothing. However, a 1456 court authorized by Pope Callixtus III re-examined the charges against Joan, pronouncing her innocent and declaring her a martyr. By 1504, Joan of Arc had been rehabilitated and her status elevated to that of a Christian hero rather than a heretic. Her popularity increased over time. Joan became a symbol of the Catholic League in the 16th century, and Napoleon Bonaparte declared her a symbol of France in 1803. The Roman Catholic Church beatified Joan in 1909 before canonizing her in 1920. Groups ranging from the far-right Action Française movement to suffragettes took up Joan of Arc as their hero. In recent years Joan kissed Marianne, the personification of the French republic, on a marriage rights poster. In 2018 Mathilde Edey Gamassou, whose mother is from Poland and father is from Benin, re-enacted Joan's ride in the annual festivities in Orleans. Despite racist and bigoted reactions in newspapers and social media, Mathilde made Joan of Arc especially meaningful to the crowds who cheered for her.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons (Images #1 and #2)
  • Rights: Public domain (Images #1 and #2)
  • Subjects: Anne of Brittany, Queen-Consort of Charles VIII and Louis XII of France; Gender; Hundred Years' War; Joan of Arc, Saint; Politics; Queens; Warfare and Warriors
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15 (Image #1); 16 (Image #2)
  • Date: May 1429 (Image #1); 1504-1506 (Image #2)
  • Related Work: Full-page view of Clément de Fauquembergue's journal page with the sketch of Joan of Arc, 1429, Paris, Archives Nationales.
    Four pages from Les vies des femmes célèbres, Antoine Dufour, 15040-06, Nantes, Musée Dobrée, Ms 17. Illustrations include a presentation scene in which Anne of Brittany receives the manuscript from the author.
    Judith with the head of Holofernes and Joan of Arc, Martin Le Franc, Le Champion des dames, 1440, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, ms. Français 12476, fol. 101v.
    Joan of Arc: Political Figure, 19th and 20th century posters selected by the Société d'Histoire de Chinon Vienne & Loire.
  • Current Location: Paris, Archives Nationales, Registre du Conseil du Parlement de Paris, AE/II/447, (X1a 1481 fol. 12r.) (Image #1)
    Nantes, Musée Dobrée, Ms 17, fol. 76v (Image #2)
  • Original Location: Paris (Image #1 and #2)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Drawings (Image #1)
    Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations (Image #2)
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Ink (Image #1)
    Vellum (parchment); Paint; Gold; Colored Ink (Image #2)
  • Donor: Laywoman; Anne of Brittany, Queen-Consort of Charles VIII and Louis XII of France, commissioned the Dominican friar, Antoine Dufour, to write Les vies des femmes célèbres in 1504. In 1506 Jean Pichore completed the seventy-three miniatures in the manuscript. (Image #2)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 36/30/34/21.5(Image #2)
  • Related Resources:
    Brown, Cynthia J. The Queen's Library: Image-Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

    Cassagnes-Brouquet, Sophie. Un manuscrit d'Anne de Bretagne: les "Vies des femmes célèbres" d'Antoine Dufour. Ouest-France, 2007.

    Dufour, Antoine. Les vies des femmes célèbres. Edited by Gustave Jeanneau. Droz, 1970.

    Heimann, Nora M. "Joan of Arc: From Medieval Maiden to Modern Saint." Joan of Arc: Her Image in France and America. Edited by Nora M. Heimann and Laura Coyle. Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2006. Pages 15-51.

    Renck, Anneliese Pollock. "Les Vies des Femmes Célèbres: Antoine Dufour, Jean Pichore, and a Manuscript's Debt to an Italian Printed Book." Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History 18 (2015): 158-180.

    Swift, Helen. "'Pourquoy appellerions nous ces choses differentes, qu'une heure, un moment, un mouvement peuvent rendre du tout semblables?' Representing Gender Identity in the Late Medieval French Querelle des femmes." Representing Medieval Genders and Sexualities in Europe: Construction, Transformation, and Subversion, 600-1530. Edited by Elizabeth L'Estrange and Alison More. Ashgate, 2011. Pages 89-106.

    Szkilnik, Michelle. " Mentoring Noble Ladies: Antoine Dufour's Vies des femmes célèbres." The Cultural and Political Legacy of Anne de Bretagne: Negotiating Convention in Books and Documents. Edited by Cynthia Jane Brown. D. S. Brewer, 2010. Pages 65-80.

    Taylor, Craig. Joan of Arc: la Pucelle. Manchester Medieval Sources Series. Manchester University Press, 2006.

    Taylor, Larissa. The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc. Yale University Press, 2009

March 2022

  • Title: Nature forging a baby
  • Creator: Master of the Prayer Books of around 1500, illuminator
  • Description:
    In this illustration, Nature forges an infant in a blacksmith's shop. It appears above these lines in the Roman de la Rose;
    When they had made this oath so that all could hear it,
    Nature, who thinks on the things that are enclosed
    beneath the heavens, was entered within her forge,
    where she would put all her attention
    on forging individual creatures to continue the species.
    The Romance of the Rose, translated by Charles Dahlberg, p. 217
    Nature is personified as a well-dressed woman wielding a hammer. Her flowing blonde hair is held back in a bejeweled crespine headdress, and her colorful, billowing dress is protected by a white smocked front. Her subject is a baby which she constructs on an anvil on her workbench. The shop also contains a forging fire to the woman's right. Strewn on the floor are baby cast-offs, seemingly unsatisfactory versions of the child the woman is creating in the foreground. This female personified Nature is quite active in the image taking great care and concentration to form the baby. The workshop setting, in combination with this style of action, emphasizes the force that this character possesses. This allegorical figure of Nature is seen in other contexts and in dialogue with other characters in the poem. Contemporary clerics and other authors, including Christine de Pizan, held very different perspectives on the Roman de la Rose. These reactions provide insight into how the text, as well as this image of Nature, were viewed in the fifteenth century.

    Manuscripts provide a unique window into the culture and social dynamics of the Middle Ages. The Roman de la Rose text is particularly interesting due to its themes, multiple authors, and apparent popularity as demonstrated by the over 300 surviving medieval copies. This particular manuscript was commissioned by Engelbert II, count of Nassau and Vianden (d. 1504) and was lavishly decorated by Flemish artists with four large miniatures bordered by naturalistic flowers and eight-eight column miniatures. The manuscript's representations of the Garden of Love and the Carolle in the Garden have been widely reproduced in connection with discussions of courtly love. The text was copied from a volume printed in Lyon around 1487, although the illustrations in the incunabulum did not influence the manuscript's decorative program.

    Most likely, Guillaume de Lorris began the Roman de la Rose around 1230. The approximately 4,000 lines in French verse begin the tale of the dream of a young lover on a journey dictated by courtly love. The first part of the text is light and hopeful, portraying a brave protagonist overcome with love. Forty years later Jean de Meun completed the poem, adding 17,000 more lines of verse. The change of author is evident in a tone that the British Library manuscript catalog characterizes as “more didactic, scholarly, and pessimistic." Although the lover is ultimately successful in his quest to conquer the Castle of Jealousy and obtain the Rose, the text by Jean de Meun is much more pragmatic and straightforward. The work, as a whole, is an allegorical love poem that changes meaning depending on the author. At the point where Guillaume originally left the poem, the protagonist is separated from the Rose and is left in despair. Yet in Jean's conclusion, the protagonist uses deception to pluck and steal the Rose. While Guillaume's writing is marked in its idealization of romantic love and proper conduct, Jean comments on contemporary subjects such as free will versus determinism. These contrasting views are the crux of many debates surrounding the Roman de la Rose.

    Generally, nature does not have one consistent role in medieval literary works - but often the allegorical figure is envisioned in roles that embody the author's ideas about sexuality. For example, in the Roman de la Rose, the Nature character supports Cupid and Venus to encourage more procreation including outside of marriage. This single purpose of Nature meant that people who did not reproduce (including virgins, clerics, and same sex couples) violated Nature's law - as presented in the Rose. Of related importance is the overarching theme of motherhood in the portrayal of Nature, which cannot be separated from the allegorical figure as a woman. In the blacksmith's shop, she is creating new children to replace the humans taken by death, an accurate representation of how women's role in reproduction was so fundamental. While an allegorical figure represented as a woman could be an opportunity for empowerment - in the Roman de la Rose it is antifeminist as Nature enables the "conquest" of the Rose and allows herself to be degraded by the priest Genius and agrees with him that she, and all women, cannot be trusted.

    The powerful, and almost disturbing, depiction of Nature as she creates new life is particularly interesting, as it is counter to the more common, feminine depictions of Nature in which she is portrayed with gentility and grace. To understand the cultural relevance of this work, it is necessary to view the image in terms of what Nature is doing rather than who she is. Since the miniature shows her creating new life, it relates to cultural views surrounding female sexuality. In the Middle Ages, female sexuality was viewed in a functional manner as a tool for reproduction. Additionally, art depicting seduction or sexuality often involved goddesses rather than human women. Therefore, the power shown in creating new life comes at the expense of the depiction of Nature as erotic or beautiful and converts her into an almost grotesque form. This transformation was not at all uncommon for the time. Newman observes that in Christine de Pizan's later work, she utilized goddesses to represent the multi-dimensionality of women. However, as this miniature suggests, that was counter to the common narrative that power and femininity were mutually exclusive.

    Discussions and arguments surrounding the Roman de la Rose have been ongoing since the fifteenth century. The original debate was mounted by Christine de Pizan, an author at the French royal court. She criticized the Rose for its misogynistic portrayal of women. This initiated a debate in letters with two royal secretaries, Jean de Montreuil and Gontier Col, as well as Col's brother Pierre, a Canon of Paris. They dismissed Christine for being a woman - the very idea that she was fighting against in her criticism of the Rose. Christine questioned how the text further perpetuated misogyny and immorality in poetry, France's literary nationalism, and language as a whole. Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, opposed the Roman de la Rose alongside Christine. He believed that the poem went directly against the rules set out by Nature and her commandments. Gerson further argued that the poem's model for male sexual behavior and the excuses Nature offered in support of it are completely false. One of Nature's most important roles, in fact, was to ordain marriage in the first place.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subjects: Allegory ; Gender ; Infants ; Literature- Verse ; Nature (Literary Figure) ; Roman de la Rose ; Women in Active Roles
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1490-1500
  • Related Work:
    Full manuscript page, British Library, Harley 4425, fol. 140r.
    Nature in a garden, British Library, Harley 4425, fol. 140r.
    Illustrations from the manuscript, British Library, Harley 4425.
    Digitized manuscript, British Library, Harley 4425.
    Procreating couple, Nature at her forge, Roman de la Rose, circa 1375-1400, French, University of Chicago Library, Ms. 1380, fol. 102v.
    Nature at her forge (includes animals), Roman de la Rose, circa 1405, French, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig XV 7, fol.121v.
    Nature forges human hands, Roman de la Rose, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, French, Yale University, Beinecke Library, Ms. 418, fol. 282v.
    Nature forging a phallus, obscene lead-tin badge, 14th century, German, Stuttgart, Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg. See more information in the Kunera database, object number 04997.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Harley 4425, fol. 140r
  • Original Location: Netherlands (Bruges)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Gold;
  • Donor: Layman; Engelbert II, Count of Nassau and Vianden (1451-1504)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 39.5/29/
  • Related Resources:
    De Kesel, Lieve. "None Is More Splendid Than the Roman de la Rose of Count Engelbert II of Nassau. Some Considerations on the Silencing of Male Bouche in Harley 4425 of The British Library in London." Nouvelles de la Rose. Actualité et perspectives du Roman de la Rose. Edited by Dulce Maria González Doreste and Maria del Pilar Mendoza-Ramos. Universidad de La Laguna, 2011. Pages 61-78.

    Debating the Roman de la Rose: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Christine McWebb. Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards. Routledge, 2007.

    "Detailed Record for Harley 4425." British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Available open access

    Fleming, John V. “Natural and Unnatural Nature.” Roman de la Rose: A Study in Allegory and Iconography. Princeton University Press, 2015.

    Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. Translated by Charles Dahlberg. Princeton University Press, 1971.

    Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe. Edited by Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003. Pages 4-5, 44, 73, 315, 323, 394, 398, 401-03. Available open access.

    Newman, Barbara. “Did Goddesses Empower Women? The Case of Dame Nature.” Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages. Edited by Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski. Cornell University Press, 2003. Pages 135 - 155.

    Park, Katherine. “Nature in Person: Medieval and Renaissance Allegories and Emblems.” The Moral Authority of Nature. Edited by Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal. University of Chicago Press, 2003. Pages 50-73.

    Roman de la Rose Digital Library. Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://dlmm.library.jhu.edu/en/romandelarose/.

    Thorpe, Deborah. "Heated Words: The Politics and Poetics of Work in 'A Complaint against Blacksmiths'". Parergon 32, 1 (2015): 77-101.

February 2022

  • Title: The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve
  • Description:
    This painting, attributed since 2002 to Olivuccio di Ciccarello, depicts the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus. Mary is flanked by saint George and the archangel Michael on her left and the archangel Gabriel on her right. Twelve medallions spring forth from her halo, each depicting one of the apostles. Reclining at Mary's feet, Eve holds the forbidden fruit. The Tree of Knowledge sprouts from between Eve's thighs, and a serpent with a woman's head gazes at her face. The heraldic shield in the painting helps identify friar Agostino Rogeroli as its patron and is likely a commission for the church of Sant' Agostino at Fermo where he also donated a reliquary for a thorn from Christ's crown. The church served both lay people and friars.

    It is important to consider how the Fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden and the Annunciation to Mary are represented in terms of human nature and salvation in this work. First consider the representation of human nature. Eve's choice to disobey God and eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden led to the fall of humankind because it introduced sin to the world. This scene is shown at the bottom of the painting where Eve is seen being tempted by the serpent to take a bite of the apple. Her placement in the painting below the vision of Mary, her son Jesus, and Mary's halo of medallions draws attention to the fact that humankind is always below the chastity and humility of Mary due to its sinful nature. In addition, the artist's choice to place Eve in a black abyss illustrates the darkness of human nature that is related to sin.

    On the other hand, salvation is displayed above Eve with Mary, the infant Christ, and archangel Gabriel. There is reference to the Annunciation, when the archangel came to Mary and told her that as a virgin, she would give birth to the Son of God. Mary welcomed the salvation of the world by acquiescing to God's request. By giving birth to God's Son, Mary created an avenue to salvation so that Christ redeemed humankind from the sin that Eve introduced to the world. The bright gold used to surround Mary emphasizes that she symbolizes this salvation for humans. The painting presents a choice for a medieval woman: she can either take the route of sin, like Eve, and be seen as disobedient to God, or she can choose salvation, like Mary, and be mindful of Christ's teachings.

    Several similarities in the appearances of Mary and Eve lead the viewer instinctively to compare them. Both have the same markers of ideal beauty: pale skin, flowing blond hair, and small, shapely breasts. Notably, both the Virgin and Eve have their right breast exposed, further inciting comparison. Some scholars argue the panel posits Eve as an inversion of Mary; one is the chaste, honorable mother, the other the sinful, immodest temptress. The Latin for Gabriel's greeting begins, Ave (Hail), a reversal of Eve's Latin name, Eva. As mentioned above, women onlookers would have been presented with models of the “good woman” they must emulate, and the “evil woman” to shame. However, this reading does not account for the medieval emphasis on Eve's role as ancestor to Mary.

    Indeed, while Eve's position below Mary may seem to represent inferiority and condemnation, it also quotes a medieval tradition of conveying ancestry through a similar pose. The Tree of Knowledge which sprouts from Eve can be seen as a reference to the family tree that connects Eve and Mary. This reading highlights a different perspective on Eve's role in human redemption. In bringing about the Fall, she necessitated the birth and Passion of Christ. More literally, she is ancestor to both the Virgin and Christ. Finally, Eve's nudity may not be an implication of sinfulness or even of sexuality. Medieval thinking was that a woman's breast milk was converted from menstrual blood. The image of the Virgin nursing the infant Christ emphasizes the link between her breast milk and Christ's blood, thus presenting her as a co-Redemptress of humanity alongside Christ. Eve, with her right breast also exposed, appears to be involved in this act of redemption. Her bare chest is not a sign of sexuality, but of divine mercy.

    Moreover, the feeding imagery references Eve and the Virgin's motherhood and their respective roles in the condemnation and salvation of humanity. While the Virgin is seen breastfeeding Christ, the Tree of Knowledge and the snake encircling it allude to Eve's act of feeding Adam fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In doing so, Eve brought about the Fall and condemned her offspring (the rest of humankind) to sin and death. In contrast, the Virgin's breastfeeding symbolizes her own humility, Christ's humanity, and the salvation of humankind. Humility was seen as a key way to acquire other virtues important to Christianity, and the Virgin's acceptance of her role as the Mother of God made her a significant model of humility. During the fourteenth century the composition of the Madonna of Humility, seated on the ground, gained prominence as it provided a natural and relatable portrayal of the Virgin that was more engaging for the viewer than the traditional imagery of the Enthroned Madonna and Child. At the time, a child was understood to be the combination of flesh from the mother, and its soul, derived from the father. Therefore, while divine, the Virgin's flesh also gave Christ his humanity. The Virgin's breastfeeding (a motif known as “the Virgin Lactans”) provides evidence of her life-giving and life-sustaining role, as she quite literally feeds Christ with her own body. Through her humility and motherhood, the Virgin is able to intercede on behalf of humanity in their prayers for salvation. She is the direct source of Christ's flesh and blood, and, in giving him life, she provides redemption for humanity. However, instead of producing a dichotomy of sinful Eve and the humble Virgin, the Virgin's intercession is dependent on Eve's condemnation and their roles are contingent upon one another.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subjects: Altarpieces ; Breast Feeding ; Eve (Biblical Figure) in Art ; Humility ; Intercession in Art ; Mary, Virgin, Saint and Child in Art ; Mary, Virgin, Saint- Annunciation in Art ; Mothers in Art ; Nude in Art
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14- 15
  • Date: circa 1400
  • Related Work:
    Ambrogio Lorenzetti and workshop, Maestà lunette, ca.1334-36, fresco. Rotunda of San Galgano, Montesiepi. Andrea di Bartolo, Madonna of Humility, The Blessing Christ, Two Angels, and a Donor [obverse], ca. 1380/90, tempera and gold on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Samuel H. Kress Collection 1939.1.20.a. Paolo di Giovanni Fei, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Evangelist, Peter, Agnes, Catherine of Alexandria, Lucy, an Unidentified Female Saint, Paul, and John the Baptist, with Eve and the Serpent; and The Annunication in the spandrels, ca.1390, tempera on panel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.23. Master of the Straus Madonna, Madonna and Child, ca.1390-1395, tempera and gold on panel, Stalybridge, Astley Cheetham Art Gallery. Sassetta, Madonna of Humility, ca. 1435/40, tempera and gold on poplar panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC., Samuel H. Kress Collection 1939.1.246. Olivuccio di Ciccarello, Altarpiece with the Virgin and Child with Saints, ca. 1410-1420, oil and gold leaf on panel, Walters Art Museum.
  • Current Location: Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, Holden Collection 1916.795
  • Original Location: Marche, Italy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Tempera paints; Gold;
  • Donor: Male religious; Agostino Rogeroli, an Augustinian friar, whose heraldic shield appears in the painting. He may have commissioned it, along with a reliquary, for the church of Sant'Agostino at Fermo.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 181.5/88.6/
  • Related Resources:

    Dunlop, Anne. “Flesh and the Feminine: Early-Renaissance Images of the Madonna with Eve at Her Feet.” Oxford Art Journal 25, 2 (2002): 127-147.

    Gertsman, Elina and Barbara H. Rosenwein. The Middle Ages in 50 objects. Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pages 88-91.

    Phillips, Kim M. "The Breasts of Virgins: Sexual Reputation and Young Women 's Bodies in Medieval Culture and Society." Cultural and Social History 15, 1 (2018): 1-19.

    Stefanacci, Davide. “Humility as a Virtue: Oral and Visual Religious Indoctrination to Purify the Female Gender in Italy in the Early Quattrocento.” Signs and Society 8, 2 (2020): 220-242.

    Williamson, Beth. “The Virgin 'Lactans' as Second Eve: Image of the 'Salvatrix'.” Studies in Iconography 19 (1998): 105 - 138.

January 2022

  • Title: St Elizabeth washing a leper
  • Description:
    In this manuscript illustration, St Elizabeth of Hungary kneels to wash the foot of a leper, who can be identified primarily by the red marks covering his leg, face and hands. The leper is clothed in red and green and sitting on a box or seat. In his left hand is a clapper; such devices were long believed to have been used in order to alert others to the presence of lepers. He holds his right hand in front of his face. This action may be for the purpose of communicating the leper’s shame at needing assistance or else to obscure his facial features. Leprosy can cause disfigurement, such as open wounds or the loss of the nose. St Elizabeth is accompanied by another woman, dressed in the same colors as the leper, who is holding out a clean white cloth. A number of other people, with a woman and bald, bearded man distinguishable in the front, look on at the scene from behind the leper. The woman’s face is marked with the same signs of leprosy.

    This miniature appears in the manuscript of Madame Marie’s picture book. It is believed by some that the titular Madame Marie could have been Marie de Rethel, who married Waultier d’Enghien in 1266. She is best known for commissioning a French translation of the Liber de monstruosis hominibus by Thomas de Cantimpré, and founding hospitals in the Mons region. This manuscript was created around 1285 in France by two artists, an assistant painter known by the name of Master Henri and a master painter who is unknown. The pages of the manuscript, which are comprised of eighty-seven full page miniature paintings, contain thirty-three scenes in the life of Christ and fifty-four depictions of the saints in order of the litany. Madame Marie herself is featured kneeling in prayer in ten images in front of her favorite saints, and these depictions were designed strategically to represent her social status as an aristocratic wife and mother. Several of the images are striking due to the fact that they contain gruesome displays of torture and martyrdom, including decapitation and flaying of saints. However, Madame Marie is not featured in any of these scenes of torture; thus, she shares the perspective of the reader: one that absorbs these images from a distance, reflecting on the virtues of the saints.

    Leprosy – in its current form known as Hansen’s disease - is caused by Mycobacterium leprae, a slow-growing bacteria in the same genus as the causative agent of tuberculosis. The disease can cause nerve damage, which can result in paralysis, blindness, and loss of appendages or limbs. While leprosy is considered a stigmatized illness today and in recent history, medieval historians have, in recent decades, come to the conclusion that this understanding of leprosy is incorrect for the Middle Ages.

    Traditionally, historians believed that the disease was always stigmatized, considered to be a sign of poverty, and made those infected outcasts from society. Historians thought that those with leprosy were forced to wear bells and carry clappers to warn those nearby. However, as Monica H. Green wrote in her letter to the editor, those infected with leprosy carried such accessories due to the loss of function of their larynx. Indeed, people infected with leprosy were not cast out, but cared for and revered because they were thought to be closer to God. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was their saint. As Ottó Gecser writes, the person with leprosy in the painting is elevated above the other figures, showing his position as closer to Jesus. More evidence of the respect for those with leprosy is a beautiful clapper reported by Koldeweij and Vlierman. They argue this demonstrates a higher status for the owner, though, in their reckoning, this does not align with usual medieval practices. How people living with leprosy were viewed during the Middle Ages is a complex issue which historians of medicine and disability studies continue to document based on primary sources.

    We can further interpret St Elizabeth’s role in this illustration by considering the Biblical understanding of charity. It is defined as a virtue in which the practitioner has a love of God and their neighbors and strives to engage in pious and practical acts. The identification of Christ with the poor and the sick from the Gospel of John and First Corinthians inspired medieval Christians to provide for others. This would have included actions such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick as a means of ensuring the salvation of one’s immortal soul. Charity would not have been carried out purely due to a motivation to be kind but instead was seen as a mutually beneficial relationship for both the one giving the charity and the one receiving it. The connection between charity and leprosy is relatively straightforward, insofar as tending to the sick was seen as a charitable act. However, some complexities emerge, particularly when taking into account the extent to which the sufferings of the thirteenth-century leper were seen in a religious light.

    Elma Brenner has recently discussed how visiting a leper house could be an opportunity to receive lepers' prayers, something that was sought after due to the belief that God chose lepers for heavenly redemption without time in Purgatory. St Elizabeth was revered widely, in part because of her charitable acts in serving lepers. Among other works, the saint helped found a hospital for lepers, attending to the sick herself. The two miracles for which St Elizabeth is most famous, those involving the leper and the food turned into roses, both highlight the saint’s proclivity for charity. In the former case, a leper Elizabeth has placed in her bed is seen by Elizabeth’s husband as the crucified Christ in order to deter any accusations of adultery. This is a story that emphasizes how even wealthy men are required to perform acts of charity.
  • Source: Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Hagiography Leprosy Madame Marie, Owner of a Devotional Picture Book Manuscripts- Ownership of Marie de Rethel, Wife of Wautier d'Enghien Noble Women Picture Books
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 13
  • Date: 1380-1290
  • Related Work:
    Digital copy of Madame Marie’s book, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. n.a. fr. 16251.
    Saint Margaret, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS n.a. fr. 16251, fol. 100r.
    Saints Juliana and Christine, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS n.a. fr. 16251, fol. 102r.
    Saints Waudru of Mons and Gertrude of Nivelles, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS n.a. fr. 16251, fol. 104r.
    St Elisabeth washing a beggar, second half of the 15th century, a scene from the main altar of St Elisabeth Cathedral in Košice, Slovakia.
    Saint Elizabeth washing a leper, 1480-1500, winged retable, Parish Church of St. Giles, Bardejov, Slovakia.
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS n.a. fr. 1625, fol. 103v
  • Original Location: France, Hainaut (Mons?)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor: Laywoman;? Marie de Rethel, Wife of Wautier d'Enghien, lord of Mons
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 18/13/
  • Inscription: "Sainte Ysabiel" [Saint Elizabeth]
  • Related Resources:

    Brenner, Elma. “Introduction: Leprosy, Charity and Rouen.” Leprosy and Charity in Medieval Rouen. Boydell & Brewer, 2015. Pages. 1-18.

    Gecser, Ottó. “Miracles of the Leper and the Roses: Charity, Chastity and Female Independence in St.Elizabeth of Hungary.” Franciscana 15 (2013): 149-171.

    Green, Monica H., Kathleen Walker-Meikle, and Wolfgang P. Müller. “Diagnosis of a ‘Plague’ Image: A Digital Cautionary Tale.” The Medieval Globe 1, 1 (2014). Available open access.

    Green, Monica H. “Lepers and Their Bells.” New York Times 12 Feb. 2013.

    Hamburger, Jeffrey F. "The Picture Book of Madame Marie (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Ms. n.a. fr. 16251)." Scriptorium 52, 2 (1998): 413-428.

    Koldeweij, A.M and K. Vlierman. “A Remarkable Clapper: Significance, Function and Origin.” A Small Cog, Wrecked on the Zuiderzee in the Early Fifteenth Century. Edited by Frederick Martin Hocker and Karel Vlierman. Ketelhaven, 1996. Pages 86-97.

    Skinner, Patricia. Living with Disfigurement in Early Medieval Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

    Stones, Alison. "Nipples, Entrails, Severed Heads, and Skin: Devotional Images for Madame Marie." Image and Belief: Studies in Celebration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Index of Christian Art. Edited by Colum Hourihane. Index of Christian Art, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University in association with Princeton University Press, 1999. Pages 47-70.

    Wolf, Kenneth Baxter. The Life and Afterlife of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: Testimony from Her Canonization Hearings. Oxford University Press, 2011.

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