Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Scene of a Bathhouse
  • Creator: Master of Anthony of Burgundy
  • Description:

    This miniature illumination of a bathhouse scene is a conflation of two passages from Book IX of Facta et dicta memorabilia (Memorable Deeds and Sayings) by the first-century Roman author, Valerius Maximus: the baths of Sergius Orata, and the leisure of Hannibal’s troops at Capua. Valerius Maximus presented both stories as examples of the vices of greed and luxury. Sergius Orata was a Roman engineer who profited from his invention of thermal baths and reveled in his wealth. Hannibal’s troops engaged in excessive eating, drinking, and fornication with prostitutes and thus became weak and lax. The combination of the two narratives appears to be a medieval invention and appears in at least four 15th-century manuscripts from the Burgundian Netherlands and England. Anthony of Burgundy, the illegitimate son of Phillip the Good (duke of Burgundy as Philip III), commissioned this lavish manuscript from a prestigious Flemish painter known as the Master of Anthony of Burgundy.

    The illumination depicts a man in courtly garb and a king, perhaps Hannibal, observing debauchery in the baths. Nude men and women bathe and eat together, while two couples in the baths and a couple in an adjacent room kiss and fondle. A musician playing the lute and a dancing dog add to the overall rowdiness of the scene. The women wear elaborate veils and jeweled necklaces which lend further evidence to the idea that they are prostitutes. The Master of Anthony of Burgundy chose to place the scene of luxury in a contemporary Flemish bath house or brothel rather than an ancient Roman one. Brothels with adjacent bath houses and public bath houses that also offered illicit prostitution were common in the late Middle Ages in France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Although prostitution was illegal in public bath houses, proprietors often overlooked the law (Otis, 2009). In at least one instance, however, one proprietor in Nîmes obtained permission to run two bath houses, one with a brothel and one without. Bath house-brothels earned a reputation for vice and licentiousness. Gambling, theft, and drunkenness all appear as complaints in legal documents. Given the illicit status of most bath house brothels, the merging of bath and brothel in the Valerius Maximus manuscripts may have been a logical choice to demonstrate the essence of the vice of luxury.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Bath Houses Bathing Conviviality Feasting Food Houses of Prostitution Luxuria (Lust) Nude Prostitutes Sexuality Valerius Maximus, Ancient Authors
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca. 1470
  • Related Work: The same scene in BnF MS Arsenal 5196, f. 372: http://expositions.bnf.fr/gastro/images/3/152.jpg; The same scene in BnF MS Fr. 289, f. 414 v: http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/ConsulterElementNum?O=IFN-8100206&E=JPEG&Deb=49&Fin=49&Param=C; The same scene in BL MS Royal 17 F IV, f. 297: http://molcat1.bl.uk/IllImages/Kslides/big/K139/K139645.jpg
  • Current Location: Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Dep. Breslau 2, vol. 2, fol. 244
  • Original Location: Netherlands, N.W., Bruges
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint
  • Donor: Layman; Anthony of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 44.2/33.4/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Kren, Thomas and Scot McKendrick. Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe. Getty Publications, 2003. P. 76; Otis, Leah Lydia. Prostitution in Medieval Society: The History of an Urban Institution in Languedoc. University of Chicago Press, 2009. P. 98; Winter, Johanna Maria van. "Medieval Opinions about Food and Drink in Connection with Bathing," in Spices and Comfits: Collected Papers on Medieval Food, ed. Johanna Maria van Winter. Prospect Books, 2007. Pp. 389-98;