Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Previous Images of the Month

November 2019 [Posted January 2020]

  • Title: Religious woman dancing while a friar "plays music"
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this manuscript scene, a woman dances while her companion, a Franciscan friar, "plays music" with a fireplace bellows and a distaff. The exuberant figures may have been intended to convey a lively humor. The nun or beguine (a religious woman who lived a life of service among the laity) has hiked up her robe to the knees, and her headdress is askew with some hair showing. The friar is properly attired in a Franciscan robe with the knotted belt signifying poverty, chastity and obedience. However, his musical instrument is not a fiddle but a fireplace bellows, and the bow is a distaff, the tool for turning fibers into yarn that is traditionally identified with women. In this "World turned upside down" view, the wheezing of the bellows and the gendered spinning tool confer a ridiculous air on the inappropriate familiarity between the friar and the semi-clothed religious woman. The text above their heads is part of the Office of Matins, using well-known verses from the Song of Songs:
    Vox Ecclesiae: Ecce tu pulcher es dilecte mi, et decorus. Lectulus noster floridus. Tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina, laquearia nostra cypressina.
    (Voice of the Church: Behold, you are handsome, O my beloved, and graceful. Our bed is flourishing. The timbers of our houses are of cedar; our ceilings are of cypress.)

    This illuminated scene appears in a manuscript known as the Maastricht Hours, a very small prayer book (3 by 4 inches) that is profusely illustrated. In addition to marginal scenes, there are initials full of figures, grotesques, full-page miniatures and calendar illustrations. The illuminations tell narrative stories from the New Testament, as well as those of saints and the Virgin's redemption of Theophilus from a pact with the devil. The Stowe 17 artist drew ideas from earlier manuscript illustrations done in the Meuse River region (likely from the atelier's copybooks), but added more inventive and often homely details. The infant Christ steadies himself on the donkey's head while reaching for his mother's pillow. A noble woman is represented at prayer ten times in the manuscript (beginning on folio 18r and ending on 256r) and is believed to be the original owner.

    Scholars have pointed to the emphasis on maternal themes in the illustrations, ranging from the Virgin and child to the Massacre of the Innocents, where an angel transports a baby's soul to heaven. Miniatures of female saints include Margaret, the patron of women in childbirth, who is emerging from a dragon, with her hands clasped in prayer. In the marginalia many female figures also appear, including mermaids, hybrid female creatures, nuns, a peasant woman protecting her rooster from a fox, noble women, and women brandishing weapons. Like the monk and dancing woman, many of these figures appear at the bottom of the page without any leafy decoration to distract from the expressive figures and their energetic activities.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Dancing Friars Humor Marginalia Music Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1300- 1325
  • Related Work: Digitized copy of Stowe MS 17.
    Nun and cat playing with a spindle, Stowe MS 17, fol. 34r.
    Fox preaching to chickens and a goose, Stowe MS 17, fol. 84r.
    Dog playing a violin, Stowe MS 17, fol. 172r.
  • Current Location: London, British library, Stowe MS 17, fol. 38r
  • Original Location: Liege
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Gold; Colored inks;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 9.5/7/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barrow, Robyn. "Stowe MS 17: Text, Image and the Ramifications of Female Viewership in a Gothic Illuminated Book of Hours." Immediations 4, 2 (2017). Available open access: https://courtauld.ac.uk/research/publications/immediations/immediations-online-2/immediations-2017-volume-4-number-2/70584-2;
    Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. Harvard University Press, 1992;
    Nishimura, Margot McIlwain. Images in the Margins. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009;
    Oliver, Judith H. Gothic Manuscript Illumination in the Diocese of Liege (c. 1250 – c. 1330). Two volumes. Uitgeverij Peeters, 1988;
    Standley, Eleanor R. "Spinning Yarns: The Archaeological Evidence for Hand Spinning and its Social Implications, c ad 1200–1500." Medieval Archaeology 60, 2 (2016): 266-299.

  • Title: Bust of a young boy
  • Creator: Andrea della Robbia, sculptor
  • Description:

    This glazed terracotta bust was created by Andrea della Robbia ca. 1475-1480 and was produced in Florence at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The bust depicts a young boy, perhaps around the age of three or four. The child’s carefully crafted expression and slightly parted lips lend an air of life and animation to the sculpture. It is not entirely clear if the portrait depicts an actual child, a young Jesus Christ, or his cousin, John the Baptist, or some blending of these.

    Regardless, the sculpture shows an increased interest and investment in depicting the lives of children, which came about in part from new aesthetic ideals of the Italian Renaissance including an admiration of antique representations of Eros. There were also social factors relating to the impact of plague. The 1348 outbreak was referred to by chroniclers as the "children's plague" and its recurring waves took a heavy toll on families. Miller argues that these losses of children followed by a rebound in the fifteenth century shifted the demographics and prompted a new attention and understanding of the young. Many kinds of Italian domestic objects, from birth trays to portraits, presented carefully observed little boys as studies in innocence, embodiments of vitality, and much-desired hopes for the future.

    Sculptures like this were typically commissioned by a father, often both to represent a family’s future legacy and to celebrate the return home of a child from time spent with a wet nurse. Typically, infants of prosperous families were put in the care of women who breast-fed them; the infant lived in the wet nurse's home, usually in the countryside, and was separated from their kin until they turned two or three. Occasionally, wet nurses lived in their clients' homes, but still did the majority of the caretaking. Wet nursing was a common practice for Italian families, in part because it restored wives' fertility more quickly, allowing them to bear more children. While some Italian Renaissance thinkers encouraged mothers to raise their infants themselves, this notion was met with resistance by Italian families.

    The sculpture of the boy was completed using a particular technique developed by Luca della Robbia, tin-glazed terracotta, which was hailed as a masterful invention in its time. The glaze produced a shiny surface that idealized the features and enhanced the colors of the clothing. This technique also introduced an affordable variety of art, as clay and paints were inexpensive and readily available. Owning a della Robbia was not only a privilege for the rich, since the value of the art rested more on the skill of the artist than on the material from which it was made. The durable nature of terracotta also made it perfect for country homes and the outdoors, where damp conditions were inhospitable to frescoes or painted panels. Additionally, molds allowed popular pieces to be reproduced with remarkable consistency, typically without the intervention of the master of the workshop. Sculptures were displayed around the home, often in bed-chambers or over wash basins, decorating chimneys, and doorways. Sculptures of young girls were less commonly commissioned, though it was not unheard of.

  • Source: flickr
  • Rights: Photo by William, August 6, 2017. Creative Commons 2.0 license.
  • Subject (See Also): Boys Children Family Portraits Sculpture
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1475
  • Related Work: View of the back of the bust.
    Andrea della Robbia, Bust of a young girl, in private hands.
    Andrea della Robbia, Bust of a young woman, 1465-70, Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Luca della Robbia, Head of a young man, circa 1445, Museo Civico Gaetano Filangieri, Naples.
  • Current Location: Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, nventario Robbie, n. 75
  • Original Location: Florence, Ospedale di S. Maria Nuova
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures; Terracotta
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Clay; Paints; Tin-glaze;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 33/30/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. Edited by Marietta Cambareri. Museum of Fine Arts, 2016;
    Miller, Stephanie R. "A Material Distinction: Fifteenth-century Tin-glazed Terracotta Portraits in Italy." Sculpture Journal 22, 1 (2013): 7-20;
    Miller, Stephanie R. "Parenting in the Palazzo: Images and Artifacts of Children in the Italian Renaissance Home." The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400–1700: Objects, Spaces, Domesticities. Edited by Erin J. Campbell, Stephanie R. Miller and Elizabeth Carroll Consavari. Ashgate, 2013. Pages 67-88;
    Musacchio, Jacqueline Marie. Art, Marriage and Family in the Florentine Renaissance Palace. Yale University Press, 2008.

April 2019 [Posted July 2019]

  • Title: St George killing a female dragon (Image #1)
  • Creator: Herman, Jean, and Paul de Limbourg, painters (Image #2)
  • Description:

    These illuminations are depictions of the popular story in which St. George slays a dragon and saves a threatened princess. However, these particular illuminations distinctly render the dragon as female, which sets them apart from most other illuminations of the tale. While dragons were typically genderless in medieval illuminations, the first illumination, from a fifteenth century French book of hours, prominently features the dragon’s gaping genitalia, unmistakably a vagina and an anus. In the second illumination, from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duke of Berry, the dragon is being slain to the horror of her children, who cry as St. George prepares to deliver the final blow. In both illuminations, St. George bears his iconic red-on-white cross, signaling righteousness and devotion. Additionally, both illuminations feature the princess as an onlooker to the scene, hands clasped together in prayer, a holy foil to the dragon’s malevolent and sexualized femininity.

    Medieval tales of monsters are traditionally used to offer an allegory to the listener. In bestiaries and other written accounts, the dragon is a figure of evil associated with Satan and the snake in the Garden of Eden. In these illuminations, then, it is not surprising that the dragons are marked as dangerous and wicked. In the first illumination, the nature of the depiction of the dragon’s genitalia indicate her rampant sexual practice. Additionally, she is turned over on her back in a submissive position, perhaps offering herself up to the saint in exchange for her life. St. George is frequently a symbol of chastity, and his rejection of her offer and attack upon the sexualized dragon is meant to offer an allegory of the power that resistance to lust can convey. Interestingly enough, St. George also chooses to spear the dragon through the mouth, a repeated image in depictions of St. George slaying the dragon. Samantha Riches suggests that this might “play on the idea of the mouth as a double of the vagina”.

    In the second illumination, the dragon is clearly the mother of the smaller dragons, as she is positioned protectively in front of the cave-like lair. While motherhood was typically thought to be righteous and part of God's plan, this particular representation of motherhood draws from more insidious roots. In similar fashion to Grendel’s mother in the Old English epic Beowulf, the monstrous mother symbolizes the terrifying ability of female monsters to spawn more hideous creatures. The dragon's children act as witnesses to their mother’s demise and perhaps figure as the next targets of George’s martial prowess. An additional image linked below shows Saint George confronting a submissive, distinctly male dragon, indicating that sexuality in more than one form poses a threat to the saint's virtue.

  • Source: Manuscript Miniatures (Image #1);
    Metropolitan Museum of Art,The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (Image #2)
  • Rights: Public domain (Image #1); Public domain (Image #2)
  • Subject (See Also): Chastity Dragons George, Martyr and Saint Hagiography Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1440-1450 (Image #1);
    1405 and 1408 or 1409 (Image #2)
  • Related Work: Digitized version of the Book of Hours including Image #1, Bodleian Library;
    Digitized version of the Belles Heures including Image #2, Metropolitan Museum of Art;
    Male dragon being killed by Saint George, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.421, fol. 23v;
    Female dragon with teats being killed by Saint George, wooden sculpture group, circa 1500, Gottorf Castle.
  • Current Location: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. D. inf. 2. 11, fol. 44v (Image #1)
    New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, 1954, 54.1.1a, b, fol. 167r (Image #2)
  • Original Location: France (Image #1); Probably Paris, France (Image #2)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paint; Ink (Image #1) Vellum; Tempera; Gold; Ink (Image #2)
  • Donor: Layman; Jean de France, Duke of Berry (Image #2)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 29.3 (Image #1)
    23.8 (Image #2)/20 (Image #1)
    17 (Image #2)/
  • Inscription: On the banner coming from the donor's(?) clasped hands:"S(a)n(cti) Georgi ora pro mi" (Saint George, pray for me)
  • Related Resources: Cullum, Pat. "‘Give Me Chastity’: Masculinity and Attitudes to Chastity and Celibacy in the Middle Ages," Gender & History 25, 3 (2013): 621-636;
    Lindquist, Sherry C. M. and Asa Simon Mittman. Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders. Morgan Library & Museum in association with D. Giles, 2018;
    Riches, Samantha. St George: A Saint for All. Reaktion Books, 2015;
    Riches, Samantha J. E. "St. George as a Male Virgin Martyr." Gender and Holiness: Men, Women, and Saints in Late Medieval Europe. Edited by Samantha J. E. Riches and Sarah Salih. Routledge, 2002. Pages 65 – 85;
    Rodríguez López, Ana. "San Jorge y la dragona entre la Edad Media y la Reforma," Arenal 24, 1 (2017): 257-262;

March 2019 [Posted June 2019]

  • Title: Case of Impotence
  • Description:

    This illumination and its related text appear in a deluxe version of the Decretum Gratiani, a manuscript of canon law. The text first circulated around 1140, and became part of the compiled canon law used by the Catholic Church until the twentieth century. The author, Gratian, originally entitled the manuscript Concordia discordantium canonum, or the Harmony of Discordant Canons. Gratian's title reflects his desire to parse through and synthesize the conflicting canon law of the era. This particular deluxe edition of Decretum Gratiani was created ca. 1280-1290. The lively decoration of the manuscript indicates a marked taste for narrative. The glosses (small annotations made in the margins of the work) were done by Johannes Teutonicus and updated by Bartholomew of Brescia, an Italian canonist. This manuscript exhibits scribal features that suggest a connection with the Cistercian abbey of Cambron in Hainaut.

    The text of Causa XXXIII concerns a legal case in which a woman seeks a divorce and takes a new lover because her husband is impotent. The husband eventually recovers his virility, but his wife has already married the other man. The previously impotent husband separates the newlywed couple and reinstates his previous marriage with his wife. After this turn of events, he vows celibacy, even though he did not receive the consent of his wife for this change. Gratian addresses the various legal quandaries found in the case, and prescribes how each particular matter should be handled. Gratian does this by frequently citing authorities, both theological writers and the Bible itself.

    The illumination of Causa XXXIII depicts a canon law expert listening to the case. The most striking detail is the nudity of the man bringing suit. In cases such as this, the afflicted man had to prove his potency through examination of his genitals. The man’s palms face outwards in what appears to be embarrassment, and he averts his eyes towards the floor. The two women surrounding the man are likely midwives brought in to examine him, and they pull aside his clothes to display the proof of his impotence to the judge.

    In Causa XXXIII, the afflicted man claims that a maleficent hex is the cause of his impotence. Many canon law experts of the twelfth century contended that if a man could not fulfill the marital debt to his wife (to have sex and produce children), the couple could be separated. This was only permitted if the marriage had not yet been consummated. Typically, either the husband or the wife would be examined. The husband's complexion and genitals might be checked by a physician or midwife. A matron was then called to apply warming ointments and watch the couple attempt to have sex. If the wife was being examined, two skilled midwives would determine whether she was still a virgin.

    Causa XXXIII also outlines the rights of women in marriage and annulment. Gratian states that if a wife “denies that her husband knew her, one should give the benefit of the doubt to the husband,” because “the husband is the head of the wife.” Additionally, Causa XXXIII states that a husband may ignore a vow of abstinence made by his wife if he did not give her permission. This, Gratian asserts, is “because of her subordinate condition, in which she obeys her husband in all things....it is just that the lesser serve the greater.”

  • Source: Walters Art Museum
  • Rights: Public domain. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Access Rights, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/legalcode.
  • Subject (See Also): Canon Law Divorce Gratian, Canonist- Decretum Husbands Impotence Magic Marital Separations Sexuality Wives
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 13
  • Date: circa 1280- 1290
  • Related Work: Other manuscript illustrations of Canon XXXIII:
    The plaintiff and his wife embrace in bed while two women and two men observe and talk among themselves, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Lat. Fol. 4, fol. 285r.
    The wife embraces her new lover while he tenderly caresses her hair. The spurned husband stands to the side and points at their demonstration of intimacy, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Clm. 17161, fol. 145v.
  • Current Location: Baltimore, the Walters Art Museum, Ms. W.133, fol. 277r
  • Original Location: Probably Hainaut, Cambron, the Cistercian abbey
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illumination
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 42/27.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Gratian. Marriage Canons from The Decretum of Gratian. Translated by John T. Noonan, Jr. Revised 1994. See Canon 33 The Marriage Debt;
    Melnikas, Anthony. The Corpus of the Miniatures in the Manuscripts of Decretum Gratiani. Vol. I. Studi Gratiana, 18. Studia Gratiana, 1975;
    Murray, Jacqueline. "On the Origins and Roles of 'Wise Women' in Causes for Annulment on the Grounds of Male Impotence." Journal of Medieval History 16, 3 (1990): 235-249;
    Rider, Catherine. "'A Defect of the Mind or Body': Impotence and Sexuality in Medieval Theology and Canon Law." In The Ends of the Body: Identity and Community in Medieval Culture. Edited by Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Jill Ross. University of Toronto Press, 2013. Pages 193-210;
    Rider, Catherine. Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press, 2006.

February 2019 [Posted April 209]

  • Title: Fragment of a Floor Mosaic: Adam and Eve
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Eve and Adam stand before us in the Garden of Eden in the moments following humankind's original sin. Having both eaten from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, they now each clutch the apple and, out of shame, hold fig leaves over their genitals. They are naked and vulnerable in their new-found awareness of sexuality and sin. Their curly hair and rosy cheeks suggest youth and vitality. There is also an echo of the antique nude in the representation of Eve's rounded breasts and Adam's lean torso. The inscription in Greek above their heads reminds viewers of their transgression in Genesis: "And they ate and they realized they were naked."

    Earlier Christian theological traditions in the Greek world, as represented by the Life of Adam and Eve, viewed Eve in conflicting roles. She was openly sexual and undermined male authority but at the same time was religiously devout and a caring mother. Arbel suggests that Eve embodied both the "good woman" and "bad woman" paradigms for pastoral purposes. In determining where fault should be assigned for humankind's fall, some Greek theologians saw Adam as more culpable than Eve either because of his greater responsibility, or in the case of Pseudo-Anastasius, because Eve resisted the blandishments of the Serpent far more than Adam who blindly followed his wife's lead without question.

    It is believed that this mosaic comes from a church in northern Syria and was part of a larger decorated pavement that represented the Garden of Eden. The Cleveland Museum of Art has three other fragments that belong to the work: Grape harvester with peacock; Ibex near a tree; and Ram near a tree (see below for links to the images). Liz James has characterized mosaics at this time as an artwork that conveyed prestige and wealth. Patrons and ecclesiastical officials were eager to install them in churches even in smaller towns. Furthermore, mosaics had become deeply connected to the Christian faith and to the Roman empire, conveying a universal message which joined together peoples from Visigoths in the West to Greeks in the East.

  • Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Rights: Low resolution thumbnail reproduced with the permission of the Cleveland Museum of Art. All text and images published in www.clevelandart.org are for personal use only. Any commercial use or publication is strictly prohibited.
  • Subject (See Also): Adam (Biblical Figure) Body Eve (Biblical Figure) Fall of Humankind Gender Mosaics Nude in Art
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 5- 6
  • Date: Late 400s - early 500s
  • Related Work: Grape harvester with peacock. Likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
    Ibex near a Tree. Likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
    Ram near a tree. Also likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
  • Current Location: Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1969.115
  • Original Location: Church in Syria
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Mosaics
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Marble; Stone tesserae
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 142.9 /107.3/
  • Inscription: Κ ΕΦΑΓΟΝ ΕΓΥΜΝΟΘΗ… ["and they eat they were made naked"]
  • Related Resources: Arbel, Vita Daphna. Forming Femininity in Antiquity: Eve, Gender, and Ideologies in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. Oxford University Press, 2012;
    Gertsman, Elina, and Barbara H. Rosenwein. "Adam and Eve, Fragment of a Floor Mosaic." In The Middle Ages in 50 Objects. Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pages 56-59;
    Harrison, Nonna Verna. "Eve, the Mother of God, and Other Women." Ecumenical Review 60, 1-2 (2008): 71-81;
    James, Liz. Mosaics in the Medieval World: From Late Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, 2017;
    Meyer, Mati. "Eve's Nudity: A Sign of Shame or Precursor of Christological Economy?" In Between Judaism and Christianity: Art Historical Essays in Honor of Elisheva (Elisabeth) Revel Neher. Edited by Katrin Kogman-Appel and Mati Meyer. Brill, 2009. Pages 241-258.

December 2018 [Posted March 2019]

  • Title: Lady of Shalott
  • Creator: Waterhouse, John William, painter
  • Description:

    The Lady of Shalott is pictured in an ornately adorned wooden boat. She sits upon an embellished tapestry, likely the one she is weaving in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott”. The most visible image on the tapestry pictures Sir Lancelot, whom the Lady of Shalott has seen in her mirror and with whom she has immediately fallen in love. The crucifix and candles affixed to the front end of the boat provide a motif of religious sacrifice. The single dead leaf which has fallen upon her dress foreshadows her impending doom; a fatal curse has fallen upon her. Her tower window which she has just abandoned can be found in the upper left-hand corner of the scene. The painting gracefully captures the moment before she releases the chain that keeps her connected to her island, after which she will float down the river while she dies.

    The Lady of Shalott is depicted in strikingly detailed clothing. Her headband is likely Waterhouse’s conception of the “pearl garland” that Tennyson describes. Her dress echoes Gothic fashion with its trailing sleeves and low-slung belt. Her necklace is made of gold and richly worked, reinforcing her description as “full royally apparelled”. The Lady's mouth is open; she is either struck “like some bold seer in a trance” or has perhaps begun her death song. The Lady is beautiful, a dramatic embodiment of a doomed femininity. She has carved her name into the side of her ship so that those who find her body may identify her.

    Painted in 1888, The Lady of Shalott represents Waterhouse's first work in the Pre-Raphaelite style. This school of painting, represented most notably by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, took inspiration from a medievalism which drew on historical subjects and decorative arts. The 1886 exhibition of Ophelia (painted by Millais in 1851-1852) underlined the continued importance of the Pre-Raphaelite style and the powerful connection of doomed women with water and self-destruction. Waterhouse later painted two additional scenes from the Lady of Shalott's story, The Lady of Shalott (1894) in which she rises from her chair having seen Lancelot in her mirror and "I am half sick of shadows," Said the Lady of Shalott (1915). See links for both in Related Works below.

    The Lady of Shalott is a figure from Arthurian legend, a woman whose story varies from text to text. Tennyson and Waterhouse’s versions of the Lady of Shalott are fascinating because they give the Lady considerably more agency than she had in the medieval stories in which she originated. Tennyson stated that he based his Lady of Shalott on La Donna di Scalotta, a 14th-century novelette. In the tale, the Donna di Scalotta dies of lovesickness (a recognized illness at that time) for Lancelot that is beyond her control. However, Tennyson and Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott chooses her own fate, taking on an agency she never possesses in earlier tales. She decides that she is tired of only being able to see life through a mirror, and accepts whatever may await her when she casts aside her sheltered, albeit mundane, life on her island.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Arthurian Literature in Art Medievalism Romance, Literary Genre Suicide in Art Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 19
  • Date: 1888
  • Related Work: Waterhouse, John William. The Lady of Shalott (1894);
    Waterhouse, John William. "I am half sick of shadows," Said the Lady of Shalott (1915)
  • Current Location: London, Tate Britain, N01543
  • Original Location: London
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Canvas; oil paints
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 153/200/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Hoff, James Dennis. "Ut pictora poesis”: Teaching “The Lady of Shalott” and Victorian Visual Culture." CEA Critic 77, 2 (2015): 223-239;
    J. W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite. Ed. by Elizabeth Prettejohn et al. Royal Academy of Art, 2008;
    Orlando, Emily J. "'That I May not Faint, or Die, or Swoon": Reviving PreRaphaelite Women." Women's Studies 38, 6 (2009): 611-646;
    Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites. Princeton University Press, 2000.

November 2018 [Posted January 2019]

  • Title: Young Girl from Frankfurt Cathedral
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This reconstruction is based on a mysterious double burial under the axis of the Bartholomäus Cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany. The drawing depicts what one of the individuals might have looked like. We know that the first body was that of a girl who was very likely quite young and of high status. She was buried with golden necklaces, bracelets and gold filigree rings along with Merovingian dynasty style clothing. Scholars were able to determine that she was a Christian based on the style and location of her burial, and also the gold trimmed cross on her burial shroud. Archaeologists originally thought that the girl was buried in 850 CE, but upon discovering a second burial in the same coffin, revised that date to sometime between 730 and 750 CE.

    The second burial found in this grave was completely different than the first. This second body was not even a body at all, but rather the cremated remains of a four-year-old of unidentifiable gender. Accompanying the ashes, which were contained in a bearskin sack, were bear claws and the remnants of other animal bones. This suggested to researchers that this child was buried in the Scandinavian Nomadic tradition, and thus followed pagan practices.

    Scholars have focused on studying the remains of the young girl because there is much more information available. She was buried with more precious jewelry than we would expect from an 8th to 9th century child’s burial. Jewelry like necklaces and bracelets were considered gender specific grave goods only accompanying female burials. Male specific goods are objects like weaponry, and belts. Scholars have studied these trends fairly extensively, and have concluded that children are only very rarely buried with gender specific goods. However, those children who were buried with gender specific burial goods were almost exclusively girls buried with necklaces, similar to the case described here. Scholars suggest that young girls who were buried with necklaces were likely betrothed. This would make sense given that in this period, the prevalent belief was that femininity was acquired when a girl reached puberty and became a woman. However, since a female’s significance was largely based on her ability to marry and have children, girls who were betrothed before puberty would have acquired their femininity early, and thus would have been buried with grave goods.

    At this point, scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike are not certain why these two children were buried together. We do not know how they would have been related, or whether they would even have met before their deaths. It is certain that these two children left an impressive legacy. They were honored for several hundred years after their deaths. When they died, there was nothing but a small chapel on the land. However, shortly after their burials, an enormous church complex was erected on the land, aligned perfectly over the top of their grave. This signified that, despite their young ages, they were clearly highly important figures within the religious community of Frankfurt.

  • Source: Historical reconstruction by Flemming Bau. Contact the artist for charges to use his images including the one on this page: http://bau.nu/index.html.
  • Rights: Payment made to the artist to reproduce the image here.
  • Subject (See Also): Archaeology Burials Gender Girls Grave Goods Jewelry Merovingian Kingdoms Paganism
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 8
  • Date: 700- 730 CE
  • Related Work: Reconstruction of the girl's necklace, Frankfurt, Archäologisches Museum
    Closeup of coin in the girl's necklace, Frankfurt, Archäologisches Museum
    Filigree rings from the girl's burial, Frankfurt, Archäologisches Museum
    Reconstruction of the double burial, Frankfurter Rundschau
    Cremated remains and bear claws from the second child burial,Frankfurt, Archäologisches Museum
  • Current Location: Grave goods in Frankfurt, Archäologisches Museum
  • Original Location: Burial under Frankfurt's St. Bartholomäus Cathedral
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Historical Reconstruction Drawings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique):
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Effros, Bonnie. "Grave Goods and the Ritual Expression of Identity." From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Edited by Thomas F. X. Noble. Routledge, 2006. Pages 189-232;
    Halsall, Guy. "Female Status and Power in Early Merovingian Central Austrasia: The Burial Evidence," Early Medieval Europe 5, 1 (1996): 1-24;
    Wamers, Egon. "Das bi-rituelle Kinderdoppelgrab unter der Frankfurter Bartholomäuskirche. Versuch einer Synthese." Franconofurd: Das bi-rituelle Kinderdoppelgrab der späten Merowingerzeit unter der Frankfurter Bartholomäuskirche ("Dom"): archäologische und naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen. Volume 2. Edited by Magnus Wintergerst and Egon Wamers. Archäologisches Museum, 2015. Pages 207-218;
    Wamers, Egon. "Das Kindergrab unter der Frankfurter Bartholomäuskirche ("Dom") - die Befundlage." Franconofurd: Das bi-rituelle Kinderdoppelgrab der späten Merowingerzeit unter der Frankfurter Bartholomäuskirche ("Dom"): archäologische und naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen. Volume 2. Edited by Magnus Wintergerst and Egon Wamers. Archäologisches Museum, 2015. Pages 15-38.

October 2018 [Posted December 2018]

Click to view high resolution image

  • Title: Saint Helena Bringing the True Cross to Jerusalem (detail)
  • Creator: Gaddi, Agnolo, painter
  • Description:

    In this panel from the legend of the True Cross cycle, Saint Helena brings the newly discovered cross used in Christ's crucifixion to the people of Jerusalem. She bears the full weight of the cross on her shoulder and commands the attention of the crowd at the city's gate as well as that of her attendants. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had been charged by her son with the task of finding the cross. She wears a robe trimmed in ermine and a crown but her status as a traveler and pilgrim is signaled by her brimmed hat, a style known as bycocket in English. A distinctive halo frames her profile which conveys a spiritual beauty and determined strength.

    Agnolo Gaddi and his workshop painted eight fresco panels in the choir of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in the 1380s and early 1390s. This was the first large scale treatment of the legend of the True Cross and drew on accounts in the Legenda Aurea as well as the liturgical celebrations of the Invention of the Cross (May 3) and the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). The paintings were sponsored by the Alberti family, prominent in business and politics, and were overseen by the friars at Santa Croce.

    The paintings cover a range of time periods to demonstrate the providential nature of God's plans for human salvation. The series begins with seeds from the Tree of Knowledge being planted over the body of Adam, then Solomon and the Queen of Sheba recognize the holy nature of the wood. It is used to make the cross and then is discovered by St Helena through its capacity to heal the sick. She takes the cross to Jerusalem where it is later stolen by the Persian king, Chosroes, during his attack on the city. He uses the relic to make himself more powerful. An angel warns the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius of the danger. Chosroes fights with the emperor's son, meets defeat and is executed. Heraclius returns to Jerusalem in triumph with the cross but is miraculously barred from the city because of his pride. Only when he walks barefoot is he able to enter the city as a humble penitent, carrying the cross.

    Agnolo Gaddi was a prominent artist in Florence and an heir to the heritage of Giotto through his father Taddeo, an assistant to Giotto. Moreover, Gaddi's brothers were merchants and political figures as well as artists. A project on the scale of that of Santa Croce's painting cycle called for influential contacts and organizational skills. Gaddi also brought new solutions to the need for meaning and beauty. He endowed his figures with an elegance and delicacy inspired by Gothic painting. The color palette in the True Cross cycle is remarkable for its rich pastels and, originally, its liberal use of gold and silver (now much diminished). The composition and movement of figures conveys dynamic story lines.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Art History- Painting Florence- Church of Santa Croce Crosses and Crucifixes Gaddi, Agnolo, Painter Helena, Saint True Cross Women in Religion Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14
  • Date: Circa 1380s- early 1390s
  • Related Work: All panels of Gaddi's frescoes of the legend of the True Cross in one view;
    Individual panels with higher resolution views from the basilica's website;
    Photographs of the basilica of Santa Croce, exterior and interior;
  • Current Location: Florence, Basilica of Santa Croce, Cappella maggiore
  • Original Location: Florence, Basilica of Santa Croce, Cappella maggiore
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Frescoes;
  • Donor: Laymen; the Albertis, a powerful family of bankers with a strong connection to the Franciscans at Santa Croce
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): Approx. 4 meters/Approx. 7 meters/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Frosini, Cecilia. Agnolo Gaddi and the Cappella maggiore in Santa Croce in Florence: Studies after its Restoration. Silvana, 2014;
    Grebe, Anja. "Pilgrims and Fashion: The Functions of Pilgrims’ Garments." Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles. Edited by Sarah Blick and Rita Tekippe. Brill, 2005. Pages 3-27;
    Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. The Place of Narrative: Mural Decoration in Italian Churches, 431-1600. Pages

September 2018 [Posted November 2018]

Matilda making a donation at the tomb of Saint Geminianus

  • Title: Matilda of Canossa greeting Pope Paschal II
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This miniature, appearing in Relatio fundationis cathedralis mutinae, a manuscript written c. 1099-1106, depicts Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany, greeting Pope Paschal II (image on the left) and offering a donation at the tomb of Saint Geminianus (image on the right), a fourth century bishop in Modena. The Relatio itself is one of the most important codices preserved in the Duomo's archive in Modena, as it tells the story of the recognition and translation of the saint's body as well as the construction of the cathedral that was built to replace the shrine above Saint Geminianus's grave. The text additionally implies that Matilda's donation was an important contribution to the construction, though the local town was the primary force behind the project.

    Matilda of Canossa was born in 1046 to Beatrica of Lorraine and Margrave Bonifacio III of Tuscany. Bonifacio ruled over a large swath of land in Northern Italy and held immense power as a vassal of Emperor Henry III. After Matilda's father was murdered by imperial agents, Matilda and Beatrice were sent to Germany by Henry III, who seized Bonifacio's land and material wealth. As a result, Matilda and Beatrice turned their backs on the crown and fostered close ties with the papacy. Matilda finally recovered her father's lands and material possessions after Beatrice utilized Roman law to win a legal dispute. Matilda maintained her close friendship with Pope Gregory VII after acquiring her inheritance, and supported the papacy by donating her lands, offering counsel to the pope, and taking an active role in Church reform. While her authority was contested many times after her rise to power, she maintained large amounts of influence until she succumbed to gout in 1115.

    Matilda greeting Pope Paschal offers key insight into political maneuvers of the era. At a time where women's rights to property and power were "regularly contested by their in-laws and relatives" due to an inherent belief that women were inferior to men, Matilda of Canossa's leadership was maintained through careful tactical decisions and a strategic interdependence between her domus and the papacy. This interdependence was established and vigilantly maintained over the course of forty years: forty years of donations to the papacy, political actions that helped solidify the papacy's authority, and close personal relationships with popes and bishops. Matilda greeting Pope Paschal is just one instance of her strategic upkeep of this interdependence.

    Matilda's donation to the tomb of Saint Geminianus also reflects her reputation as a patron of churches, tower houses, and hospices. In 1642, Francesco Maria Fiorentini documented that Matilda had contributed to countless churches, castles, and structures. In her own lifetime, Matilda was rumored to have constructed at least one hundred churches. Her buildings not only helped solidify the interdependency between her domus and the papacy, but also established a strategic network of buildings that was utilized by Matilda to defend her land, quickly gather information, and provide shelter to those traveling through and around Canossa. Her construction also extended to surrounding regions, which helped spread her influence and control. This network lived on after her death, and helped revive trade, pilgrimage, and travel.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons. Facsimile reproductions.
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Churches Countesses Matilda, Countess of Tuscany Hagiography Noble Women Patronage, Artistic Patronage, Ecclesiastical Rulers
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 11- 12
  • Date: circa 1099- 1106
  • Related Work: Rotunda of San Lorenzo, Mantua. This church is attributed to Countess Matilda's building program.
    Polygonal tower, Abbey of Saints Severo and Martirius , Orvieto. The tower was commissioned by Matilda of Tuscany as the bell tower for the monastic church
  • Current Location: Modena, Archive of the Chapter of the Duomo
  • Original Location: Modena, Cathedral of San Geminiano
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 28/45/
  • Inscription: Matildis comitissa [Countess Matilda]
  • Related Resources: Dempsey, John A. "Matilda of Tuscany as Episcopal Patroness." Storicamente 13 ( 2017). Pages 1-24;
    Spike, Michele K. Illustrated Guide to the One Hundred Churches of Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany. Centro DI, 2015;
    Monahan, Jennifer. "Reading Matilda: The Self-Fashioning of a Duchess." Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002). Pages 1-13;
    Verzar, Christine. "Picturing Matilda of Canossa: Medieval Strategies of Representation." Representing History, 900-1300: Art, Music, History. Edited by Robert A. Maxwell. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Pages 73-90;

May 2018 [Posted October 2018]

  • Title: Perceval meets with his aunt, a recluse or anchoress
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this image the hero Perceval stops during his adventures to speak with his aunt, formerly a queen, who has fled to the wilderness for a life of religious devotion. This is part of the story recounted in the manuscript, The Quest for the Holy Grail by Walter Map. The image depicts the aunt within the walls of her anchorhold or cell. Though dedicated to prayer, she also instructs people like Perceval who come seeking a greater understanding of Christ.

    The vocation of an anchoress was a very particular form of religious practice. In the medieval period, anchoresses were considered legally dead, and were not allowed to conduct business. They are often compared with recluses, and there is a modern-day assumption that medieval anchoresses lived in complete solitude. However, this is not the case, and many anchoresses had servants or lived with other anchoresses, and some even had a guest room. These anchorholds were often attached to cathedrals, but were sometimes located in other places, like parish churches, depending on the spiritual center of the community. Under ecclesiastical rules, anchoresses were not supposed to keep animals besides cats to catch mice. The act of taking care of any other animal was considered too similar to the worldly duties of a housewife. Unlike their male counterparts, who were very often priests or monks and gained religious status by becoming anchorites, anchoresses were very often laywomen before taking on their new vocation.

    Perhaps the most famous anchoress from the medieval period was Julian of Norwich. She was a fourteenth-century visionary who had revelations about God's maternal nature. Religious women were highly valued, especially if they were gifted with visions. Julian's work is considered one of the most important theological works originally written in English. Scholars are unsure how Julian lived before taking up the role of anchoress. In her adult years, Julian fell ill, coming near to death, and had a series of visions on her sickbed which inspired her writings. Texts also survive from the medieval period giving advice to anchoresses on the way to live their lives, both in terms of spiritual development and practical day-to-day details. Their presence within the sealed anchorhold did not interfere with the ability of anchoresses to have a larger impact in the world. Juliana of Cornillon and Eve of St. Martin introduced the Feast of Corpus Christi to the Church. Yvette of Huy, from a cell next to a leper hospital, called the rich and powerful face to face to account for their corruption.

    Despite living lives set apart from the everyday, anchoresses were seen as important members of their communities. Their contributions can be identified in several different categories. Socially speaking, an anchoress and her anchorhold brought status to a parish. Local aristocrats would often donate money to anchoresses and their associated churches in exchange for prayers. On the practical side, anchoresses provided advice and guidance to all who were in need, often listening with a more sympathetic ear than that of the parish priest. Additionally, anchoresses were attractions for pilgrims and so provided their local communities with supplemental income from visitors. Most notable of all, anchoresses were dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation. Their devotion to God made them intermediaries for their community with the divine.

  • Source: Manuscript Miniatures (http://manuscriptminiatures.com/)
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Anchoresses Devotional Literature Prayer Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1380-1385
  • Related Work: Other images of anchoresses include:
    Anchoress being formally enclosed in her cell by a bishop, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, MS 79, fol. 72r.
    St Wilborada, an anchoress, watches the celebration of the mass from her cell, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, Codex 602,
    Anchorhold attached to the church of All Saints in King's Lynn, England.
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 343, fol. 21v
  • Original Location: Pavia or Milan
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Tempera;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Ancrene Wisse / Guide for Anchoresses: A Translation. Translated with commentary by Bella Millett. Liverpool University Press, 2009;
    A Companion to Ancrene Wisse. Edited by Yoko Wada. D. S. Brewer, 2003;
    Julian of Norwich. Showings: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Translated by Denise Nowakowski Baker. Norton, 2005;
    McAvoy, Liz Herbert. Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life. D. S. Brewer, 2011;
    Mulder-Bakker, Anneke B. Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005;
    Riehle, Wolfgang. The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Cornell University Press, 2014;
    Ropa, Anastasija. "Female Authority during the Knights' Quest? Recluses in the Queste del Saint Graal." Bulletin du centre d'études médiévales d'Auxerre (BUCEMA) 20, 1 (2016): online;
    Sauer, Michelle M. "Extra-Temporal Place Attachment and Adaptive Reuse: The Afterlives of Medieval English Anchorholds." Studies in Medievalism 25 (2016): 173-195.

April 2018 [Posted August 2018]

  • Title: Chemise of St Balthild
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    The garment pictured above is thought to be the chemise of Saint Balthild, a 7th century Merovingian queen canonized two-hundred years after her death. The chemise-- also referred to as a tunic or chasuble-- is plain white linen with a simple rectangular cut. The neck is decorated with four-colored silk embroidery that is meant to imitate jewelry. The style is reminiscent of contemporary Byzantine fashions and may be indicative of an eastern aesthetic influence. The tunic is said to be Balthild's burial garment, removed and displayed in the abbey at Chelles when she was reinterred several years after her death around 680. While research has shown that the garment definitely dates from the late 7th century, there is no conclusive evidence that the chemise actually belonged to Balthild. The abbess of Chelles promoted Balthild's cult, and it is likely that a nun from the monastery wrote the laudatory biography of the queen. However, contemporary opinions were divided about the queen's character.

    Balthild was born sometime around 633, probably in Britain and of Saxon origin. At some point, she was sold as a slave to Erchinoald, mayor of Neustria, a region in northwestern France controlled by the most powerful noble faction in the Frankish empire at the time. Balthild attracted her master's favor, but according to her hagiographer, she refused to marry him in order to preserve her virtue. Soon after, however, she married Clovis II, King of the Franks. While Merovingian kings are documented as having married low-born women, and slave-free marriage was common among non-nobles, the marriage of a king and a slave is somewhat uncommon. Fouracre and Gerberding offer the explanation that Clovis marrying a daughter of a powerful noble would have had political benefits, and that in lieu of a daughter, Erchinoald offered up a trusted slave, who would have been recognized by society as part of his household or extended family.

    As queen, Balthild was known for her piety and directed royal funds toward the church and various religious communities. She also was known for her political skills which earned her enemies. After Clovis' death in 657, Balthild stayed in power as regent for her young son, successfully mediating among various noble factions to maintain relative peace. Religious ritual, patronage, and public displays of piety were tools with which she accomplished this-- for instance by choosing men from competing factions to stand as godfathers for her three sons. According to her hagiographer and other contemporary sources, Balthild outlawed infanticide, prohibited the buying and selling of church offices, and halted the trade in Christian slaves. Later in life, Balthild became a major patron of several monasteries, particularly the abbey at Chelles, where she retired, likely after being forced from power either by bishops or a political rival.

    The decorative embroidery on Balthild's chemise points to a Byzantine influence, and thus a cultural relationship between Byzantium and Merovingian France. Balthild and her contemporaries lived at the end of the Migration Period (approximately 100-700 CE), when Europe was undergoing a series of major population shifts in the wake of the Western Roman Empire's collapse. Throughout this era of turmoil, the Eastern Roman and then Byzantine empire remained the dominant cultural and political force in Europe and the Mediterranean-- Byzantine art became a mark of high status, piety, and good taste. The migration into Western Europe of peoples who had had closer contact with the Eastern Roman Empire, reinforced by Mediterranean trade and Christian missionaries, spread Byzantine influence and helped maintain its impact. Furthermore, Byzantine art was associated with the representations of the saints, which was seen as indicative of piety and was often used on religious garments, such as Balthild's chemise.

    The use of silk in the chemise also points to the garment's connection to Byzantium, as well as its richness and high quality. Byzantine court spinners had only known how to harvest and spin silk since the mid-sixth century, and silk production had not yet spread west of the Eastern Mediterranean by the time of the chemise's production in the late 7th century. Thus, the use of multicolored silk thread in this garment marks it as particularly rare and ornate. The images embroidered in an arc below the cross are set in circles, potentially reflecting the 7th century Byzantine fashion for incorporating coins and medallions into jewelry.

  • Source: Textile Research Center, TRC Needles
  • Rights: copyright free
  • Subject (See Also): Balthild, Merovingian Queen and Saint Clothing Queens Relics Textiles
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 7
  • Date: ca. 680
  • Related Work: Full view of the chemise. This image and those of the chemise below come from photographs taken by Genevra Kornbluth.
    Embroidery at the collar.
    Embroidered cross
    Drawing reconstructing Balthild's clothing.
  • Current Location: Chelles, Musée Alfred Bonno
  • Original Location: France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Textiles
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Embroidery; Linen; Silk threads in four colors; Clothing
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 117/84/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Coon, Lynda L. Sacred Fictions. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997;
    Fouracre, Paul, and Richard A. Gerberding. "Vita Domnae Balthildis (The Life of Lady Balthild, Queen of the Franks)." In Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640–720. Manchester University Press, 1996. Pages 97–132(Translated hagiography and commentary);
    Nelson, Janet L. "Queens as Jezebels: The Careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian History." In Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings. Edited by Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein. Blackwell Publishers, 1998. Pages 219-253;
    Rio, Alice. "Freedom and Unfreedom in Early Medieval Francia: The Evidence of the Legal Formulae." , 193 (2006): 7–40;
    Tatum, Sarah. "Auctoritas as Sanctitas: Balthild's Depiction as 'Queen-Saint' in the Vita Balthildis." European Review of History: Revue Européenne D'histoire 16, 6 (December 1, 2009): 809–34;
    Yorke, Barbara. "The Weight of Necklaces": Some Insights into the Wearing of Women's Jewellery from Middle Saxon Written Sources." Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Martin G. Welch. Edited by Stuart Brookes, Sue Harrington and Andrew Reynolds Archaeopress, 2011. Pages 106-111.

March 2018 [Posted July 2018]

  • Title: Flag of the City of Ghent
  • Creator: Agnes van den Bossche, painter
  • Description:

    This is a medieval war standard from 15th century Ghent. A standard is a flag that was carried into battle with an army, to show their allegiance. This particular standard depicts the Maiden of Ghent and the lion from the city's coat of arms. There is also a gothic gilded letter "G" which stands for Ghent. Together, the images of the Maiden and the lion are a very famous symbol for the city representing unity and power. During the late medieval period, there would have been many such standards in Ghent; however, this is the only one that has survived because it was stored in a city records office. Scholars have attributed this flag to the artist Agnes van den Bossche because of a document that surfaced commissioning a flag with the same specifications from van den Bossche with payment from the government of Ghent. The flag itself is made of dyed black linen, so that while it is not of the highest quality, it is durable. The maiden and the lion were painted onto the linen with oil paint on both sides, and a green silk fringe runs around the edge of the nine-foot-long flag.

    The maiden in the image comes from a 14th century poem written by Baudouin van der Lore. The poem recounts an allegorical siege that referred to Count Louis de Male's attack on Ghent, which was occurring at the time the poem was written. In the poem, a young maiden, representing the city of Ghent, is being protected from her attackers by her lion, Christ, and a series of Flemish saints. The maiden on this standard is dressed like a gothic princess. The ermine border at the hems and collar of her outfit as well as the rich figured brocade indicate her high social status as well as the value the citizens of Ghent placed on the conspicuous consumption of the textiles produced in their city. This image of the Maiden of Ghent is in keeping with traditional Gothic standards of beauty. Her breasts are small, and her stomach protrudes from beneath her high waist. She wears a brocade dress that has a tight waistband, and tight sleeves with long cuffs. Underneath her dress, she wears an underdress with a horizontal neckline, which is a traditional style for this period.

    Agnes van den Bossche was likely not a highly successful artist. She only painted on cloth, producing mostly banners, standards, and flags. She worked in the Ghent artists' guild for over 30 years and received commissions from the city, although it is unclear in what esteem van den Bossche was held. Scholars cite different evidence in order to make opposing claims, and a decision has not yet been reached. Some argue that van den Bossche must have been a prestigious painter because she was commissioned to paint the canopy of the Virgin of Tournai for three separate festivals – a task that was usually assigned to the most esteemed artists at the time. Other scholars point out, however, that there is no evidence that van den Bossche painted altarpieces or devotional works of any kind, which were the most valued forms of artwork. Scholars on this side of the argument also argue that the Maiden of Ghent standard is not particularly high quality. The painting is crude when viewed from close range, and it was painted on linen, which is the most basic fabric used to make standards.

    Agnes van den Bossche came from a household of painters and so took up the family business. Her father was Tristan van den Bossche, a master painter in the 1470s and 1480s, and her brothers were also painters for the city. It was common, in the medieval period, for women who were the children of painters to adopt their father's trade. Also, van den Bossche lived in Ghent, which in addition to being the home of the Ghent-Bruges school of illumination, was also close to the major art centers of Bruges, Brussels, and Antwerp. Major art centers such as these were more likely to employ female painters because they had large scale markets for art commissions and thus needed to sustain a large number of artists, regardless of their sex.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Allegory Banners Lions Textiles Women Artists Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1481- 1482
  • Related Work: Painted processional banner of the Confraternity of Saint Mary Magdalene in Borgo San Sepolcro, created by Spinello Aretino, c. 1395-1400
    Detail of the Flag of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, 15th c. unknown artist. The flag depicts a woman holding a chained lion rampant.
  • Current Location: Ghent, Stadsmuseum Gent, 00787
  • Original Location: Ghent
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Textiles
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Linen; Oil paint; Green silk fringe; Banners
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 100/265/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Lievois, Daniel. "Werklijst van Agnes vanden Bossche" in Agnes vanden Bossche : een zelfbewuste vrouw en een merkwaardige kunstenares uit het 15de-eeuwse Gent. 1996. Pages 77-90;
    Viewing Renaissance Art. Edited by Kim Woods, Carol M. Richardson, and Angeliki Lymberopoulou. Yale University Press, 2007. Page 51;
    Wolfthal, Diane. "Agnes van den Bossche : Early Netherlandish Painter", Woman's Art Journal 6, 1 (1985): 8-11.

  • Title: Herr Wernher von Teufen or Man and woman with a hawk
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This is a miniature from the Manesse Codex. The Codex was created in 1300, and then supplemented in 1340 with a few extra pages of poems. The Manesse Codex, also known as the Great Heidelberg Book of Songs, is the most comprehensive collection of ballads and epigrammatic poetry written in Middle High German. It was compiled mostly by Rüdiger Manesse of Zurich, and his son. The Codex contained 6,000 verses written by 140 poets beginning with secular songs from 1150/60 all the way up to 1300, and a few addenda from 1340. There are no melody notations; however, there are 138 colorful miniatures dedicated to 137 of the poets, with each poet participating in courtly activities. These miniatures were created by 4 different illustrators and arrange the images of poets in order of their social rank.

    The miniature depicts a man and woman on horseback. The man seems to be entranced by the woman while she is riding side saddle, carrying a falcon on her arm. Presumably they are out hunting with falcons in the countryside, an activity that was reserved for individuals of high status. While the woman remains anonymous, the man can be identified as Wernher von Teufen, one of the poets recorded in the Manesse Codex. Although there are many miniatures depicting the sport of falconry, few images depict a woman holding the falcon.

    Falconry was a popular activity for the upper echelons of medieval society. It was an expensive sport known for being both time-consuming and a marker of status. In the medieval period, a good quality falcon was very valuable, and could cost a significant portion of a knight's yearly income. Falcons were prized for being highly trained and a key part of an important courtly ritual. It did not matter what kind of game they were able to catch.

    It was not unheard of for high-born women to fly falcons during the medieval period. They flew them with other women, or with their husbands or lovers. Hunting too was not beyond the realm of possibility for medieval women. Some women even rode out on hunts for deer and boars. Falconry was such a common occurrence for women that the seals of noblewomen often portrayed ladies engaging in it. A love of falconry, regardless of a person's sex, was seen as an innate characteristic of noble lineage.

    Because of its prominence as a part of courtly life, falconry was an important symbol in medieval art. It was fairly commonplace to make a comparison between a knightly hero and a bird of prey. More importantly, though, falconry and falcons were frequently associated with love. Falconry was an activity that could be undertaken by lovers. The act of a falcon in pursuit of prey was often compared to the pursuit of a woman by a man wherein the man is the falcon and the woman is the prey. An image of a pair of lovers holding a falcon is often a covert symbol for sexual relations. Falconry was also associated with courtly love because it was such an important characteristic of courtly life. However, in this image the woman is holding the hawk while Wernher von Teufen embraces her lovingly. This gives the woman the power in this relationship and perhaps implies that she was either of higher status or the hunter with the poet as her prey.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Codex Manesse Courtly Love Falcon, Image of Heraldry Hunting Minnesang, Literary Genre Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 14
  • Date: ca. 1305-1340
  • Related Work: Codex Manesse. See the full text of the manuscript on the University of Heidelberg site;
    Courting couple with young man holding a hawk on his wrist, ivory mirror case, Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum M.25-1933;
    Lady with her hawk hunting a hare, Taymouth Hours, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 74r.
  • Current Location: Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, 69r
  • Original Location: Zurich, Switzerland
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
  • Donor: Laymen; Aristocrat Rüdiger Manesse and his son Johannes Manesse
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 35.5/25/
  • Inscription: Her Wernher von Teufen XXVI
  • Related Resources: Codex Manesse. University Library of Universität Heidelberg. 2015;
    Cummins, John. The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting. St. Martin's Press, 1988;
    Hope, Henry. "Miniatures, Minnesänger, Music: the Codex Manesse" In Manuscripts and Medieval Song: Inscription, Performance, Context. Ed. Helen Deeming and Elizabeth Eva Leach. Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pages 163-192;
    Marvin, William P. "Hunting and Falconry." Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Ed. Margaret Schaus. Routledge, 2006;
    Oggins, Robin S. The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England. Yale University Press, 2004;
    Standley, ELeanor. "Ladies Hunting: A Late Medieval Decorated Mirror Case from Shapwick Somerset." Antiquaries Journal 88 (November 2008): 198-206.

November 2017 [Posted April 2018]

  • Title: Crib of the Infant Jesus
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This is a type of crib, known as a jésueau, which was used in women's monasteries and beguinages to hold dolls that represented the Christ child. A jésueau might have been given to a nun or beguine upon her entry into the religious life, and on her death, ownership could have passed to the nunnery or beguinage itself. This particular jésueau, from the Grand Beguinage in Louven, Belgium, is one of only a few remaining examples, and is in very excellent condition.

    It is smaller than a regular crib, and the structure of the bed frame and posts mimics the architecture of a church with windows and towers. At the top of each post stands an angel whose job it is to ward off evil. Between the posts there are strings of bells which, like the angels, are put in place to frustrate evil spirits and demons who might try to harm the Christ child. Inside the crib are an embroidered pillow and a silk coverlet. The pillow is adorned with an image of the lamb of God, while the coverlet depicts the tree of Jesse, a genealogical representation of Christ's ancestors beginning with the father of King David. On either end of the bed, the headboards depict the adoration of the Magi and angels.

    This jésueau is from a beguinage, as opposed to a monastery, and would have been used to swing a replica of the Christ child during prayer meetings. Beguinages, beginning around 1200 in the Low Countries, offered an alternative form of religious experience for women. Approximately half of the women at the Grand Beguinage in Louven – which was one of the largest Beguine communities of the time – were considered poor, while the other half came from economically stable or wealthy backgrounds. Beguinages, unlike monasteries, allowed women to be pious without committing to a life in enclosure. Nuns were considered brides of Christ and were consecrated for life, while Beguines could get married and leave the community when they wanted. Although some scholars suggest that jésueaux rituals could have arisen in place of taking care of a real child for nuns, it is less likely that it would have served this same purpose in beguinages where women were often in daily contact with townspeople as teachers, nurses, and textile workers.

    Instead, it is likely that the jésueau rituals in beguinages were ways for women to practice an active religion as opposed to a contemplative one consisting of prayers and meditative thinking. Many religious women claimed to have visions of Mary handing them the Christ child to hold and care for. The swinging of the crib and the care of the Christ child doll are both very practical manifestations of this vision. However, this presents an interesting contradiction. So called "good" religious women were nuns who were contemplative as opposed to active. However, "good" lay women fulfilled motherly duties and cared for others. This means that the Beguines who performed jésueau rituals were trying to be two types of "good" woman simultaneously.

    Additionally, though the bells on the jésueau were placed there to ward off evil, they would also have served to evoke the eucharistic rituals. When women would reach into the crib to lift up the Christ child, they would be forced to accidently ring the bells, much like the ringing of bells that took place during the Eucharist. The Eucharist was a ritual that could only be performed by a male priest as alter Christus, but it was often the source of important religious visions for women. By ringing the bells during their care of the Christ child, some scholars think that Beguines and nuns were evoking the power associated with the eucharistic rituals. Scholars often point out the fact that male saints, who are held in high religious standing, are frequently rule breakers. Female saints, on the other hand, are women who internalized the role of "good" women – silent and motherly – yet were able to transcend that role to become wise and insightful religious practitioners. Religious women derived their power from religious visions, and the ability to care for others. The jésueaux and associated rituals can be seen as manifestations of both of those forms of power.

  • Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art with the image identified as part of the Open Access for Scholarly Content program.
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Beguines Cradles Dolls Jesus Christ- Infancy Love- Religious Aspects Spirituality
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date:
  • Related Work: View of the Beguinage crib from above;
    Side view of the Beguinage crib;
    Crib of the Infant Jesus, Cologne, 1340-1350 (Museum Schnütgen).
  • Current Location: New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974.121a–d
  • Original Location: Louvain, Belgium, Grand Béguinage
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Furniture; Devotional Objects;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Paint; Lead; Silver-gilt; Painted parchment; Silk embroidery with seed pearls; Gold thread; Translucent enamels
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 35.4 /28.9/18.4
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Bynum, Caroline Walker. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Reilgion. Zone Books, 1991;
    Gilchrist, Roberta. "Unsexing the Body: The Interior Sexuality of Medieval Reigious Women." In Archaeologies of Sexuality. Eds. Robert A. Schmidt and Barbara L. Voss. Routledge, 2000. Pages 89-101;
    LeZotte, Annette. "Cradling Power: Female Devotions and Early Netherlandish Jésueaux." In Push Me, Pull You: Physical and Spatial Interaction in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. Ed. Sarah Blick and Laura D. Gelfand. Volume 2. Brill, 2011. Pages 59-84;
    Petroff, Elizabeth. "Medieval Women Visionaries: Seven Stages to Power." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (1978), 3, 1: 34-45;
    Rublack, Ulinka. "Female Spirituality and the Infant Jesus in Late Medieval Dominican Convents." Gender and History 6, 1 (1994): 37-57.

October 2017 [Posted Feruary 2018]

  • Title: Mary Magdalene, from the Braque Triptych
  • Creator: Rogier van der Weyden, painter
  • Description:

    This portrait of Mary Magdalene is one panel of a triptych, painted around 1452 by Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden. The work was commissioned by Catherine de Brabant, a young wealthy widow living in Tournai (in modern-day Belgium)-- probably to commemorate her husband, Jehan Braque, and shorten his time in purgatory through her prayers. Unlike most of Van der Weyden's work, the Braque triptych was intended for display in a private home as a subject for contemplation and highly personal religious devotion. John the Baptist occupies the far-left panel, opposite Mary Magdalene, while the center painting depicts Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. The landscape in the background continues across all three panels, uniting the work.

    The persona of Mary Magdalene depicted in medieval art is actually a composite of several biblical women. Mary Magdalene is identified in the Bible as an early follower of Jesus and more importantly, as the first witness to the resurrection. In commentary on the gospels written in the first centuries after Christ's death, the actions of several other Marys mentioned in scripture were attributed to Mary Magdalene. Eventually, two instances of anonymous women forgiven by Jesus for adultery were also associated with Magdalene, and by the medieval period, the composite Mary Magdalene recognizable today appeared as a major subject of popular veneration. This conflation of New Testament women also gives Mary one of her most common visual attributes - the alabaster jar or box to hold perfumed oils. There are four scriptural episodes in which women anoint Jesus-- three women are unnamed, one is called Mary, leading to the incorporation of these stories into Mary Magdalene's imagery.

    While the three panels form a single composition, the Magdalene is set apart from the rest of the figures in the triptych in several ways. Mary Magdalene is the only character clothed in completely contemporary dress, and van der Weyden rendered her clothing in great detail, dressing her as a fashionable member of the Netherlandish bourgeoisie. The bodice of her kirtle is somewhat loosely laced in front, showing her fine linen underdress while still highlighting the shape of her body. The attached sleeves are worked in detailed, high-sheen brocade patterned in bright colors. Van der Weyden's depiction of Mary Magdalene's clothing and long red hair emphasizes her worldliness and shows contours of the body to denote physicality and sexuality, referencing her status as a repentant sinner. Unlike her dress, which closely mimics real-life styles, Magdalene's headdress is unusual. The overall shape is reminiscent of early 15th century styles, but the thin strips of fabric, wrapped to display frayed edges are noteworthy as are the pseudo-Hebrew characters across the front. Jolly suggests that the headdress has both a positive and negative connotation, evoking ancient sibyls as well as the figure of the Foolish Virgin. Van der Weyden painted a similar headdress in the Saint Columba Altarpiece (see below). Mary Magdalene's pose is much more naturalistic than that of the other figures in the painting. The composition of her panel shows more similarity to contemporary Italian portraits of wealthy lay-women than it does to the highly structured poses in which van der Weyden paints Jesus, Mary, and the two St. Johns in. At the same time scholars have read theological meanings into this representation including Mary Magdalene as an embodiment both of the Foolish and Wise Virgins and as spiritually pregnant by the love of God.

    These differences serve to set Mary Magdalene apart as a figure with whom everyday worshippers, especially women, could identify. In late medieval Christian culture, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene were often used to represent the "dual paths to salvation", innocence from sin or penance and forgiveness. Magdalene's story of sin and repentance was much more relatable than a life lived wholly free from transgression, and women were encouraged to imagine themselves in Mary Magdalene's place as part of their devotions-- and to feel shame, joy, and love for Christ as intensely as she must have. Indeed, the redemptive power of tears to bring a sinner closer to Christ was a common theme in northern Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. Van der Weyden paints Mary Magdalene with tiny, gem-like tears, perhaps encouraging viewers to weep with her.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Clothing Devotional Objects Hagiography Mary Magdalene, Saint
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: Circa 1450-1452
  • Related Work: Braque Triptych, central panel with the Virgin Mary, Christ, and John the evangelist;
    Braque Triptych, left panel with John the Baptist;
    Braque Triptych, outer shutter on the right side with an inscription in the shape of a cross;
    Braque Triptych, outer shutter on the left side with a skull and the Braque family's coat of arms;
  • Current Location: Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. nr. R.F. 2063
  • Original Location: Tournai, Belgium
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Oil paint;
  • Donor: Laywoman; Catherine de Brabant, nineteen-year-old widow of Jehan Braque, a wealthy bourgeois.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 41/35/
  • Inscription: Maria ergo accepit libram unguenti nardi pistici pretiose(/i) et unxit pedes Ihesu ["Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus"(John 12:3)]
  • Related Resources: Acres, Alfred. "Rogier van der Weyden's Painted Texts," Artibus et Historiae 21, 41 (2002): 75-109;
    Jolly, Penny Howell. Picturing the "Pregnant" Magdalene in Northern Art, 1430-1550: Addressing and Undressing the Sinner-Saint. Ashgate, 2014;
    Olson, Vibeke. "'Woman, Why Weepest Thou?' Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and the Transformative Power of Holy Tears in Late Medieval Devotional Painting." In Mary Magdalene, Iconographic Studies from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Edited by Michelle A. Erhardt and Amy M. Morris. Brill, 2012. Pages 361-382;
    Vaes, Vanessa. "'A phoenix from the flames …': The Testament of Catherine de Brabant (ca. 1431-1499) and Its Relationship to Rogier van der Weyden's Braque Triptych (ca. 1452)," Oud Holland 121, 2-3 (2008): 89-98;

September 2017 [Posted January 2018]

  • Title: Oseberg Ship Burial
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    The Oseberg ship, once a great seafaring vessel, was buried in Vestfold County in modern day Norway circa 834 CE. This is a strange location because it is located so far from all the known Viking settlements from that period, meaning that it either had to serve a ritual purpose, or it was intentionally separated from the public sphere of power. As was customary for Viking funerals, the Oseberg ship was filled with many different types of grave goods ranging from tapestries and textile working tools and kitchen utensils to wooden staves, transportation equipment, and even animal sacrifices. But there were also goods present in the Oseberg ship that could only have appeared after the ship was closed and buried.

    The presence of several stretchers and wooden spades made after 834 CE were also found among the grave goods at the Oseberg burial. Archaeologists analyzed these tools and found that they dated to the period between 953 and 975 CE. This, along with the man-made destruction inside the ship indicates that the Oseberg ship was broken into just over a hundred years after it was buried. But this break-in does not appear to have been carried out by grave robbers – it was far too large-scale an endeavor, and there was far too much effort to destroy things, as opposed to simply stealing them. One of the most striking aspects of the break-in was the treatment of the bones of the deceased individuals buried in the Oseberg. They were removed from their final resting places and tossed carelessly into a shaft. But who were these individuals, and what made them important enough to be buried in such a monumental way?

    Unlike most of the other ship burials from the Viking period in Scandinavia, the individuals buried on the Oseberg ship were two women. Scholars disagree about the exact ages, although there seems to a be a consensus that both women were between 50 and 80 years old, with one on the lower end and the other on the higher end of that range. There are no signs of lethal violence, and further investigation has shown that one died of cancer, and the other, potentially, of a brain tumor. Both women were dressed in clothes that indicated wealth and high social status. However, scholars argue over who exactly these women were.

    Initially, scholars thought that it was a royal individual and one of her loyal servants, however there are no indications of sacrifice on either body, and both women were dressed in rich clothing. This suggests that they were both of some level of importance. Some scholars say that they are religious figures, sorceresses, or travelling women, others say that perhaps one is a Danish princess, or a nameless queen, while others argue that they are no more than important housewives from a nearby farm. The sorceress claim is particularly interesting since researchers have identified a wooden staff, called a volva (translating as staff or wand bearer) staff, and a wagon among the grave goods as linked to magical practices. One of the most intriguing proposals about the identity of these women, however, suggests that they were powerful political figures who rose to importance through their use of or control over textiles. This theory arose from the presence of many textiles, textile working tools, and silks among the burial goods. Among the textile working tools were small looms which indicated skill in weaving, as well as high social status, and were not used for everyday weaving.

    For the Vikings, silk and other luxury fabrics like samite – both of which were found in the Oseberg burial – were symbols of high social status. It is possible that the silks and tapestries on the Oseberg were actually much older than the ship, and had been passed through many generations before they got there. This would suggest that at least one of the women on the ship had come from a long line of powerful individuals, or was in some way associated with one. Silk was seen as a status symbol because it was foreign and a token of good affiliations with other areas like the Mediterranean. To the Vikings, even the lowest quality silks were considered markers of high social class.

    The Oseberg burial stands out because it is one of only a few ship burials for women. It was uncommon for a woman to hold a particularly high position of authority or power, however it was not inconceivable for the Vikings. Though there were separate gender roles for women and men, females were considered equally important to society because they held the keys to their households where they had a strong influence over their husbands, fathers, and brothers. But unlike the modern day concept of 'home', Viking homes were not necessarily private spaces. Often times large farms were used as both religious and administrative centers, and a woman controlling a space like this would have significant power. We can also see, through finds like the Oseberg burial, that it was possible for women to be treated in the same way that men were. In addition to being one of the most complete and well preserved Viking ship burials, the Oseberg is also an important find because it suggests that Viking women could be powerful, and honored like their male counterparts.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Archaeology Burials Grave Goods Human Remains Ships Textiles Vikings
  • Geographic Area: Scandinavia
  • Century: 9
  • Date: 834
  • Related Work: Cart from the Oseberg ship burial;
    Sleigh from the Oseberg ship burial;
    Woven decorative bands from the Oseberg ship burial.
  • Current Location: Oslo, Norway, Bygdøy, University of Oslo, Museum of Cultural History, Viking Ship Museum
  • Original Location: County of Vestfold, Norway, Lille Oseberg at Slagen
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Ships
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oak and pine wood
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 600/550/2400
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Bill, Jan. "The Oseberg Ship and Ritual Burial." Vikings: Life and Legend. Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz, and Matthias Wemhoff. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2014. Pages 200-201;
    Bill, Jan, and Aoife Daly. "The Plundering of the Ship Graves from Oseberg and Gokstad: An Example of Power Politics?" Antiquity 86, 333 (September 2012): 808-824;
    Maher, Ruth Ann. Landscapes of Life and Death: Social Dimensions of a Perceived Landscape in Viking Age Iceland. Dissertation. The City University of New York, 2009;
    Moen, Marianne. "Women in the Landscape." Kvinner i vikingtid. Edited by Nancy L. Coleman and Nanna Løkka. Scandinavian Academic Press, 2014;
    "Oseberg", Viking Ship Museum, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo. Introductory pages on the ship and the grave goods;
    Vedeler, Marianne. Silk for the Vikings. Oxbow Books, 2014;
    Vedeler, Marianne. "The Textile Interior in the Oseberg Burial Chamber." A Stitch in Time: Essays in Honour of Lise Bender Jorgensen. Gothenburg University, 2014. Pages 281-299.

May 2017 [Posted December 2017]

  • Title: Mary of Burgundy reading from a book of hours
  • Creator: Master of Mary of Burgundy, artist
  • Description:

    In this full-page manuscript illumination, Mary of Burgundy sits in prayer with her book of hours. Through the window we see the Virgin and child with four angels in attendance within an elaborate Gothic church interior. A group of ladies pray on the left while a deacon kneels on the right. Behind the altar, two laymen are in conversation. Recent scholarship has identified the deacon as Mary's husband, Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, and the chief noblewoman opposite him, as Margaret of York, Mary's step-mother. The oratory within which Mary sits displays multiple objects carrying meaning for the viewer. The blue irises signal the Virgin's sorrow, the lap dog reminds the viewer of faithfulness, the two red carnations recall bridal chastity, and the pendant made up of enormous pearls may refer to the white rose of York (and to the figure of Mary's step-mother within the church).

    Scholars are generally now agreed that the book of hours including this frontispiece was commissioned by Margaret of York, wife of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, for her step-daughter Mary. It was completed over a span of time which involved three distinct campaigns of illustrations and decorative motifs. The Master of Mary of Burgundy who painted this scene of prayer and another window-framed view of Christ nailed to the cross is particularly known for his psychological insight and spiritual understanding as it pertained to his reader's circumstances. Van Buren suggests that the prayer scene was painted around 1477 shortly after the death of Charles the Bold. French forces invaded the country and the civic leaders of Ghent sent Margaret of York away to Malines and executed several of Charles's ministers. Left alone in Ghent and pressured to marry the French dauphin, Mary, as the heir to the kingdom, needed strength and comfort. She wrote secretly to Maximilian in March 1477, married him by proxy in April, and formally wed him in August.

    This image of a woman at prayer raises questions about the use of books of hours and laywomen's practices of religious devotion. Many books of hours were made for women, as the Latin prayers carrying feminine endings demonstrate. Prayers in books of hours, like the Sorrows of the Virgin, address women's concerns. Luxury treatment with many illustrations, marginal decorations, and rich binding made the books a joy to use and a treasure to treat with care. Note the cloth with which Mary of Burgundy cradles her book. Churchmen in the late Middle Ages encouraged laypeople to bring visualization to their prayers. Margery Kempe imagined helping the Virgin take care of the infant Christ. In this image from the book of hours, Mary of Burgundy prays to the Virgin for the wellbeing of her step-mother and husband while they in turn petition Mary on her behalf.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Books of Hours Devotional Practices Empresses Lay Piety Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy and Wife of Charles the Bold Mary of Burgundy, Wife of Emperor Maximilian I
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca. 1477
  • Related Work: Christ nailed to the cross, from the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, fol. 43v.
    Virgin Mary and the infant Christ with two angels crowning Mary, from the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, fol.
  • Current Location: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1857, fol. 14v
  • Original Location: Flanders, Ghent
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint; Gold
  • Donor: Laywoman; Margaret of York (?),
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 26.3/22.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: The Hours of Mary of Burgundy: Codex Vindobonensis 1857, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. Commentary by Eric Inglis. Harvey Miller Publishers, 1995;
    Penketh, Sandra. "Women and Books of Hours." In Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence. Edited by Jane H. M. Taylor and Lesley Smith. British Library and University of Toronto Press, 1996. Pages 266-281;
    Roberts, Ann M. "The Horse and the Hawk: Representations of Mary of Burgundy as Sovereign." In Excavating the Medieval Image: Manuscripts, Artists, Audiences: Essays in Honor of Sandra Hindman. Edited by David S. Areford and Nina A. Rowe. Ashgate, 2004. Pages 135-150;
    Rothstein, Bret. "The Rule of Metaphor and the Play of the Viewer in the Hours of Mary of Burgundy." In Image and Imagination of the Religious Self in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Edited by Reindert L. Falkenburg, Walter S. Melion and Todd M. Richardson. Brepols, 2007. Pages 237-275;
    van Buren, Anne H. "A Window on Two Duchesses of Burgundy." In Tributes in Honor of James H. Marrow: Studies in Painting and Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance. Edited by Jeffrey F. Hamburger and Anne S, Korteweg. Harvey Miller Publishers, 2006. Pages 505-520.

April 2017 Posted September 2017]

Anne of Bretagne

  • Title: Pamphila collecting cocoons and spinning silk
  • Creator: Image #1: Talbot Master;
    Image #2: Bourdichon, Jean, painter
  • Description:

    The illustration above depicts Pamphila, the woman credited in Greek mythology with inventing silk spinning and weaving. In the background of the picture, Pamphila collects silkworm cocoons from a stand of mulberry trees. In the foreground she is shown at a loom, continuing the silk working process by weaving the threads into fabric. The object in her left hand is a shuttle, used for compacting the weft threads in the fabric. The image comes from a ca. 1440 French translation of Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus (originally written in 1374) which was presented to Margaret of Anjou, a future queen of England. The manuscript contains a collection of short biographies of famous women from antiquity through the 14th century. The inclusion of Pamphila in the book alongside classical goddesses and noblewomen indicates the growing importance of silk production in western Europe during the late medieval period and the material's association with those of high status. Earlier in the 12th century, Chretien de Troyes had featured a haunting description of female silk workers in his romance, Yvain. The hero comes across 300 young women held prisoner and forced to weave cloth while hungry and deprived of sleep. Scholars have argued that this is not a plea on behalf of workers but a critique of introducing money into the realm of noble luxury.

    Silk fabric had been known to Europeans since the Hellenistic period, and, according to the historian Procopius, the Byzantine court had silkworms and knowledge of silk production by the middle of the 6th century CE. Throughout the early and high medieval periods European silk manufacturing was concentrated in the Eastern Mediterranean and northern Italy. Sharon Farmer argues that weavers in northwestern Europe had been producing silk narrow ware, used for ribbons and trim, since the early medieval period with silk yarn imported from Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the spinning of silk yarn and widespread production of silk cloth in this region were more recent developments, beginning in Paris in the early 13th century. The expansion of the silk industry in France from narrow ware to luxury cloth was spurred by the immigration of silk workers and entrepreneurs from the silk producing areas of the Mediterranean to northern European cities and in particular to Paris.

    Medieval silk work was recognized as a skilled trade, and in some cases silk workers formed guilds. Paris, Cologne, and Rouen-- where the Bocaccio manuscript above was created-- were known for their silk and for their silk workers' guilds, some of the period's only exclusively female or women-dominated guilds. Women silk workers in these cities could often attain membership in a guild in their own right, without connection to the trade through a male family member, and could reap the economic and social benefits of guild membership. Still, women's guilds were usually overseen by men at the municipal level and female guild members did not enjoy the political privileges granted to guildsmen.

    An example of silk produced in northern Europe can be seen in the portrait on the right of Anne de Bretagne, queen of France and duchess of Brittany. Her gown is made of yellow self-patterned silk and its wide, fur-trimmed sleeves reveal wool undersleeves dyed with kermes, an insect-based dyestuff that produced vivid reds and denoted royalty. The image comes from the Grandes Heures, a deluxe prayer book commissioned by Anne with extensive illuminations and large-format pages. In 1491 Anne, the 14-year-old duchess of Brittany, married Charles VIII of France in order to end his siege of Rennes, the Breton capitol. The marriage agreement stipulated that if Charles died without an heir, Anne would marry the next king of France. When Charles died seven years later, Anne used her position as wife of Louis XII and queen of France to restore many of Brittany's rights as a sovereign duchy.

  • Source: Image #1: British Library
    Image #2: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Image #1: Public domain
    Image #2: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Anne of Brittany, Queen-Consort of Charles VIII and Louis XII of France Luxury Trade Pamphila (Mythological Figure) Queens Silk Textiles
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15- 16
  • Date: ca. 1440; 1503-1508
  • Related Work: Images from Royal 16 G V:
    Arachne weaving on a loom
    Penelope weaving and the slaughter of the suitors
    Gaia Caecilia or Tanaquil, with a loom, and women spinning;
    Images from the Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne:
    Full page illustration of Anne de Bretagne with Saints (Anne, Ursula, and Helena);
    Deposition of the crucified Christ from the Grandes Heures. On the page opposite the portrait of Anne de Bretagne;
    Digitized manuscript of the Grandes Heures

  • Current Location: London, British Library, Royal 16 G V f. 54v
  • Original Location: Rouen, France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Colors; Gold; Ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 41/27/[full page]
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Adams, Tracy. "Rivals or Friends?: Anne De Bourbon and Anne De Bretagne." Women in French Studies 1 (2010): 46-61;
    Burns, E. Jane. Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009;
    Cassagnes-Brouquet, Sophie. "La Pire des Aventures: le chevalier Yvain et les tisseuses de soie (fin du XIIe siècle)." Clio: Femmes, Genre, Histoire 38 (2013): 235-240;
    The Cultural and Political Legacy of Anne De Bretagne: Negotiating Convention in Books and Documents. Ed. Cynthia J. Brown. Boydell & Brewer, 2010;
    Farmer, Sharon. "Medieval Paris and the Mediterranean: The Evidence from the Silk Industry." French Historical Studies 37, 3 (2014): 383-419;
    Farmer, Sharon. The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017;
    Kowaleski, Maryanne, and Judith M. Bennett. "Crafts, Gilds and Women in the Middle ages: Fifty years after Marian K. Dale." In Sisters and Workers in the Middle Ages. Ed. Judith M. Bennett, Elizabeth A. Clark, Jean F. O'Barr, B. Anne Vilen, and Sarah Westphal-Wihl. University of Chicago Press, 1989;
    Molà, Luca. The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

March 2017 [Posted July 2017]

  • Title: Plate with Venus and Adonis
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This silver plate, representing the goddess of love and her paramour, is worked in relief and etched to highlight details including patterned designs on clothing and Venus's elaborate jewelry. Traces of gilt remain on the figures' heads and clothing to suggest the original impression of richness. It is dated to the sixth century CE. Venus (right) presents a flower to Adonis (left). Her hair is pinned up, and she wears a form-fitting dress that splits down the middle at her upper thigh. She holds the left side of her dress up near her head, clasped in her left hand, while the right half covers her right leg to the ground. Her left leg and foot are completely exposed. To Venus's left is a column, and its decoration echoes that of Venus' dress and that of Adonis' apparel. Adonis wears decorated shoes, fabric around his neck, and fabric hanging from his right wrist, but otherwise he is nude. He holds a spear in his left hand, and a dog sits between his feet. In the center a small child, likely Cupid, gestures to Adonis while looking back toward his mother. He is nude save for a piece of fabric around his neck. In the foreground stands a chalice, on either side of which is a bird. It is likely that both are doves, long associated with the goddess of love. The scene, evidenced by the free-standing column and the grassy ground, takes place outdoors.

    This piece is owned by the Cabinet des medailles at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, as is the Missorium of Geilamir, a larger silver plate found alongside the Adonis plate in Arten in northern Italy in 1875. The Missorium is one of four missoria collected by the Bibliotheque, all dating between the fourth and sixth centuries CE and discovered between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. They reflect the continuing importance of the Greco-Roman literary culture known as paideia for the late antique elite. None of these four larger plates are very well-known among researchers, and their obscurity explains the relative lack of scholarly material on these works of art. The Adonis plate, an even smaller piece, is likewise little known.

    The Adonis plate's subject matter is doubly appropriate for the decoration of dinnerware, since it deals in the "twin spheres of mythology and hunting": Those subjects says Leader-Newby, "were perennially popular in the dining rooms of the late Roman house, as surviving mosaic floors and textiles, as well as other silverware, attest." Baratte notes the popularity of hero hunters in Late Antiquity and the effort the artist made to approximate Classical models. Leader-Newby argues that in an age when social and religious contexts were changing dramatically, continuity with the past was highly valued. Two of the missoria in the Cabinet's collection, the Hercules and Achilles plates, for instance, are the most widely-depicted heroes of Greek mythology in Roman art. The Adonis plate, meanwhile, seems to derive its scene from Ovid's account of Venus and Adonis' affair in his Metamorphoses. In Book 10.503-739, Orpheus relates the story of Venus, who, accidentally scratched by one of Cupid's arrows, falls in love with Adonis, the offspring of Myrrha, a girl cursed by Venus to fall in love with her own father. While Venus and Adonis lie together outdoors, Venus warns him against hunting dangerous animals. But, at the story's conclusion, Adonis disobeys and is gored by a wild boar. The Adonis plate combines several elements from this account into a single scene of hunting and mythology, perfectly suited to a late Roman banquet, either for pure decoration or as dinnerware. Leader-Newby argues that similarly decorated missoria were intended as luxury display items in the home.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Adonis (Mythological Figure) Classical Influences Hunting Luxury Venus (Mythological Figure)
  • Geographic Area: ?
  • Century: 6
  • Date:
  • Related Work: Three of the silver missoria:
    Achilles Plate (traditionally known as the "Shield of Scipio";
    Plate with Hercules and the Nemean lion;
    Shield of Hannibal
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, inv.56.348
  • Original Location: ?
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Metalwork
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Silver; Gold; Plates
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //29 (diam.)
  • Inscription: On the reverse there is graffiti indicating the weight: 3.24 pounds, 1 2/3 ounces, and 1 scruple or about 1 kilogram.
  • Related Resources: Baratte, François. "Coupe: Aphrodite et Adonis," In Byzance: L'art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises. Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992. Pages 106-107;
    Bravi, Alessandra. "The Art of Late Antiquity: A Contextual Approach." In A Companion to Roman Art, ed. Barbara E. Borg. Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Pages 130-149;
    Leader-Newby, Ruth. "Heroes, Lions, and Vandals: Four Late Roman Missoria," In The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury, ed. Kenneth Lapatin. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014. Pages 89-106;
    Leader-Newby, Ruth. Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries. Ashgate, 2004;
    Maguire, Henry. "The Good Life." In Interpreting Late Antiquity: Essays on the Postclassical World. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001. Pages 238-257;
    Plat, "Vénus et Adonis" (inv.56.348), website of the Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France.

February 2017 [Posted June 2017]

  • Title: Death and the wet nurse
  • Creator: Master of Philippe of Guelders
  • Description:

    In this illumination, a dancing, skeletal figure representing death takes a woman by the hand. The figure of death is draped in a white sheet and the woman wears laborer's clothes, a gown with tight-fitting sleeves, an apron, and a white cap. The wet nurse holds a swaddled infant in her left arm, and the front of her gown is low-cut, emphasizing her breasts and their capacity to nourish the baby. The three figures are shown indoors against a background of a tiled floor and tapestry, framed by a pair of columns. Below the picture are two columns of verse text, reading in English translation:

    Wetnurse, follow your fair child.
    Notwithstanding his coverlet
    And his fine bonnet in three ply knit;
    You won't take him to play any more.
    Move along without delay,
    For you both will die together.
    You can't stay here any more.
    Death takes all when it seems right.

    The Wetnurse
    I must go to the dance
    As the priests go to Communion.
    I would like to hang back
    But I feel swelling under my clothing,
    Between my arms, when I breathe.
    This child is dying of plague.
    Sudden death is a great pity.
    One may not have an hour or half an hour."
    [From The Danse Macabre of Women edited by Anne Tukey Harrison]

    The image and text are framed by a decorative border of squares containing flowers, insects, fruit, and acanthus leaves.

    The Danse macabre des femmes is an illustrated manuscript version of a poem in which the figure of death comes to claim women of all social statures stations, inviting them to join the Dance of Death. Based on the earlier Danse macabre des hommes, a version in which Death invites various men to join in the dance, the Danse macabre des femmes appeared first in a 1482 manuscript and shortly after as a printed book. The manuscript image above is accompanied by a verse text, beginning with brief remarks from Death and the author and then moving to short dialogues between Death and the various women. The Dance of Death motif was extremely popular in late medieval Europe, appearing often in murals and illustrated poems. Scholars disagree on the inspiration behind the motif. It was once thought to have stemmed from an obsession with death following the wars and plagues of the 14th century, but recent scholars like Gertsman argue that macabre motifs (especially The Encounter of the Three Dead and the Three Living) appeared in European art decades before the advent of the plague. Ultimately, The Danse macabre des femmes reminds the viewer of both death's inevitability and its disregard for social station.

    In the Middle Ages, many wealthy families saw wet nursing as an essential part of the child-rearing process. They would draw up a contract with a woman who had recently given birth to breastfeed and care for their child, either in the family's home or in the countryside. While the work was often short-term and intermittent, wet nurses were usually paid better wages than domestic servants. In the poem that accompanies the image, Death's statement that the wet nurse "won't take [the child] to play any more" may indicate that the nurse has remained with the family for some time- studies suggest that medieval children were weaned between the ages of two and three, around the time that children begin to play more actively. The wet nurse, then, has remained with the family for some time and has taken on child-care responsibilities that extend beyond breast feeding.

    The wet nurse's description of her symptoms ("I feel a swelling under my clothing, between my arms, when I breathe") suggests that she and the child have been infected with the Black Death. Swelling in the armpits was recognized as a plague symptom almost as soon as the first outbreak began in 1347. In the introduction to the Decameron, for example, Boccaccio writes that "[the plague's] earliest symptom, in men and women alike, was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin or the armpit, some of which were egg-shaped whilst others were roughly the size of the common apple." Infection of the lungs was also a recognized symptom, with Michele da Piazza, a 14th-century Franciscan in Sicily, writing that the swelling glands "forced the said human body to spit up blood. When the bloody septum reached the throat from the infected lungs, [this was a sign that] the whole human body was putrefying."

    While this edition of the Danse macabre was created well after the plagues of the 1340s, the second half of the 15th century saw renewed outbreaks in 1456-57, 1464-66, 1481-85, and 1500-1503. The plague remained a fresh and deadly force in the popular imagination. The wet nurse's acceptance of her certain and swift death suggests the fear the plague evoked for the book's audience.

  • Source: classes.bnf.fr on Pinterest - https://www.pinterest.com/pin/407646203747892067/
  • Rights: Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Black Death Death, Image of Infants Mortality Wet Nurses
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15- 16
  • Date: Ca. 1500
  • Related Work: Other images from the Bibliothèque nationale copy of the Danse macabre des femmes:
    Death and the knight's lady
    Death and the newlywed
    Death and the old woman
    Death and the witch
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. fr. 995, fol. 34v
  • Original Location: Paris
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 31.3/20 [full page]/
  • Inscription:

    "La Morte
    Apres nourrice vostre beau filz
    Nonobstant son couatouer
    Et son beau bonnet a troys filz
    Vous ne la menerez plus iouer
    Deslogez vous sans delaier
    Car tous deux vous mourrez ensemble Vous ne pouez plus cy tarder
    La mort prent tout quent bon luy semble

    La nourrice
    A cest dance fault aller
    Comme font les presbytres aux seyne
    Ie voulsisse bien reculer
    Mais ie me sens la boce an lame
    Entre les bras de mon alaine
    Cest enfant meurt despidimie
    Cest grant pitie de mort soudaine
    Il nest qui ait heure ne de mie"

  • Related Resources: The Danse Macabre of Women: Ms. fr. 995 of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Edited by Ann Tukey Harrison with a chapter by Sandra L. Hindman. Kent State University Press, 1994;
    Gertsman, Elina. The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages: Image, Text, Performance. Brepols, 2010;
    Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practices. Ed. Jutta Gisela Sperling. Routledge, 2013;
    Oosterwijk, Sophie. "'Muoz ich tanzen und kan nit gân?': Death and the Infant in the Medieval Danse macabre," Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry 22, 2 (2006): 146-164;
    Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death. Ed. Monica H. Green. ARC Medieval Press, 2015. Also available online;

November 2016 [Posted April 2017]

Full view of the painting

  • Title: Beatrice d'Este from the Pala Sforzesca (Sforza Altarpiece)
  • Creator: Master of the Pala Sforzesca
  • Description:

    Ludovico Sforza ruled as regent for his nephew Gian Galeazzo Sforza, rightful heir to the Duchy of Milan, from 1476-1494 while attempting to secure the title of Duke of Milan for himself. The early 1490s saw Gian Galeazzo produce a legitimate heir and gain popular support, undermining the control Ludovico had held for nearly 15 years. In response, Ludovico began to commission a wave of portraits and religious art which emphasized his political power, connection to the city of Milan, and familial ties.

    In this altarpiece, painted the year Ludovico was named Duke of Milan, following his nephew's death, Ludovico, his wife Beatrice , and two small children kneel in front of the seated Virgin Mary, who holds the infant Christ in her lap. Behind these figures stand the four Latin Doctors of the Church: St. Ambrose, Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. St. Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, places a hand on the Ludovico's shoulder, symbolically both protecting the Duke and endorsing his power.

    The child on the left, aged about four, is probably an illegitimate son, born to Ludovico and Cecilia Gallerani (the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci's Woman with Ermine) in 1491, just after his marriage to Beatrice. Earlier scholars studying the painting frequently identified the older child as Maximilian Sforza, Ludovico and Beatrice's first legitimate son. However, more recent study of the painting has dated it to 1494, at which point Maximilian would have been only an infant. More likely, he is the child kneeling next to Beatrice, still dressed in swaddling clothes. In order to portray his rule over Milan as legitimate, Ludovico was compelled not only to highlight his own power but also make known his ability to assure the longevity of the Sforza dynasty, through his heirs. The prominent place of Ludovico's bastard son in the painting shows that this need for heirs was strong enough to override social conventions that might otherwise discourage the public appearance of illegitimate children with their noble fathers.

    Beatrice d'Este, Ludovico's wife, also features prominently in the painting, indicating her important political role. Beatrice was a member of the d'Este family, a well-established aristocratic dynasty who ruled over the city of Ferrara and also held lands in Germany. Through her lineage, which included ties to the royal family of Naples and Aragon through her mother, Beatrice brought added legitimacy to the newly-established Sforzas (Ludovico's grandfather Francesco, a mercenary general, had been the first Sforza Duke of Milan) . Beatrice was known for her ability to use charm to her political advantage, and occasionally traveled with Milanese diplomatic embassies to other courts on behalf of her husband. Her sophisticated artistic taste was also well-known, and she helped bring notable artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to visit the Sforza court. Her death in childbirth in 1497 marked the end of a cultural highpoint in Milan.

    Lavish clothing is used in the painting to convey Ludovico's political aims and display his power. All four members of the Duke's family are dressed in some combination of gold, black, and blue-gray, which may be a reference to the colors of the Sforza coat of arms. These colors were inherited from the Visconti, Milan's previous ruling dynasty. Through their use, rather than the use of Ludovico's personal red and white, a connection was established with the state's historical rulers which put the emphasis on noble lineage rather than Ludovico's individual character, reinforcing his claim to have rightfully inherited the duchy. Beatrice is dressed in particularly ornate versions of typical clothing for the era. Her sleeves, slashed and tied with ribbon to show folds of her linen underdress, were common, but the length and quantity of ribbons demonstrates a certain extravagance. Tinagli cites contemporaries who describe Beatrice as "the inventor of new fashions," and the letters she exchanged with her sister Isabella document their delight in luxurious clothes. Her style is echoed here more subtly on the two children. Fabric sheen was an important indicator of status in Renaissance Italy-- so much that it was regulated by sumptuary laws in some areas. Clergy in Renaissance Italy wrote frequently of their concern about the extravagance of women's dress in church. The jeweled, reflective, and richly textured clothes of Beatrice and her family contribute heavily to the painting's narrative of an eminently powerful Sforza family who, while pious and just, could stand above the rules of church and state when they chose.

    The Pala Sforzesca was originally commissioned for the Chiesa Sant'Ambrogio ad Nemus, which was dedicated to Ambrose, patron saint of Milan. Given the painting's large size, it is unlikely that there were other panels included in the altarpiece.

  • Source: 1) The blog Istituto Statale d'Arte Catania, "Bocca di dama alla maniera mantovana."
    2) Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: 1) Labeled for non-commercial reuse in a Google search.
    2) Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Altarpieces Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and Saint Beatrice d'Este, Wife of Ludovico Sforza of Milan Donor Portraits Fashion Illegitimacy Milan, Milano, Italy Sforza Family
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1494
  • Related Work: Additional Representations of Beatrice d'Este:
    Bust of Beatrice, Louvre
    Marriage grant from Ludovico Sforza to his wife Beatrice d'Este, British Library, Add MS 21413, f. 1. Profiles of the couple are painted in the upper corners of the document
    Tomb effigies of Beatrice and Ludovico, Certosa
  • Current Location: Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, Reg. Cron. 451
  • Original Location: Milan, Chiesa Sant'Ambrogio ad Nemus
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Oil; Tempera;
  • Donor: Layman; Ludovico Maria Sforza, il Moro, duke of Milan
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 230/165/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Beatrice d'Este 1475-1497. Edited by Luisa Giordano. Edizioni ETS, 2008;
    Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes and Fine Clothing. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002;
    James, Carolyn, "What's Love Got to Do with It? Dynastic Politics and Motherhood in the Letters of Eleonora of Aragon and her Daughters," Women's History Review 24, 4 (2015): 528-547;
    Lopez, Guido. Festa di nozze per Ludovico il Moro: Fasti nuziali e intrighi di potere alla corte degli Sforza, tra Milano, Vigevano e Ferrara. Ugo Mursia Editore, 2008;
    Shell, Janice, and Grazioso Sironi, "Cecilia Gallerani: Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine," Artibus et Historiae 13, 25 (1992): 47 – 66;
    Tinagli, Paola. Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity. Manchester University Press, 1997. Page 62;
    Welch, Evelyn S. Art and Authority in Renaissance Milan. Yale University Press, 1995.

October 2016 [Posted January 2017]

  • Title: Vision of St Bernard
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this image, a monk and a nun kneel at the foot of the cross with the monk embracing Christ's legs while the nun holds the cross. Christ hangs on the cross, head slumped, with vividly colored blood flowing from his wounds and down his body. Christ wears the crown of thorns and has a halo colored with blood. The monk, who kneels at the left of the picture, is tonsured (a shaving of the head representing a dedication to God) and wears the Cistercians' white robes. He has a green halo behind his head and a jeweled crozier resting in the background, suggesting that he is both a saint and an abbot. A nun kneels on the left with her arms embracing the cross. The page is a single sheet intended for individual prayer and meditation. Hamburger identifies the artist as a woman working in the Rhineland, most likely a nun who may have made the expressive drawing for her own devotions.

    This image has been identified as the Vision of St. Bernard, a variation on a popular devotional theme from the thirteenth century. In the original story from the late twelfth century, Herbert of Clairvaux writes that a monk stumbled across Abbot Bernard praying alone in the church at Clairvaux. As Bernard prayed, Christ on the cross appeared and leaned down to embrace him. This Vision of St. Bernard became a popular devotional theme in the later Middle Ages and was linked with the emerging cult of Christ's wounds. It appears, for example, in the late 15th-century Antidotarius animae, in which Nicolaus Salicetus claims to reproduce the prayer that prompted Christ to embrace Bernard. The prayer includes devotions on each of Christ's five wounds in turn, focusing particularly on the blood falling from the punctures:

         "Wounds of blood-red ruby droplets,
         Driven deep-set as in goblets:
         These inscribe upon my heartbeat,
         Make my joining to you replete—
         At every moment loving you.

         Whoso comes to you to drink deep
         And embraces these your pierced feet,
         Healed of want, departs from this source
         Granted grace of lasting recourse;
         With kisses wets your feet anew." (trans. Sheryl Francis Chen)

    While the flow of blood is profuse, Bildhauer observes that the two worshippers are pristine, indicating a distinction between the bodily and the spiritual. The manuscript image of St. Bernard and a nun embracing a blood-soaked Christ should be understood as part of a devotional tradition that saw the wounds and suffering of Christ as a focus for deep and empathetic emotions ranging from sorrow to joy. Through prayer and meditation, believers moved along the path to salvation.

  • Source: Julian Picard's Portfolio:
  • Rights: Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Bernard of Clairvaux, Theologian, Saint Blood, Image of Crosses and Crucifixes Devotional Objects Devotional Practices Monasticism Nuns Visions
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 14
  • Date:
  • Related Work: The Crucified Christ embraces St. Bernard
    Devotional woodcuts by Michel of Ulm
    The Heart as a House, illustration by a nun artist, in Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preu ischer Kulturbesitz, Handschriftenabteilung 417
  • Current Location: Cologne, Museum Schnütgen, Inv. No. M 340
  • Original Location: Lower Rhine, Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Drawings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paper; Ink; Colored washes;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 25.5/18/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Bildhauer, Bettina. Medieval Blood. University of Wales Press, 2006;
    Bynum, Caroline Walker. Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007;
    Chen, Sheryl Frances. "Bernard's Prayer before the Crucifix that Embraced Him: Cistercians and Devotion to the Wounds of Christ," Cistercian Studies Quarterly 29 (1994): 24-54;
    Cyrus, Cynthia J. The Scribes for Women's Convents in Late Medieval Germany. University of Toronto Press, 2009;
    Hamburger, Jeffrey F. Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent. University of California Press, 1997. Pages 1-5;


Nichomachi tablet

  • Title: Symmachi tablet
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    On this tablet, known as the Symmachi panel, is engraved a ritual scene connected to the cults of Bacchus and Jupiter, on account of its representation of ivy, which binds the woman's head, and oak, underneath which she stands. A boy assists the woman, holding aloft a wine jar and a bowl of fruit or nuts, while the woman stands before an altar, taking incense cones from a box to sprinkle on the fire. This tablet comprises one half of an ivory diptych. A "diptych" is two panels hinged together with the carved images facing out and a shallow recess cut on the reverse, into which wax was poured. Words could then be inscribed on the wax's surface, ranging from letters and poetry to accounts.

    Diptychs need not be made from ivory, but the two aristocratic families, the Symmachi and the Nicomachi, who commissioned this panel and its partner could afford it. Both families were prominent at the end of the fourth century CE, and some scholars believe the diptych was intended to commemorate an alliance, such as a marriage, between the two clans. Alternately, the diptych could celebrate the women of the families assuming the priesthoods of the cults represented in each carving: those of Ceres, Cybele, Bacchus, and Jupiter. These four cults were well-known in Rome up until the start of the fifth century.

    Antonio Francesco Gori, identifying the Symmachi tablet's subject as a Bacchic wedding sacrifice, argues that the diptych was originally a wedding present, and was reused, possibly as a gift, perhaps on the occasion of a Bacchic rite. Hans Graeven (d. 1905) rejected Gori's claims, largely on account of the tablet's imagery. In his opinion, it relates to the Mysteries of Eleusis, Dionysus, and Magna Mater. Once members of the Symmachi and Nicomachi families received the initiation depicted on the reliefs, he concluded, they offered this tablet to the divinity. Richard Delbruech (1929) later decided that this was a "priest-diptych," which served as a notice to other priests that the tablet's owner was inviting them to her investiture ceremonies. Kinney, on the other hand, notes that no scholar has ever assumed that the Symmachi or Nicomachi commissioned the diptych for themselves. Rather, all interpretations of these reliefs assume that the diptych was made to be given away, whether to gods, fellow priests, or ritual participants.

    Kinney argues that the diptych originally functioned as a codex. Perhaps since both Quintus Symmachus and Virius Nicomachus were prolific letter-writers, the ivory codex could have delivered important messages. Or, because, as high-ranking men, both would have sent and received poems, copies of the classics, and other writings, the codex was used for this social exchange. If the Symmachi and Nicomachi families kept these plaques for themselves, then no date of any special occasion event is relevant to their dating. In place of the proposed early fifth or late-fourth century dates of special occasions, Kinney proposes that the diptych was created in the 360s or 370s, closer to the first quarter of the century when its ivory was harvested and when the "cultural climate was much more conducive to this kind of 'pagan' iconography."

    Both the pagan imagery depicted and the style of the panels' carvings, as well as their composition, all echo earlier models, particularly Greek ones. The prototypes, Williamson believes, were likely Roman copies of Greek originals. These tablets, harkening back to ancient Greece, appear, not coincidentally, at a time when aristocratic Roman families were desperately attempting to preserve pagan religions in the face of Christianity, which had become the official state religion in 380 AD. Williamson says, "The Symmachi and Nicomachi families were at the centre of the resistance and did as much as they could to protect the old beliefs against the antagonism of the Christians. They paid for the upkeep of the temples out of their own pockets, debated with the Christians about the merits of tolerance in religious matters, and edited ancient texts such as Livy and Vergil for the benefit of future generations." Understood in this context, the Symmachi and Nicomachi panels represent these families' aristocratic and pagan ideals in a newly Christian Rome.

    The tablets, because of their late antique provenance, each boast "spatial and physical ambiguities," and their carvings are "imperfectly classical." In 1992, however, art dealer Jerome Eisenberg proposed that the Symmachi tablet was too imperfect. He drew on "the 'completely misunderstood priestess' garment,' her 'awkward stance,' and the execution of the altar 'as if on a flat surface…'" as evidence that the tablet is a nineteenth-century fake. Kinney, while seeking an explanation for these awkward details, discovered that, when viewed from the left or right, the tablet no longer displays a "distorted" image. Seen obliquely, the apparently disturbing torsion of the woman's lower body seems correct. Only the garland, hanging from the altar, consistently seems, in her words, a "mistake," even when viewed from alternate perspectives.

  • Source: Image #1: Victoria and Albert Museum
    Image #2: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Image #1: Permitted non-commercial use of content. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
    Image #2: Licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
  • Subject (See Also): Classical Influences Paganism Priestesses Sacrifices Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 4- 5
  • Date:
  • Related Work: Nichomachi tablet page from the Musée de Cluny
    Ivory plaque of women at Christ's tomb believed to have been made by the same workshop of artists who created the Symmachi and Nicomachi tablets (Source: Catello Sforzesco).
    The Barberini ivory, leaf of an imperial diptych from the first half of the 6th century.
  • Current Location: Symmachi tablet: London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 212-1865
    Nichomachi Tablet: Paris, Musée de Cluny, Cl.17048
  • Original Location: Rome, Italy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Elephant Ivory; Plaques
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 29.6/12.1/1.8
  • Inscription: On the Symmachi tablet:
    On the Nicomachi tablet:
  • Related Resources: Cameron, Alan. The Last Pagans of Rome. Oxford University Press, 2011;
    Cutler, Anthony, and Dale Kinney. "A Late Antique Ivory Plaque and Modern Response." American Journal of Archaeology 98,3 (1994): 457-480;
    Kinney, Dale. "The Iconography of the Ivory Diptych Nicomachorum-Symmachorum," Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 37 (1994): 64-96;
    Kinney, Dale. "Old Friends." In Anathemata Eortika: Studies in Honor of Thomas F. Mathews. Eds. Joseph D. Alchermes with Helen C. Evans and Thelma K. Thomas. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2009. Pages 195-203;
    Williamson, Paul. "The Symmachi Panel, about 400 AD." Victoria and Albert Museum: The World's Leading Museum of Art and Design. Victoria and Albert Museum, 2006. URL: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-symmachi-panel/


  • Title: Pellote of Leonor, Queen of Castile
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This pellote or surcoat was found in Leonor of Castile's tomb in the Monasterio de las Huelgas. Beneath the pellote she wore a saya encordada, a tunic laced with many strings on the upper left side and an adjustable stretched waist which fitted to the contours of her body. The garment is typical of the period. In fact, Alfonso X in a cantiga complains that the saya encordada was intended to show off a woman's abdomen, De grado queríe ora saber destes que traien sayas encordadas en que se apertan muy pontas vegadas se o facen por los ventres mostrar. (Menéndez Pidal, p. 77)

    Leonor's outfit is similar to men's dress at the time, but the saya's hemline is longer for women. There was less variety in women's clothing than in men's during the 13th century. Its length suggests the saya trailed behind her or would have to be picked up as she walked. This is a feature only of the upper classes as is the expensive textile in this case. A saya made with gold was called a brial to distinguish its remarkable fabric. The pellote is also made with decorative fabric and the outfit does not have sleeves, leaving the shoulders and chest uncovered. This open style allowed women to display their fine undershirts beneath the saya's lacings. Leonor's undershirt had a double hem and a round neck.

    The silk fabric of the pellote is colored with vegetable dyes and patterned with geometric, diamond, and floral shaped decorations in green, cream, white and gold. These designs were inspired by Arabic styles influenced by Andalusian work that can be traced to Granada. The clothing's silhouette is reflective of the first period of Gothic art which is defined by elegance and a respect for the body's form. There are inscriptions on the lower portion of the pellote that say Bendición or "Blessing." Feliciano argues that Christian consumers of Andalusi fabrics saw them as signifiers of luxury and did not focus on their constituent parts.

    Leonor of Castile (died 1244) became Queen of Aragon by her marriage to Jaume I. He obtained a divorce after eight years of marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. Leonor and her son returned to Castile. She was the daughter of the founders of the Monasterio de las Huelgas, Alfonso VIII de las Navas and Leonor de Plantagenet, who were King and Queen of Castile. Alfonso VIII (1155-1214) fought against Muslim forces throughout his reign. He was defeated at the battle of Alarcos in 1195 but was victorious in 1212 at the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa while leading the Christian army. Alfonso VIII married Eleanor Plantagenet, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1170 and they built the Cathedral of Cuenca, the King's Hospital in Burgos, and Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas Abbey during their reign.

    El Monasterio de Las Huelgas was constructed in 1187. One of the intentions Alfonso VIII and his wife Leonor had in building the monastery was to create a memorial space for their family members. The king and queen both died in 1214 and were buried at las Huelgas. During the 13th and 14th century many descendants were buried there, including their daughter Leonor. The tombs are located in three of the aisles in the church. The right aisle of St. John contains the remains of some of the abbesses of Las Huelgas from the royal family. In the left aisle of St. Catherine can be found the tombs of kings and queens including Leonor of Castile, some of Leonor's siblings who died in childhood, Fernando de la Cerda, the heir to Alfonso X, and Enrique I (d. 1217). Fernando de la Cerda's tomb was the only one that remained undisturbed until the twentieth century. In the central nave are the tombs of Queen Berenguela (d. 1246), Berenguela, daughter of Ferdinand III (d. 1279), and Blanca of Portugal, daughter of Alfonso III (d. 1321). The founding couple, Leonor's parents, are entombed in the center of the main aisle before the altar.

    Most of the tombs had been raided over the years, making Leonor's clothing an especially intriguing find. In the initial report of the gravesite in 1947 by Manuel Gómez Moreno, he described the royal corpses as appearing mummified. Recent scholars believe the bodies were washed, disemboweled and embalmed. When the tomb was opened in the 16th century, witnesses described the bodies as having a sweet smell and that King Alfonso VIII appeared to merely be asleep; these accounts were used as evidence in the 17th century when an attempt was made to canonize him. Leonor had a Romanesque style coffin, made of pine. The bodies were positioned with their arms crossed, sometimes laying on a bed of hay, and were wrapped in rich cloths with decorative pillows beneath their heads and feet. The founder's cloths were made of precious blue and green fabrics. They were all buried in their own clothing which was reserved for the wealthy. Alfonso X wrote in the Siete Partidas, his book of law, "neither rich clothes nor valuable ornaments such as gold or silver, could be put aside for the dead, except for a very few people like the King or the Queen or their children." This royal family met Alfonso X's later expectations.

    The tombs were opened for scientific purposes between 1943 and 1944 when Gómez Moreno began his work. Part of the collection was displayed in the Museo de Ricas Telas located in the Monastery of Las Huelgas in 1949. The museum underwent renovations in 1987 and 2008. The museum, independent of las Huelgas, is a protected Cultural Heritage site since 1962. The collection was computer-inventoried in GOYA, the Patrimonio Nacional database which manages the cultural heritage of the Spanish crown. There has been some confusion in identifying the ownership and purpose of the grave goods. The Patrimonio Nacional is undertaking a research project to remedy misclassified grave objects through technical analysis and interpretation with more attention to the cultural context.

  • Source: Patrimonio Nacional, Dirección de las Colecciones Reales.
  • Rights: Reproduced here with the permission of the Patrimonio Nacional, Dirección de las Colecciones Reales. COPYRIGHT @ PATRIMONIO NACIONAL
  • Subject (See Also): Burials Clothing Cross Cultural Approach Queens Textiles
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 13
  • Date: Circa 1244
  • Related Work: Leonor of Castile's saya encordada.
    Close up of the lacing on Leonor of Castile's saya encordada.
    Manuscript illumination of a woman wearing a laced saya with a pellote. Source: Libro de los juegos de Alfonso X (1283).
  • Current Location: Burgos, Spain, Museo de Telas Medievales de Burgos in the Monastery of Las Huelgas, 00650514
  • Original Location: Burgos, Spain, Monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas, Tomb of Leonor of Castile
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Textiles
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Silk; Woven fabric; Gold threads; Siver threads; Clothing
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 167/86/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barrigón, María. "An Exceptional Outfit for an Exceptional King: The Blue Funerary Garments of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Las Huelgas." Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 46, 3 (2015): 157-172;
    Descalzo Lorenzo, Amalia. "Les vêtements royaux du monastère Santa Maria la Real de Huelgas." Fashion and Clothing in Late Medieval Europe. Schwabe Verlag, 2010. Pages 97-106;
    Gómez Moreno, Manuel. "Historia y arte en el panteón de las Huelgas de Burgos." Arbor 7, 21 (1947): 397-434;
    Monasterio de Las Huelgas de Burgos. Vestiduras ricas: el monasterio de las huelgas y su época 1170-1340. Patrimonio Nacional, 2005;
    "Traje de Leonor de Castilla." Patrimonio Nacional. Webpage:

April 2016 [Posted August 2016]

  • Title: Scenes of Host Desecration
  • Creator: Workshop of Jaume Serra (?)
  • Description:

    These scenes are part of a larger altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The painting represents scenes from the lives of Mary and of Christ. Originally located in the monastery of Sigena, Catalonia, a female Hospitaller house founded by Queen Sancha of León-Castilla (d. 1208), the altarpiece is preserved in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. The painting was offered to the monastery and its nuns by a religious superior, friar Fortaner de Glera, who is portrayed kneeling in the central panel. The paintings of Arnau Bassa, a 14th century Catalan artist who introduced a Sienese style to the area, are similar and perhaps inspired this work. The artist is thought to be Jaume Serra whose brothers, Pere and Francesc Serra, were also painters. Scholars have hypothesized that Francesc Serra, the eldest brother and documented as a painter in Barcelona from 1350 to 1362, may have worked on the painting.

    The scenes of host desecration appear on the bottom right corner of the predella and include a depiction of the alleged first recorded host desecration which occurred in Paris in 1290. The street in Paris where this desecration is supposed to have occurred became known as the "street where God was boiled." An account from this accusation claims, There was a Jew, a resident of Paris, who bought the host and cut it with a knife until it bled and then put it to boil and it bled over as a crucifix became present within it. This section flanks a depiction of the Last Supper which is located at the center of the predella. The Virgin and Child are located above in the large central scene, and, further above, is a representation of the Crucifixion.

    Theft often figured in the stories in which Jews were accused of desecrating the host. This was thought to be done either by a Jew approaching a Christian and tempting her or him to steal the host from the church or by a thief offering the host to a Jew for sale. In the latter half of the 14th century in Catalonia-Aragon, there were a rash of host desecration accusations. There were cases, when thieves were found guilty, in which they would turn around and accuse a Jew of encouraging them to steal in order to redirect the blame for the crime. In one such case, in Barcelona in 1367, a Christian thief with an accomplice was found in France and resorted to recriminations against Jews. During another case in Huesca in 1377, a Christian thief again attempted to claim Jews were involved. The thief retracted the accusation when he faced his confessor before execution. In another case in Lerida in 1383, the King's nephew provided an account in support of the accusation.

    The Huesca case and others were brought by the Infant, the crown prince Juan. The Infant's accusations created tension with his father, King Pere III, because it complicated the King's customary inclusion of the Jews in his kingdom. Infant Juan used these accusations in an attempt to establish autonomy as the king's heir. According to treasury notes, it is evident that, as a result of these accusations, the accused Jews lost their property to the crown. However, there is no documented evidence of physical punishment of the Jews as a result of these accusations.

    On the left, in this close-up image, is a portion of the painting that depicts the payment of fabric for the host. The Christian woman who comes to the door and provides the host wears a cap decorated with Hebrew-like symbols, connecting her to the Jewish crime though she is not a Jew. Once the host is acquired, the father cuts into the Eucharist with a long knife on a wooden board. The father wears a hooded, dark cloak and performs the violent act while the mother and child are represented in brighter clothing, looking similar to Jesus and his shining face as it appears from the boiling cauldron. It is miraculous that the Infant Christ is unharmed, proving the resilience and sanctity of Christ. The father concentrates his gaze on the Eucharist while blood leaks out onto the board, demonstrating the real, living presence of Christ. The mother, on the other hand, watches the baby Jesus in awe as she raises her hand to her chest in surprise. The child, too, recognizes the presence of the host in the cauldron as he points two fingers in its direction. This gendered representation of the Jewish family suggests the father is dark and villainous while the woman occupies a more innocent, sympathetic space which suggests conversion for the mother and child as a part of the happy ending.

    The young child's gaze and the mother and son's body positioning point us to the next frame in which a woman whispers to a black man. Blackness was associated with the devil and sin. When a nun was represented as sinful, she was, at times, accompanied by a demon in the guise of a black Ethiopian. The scene relates to a Catalan poem called Lo Spill (1460) by Jaume Roig. It is clear the panel scene is not based on the poem since the poem postdates the altarpiece, but, because of their similar narratives, it is likely they are drawing from a common story or legend.

    Roig writes that a woman, unhappy in her marriage, decides to visit and take advice from a Muslim cleric. He promises that her husband will love her again if she takes part in a magic ceremony. He demands a Eucharist in order to perform the magic. After taking communion, the woman saves the host in a small box. As the Muslim man prepares to leave with the illicit Eucharist, we see that it has already taken on the form of the infant Christ at their feet. In the final frame, the woman kneels and takes communion. A priest stands before the altar accompanied by an acolyte. When the woman goes to receive communion, she is in a state of sin because she provided the Muslim cleric with the body of Christ. As a result the host rips her throat open in order to exit her body and avoid sacrilege.

  • Source: The history section of the City of Barcelona website, http://www.bcn.cat/historia/
  • Rights: Available for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons License.
  • Subject (See Also): Antisemitism Blacks Eucharist, Sacrament Jews Magic Miracles Muslims
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 14
  • Date: 1363-1375
  • Related Work: Profanation of the Eucharist of Paris, Altarpiece of Villahermosa del Rio from the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya:
    Selected works by Jaume Serra:
    Altarpiece of Saint Stephen: http://www.museunacional.cat/en/colleccio/altarpiece-saint-stephen/jaume-serra/003947-cjt
    Virgin of Tobed with Donors: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Virgen_de_Tobed.jpg
  • Current Location: Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, 015916-CJT
  • Original Location: Sigena, Monastery of Santa María de Sigena
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Painting
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tempera; Gold leaf; Metal plate; Altarpiece panel;
  • Donor: Male religious; Fortaner de Glera, Procurator General of the Hospitaller monastery of Sigena
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 346.3/321/26 [entire altarpiece]
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barral, Paulino Rodríguez. "Eucaristía y antisemitismo en la plástica gótica hispánica." Boletín: Museo E Instituto "Camón Aznar" de Ibercaja 97 (2006): 279-349. See especially pages 305-307;
    González, Eileen Patricia McKiernan. Monastery and Monarchy: The Foundation and Patronage of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas and Santa María la Real de Sigena. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Texas at Austin, 2005;
    Gudiol, Josep and Santiago Alcolea I Blanch. Pintura Gotica Catalan. Ediciones Polígrafa, 1986;
    Lipton, Sara. Dark Mirror: the Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography. Henry Holt, 2014;
    Rubin, Miri. Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

March 2016 [Posted July 2016]

  • Title: Murder of Godelieve from The Life and Miracles of Saint Godelieve
  • Creator: Master of the Saint Godelieve Legend, painter
  • Description:

    These panels are part of the seven scenes illustrating the life of Godelieve of Gistel. The narrative of her unhappy marriage and murder at her husband’s orders begins on the far left where Godelieve, marked by a halo, appears with her parents and two sisters. In all the scenes the other characters wear identical outfits throughout, while Godelieve changes clothing with her roles: maiden, bride, noble lady, murder victim, and miracle worker. The second panel provides evidence of Godelieve’s sanctity, showing her feeding the poor from household supplies. When a servant checks, on her father’s orders, the stolen food hidden in her dress has turned into wood chips. In the third panel Godelieve’s parents entertain the count of Boulogne who has come to urge Godelieve’s marriage to the knight Bertolf. In the background Godelieve has given delicacies intended for the guest to the poor and prays for God’s help; angels bring dishes of food for the feast.

    In the center panel Godelieve weds Bertolf. The next section features Bertolf and his mother who hates Godelieve and turns her son against his new wife. The servant girl is set to spy on Godelieve’s activities. In the subsequent panel Godelieve is murdered by Bertolf’s two men, Lambert and Hacca. In the background the events leading up to the climactic scene lend further pathos: (1)Bertolf pretends affection for his wife in order to persuade her to meet with an old woman who will supposedly bring love to their marriage and (2) a vulnerable Godelieve is led from her bed by the two murderers who don’t give her time to put anything over her shift. In the final panel, the two men lower Godelieve's body head first into a well to wash away any signs of struggle and verify that she is dead. Next they arrange her corpse in bed to pass off the death as natural. In the background the painter presents four miracles posthumously performed by the saint. When the altarpiece is closed, the two exterior panels portray four male saints: Saint Josse, Saint Nicholas of Bari, Saint Quirinus and Saint John the Baptist. Details suggest that the altarpiece may have been commissioned by the Guild of Load Bearers to celebrate their patron Godelieve at their chapel in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) in Bruges.

    Godelieve was an historic figure who was born around 1050, married in her early teens, died at 18 and was made a saint 14 years later. Devotion to her cult began quickly, as the first account of her Life was written just a few years following her death by Drogo of Sint-Winoksbergen, a monk with long experience in writing biography and stories of miracles. He gathered reminiscences of Godelieve from family and acquaintances to make her Vita more detailed and compelling. A modern day reader takes pause at the repeated instances of abuse from Godelieve's husband. Domestic violence figures in other medieval saints' lives including those of Dorothy of Montau and Catherine of Genoa. The women's sanctity is enhanced by their patient submission to the excessive actions of their husbands. These cases of violence need to be contextualized in daily practice where husbands were expected to physically "correct" their wives when they made mistakes.

  • Source: flickr - Photograph taken by Ricardo Zappala.
  • Rights: Creative Commons License - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
  • Subject (See Also): Altarpieces Crime and Criminals Godelieve of Gistel, Saint Hagiography Lay Piety Miracles Murder Violence Wife Abuse Wives Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: Last quarter of the 15th century
  • Related Work: See the painting on the exterior panels of the Godelieve altarpiece. The figures from left to right are: Saints Josse, Nicholas of Bari, Quirinus, and John the Baptist, with two male donors.
    Other works by the Master of the Saint Godelieve Legend include:
    The Miracles of Santiago (Indianapolis Museum of Art);
    Triptych of the Passion (Vitoria, Spain, Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro);
    Triptych of the Virgin among virgins (Abbeville, Musée Boucher de Perthes)
  • Current Location: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 12.79
  • Original Location:
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oil; Wood panel
  • Donor: Laymen (?); Guild of the Load Bearers in Bruges (?)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 125.1/311 (when open)/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Burroughs, Bryson. “A Polyptych Representing the Life of Saint Godelieve,” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 7 (July 1912): 126-128;
    Ainsworth, Maryan W., and Keith Christiansen, eds. From van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of art, 1998. Pages 125-128;
    Defries, David. “Godeliph of Gistel and the Politics of Innocent Martyrdom in Eleventh-century Flanders,” Hagiographica 15 (2008): 31-61;
    Drogo of Sint-Winoksbergen. “The Life of Godelieve.” Translated by Bruce L. Venarde. In Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology. Edited by Thomas Head. Online in Monastic Matrix;
    Kienzle, Beverly Mayne and Nancy Nienhuis. “Battered Women and the Construction of Sanctity,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 17, 1 (Spring 2001): 33-61:
    Nip, Renée. “The Canonization of Godelieve of Giste,” Hagiographica 2 (1995): 145-155;
    Nip, Renée. “Godelieve of Gistel and Ida of Boulogne.”In Sanctity and Motherhood: Essays on Holy Mothers in the Middle Ages. Edited by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker. Garland Publishing, 1995. Pages 191-223;
    Nip, Renée. “Life and Afterlife: Arnulf of Oudenburg, Bishop of Soissons, and Godelieve of Gistel. Their Function as Intercessors in Medieval Flanders.” In The Invention of Saintliness. Edited by Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker. Routledge, 2002. Pages 58-76.

February 2016

Close up of Saint Catherine of Bologna (Catherine Vigri)

  • Title: Saint Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors
  • Creator: Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, painter
  • Description:

    Catherine Vigri (also known as Catherine of Bologna) was the abbess of the Poor Clare monastery, Corpus Domini in Bologna, until her death in 1463. After her death, the Poor Clares reported smelling a sweet odor coming from her grave. The nuns took this as a sign of Catherine Vigri’s sanctity and excavated her body in order to keep it in their church as a relic. Incorruptibility was recognized as an important marker of holiness as in the cases of Clare of Assisi and Cuthbert. For Catherine a chapel was later built in the sixteenth century to display her body which is still visible today. Saint Catherine gained many followers, but was not officially canonized until 1712. As an abbess, Catherine Vigri was remarkable in having been educated in painting, music, and Latin at the court of Ferrara. She preached to her nuns and encouraged their intellectual engagement with studies. While serving as abbess, Saint Catherine continued to write and paint. Her works were inspired by her religious dreams and visions.

    On the right side of the painting, near the altar and above the kneeling women the head of Saint Catherine’s corpse appears as it was positioned at the communion window for visitors to witness. Saint Catherine wears a brocade gown the cardinal-bishop of Bologna requested for her in 1476. The gown contains a subtle floral print and is further adorned by a silver cross on the saint’s chest. In her left hand she holds a crucifix and supports a book with both hands. She wears a gold crown decorated with pearls. Her outward gaze dismisses her reading, creating a tranquil, kind expression directed toward the audience. To either side of her are the donors of the painting, kneeling and asking for her help in gaining Christ’s mercy. The man, likely Giacomo Loiani according to the family crest, was a Bolognese merchant living in Flanders. His first wife, already deceased, kneels on the saint’s far left in Flemish clothing. Loiani’s second wife wearing Italian clothes appears more prominently directly across from her husband.

    During Catherine's tenure as abbess, she was celebrated for her sanctity, and people travelled to consult La Santa. Following her death in 1463, a cult quickly developed although this is the earliest known portrait of the holy woman. The worship of the donors, the elegance of Catherine Vigri’s portrayal, and the inclusion of her corpse in the communion window suggest the painting was part of the effort to canonize Catherine Vigri which finally succeeded in 1712.

  • Source: Image #1 (Catherine and Donors): Catholic Saint Medals
    Image #2 (Close up of Catherine): YouTube video about Saint Catherine by breski1
  • Rights: Image #1 Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
    Image #2 Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Books Donor Portraits Hagiography Husbands Italians Monasticism Nuns Prayer Relics Wives
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1470- 1480
  • Related Work:

    Illustrations done by Catherine Vigri:
    Breviary with miniatures: http://www.wga.hu/art/v/vigri/breviar1.jpg;
    Madonna and child: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Catherinebolognaart.jpg

    Other paintings by the Master of the Baroncelli Portraits include:
    Pentecost http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/the-master-of-the-baroncelli-portraits-pentecost-5391245-details.aspx;
    Portraits of Pierantonio Baroncelli and Maria Bonciani http://www.virtualuffizi.com/portraits-of-pierantonio-baroncelli-and-maria-bonciani.html

  • Current Location: London, Courtauld Institute of Art, P.1947.LF.249
  • Original Location: Low Countries
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel paintings; Oil
  • Donor: Layman; Giacomo Loiani, an Italian merchant who was living in Flanders.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 94.9/67.9/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: "Caterina Vigri." Italian Women Artists: from Renaissance to Baroque. Edited by Vera Fortunati Pietrantonio and others. Skira, 2007. Pages 85-89;
    Koster, Margaret. "Reconsidering 'St. Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors' by the Baroncelli Master of Bruges," Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 26, 1/2 (1998): 4-17;
    Martinelli, Serena Spanò and Irene Graziani. "Caterina Vigri between Gender and Image: La Santa in Text and Iconography." The Saint between Manuscript and Print: Italy 1400 1600. Edited by Barbara Wisch. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015. Pages 351-378;
    Wood, Jeryldene M. The Poor Clares of Early Modern Italy. University of Cambridge. 1996. Pages 121-144.

November 2015

Saint Anne teaching the Virgin to read

  • Title: Donor portraits of Margaret Blackburn and her husband Nicholas
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Nicholas Blackburn senior and his wife, Margaret Blackburn, kneel in prayer in this section from a stained glass window in All Saints Church, North Street, York. Margaret holds an open book with the words originally reading " Oh Lord, save me from sins|and open my mouth" visible on the two pages. The phrases come from Psalm 50, and are part of the readings for Matins in books of hours which begin with the second part of this versicle. Nicholas, a leading merchant in York, was connected by marriage and social ties to a network of prominent gentry (see the couple's wills for evidence of family wealth as well as religious devotion). In addition to serving as mayor of York, Nicholas also was the admiral of the Northern Fleet in 1406-1407. The armor and heraldic surcoat he wears may refer to his tenure as admiral.

    In a larger section from the same window, Saint Anne puts a protective arm around her young daughter Mary as the child picks out the letters in a book with a pointer. The text is from Psalm 143 ("Hear my prayer, O Lord, and consider my desire.") Anne's luxurious robe is trimmed with gold and ermine while Mary wears an elaborate headdress and gold brocade. The richness here is in keeping with the donors' clothing marked by deep colors and gold bands. The cult of Saint Anne as a model bourgeois mother came to prominence in England in the late Middle Ages; the Blackburns demonstrate their devotion here as well as in the endowment of a chantry for the chapel of Saint Anne on Fossbridge. The image of the saint teaching the Virgin to read appears during this period in manuscripts, paintings, and sculpture as well as stained glass. Scholars have recently cited these works as evidence of the important role mothers played as their children's first teacher of the alphabet, reading and prayer.

    As a successful merchant family in York, the Blackburns endowed their parish church, All Saints, richly with two sets of stained glass windows as well as money to support services and to help the poor. Nicholas in his will stipulated that the large gift of 100£ be distributed at the church to the poor. The Blackburn memorial window is made up of three parts. In the large lights Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anne teaching the Virgin to read, and Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child appear. In the panels beneath, two generations of donor couples are represented flanking the Holy Trinity, on the viewer's left Nicholas Blackburn junior and his wife who is also named Margaret and on the right the parents, Nicholas and Margaret. The other window endowed by the Blackburn family presents six of the corporal acts of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, providing refuge for strangers, clothing the poor, helping the sick, and visiting prisoners. The seventh act, burying the dead, is not represented.

    The window sections representing Saint Anne and the Virgin and the female donors put a particular emphasis on women and their books. They are tied more closely together by the visible inscriptions on the books' opened pages. All three are lines from the penitential psalms, a series of seven taken from the Bible and intended for regular recitation by devout lay people. The younger Margaret holds the first Penitential Psalm (O Lord, rebuke me not in thine indignation; neither [chasten me] in thy displeasure.) Margaret Blackburn senior holds a part of the fourth Penitential Psalm, while the Virgin Mary reads the opening line of the seventh and final Penitential Psalm. These verses also serve as signifiers for books of hours which contained the Penitential Psalms and other prayers for private devotion both by women and men. Margaret Blackburn senior is the likely first owner of a lavishly illustrated book of hours made around 1415 and known as the Bolton Hours (now in the York Minster Library). The book evidently passed from Margaret to her daughter, Alice Bolton. Among its multiple illustrations concerning women there is an image which Patricia Cullum and Jeremy Goldberg have identified as Saint Anne teaching the Virgin to read with Anne's two other daughters from previous marriages in the background. This unusual iconography was likely intended as a model of female sanctity for Blackburn and her three daughters. Furthermore Nicola McDonald argues that the connections between women and books in this socially ambitious merchant family carried a meaning which conveyed higher status and success. This ambition was realized when Alice Bolton's daughter twice married into gentry families.

  • Source: Image #1(donor portraits): Flickr
    Image #2 (Anne and Mary): tumblr post
  • Rights: Image #1: Reproduced with the permission of the photographer, Gordon Plumb.
    Image #2: Reproduced from the tumblr Medium Aevum where Google labels the image for noncommercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Anne, Mother of the Virgin, Saint Books of Hours Husbands Literacy Mary, Virgin, Saint Merchants Patronage, Artistic Patronage, Ecclesiastical Readers Wives
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1420s
  • Related Work:

    See other lights in the Blackburn window:
    Three main lights, St John the Baptist, St Anne teaching the Virgin, and St Christopher holding the Christ child: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vitrearum/308562375/;
    Lower panel representing the younger Nicholas Blackburn and his wife Margaret: https://ehkern.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/all-saints-north-street-focc88nster-3.jpg;
    All the lights together in one view: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22274117@N08/4115366780/in/photolist-aazJTw-dguqLA-7gEkaE-4qHCYF-jw9xJq-oAuDEF-gPRRp4-aaz6k5-aavDNz-jw8MVx-aau68a-aawUT9-5FHLDC-aaymdL-4LBns8-aazb8C-4rjA5W-aax19T-5PVase-aayjqq-aaznUf-afpoeH-hqrHLj-aazc13-7gfY13-7gEjps-7gErRm-coU2Sj-aayvtu-a5vQzV-5PVBhp-57b6dD-57fgjf-aazWbC-aawYB4-8URLnT-57fgaA-aawFGq-7gArcx-aawSvm-57b66v-ohRqUz-aawRdW-8V27fx-57b5kF-2W8SrN-goryZQ-bUtxCm-bTZGUp-bTZF7v

    See other windows in All Saints Church, North Street, York with descriptions and panoramic views on the church's website:

  • Current Location: York, All Saints Church, North Street, east window
  • Original Location: York, All Saints Church, North Street, north aisle
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Stained glass windows
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Pot-metal glass; Vitreous paint
  • Donor: Layman and laywoman; Nicholas and Margaret Blackburn, husband and wife in a wealthy merchant family involved in civic government and support of the Church.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription: Recorded in 1691 from Margaret Blackburn senior's book: "D(omin)es salue mea peccatis| aperies et os meum" (Oh Lord, save me from sins|and open my mouth). At some point the wording was changed to the more familiar "D(omin)e labia mea aperies et os meu(m)" (You, oh Lord, will open my lips and my mouth).
    Recorded in 1691 from the younger Margaret Blackburn's book: "d(omin)e in furore tuo judicas me| neqz in ira tua" (O Lord, rebuke me not in thine indignation; neither [chasten me] in thy displeasure).

    From the Virgin Mary's book: "D(omi)ne exaudi or(ati)onem mea(m) aurib(us) p(er)cipe ob(secrationem meam) (Lord, hear my prayer, with your ears receive my petition).

    Inscription at the bottom of the donors' panel for Nicholas senior and Margaret: "Orate pro a(n)i(m)abus Nich(ola)i Blakeburne senioris quo(n)dam maioris civitatis Ebor. et Margare[te] uxoris eius." (Pray for the souls of Nicholas Blackburn senior, once mayor of the city of York, and Margaret, his wife.)
    Inscription on a scroll above Nicholas Blackburn's head: "De(t) venie munus nobis rex trinus et unus" (May the king, three and one, grant us the gift of pardon).

  • Related Resources: Clanchy , Michael. "Did Mothers Teach their Children to Read?" Motherhood, Religion, and Society in Medieval Europe, 400-1400: Essays Presented to Henrietta Leyser. Edited by Conrad Leyser and Lesley Smith. Ashgate, 2011. Pages 129 – 153;
    Cullum, Patricia and Jeremy Goldberg. "How Margaret Blackburn Taught Her Daughters: Reading Devotional Instruction in a Book of Hours." Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain. Essays for Felicity Riddy. Edited by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Rosalynn Voaden, Arlyn Diamond, Ann Hutchison, Carol M. Meale, and Lesley Johnson. Brepols, 2000. Pages 217-236;
    Gee, E. A. "The Painted Glass of All Saints' Church, North Street, York." Archaeologia or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity 102 (1969): 151-202;
    Mcdonald, Nicola. "A York Primer and its Alphabet: Reading Women in a Lay Household." Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English. Edited by Elaine Treharne and Greg Walker, with the assistance of William Green. Oxford University Press, 2010. Pages 181-199;

October 2015

  • Title: Cantiga 105 How the wicked bridegroom planned to do something and committed a shameful deed
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Cantiga 105, titled "How the wicked bridegroom planned to do something and committed a shameful deed," tells the story of a girl who promises the Virgin Mary that she herself will remain a virgin. In exchange, the Virgin pledges that the girl will go to heaven. The girl agrees and vows never to marry. Later, her father informs her of a marriage he has arranged to a wealthy man from Auvergne. Initially, the girl refuses, telling her father of the promise she made the Virgin. Her parents were unrelenting, forcing her to marry. On their wedding night, the Virgin Mary interferes in order to prevent the couple from having sex. The Virgin's interference lasts for a year. The husband is angry that his wife would not have sex with him. While four people hold the wife's arms and legs, the husband uses a knife to cut her vagina leaving a severe wound. She went to the bishop, Boniface, to tell him what her husband had done. The bishop expresses his condolences to the woman, but, fearing conflict, sends her back home to her husband. The husband spontaneously catches on fire. Unfortunately, the fire spreads to other citizens. The injured citizens come to the church asking to be healed. Even the wronged wife sustained an injury on her breast from the fire. In the church, the wife and the citizens pray to the Virgin. The wife challenges the Virgin when she says the Virgin did not fulfill her promise. The Virgin did not protect her from her husband or the fire. The Virgin appears in the church bringing cures for fire and leprosy to the citizens. The Virgin tells the woman to kiss the altar to be healed. The injured citizens give the woman broth and green grape juice. The woman kisses the sick, and they are all healed.

    Representations of chaste marriage are found throughout medieval art and literature. One such celebrated couple was Dauphine and Elzear in the south of France. Dauphine wanted to remain a virgin during their marriage and responded to Elzear's protests by addressing the concern of producing an heir, "Because of this—the uncertainty of heirs and deceiving and treacherous riches, which are the cause of death and eternal damnation—it is not safe to put oneself in peril." The virginity of many of these wives is framed as the pinnacle of their connection with God. The motif is also often introduced by the woman's vow made to God during childhood. In this Cantiga, the married woman keeps the promise she made to the Virgin as a girl.

    Remaining a virgin during marriage tends to be associated with higher social status, including members of royal families and the nobility, which casts the upper class in an exemplary fashion. The communal support of the woman's virginity creates a moral stance in the Cantiga, which when coupled with representations of class, elevates the moral code of the wealthy. Communal support in Cantiga 105 is apparent in the final scene of healing where the citizens show support for the woman and her virginity. The citizens are burned by the fire caused by the husband's actions, as if protecting the woman's virginity is a communal sacrifice. The Cantiga portrays the woman's virginity as sacred with divine and communal protection, while the husband's desire is deemed wicked and hazardous for the community.

    Alfonso X, king of Castile-León, was known as the Learned and commissioned a wealth of literary works including the Cantigas. These stories of Marian miracles were composed in Galician Portuguese, the literary language of the era. Alfonso commissioned music and illustrations to accompany the poems, some of which he wrote himself. There is further personal material including Cantiga 235 in which the Virgin cures the king of a serious illness. This particular manuscript version is known as the códice rico for its numerous and detailed illustrations.

  • Source: Reproduced from the Edicón facsímil del Códice T.I.1 de la Biblioteca de San Lorenzo el Real de El Escorial, Siglo XIII. Edilán, 1979. Made available open access by the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Alfonso X, el Sabio, King of Castile- Cantigas de Santa Maria Chastity Crime and Criminals Husbands Mary, Virgin, Saint Sexuality Violence Virginity Wife Abuse Wives
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 13
  • Date: 1280- 1284
  • Related Work: Additional Cantigas involving sexual violence:
    15. The chaste empress and second page.(On two occasions the Virgin rescues the empress from rape.)
    26. A man made an annual pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (The devil induces the man to castrate himself and cut his own throat.)
    317. The squire who assaulted a girl (The squire tries to rape a girl who seeks protection from the Virgin in a church.)
  • Current Location: Madrid, Escorial Museum, MS B.i.2, fols. 151v-152r
  • Original Location: Iberia
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor: Layman; Alfonso X, King of Castile
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 33.8/50.2 [size of page]/
  • Inscription:

    "Como Santa Maria pareceu a u~a meni~a no orto e lli fez jurar castidade." [How Mary appeared to a girl in the garden and made her swear chastity.]
    "Como o pa..." [caption incomplete] [How her...]
    "Como o padr' e a madre a fezeron casar mui sen seu grado." [How her father and mother made her marry against her will.]
    "Como a deitaron con o seu novio e Santa Maria non quis que passas[s]' a ela." [How they made her lie down with her bridegroom but Mary would not allow him to possess her.]
    "Como o novio astroso cuidou fazer algo e fezo nemiga." [How the wicked bridegroom plotted and committed a very shameful deed.]
    "Como ela queixou ao bispo do mal que lli fezera seu esposo." [How she complained to the bishop of the harm her husband had done to her.]
    "Como o bispo a comendou a seu esposo a que o fogo salva queimou todo." [How the bishop sent her back to her husband, who was attacked by St Martial's fire.]
    "Como os daquela cidad[e] ardian daquel fogo e se fazian levar aa igreja." [How the people of that city were all afflicted with that disease and had themselves taken to the church.]
    "Como caeu fogo na teta daquela a que o marido fora chagar."[How the disease attacked the breast of that girl whose husband had wounded her.]
    "Como Santa Maria ll' apareceu e lli disse que se fosse deitar ant' o seu altar." [How Mary appeared to her and told her to lie down in front of the altar.]
    "Como se deitou ant' o altar e dormeceu e Santa Maria a sãou logo." [How she lay down in front of the altar and went to sleep and Mary cured her at once.]
    "Como se levantou sãa e todos aqueles enfermos que beijava sãavan logo."[How she got up well and all those sick people whom she kissed were cured at once.]

    Captions and English translations come from the Oxford Cantigas de Santa Maria Database: http://csm.mml.ox.ac.uk/index.php?narOption=all&p=poemdata_view&rec=105.

  • Related Resources: Keller, John E. and Cash, Annette Grant. "Love, Lust, and Marriage." In Daily Life Depicted in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. University Press of Kentucky, 1998. Pages 34-37;
    McCormick, Anne Catherine. "Revealing Tales: Sex, Violence, and Gender in the Marian Miracle Collections of Gautier de Coinci, Gonzalo Breceo, and Alfonso X, el Sabio." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1996;
    Montero, Ana Isabel. "Visions of the Lewd: The Latent Presence of the Cantigas de escarnio in the Miniatures of the Cantigas de Santa Maria", Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 45, 1 (2011): 107-131;
    Morente Parra, Maribel. "La imagen de la lepra en las Cantigas de Santa María de Alfonso X El Sabio." Anales de Historia del Arte 17 (2007): 25-45;
    Scarborough, Connie. L. Women in Thirteenth-Century Spain as Portrayed in Alfonso X's Cantigas de Santa Maria. Edwin Meller Press, 1993;
  • September 2015

    • Title: Crowned bust of a woman
    • Creator: Nicola [or Niccolò] di Bartolomeo da Foggia, sculptor (attributed)
    • Description:

      This life-size crowned bust comes from Ravello, a town situated on the Amalfi Coast. Ravello possessed a cosmopolitan nobility and several influential merchant families that were closely aligned to the Normans, Byzantines, Hohenstaufens, Angevins, and Aragonese. These connections may have had an influence on the design of this statue as it possesses a classical appearance, with a low brow surrounded by drilled rolls of hair, deeply carved features, and slightly parted lips revealing teeth.

      The style of her hair, dress, and jewelry is connected to several royal traditions. Although her braids in the back were rendered in a style common for medieval women, the front of her hair is unique; it reaches down onto the brow, forming a twisted band with diagonally drilled streaks in the manner of a Roman or Byzantine matron. This connection to Roman and Byzantine noble women is increased by her earrings; Christine Verzar cites Ronald Lightbown who proposes that jewelry like this came from Angevin Naples, whose artisans had appropriated Byzantine and Islamic designs into its jewelry designs. The richly trimmed border of the dress is also Italian, and it can be compared to contemporary as well as earlier royal garments.

      The identity of the female subject of this bust has been a topic of debate among scholars for the past two hundred years. Many uncertainties stem from the fact that the work's original location is unknown. Although it was probably conceived as a separate bust, this sculpture was located in the cathedral of Ravello on the back rim of the pulpit above the entrance door from the Aragonese period during the sixteenth century to the 1970s.

      Given the bust's naturalism and contemporary style of dress and jewelry, the piece is thought by some to be Sigilgaita of Rufolo, wife of Nicola of Rufolo, treasurer and banker for Charles of Anjou (r. 1265-85). This identification has been based in part on the lengthy Latin inscription on the pulpit where it was installed. The inscription gives the date, 1272, and the names of the patrons, Nicola and Sigilgaita of Rufolo.

      However, its richly bejeweled appearance and strictly frontal posture suggests that this sculpture may actually be an allegorical representation of Mater Ecclesia. Christine Verzar argues that this bust resembles Mater Ecclesia as she appears in southern Italian Exultet rolls. Therefore, this sculpture, as a personification of the Church, would have been intended for a niche on the top of the cathedral portal. It is possible to identify some features typical of French royal design in the crown; the upper portion with its interwoven leaves closely resembles the crown worn by the thirteenth-century Ecclesia on the north transept portal of the Strasbourg Cathedral.

      Thirdly, it is possible that this sculpture represents a personification of the town of Ravello. Traditionally, Romans and Byzantines used crowned female statues in the form of the goddess Tyche or Fortuna to embody a city's prosperity or destiny. If this identification is correct, then the sculpture would likely have been placed on the town gate.

    • Source: Flickr
    • Rights: Reproduced with the permission of the photographer, Julianna Lees.
    • Subject (See Also): Amalfi Coast Byzantium Crowns Jewelry Mater Ecclesia Portraits Sigilgaita, Wife of Nicola Rufolo Tyche, Figure Personifying a City's Prosperity
    • Geographic Area: Italy
    • Century: 13
    • Date: 1272
    • Related Work: Compare this bust with Crowned head of a woman (circa 1270, Southern Italy) now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/468216 For a similar treatment of the crown, see the statue of Ecclesia from the cathedral of Strasbourg: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-t9sWi4gbSBQ/UQ_ZLkplhVI/AAAAAAAAANU/zmKKIDOKcQk/s1600/Presentation1.jpg
    • Current Location: Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, Collocazione Museo del Duomo, Ravello
    • Original Location: South Italy, Campania, Ravello
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Marble with traces of polychromy
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 47.5/34.5/
    • Inscription: The pulpit in the Ravello Cathedral carries this inscription: "ego magister nicolaus de bartholomeo de fogia marmorarius hoc opus feci." (I, Master Nicola, son of Bartolomeo of Foggia, a marble sculptor made this work.)
    • Related Resources: Caskey, Jill. Art and Patronage in the Medieval Mediterranean: Merchant Culture in the Region of Amalfi. Cambridge, 2004. Pp. 177-83;
      Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Lisbeth, and Jack Soultanian. "Head of a Woman." In Italian Medieval Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010. Pp. 142-146;
      Kalavrezou, Ioli, and Angeliki E. Laiou. Byzantine Women and Their World. Harvard University Art Museums, 2003. Pp. 35-37;
      Moskowitz, Anita Fiderer. Italian Gothic Sculpture C. 1250-1400. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. 15-18;
      Verzar, Christine. "Crowned Bust of a Woman." In Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture, edited by Charles T. Little. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. Pp. 159-162;

    May 2015

    • Title: Sermon of John of Capistrano at Bamberg's cathedral square
    • Creator: Bopp, Sebald, painter (attributed)
    • Description:

      John of Capistrano (1386-1456, canonized in 1690) was a Franciscan who had a widespread reputation for preaching. He was known to draw crowds, bring about miracles, and convert sinners. He was invited by rulers and high Church officials to give sermons in different regions including his tour north of the Alps from 1451 to 1456. He began by preaching in churches and then gave further sermons in city squares or cemeteries to accommodate the crowds. As a representative of the Franciscan Observant movement and the papacy, John had to counter disbelief and criticism among his listeners. One argument was his ascetic appearance. The author Hartmann Schedel described John as he made his ceremonial entrance into a new city: "We saw him in Nuremberg as [a man]of very small stature, of old age, in his sixty-fifth year of life, dry, arid, exhausted, nothing but skin, nerves, and bones, but cheerful and vigorously active." John also used exaggerated gestures and exclamations as well as material objects, including a human skull and a trigram (a sign with the initials IHS referring to the holy name of Jesus), to convey his passionate exhortations. In German cities he preached in Latin and had local clerics as translators.

      The panel painting commemorates the moment in Bamberg between May 15 and 20, 1452 when John preached on the city square. His listeners, women in one line and men in another, come to commit their vices to the flames. These bonfires of vanities were a feature of the practice of Italian charismatic preachers in the fifteenth century. Here the richly dressed woman at the front of the line has pulled off her headdress and is adding it to the flames which already consume high-heeled shoes, false hair, decorated pins, dice, a game board and tokens, and playing cards. The young man opposite has his hat ready for the fire as well. Some of the gaming items may have belonged to women as records for John's preaching in Vienna in 1451 note the queen as the first to consign her gaming table and headdress to the flames. Nicholas of Fara, one of Capistrano's near contemporary biographers, records a miraculous punishment in Regensburg. A "lascivious woman" and a "licentious priest" were opposed to the friar's preaching against ornaments and games of chance because they saw them as "the consolation of life and the whetstone of intellect." Both died suddenly that night and caused many more people to repent of their vices.

      In the left corner of the picture, two young men (one wearing a sword) lead an older man (marked by a pointed "Jew's cap") toward the penitent crowd. John addressed Jews in his sermons while in Germany and Austria, warning against usury, discouraging Christian-Jewish contact, and calling for all Jews to convert. There is evidence that Jews were compelled to attend his sermons in Vienna and Nuremberg where they served as evidence of the prophecies of Christ's coming.

      The painter to whom the panel is usually attributed, Sebald Bopp (or Popp), was a native of Bamberg and was relatively early in his career when he received the commission for the Capistrano panel. After 1480 Bopp was in Nuremberg and became a citizen of Nördlingen in 1485. His work is notable for the originality of his portraits and for the development of an East Franconian style in contrast to Netherlandish painting.

    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Bonfires of Vanities Headdresses John of Capistrano Franciscan Preacher Penance Preaching Sermons Vices
    • Geographic Area: Germany
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1470- 1475
    • Related Work: Closeup of the objects in the bonfire: http://tarvos.imareal.oeaw.ac.at/server/images/7006287.JPG. Sebald Bopp's Portrait of a Lady Wearing the Order of the Swan: http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/zoom_obra/812.
    • Current Location: Bamberg, Germany, Historisches Museum
    • Original Location: Bamberg, Germany
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oil on wood panel
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 152/73/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Andric, Stanko. The Miracles of St. John Capistran. Central European University Press, 2000. Pages 198-203;
      Gecser, Otto Sandor. "Preaching and Publicness: St. John of Capestrano and the Making of His Charisma North of the Alps." IN Charisma and Religious Authority: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Preaching, 1200-1500. Edited by Katherine L. Jansen and Miri Rubin. Brepols, 2010. Pages 145-159;
      Izbicki, Thomas. "Pyres of Vanities: Mendicant Preaching on the Vanity of Women and Its Lay Audience." IN De Ore Domini: Preacher and Word in the Middle Ages. Edited by Thomas Leslie Amos, Eugene Green, and Beverly Mayne Kienzle. Medieval Institute Publications, 1989. Pages 211 – 234;
      Loewen, Peter V. "Mary Magdalene Converts Her Vanities through Song: Signs of Franciscan Spirituality and Preaching in Late-Medieval German Drama." IN Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles. Edited by Peter V. Loewen and Robin Waugh. Routledge, 2014. Pages 181-207.

    April 2015

    • Title: Pendant with Aphrodite Anadyomene
    • Creator:
    • Description:

      Despite the Byzantine Empire's conversion to Christianity, the visual language of the classical world – its gods,heroes, and myths – was still used metaphorically to represent secular subject matter during the early Byzantine period.

      Standing in a shell-shaped pendant, Aphrodite Anadyomene – "rising from the sea" - wrings water from her hair. Her gesture, the "shell", and the dark blue color all refer to the myth of the birth of the goddess from the ocean's depths. Aphrodite tilts her head coquettishly, and her stance displays her ideal body. Although drapery covers her left leg, the right one advances in such a way that it appears naked. This posturing causes her body to be read as a series of sensual curves. The pendant also features Aphrodite wearing a necklace and pendant, thereby forming a parallel between Aphrodite and the wearer.

      The magical properties of this image may have added to its allure. Amulets and charms, both expensive and cheap, had been worn for centuries as an effective means of personal protection or for controlling the actions and emotions of others. This pendant may have been used either as an amulet against malicious spirits or as a charm for granting an erotic wish. However, the existence of a number of Coptic charms and amulets featuring the same motif, some of which include inscriptions asking Aphrodite to help attract the attention of a lover, imply that this pendant was designed to celebrate the goddess's sexuality and, by extension, the sexuality of the female wearer.

      Although Aphrodite may seem like an inappropriate figure to represent on an object in Christian society, she had a place within the realm of medieval Christian marriage. A couple's consummation was essential to the legality and the functioning (i.e. procreation) of both pagan and Christian marriages. Furthermore, both ancient and medieval physiological treatises defined pleasure in intercouse as essential for conception. Therefore, Aphrodite's erotic naked form and unbound hair should be understood as acceptable within a Christian framework as they encouraged the act of consummation and the sexual desire between partners that were necessary for the conception of a child.

    • Source: Dumbarton Oaks Collection,Washington, D.C.
    • Rights: Reproduced with the permission of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
    • Subject (See Also): Amulets Byzantium Jewelry Pagan Influences Sexuality Venus (Mythological Figure)
    • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
    • Century: 7
    • Date: Early 7th century
    • Related Work: For other art from this period with a pagan motif, see this dish with Silenus and a maenad: http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/newsletter/spring_2006/p14byzantium.shtml
    • Current Location: Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks Collection, BZ.1928.6
    • Original Location:
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Metalwork; Jewelry;
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Gold; Lapis Lazuli; Pearls;
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 43.2/20.3/1.9
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Evans, Helen C. with Randie Ratliff. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition 7th-9th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. 193.;
      Kalavrezou, Ioli. Byzantine Women and Their World. Harvard University Art Museums, 2003. 16-18.;
      Long, Jane C. "The Survival and Reception of the Classical Nude: Venus in the Middle Ages." in The Meanings of Nudity in Medieval Art edited by Sherry C.M. Lindquist. Ashgate, 2012. 47-64.;
      Zwirn, S. "Necklace with Pendant of Aphrodite Anadyomene." Dumbarton Oaks: Research Library and Collection. January 1, 2012. http://museum.doaks.org/Obj27003?sid=3307&x=261588&port=2607 .

    March 2015

    • Title: The Exorcism of Princess Eudoxia before the tomb of St. Stephen
    • Creator: Possibly James II Vergos
    • Description:

      This panel presents a posthumous miracle performed by St Stephen the protomartyr. The Byzantine princess Eudoxia, accompanied by her parents, the Emperor Theodosius II and Empress Eudoxia, has gone on pilgrimage to the saint's tomb in Rome. The black demon emerging from her mouth is a sign that Eudoxia has been cured of demonic possession through the saint's intervention as are the chains which fall from her wrists to the floor. Next to her stands a disabled man who also hopes to benefit from the saint's healing power. The man is identified as a pilgrim by the cockle shells of St James and the keys of St Peter sewn on his clothing and hat as well as the pilgrim scrip on his shoulder. The body of St Stephen lies atop his tomb, and his status as a martyr is underlined by the palm he holds and the rock near his head that recalls his stoning. Above his tomb ex voto offerings hang including busts, legs, and ships, all testifying to the saint's power to heal and to rescue.

      Eudoxia and her parents are dressed in richly colored and decorated clothing. The princess wears a velvet headdress and a fine, see-through veil. Her dress is decorated with large and elaborate pomegranate flower motifs. The emperor wears a bright red dalmatic lined with ermine. The tunic underneath is made from a gold fabric and has sleeves trimmed in fine leather. A large, azure colored belt stands out against his red dalmatic. The empress has a tall headdress combined with a crown. The details of her green gown are picked out in stucco to give a great richness to the design.

      This work is part of a thirteen-part altarpiece that was made for the Church of Sant Esteve de Granollers, located in the Spanish city of Granollers near Barcelona. The nine major panels were likely done by the Vergós workshop, a Catalan group of artists known for their Hispano-Flemish style. The four smaller panels are attributed to Joan Gascó.

    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Eudoxia, Byzantine Princess Hagiography Miracles Pilgrimage Stephen, Protomartyr
    • Geographic Area: Iberia
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1495- 1500
    • Related Work: The Altarpiece of St. Stephen of Granollers : http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Vergos-estructura-SantEsteveGranollers.svg/1000px-Vergos-estructura-SantEsteveGranollers.svg.png
    • Current Location: Spain, Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, 024146-000
    • Original Location: Spain, Granollers, Church of Sant Esteve de Granollers
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Painting
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tempera; Stucco reliefs; Gold leaf on wood; Altarpiece panel;
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 195/116.5/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Garriga, Joaquim, "L'antic retaule major de sant Esteve de Granollers, dels Vergós". Lauro. Museu de Granollers [Granollers], no. 15 (1998):15-35, http://www.raco.cat/index.php/Lauro/article/viewFile/48293/51325;
      Malé, Gemma, "Vergos II, Jaume," Magistri Cataloniae, http://www.magistricataloniae.org/en/indexmceng/codumentedart/item/vergos-ii-jaume.html;
      Prat, Núria, "La suntuosidad de la 'moda' y el brillo de los colores del gótico I," Blog from the Museu Nacional d' Art de Catalunya February 19, 2015, http://blog.museunacional.cat/es/suntuosidad-de-la-moda-y-brillo-colores-del-gotico-i/

    February 2015

    • Title: Count Hugh I of Vaudemont embraces Aigeline of Burgundy
    • Creator:
    • Description:

      This sculpture was originally located in the priory of Belval in Lorraine, a priory constructed and patronized by the Vaudemont family. Therefore, scholars have generally concluded that this standing couple is a representation of one of the Vaudemont counts and his wife; the most-current and strongest argument is that it depicts Hugh I and Aigeline of Burgundy. Hugh was a crusader who accompanied King Louis VII of France during the Second Crusade, however in this sculpture, he is dressed as a pilgrim. When not wearing armor, crusaders were encouraged to wear pilgrim garb, thereby explaining Hugh's costume. This sculpture captures the moment of his return from campaigning and reunion with Aigeline. An alternative argument was offered by Norbert Müller-Dietrich suggesting that both figures were pilgrims, likely to Belval, a prominent pilgrimage sanctuary in the twelfth century.

      Hugh wears a pilgrim's cap, a cross reflecting his journey to the Holy Land, and a pilgrim's purse, which hangs beneath his surcoat. His shoes are worn out, and rags are bound around his legs. He holds a pilgrim's staff in one hand, and uses the other to embrace his wife, thus displaying his loyalty to her. Aigeline is shown in a three-quarter pose with her right shoulder set beneath her husband's shoulder. Such body positioning indicates her submission to his protection and authority. Aigeline's right arm embraces his neck while her left palm rests on his chest underneath the cross, as if to indicate the location of his heart. This gesture reflects her acknowledgement of his charity and humility. She wears a long tunic and surcoat, and her head is wrapped in a kerchief, all of which symbolize her modesty. The depictions of Hugh as a solemn crusader and nobleman and of Aigeline as a personification of fidelity and humility imply that this sculpture depicts the count and countess of Vaudemont not only as benefactors, but also as models of ideal Christian virtue.

      In the treatment of their bodies and drapery, the Belval couple references the monumental sculpture of saints and queens at St. Denis and Chartres Cathedral. However, Hugh and Aigeline's embrace and facial expressions do not conform to the abstract and reserved canonic norms of early Gothic art in the royal domain. Their grasp on each other is close and intimate, recalling regional Gallo-Roman tombstones that depict deceased couples holding each other's arms. However, their embrace displays a higher level of emotionalism than the tombstones. This observation leads Nurith Kenaan-Kedar and Benjamin Z. Kedar to propose that the sculpture's composition draws on the tradition of medieval marginal sculpture, unofficial decorative programs on ecclesiastical monuments which often featured pairs of lovers in close embrace. Nurith Kenaan-Kedar and Benjamin Z. Kedar also suggest that the size, location, and close relationship possessed by the Belval couple may point to Aigeline of Burgundy as the patron of this sculpture.

    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public domain
    • Subject (See Also): Crusades Husbands Patronage, Artistic Pilgrimage Wives
    • Geographic Area: France
    • Century: 12
    • Date: Early 12th century
    • Related Work:
    • Current Location: Musee Historique Lorrain, Nancy, France
    • Original Location: Priory of Belval, Portieux, France
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculpture
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Limestone
    • Donor: Laywoman (?); Possibly commissioned by Aigeline of Burgundy
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 105 /34/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, and Kedar, Benjamin Z. "The Significance of a Twelfth-Century Sculptural Group: Le Retour Du Croise." In Dei Gesta per Francos, edited by Michel Balard. Ashgate, 2001. Pages 29-44;
      Labande-Mailfert, Yvone. "L'Iconographie des laïcs dans la societé religieuse aux XIe et XIIe siècles." In I laici nella "Societas christiana" dei secoli XI e XII. Vita e pensiero, 1968. Page 513;
      Morris, Colin. "Picturing the Crusades: The Uses of Visual Propaganda, c. 1095-1250." In The Crusades and Their Sources: Essays Presented to Bernard Hamilton. Ashgate, 1998. Pages 200-201.

    January 2015

    • Title: Luxuria
    • Creator: Pisanello (Antonio di Puccio Pisano), painter
    • Description:

      Although this drawing is titled Luxuria, the woman featured in the image is not an allegory of luxury but rather of lust . Her body is gaunt and muscular; her hip bone is angular and prominent, she is not buxom; her arms, stomach, and legs are taut; her hair is a halo of tight curls. She reclines on a thick cloak of hair and a hare sniffs around her feet. None of these features conform to either Gothic or Renaissance ideals of beauty. Therefore, it is highly possible that Pisanello drew this model from life.

      Jill Burke has proposed that Luxuria is the image of an African slave girl brought to Italy. African slave girls were seen as sexually available to their masters, and this may be one reason for the title of the work. She declares that naked African people and animality were connected in the Italian Renaissance mind. The animality of Luxuria is stressed by the hare at her feet, as well as the fur cloak underneath her. She is presented like an exotic cheetah, laid out for the curiosity of a courtly audience that would have been especially interested at that time in a visual exploration of the boundaries of the human.

      It has been proposed by Catherine Kovesi that this image of Luxuria represents a profane type of Aphrodite. Greek Aphrodite was the goddess of love and fertility, and she possessed two genealogies. The first, in Homer's Iliad (V. 363), states that she is the child of Zeus and the sea nymph Dione. In this case, she represents profane love and is called Aphrodite Pandemos.

      The second story about her birth is elaborated upon by Hesiod in the Theogony (II. 176-206). According to this work, Aphrodite was born from the blood of a castrated Uranus (god of the heavens) that dripped into the sea, and she personifies divine love. Often times, this type of Aphrodite is depicted on a scallop shell with dolphins; her shell or chariot is drawn by swans or doves; Cupid hovers nearby; she often wears a magical girdle which gives her the ability to conjure feelings of love in others.

      However, Pisanello's Luxuria does not possess any of these attributes typically attributed to divine Aphrodite, nor is she represented in her traditional pose. Before the sixteenth-century, Aphrodite was most commonly depicted in an attempt to hide her nakedness, her arms covering her breasts and pubic area in a show of modesty.

      Pisanello's Luxuria does not express any such modesty. Rather, she is stretched out in an uncomfortable pose and calmly displays her anatomy. Quite unlike the Aphrodite who attempts to cover her genitals, Luxuria raises her upper leg so both legs are parted. Her body is clearly suggestive of sex, but not fertility or health, images of which abound in paintings that depict the quality of life under the influence of divine Aphrodite.

      Kovesi also argues that Pisanello's depiction of lust is ambivalently gendered and on the verge of hermaphroditic metamorphosis. One of the details that supports this proposal is the hare located at Luxuria's feet. Pliny and Archelaus state that the hare is hermaphroditic, and Aelian elaborates upon this point. In On Animals, he claims that the male hare is capable of bearing fetuses, and that it possesses the sexual characteristics of both males and females. The hare at the feet of Luxuria suggests an unsettling metamorphosis of this female figure and calls her gender into question.

      The hairy cloak on which Luxuria lies is another feature that implies the ambivalence of her gender. Her cloak is probably made of goat hair, a claim that is supported by images of Voluptas riding goats, goats pulling the chariot of Cupid, and the account of a Greek traveller who recorded having seen a statue of Aphrodite Pendemos riding a he-goat. The association of Luxuria with goats is important for the sake of Kovesi's argument, as the goat's horn is used as a phallic symbol to represent the cornucopia; both male and female goats have horns; goat hair links Luxuria with Aphrodite Pandemos and Voluptas, but also Dionysius, the goat-god and father of both Cupid and the well-endowed Priapus. All of these associations suggest that Pisanello's Luxuria is neither male, nor female, but both simultaneously.

    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public domain
    • Subject (See Also): African Women Gender Goat, Image of Hair Hare, Image of Hermaphrodites Lust Luxuria Nude Phallus Sexuality Venus (Mythological Figure)
    • Geographic Area: Italy
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1425- 1439
    • Related Work:
    • Current Location: Vienna, Albertina Museum, Graphische Sammlung, 24018r
    • Original Location: Northern Italy
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Drawings;
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Pen; Brown ink;
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 129/152/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Bull, Malcolm. The Mirror of the Gods. Oxford University Press, 2005. Pgs. 188-189;
      Burke, Jill. "Nakedness and Other Peoples: Rethinking the Italian Renaissance Nude." Art History, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2013): 715-739;
      Kovesi, Catherine. "Engendering Lust in Early-Modern Italy: Pisanello's Luxuria." in Practices of Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe edited by Megan Cassidy-Welch and Peter Sherlock. Brepols, 2008. Pgs. 137-150;
      Migiel, Marilyn. "The Dignity of Man: A Feminist Prespective." in Re-Figuring Woman: Perspectives on Gender and the Italian Renaissance edited by Marilyn Migiel and Juliana Schiesari. Cornell University Press, 1991. Pgs. 211-232.

    December 2014

    • Title: Theodora episcopa, Praxedes, the Virgin Mary, and Pudentiana
    • Creator:
    • Description:

      The church of Santa Prassede dates from the reign of Pope Paschal I (817-824 CE). This mosaic is located in the north lunette of the St. Zeno Chapel, which contained the sarcophagus of Theodora, Paschal's mother. In the mosaic, depictions of four women gaze outwards, as if from the gallery of a palace chapel. On the left, in the space typically reserved for the patron, the head of a veiled woman is surrounded by a rectangular nimbus bordered in white. An inscription in the gold ground in the top left identifies her as THEODO(RA) EPISCOPA. Three figures are located to her right: the haloed Virgin Mary who wears a blue maphorion (woman's enveloping veil) and two gaudily costumed saint-attendants, the sisters Praxedes and Pudentiana.

      Theodora's title and nimbus are unique for multiple reasons. By definition, episcope means the counseling, instructing, and ordering of the church's internal life, or overseeing the distribution of charity. Typically, these jobs were performed by male presbyter-bishops. Therefore, for Theodora to be episcopa implies that she engaged in the same duties as these men. She may have acquired her title in the course of overseeing the papal household at the Lateran Palace. Her white veil suggests an ecclesial, but not necessarily an abbatial status. Also, she and Paschal are depicted wearing the same nimbus. This type of nimbus was a convention used for important living personages and served to distinguish notable contemporary persons from saints. It is unique for a woman in the medieval West to be depicted wearing this nimbus. Therefore, its incorporation as part of her image must have been a deliberate decision.

      The wall on which this mosaic is located has many registers, and Mary M. Schaefer argues that it was meant to be read from the bottom up. The gaze of the medieval viewer would have moved from Theodora's sarcophagus, to the four frontal female busts, mothers alternating with virgins, to the deer which are symbols of thirsty souls drinking water from the living stream that is Christ, and finally to the eschatological realm of the three female saints, Agnes, Praxedes, and Pudentiana. All together, the mosaics express hope for Theodora's life after death and bodily resurrection from the sarcophagus where her corpse will eventually lie.

      Although the figure of Mary is slightly taller than the others and her red-bordered halo is slightly larger, a sense of equality is extended to the women disciples of the Lord. Thus, Mary is bound to her virginal companions and, the matron Theodora is bound to Mary the mother. The sense of parallelism between Mary and Christ and Theodora and Paschal is further emphasized in the entrance façade to the Zeno Chapel. On this façade, two male figures flank Mary and Christ; the tonsured elder on the right is probably Zeno the presbyter, and the youthful figure on the left wearing a yellow dalmatic is believed to be a deacon. As the mother of Christ, Mary is essentially an episcopa and oversees the actions of these men. Similarly, Theodora as the mother of Paschal performs the same function. Thus, these two women, as mothers of important Church figures, are further linked by their shared episcopal duties.

    • Source: flickr
    • Rights: Photograph by Nick Thompson
    • Subject (See Also): Hagiography Mary, Virgin, Saint Nimbus, Square Paschal I, Pope Patronage, Ecclesiastical Praxedes, Saint Pudentiana, Saint Theodora Episcopa Women in Religion
    • Geographic Area: Italy
    • Century: 9
    • Date: 817- 824
    • Related Work: Entrance Façade of St. Zeno Chapel: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2c/Santa_prassede%2C_cappella_di_san_zenone.JPG; Detail of Paschal I: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Pope_Paschalis_I._in_apsis_mosaic_of_Santa_Prassede_in_Rome.gif;
    • Current Location: St. Zeno Chapel, Santa Prassede, Rome
    • Original Location: St. Zeno Chapel, Santa Prassede, Rome
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Mosaics
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Glass tesserae
    • Donor: Male religious; Pope Paschal I
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 360/350/
    • Inscription: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic
    • Related Resources: Mackie, Gillian. "The Zeno Chapel: A Prayer for Salvation." Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 57. (1989). Pgs. 72-199.;
      Osborne, John. "The Portrait of Pope Leo IV in San Clemente, Rome: A Re-Examination of the So-Called 'Square' Nimbus, in Medieval Art." Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 47. (1979). Pgs. 58-65.;
      Schaefer, Mary M. Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. New York: Oxford University Press (2013). Pgs. 95-110.;

    November 2014

    • Title: Apostle John on the breast of Christ
    • Creator: Heinrich von Konstanz
    • Description:

      This image of Christ and St. John the Evangelist was a popular subject of German sculpture in the late medieval period. The carving, which is based on the Gospel text of the Last Supper, captures the touching physical tenderness between an older, contemplative Christ and "the beloved disciple" who is wrapped in his arms. John looks young and androgynous, and he rests his hand trustingly in his lord's and his head upon Jesus's breast as he sleeps. The gospel of John is unique in its deeply personal emphasis on love, and many medieval people considered John to be the archetypal lover of Christ in the mystical sense.

      Sculptures of this type often were located in a chapel or over the entrance of nunneries or monasteries. Michael Camille argues that by identifying with St John, the cloistered women could seek more intimate contact with their beloved, Christ, as was traditionally possible in their reading of the Song of Songs, in which they would identify with the bride. The gentle hands of Christ on the shoulder of John provided the nuns with the promise of a loving intimacy within a spiritual union.

      However, nunneries and monasteries were also places where spiritual and carnal love were not always neatly separated. James M. Saslow argues that the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistercian monk, suggest that this image was used to justify the love shared between monks. Aelred wrote, "It is a great consolation in this life to have someone with whom you can rest in the sleep of peace, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity." However because he was aware that such words might imply sexual consequences, he goes on to say, "Lest this sort of sacred love should seem improper, Jesus himself transfigured it" by allowing only John to lean upon his breast.

      It is understandable that Aelred would try to downplay the sexual connotations of his words because there was a great stigma against homosexual desire during the late medieval period. By the late 1100s, sodomy had become very visible, and the dual powers of the church and the state felt compelled to root it out entirely. Thus, a series of heavy-handed reforms were implemented. In 1123, the Church formally demanded the celibacy of all the clergy who had by that time gained a notorious reputation for engaging in sodomy. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 specifically condemned sodomy and decreed excommunication for any member of the clergy or laity found guilty of this "crime against nature." By 1300, a slew of civil laws decreed the death penalty for sodomy.

      However, this pairing of Jesus and John was one of the few Biblical "role models" of male same-sex intimacy that was sanctioned by the authorities. James Smalls suggests that it was iconographically related to another example of male intimacy, the relationship of David and Jonathan. Their relationship was narrated in the Biblical book of Samuel, and in 1 Samuel 18:1 the narrator proclaims that "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David," and that "Jonathan loved him (David) as his own soul." When Jonathan and his father, King Saul, were killed in battle, David lamented: "The beauty of Israel is slain upon the high places; how are the mighty fallen!...I am very distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant has thou been unto me: thy love was wonderful, passing the love of women" (2 Samuel 1: 19-26). David's elegy for Jonathan has been utilized as a religiously sanctioned means of representing same-sex desire.

    • Source: Museum Mayer van den Bergh
    • Rights: Reproduced here by permission of the Museum Mayer van den Bergh.
    • Subject (See Also): Affective Piety Homosexuality Homosociality Jesus Christ John the Apostle
    • Geographic Area: Germany
    • Century: 13
    • Date: 1280- 1290
    • Related Work:
    • Current Location: Antwerp, Museum Mayer van den Bergh
    • Original Location: Antwerp, Belgium
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Walnut; Paint; Gold
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 141/73 / 48/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Camille, Michael. The Medieval Art of Love. London: Laurence King Publishing (1998). Pgs. 122-129;
      Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York: Viking (1999). Pgs. 67-69.;
      Smalls, James. Homosexuality in Art. New York: Parkstone Press (2003). Pgs. 56-59.

    October 2014

    Full painting.

    • Title: A Goldsmith in His Shop
    • Creator: Petrus Christus, painter
    • Description:

      This painting, also referred to as The Portrait of Saint Eligius and Donors, is generally believed to be a genre painting of the goldsmith's trade with such wares on display as brooches, rings and liturgical vessels. A betrothed, aristocratic couple stand together on the left, and they represent the wealthy people who would have sought the services of a goldsmith. However, their features are extremely generalized, which suggests that they are not representations of actual people. The lady gestures with her hand at the scale weighing gold rings that is held by the seated man. This man is sometimes identified as Saint Eligius, a seventh-century goldsmith and bishop of Noyon, who became the patron saint of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, other metal workers, and those in equestrian trades. Traditionally, this painting has been read as an allegorical commentary on the sacred rituals of matrimony. This idea is underlined by the woman's sash on the counter, which was used in betrothal ceremonies and symbolized the couple's hoped for children.

      However, one aspect of this painting that has been largely unexamined in the majority of scholarship is the image of the two falconers reflected in the mirror on the far right side of Saint Eligius's worktable. The mirror serves to expand the space of the painting and shows the street outside the shop. It recalls the convex looking glasses that were used as security devises by shopkeepers. However, the mirror also has a symbolic function. The cracks and water-spots marring its surface suggest that the painter is criticizing the couple reflected in it. Scholars generally accept the idea that the men reflected in the mirror are conceptually linked to the betrothed couple. They agree that these two pairs were designed in opposition and that the men in the mirror represent a negative model for the ideal bridal couple.

      Diane Wolfthal identifies these men as homosexual lovers. Her interpretation hinges on the meaning of the falcon and its use in hunting, which historically has served as a metaphor for pursuits of a sexual nature. Michael Camille suggests that falcons became signs of love through their association with the aristocracy, and because of the way that a falcon was trained, with the handler eventually forging an intimate relationship with the bird, which he treated with great sensitivity and patience much like the ideal lover. Images of the falconer, shown with or without a companion, are often constructed as analogous and interchangeable with depictions of lovers. For example, a fifteenth-century Flemish casket at the British Museum shows two comparable motifs: a falconer and his lady on the left, and a couple embracing on the right. Thus, the image of the two men in the mirror is consistent with other representations of the falcon. Here, the falcon functions to signify the erotic nature of the male couple's relationship, but it does so in a coded way without explicitly depicting their sexuality.

      One work that is particularly relevant to the discussion of the falconer couple in the mirror is Michelangelo's Holy Family. This painting depicts the holy family in the foreground and several smaller nude youths in the background. The youths stand between each other's legs and pull at one another's clothing, which is suggestive of homoerotic activity or sodomy. Thus the nudes represent the sin of sodomy in contradiction to the purity of the holy family. This comparison can be applied to the falconers and the engaged couple in the painting by Petrus. By rendering the falconers as small, marginalized, in the public street, and captured within a cracked and spotted mirror, Christus negatively constructs same-sex desire as something sinful and depicts it as the antithesis of good and holy marriage.

    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Falcons Goldsmiths Homosexuality Marriage Metalwork Mirrors Morality Sodomy Weights and Measures
    • Geographic Area: Low Countries
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1449
    • Related Work: A Goldsmith in His Workshop, Possibly Saint Eligius: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Petrus_Christus_003.jpg ; Talbot Casket : http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=20427&objectid=49139 ; Holy Family: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7c/Michelangelo-_Tondo_Doni_-_tone_corrected.jpg/765px-Michelangelo-_Tondo_Doni_-_tone_corrected.jpg
    • Current Location: New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.110
    • Original Location: Bruges
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood panel; Oil
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width/Length(cm): 98/85.2 /
    • Inscription: m petr[vs] xpi me· ·fecit·ao 1449 (Master Petrus Christus made me in the year 1449). The inscription is followed by the artist's mark,a heart-shaped emblem.
    • Related Resources: Bauman, Guy. Early Flemish Portraits 1425-1526. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Spring 1986. Pgs. 10-11.;
      Camille, Michael. The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire. London: Laurence King Publishing. 1998. Pgs. 78,94-99, 104.;
      Wolfthal, Diane. "Picturing Same-Sex Desire: The Falconer and His Lover in Images by Petrus Christus and the Housebook Master." in Troubled Vision: Gener, Sexuality, and Sightin Medieval Text and Image edited by Campbell, Emma and Robert Mills. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2004. Pgs. 17-46.

    August 2014

    Title: Portrait of a Young Woman
    Creator: Rogier van der Weyden, painter

    With her face slightly turned to the right, the woman's eyes are positioned to the left in a lively effort to direct the audience's gaze toward her face. At the time of the painting, such a gaze could be thought of as provocative. However, the possibly promiscuous gaze is dismissed by her sober clothing and the inclusion of her clasped hands in her lap at the bottom right corner of the painting. She appears in clothing consistent with fashion from the Netherlands. Her gown is pewter with a black accent and is made from what appears to be wool trimmed with a dark fur. The sleeves are large and the bodice is pleated. She wears five gold rings on her hands, two containing jewels and one with a pearl. The pinned, starched headdress and the scarf wrapped around her chin suggest the woman is married. Her clothing indicates an affluent status but not an aristocratic one. The black background sets a serious tone to the painting. The background was originally a dark blue which perhaps was intended for a less solemn effect.

    Rogier van der Weyden painted this portrait early in his career, and art historians see evidence in it of the style of the Master of Flémalle (possibly the younger man's teacher) with his interest in portraying a person's individuality. In his mature work, van der Weyden abandoned the closely observed portrayal that we see here in his treatment of the young woman's hands and rings. The neatly pinned headdress is also rendered in careful detail with attention to its transparency on the forehead and its varying color according to the light. Art historian Albert Châtelet argues that a decoration on the back of the painting is associated with Philip III, known as the Good, duke of Burgundy (1396-1467). Châtelet suggests that the woman portrayed may be one of Philip's numerous mistresses, and given the approximate date of the painting, it could likely be Nicole du Bosquiel (also known as Jeanne, Chastellain de Bosquiel, Damoiselle de Quéry-La-Motte) who gave birth in 1427 to Philip's son, David of Burgundy, later bishop of Utrecht. This possibility is further reinforced by copies in the Recueil d'Arras of portraits of two other ducal mistresses who were connected to Philip in the period from 1425 to 1435.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons
    Rights: Open Access
    Subject (See Also): Concubines Headdresses Jewelry Portraits
    Geographic Area: Low Countries
    Century: 15
    Date: 1428 - 1436
    Related Work: See Philip the Good's two mistresses, Jeanne de Presle and Catherine de Tufferies in the upper row of these images from the Recueil d'Arras. The two figures in the bottom row are some of their children: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/prev002prin01_01/prev002prin01ill190.gif
    Current Location: Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, 545D
    Original Location: Netherlands/Italy
    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings;
    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oak wood panel; Oil paint;
    Height/Width/Length(cm): 49.1/33/
    Related Resources: Châtelet, Albert. Rogier van der Weyden: problèmes de la vie et de l'oeuvre. Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 1999. Pp. 112-114;
    Hollander, Anne. Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. National Gallery, 2002. Pp. 32-33;
    Kemperdick, Stephan and Sander, Jochen. The Master of Flemalle and Rogier van der Weyden. Hatje Cantz. Pg. 277-280.
    Metzger, Catherine A., and Michael Palmer. "The Creative Process in Rogier van der Weyden's Portraits." Invention: Northern Renaissance Studies in Honor of Molly Faries. Edited by Julien Chapuis. Brepols, 2008. Pp. 69-70.

    May 2014

    Title: Temple girls of Maabar offer food to the idol to whom they are consecrated
    Creator: Attributed to Maître de la Mazarine
    Description: This image comes from the Livre des merveilles du monde, a famous anthology about the travels of Marco Polo. The manuscript is concerned with descriptions and representations of the exotic East, and it includes tales of Eastern rulers, strange religious practices, and Christian-pagan military conflicts. It was commissioned for a courtly readership that had a taste for stories featuring marvels and monsters. The illuminator of the manuscript often rendered Eastern customs in familiar Western iconographic terms, in order to bridge the conceptual gap between its European readers and the Asian subject matter.

    In this illumination, a group of unmarried young women from Maabar (Malabar) performs a religious ceremony inside a temple. They are dressed in clothing resembling the garb of Cistercian nuns, and six women are holding hands and dance to honor their goddess. In the Marco Polo text (Book 3, Chapter 17), the young women wear only loin cloths when they dance. Outside of the circle, one woman is slightly hunched, as if she is bowing in reverence, and presents a golden box filled with meat offerings to an effigy of a black, Western Virgin or martyr. This idol holds an unidentifiable book and some large foliage that resembles a palm leaf. Also, unlike most depictions of Western holy figures, she does not have a nimbus surrounding her head. According to Marco Polo’s textual description of Maabar, the native people of that province believed that blackness was the epitome of beauty. For this reason, the images of their deities were represented as black, and they painted the devil and all demons white. From a Western-European perspective, this effigy resembles the Black Madonna, which was a popular iconographic type of the Virgin during the medieval period. Fascination with this image stemmed from notions of darkness being associated with the mysterious, exotic, and demonic. In Western European countries, Black Madonna statues were considered especially magical, wonder-working, and possessed of hermetic knowledge and power. Such a depiction of Eastern women at a religious ceremony would have allowed the Western reader to understand the activities occurring in this image. However, it is uncertain whether the comparisons being made between Western and Eastern religious people, idols, and ceremonies would have reinforced or undermined Western Christian ideas about the East as a civilized culture despite its pagan errors.
    Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France
    Rights: Public Domain
    Subject (See Also): Ceremonies;  Dance;  Devotional Practices;  India;  Marco Polo, Venetian Merchant; Religion-Cross-cultural Approach;  Women in Religion;
    Geographic Area: Asia
    Century: 15
    Date: 1410- 1412
    Related Work: Le Livre des merveilles: see the digitized manuscript at: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52000858n/f1.planchecontact.r
    Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, Français 2810, fol. 80r
    Original Location: France
    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
    Donor: Layman; Jean sans Peur, Duke of Burgundy
    Height/Width/Length(cm): 16/8.1/
    Related Resources: Moule, Arthur C. and Paul Pelliot, trans. and annot. , Polo, Marco 1254-1323?. Marco Polo: The Description of the World. 2 vols. Routledge, 1938;
    Pelikan, Jaroslav. Mary through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture. Yale University Press, 1996. Pg. 78-9.;
    Strickland, Debra Higgs. "Artists, Audience, and Ambivalence in Marco Polo's Divisament dou monde." Viator 36 (2005) Pgs. 493-529.;
    Tesniere, Marie-Helene., Polo, Marco, 1254-1323?, Avril, Francois, Gousset, Marie-Therese. Das Buch der Wunder: aus "Le livre des merveilles du monde", Ms. fr. 2810 der Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. Drei-Lilien-Edition. VMA, 2005. Pgs. 163-65.;
    Warner, Marina. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. Vintage Books, 1983. Pgs. 274-75.

    April 2014

    Title: Take hede unto my fygure

    Description: This colored pen drawing presents a monument known as a transi tomb which gives two views of the body of the deceased. In this case in the compartment above the woman is beautifully dressed, reclining with her hands folded in prayer, and further distinguished by the heraldic signs of many noble families. Below she is a cadaver in a shroud, her head a grinning skull, her fine clothing gone, and her flesh a feast for worms, lizards, and toads. The details of each figure are carefully represented for greater contrast. The richly dressed woman wears a red, flounced robe, a decorative bodice, perhaps made from ermine, and a lined mantle. Her multicolored, horned headdress with a veil bears witness to fashionable tastes, while the crown marks her high social status. She rests in comfort on a rich pillow decorated with four tassels. In the grave below the woman has lost all these marks of distinction. She has pulled a scrap of the shroud across her hips as a last defense against the vermin. Unlike the figure above, she turns toward her viewers and engages them directly while they read her words about the inevitability of death and the need to prepare for it (see the full inscription below).

    The illustration serves as the preface to a short text, The Disputacione betwyx the Body and the Wormes in which a narrator introduces a vivid debate between the body and the worms. Scholars have signaled the importance of gender in this regard, since The Disputacione is unique among Middle English debate poems in having a female body as the protagonist. With the many associations that women had in regard to sexuality and the body, this contrast between the courtly beauty and the rotting cadaver emphasized the inherent repulsiveness of the carnal, even in the guise of a most attractive woman. In the course of the debate the female body reaches the abject humility that Christians need to embrace in the hope of spiritual redemption. Robertson argues that the struggle between the worms and the body is conveyed in an erotic tone that suggests the literary rape of the pastourelle. After many regrets about her lost honor and nakedness, the woman complains about the worms' growing size and refusal to leave. Eventually she gives into their assault ("Do your will with me."). Despite these traditional binaries of the female and corruption, Matlock suggests that the poem and its illustrations ultimately go beyond these opposing categories to demonstrate the fluidity and overlapping meanings for body and soul and for female and male.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Rights: Public Domain

    Geographic Area: British Isles

    Century: 15

    Date: ca. 1475-1500

    Related Work:An illustration of the female skeleton and the worms disputing: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0192abf663e8970d-500wi See the full manuscript digitized on the British Library website.

    Current Location: London, British Library, Additional Manuscript 37049, fol. 32v

    Original Location: A Yorkshire or Lincolnshire Carthusian charterhouse

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paper; Paint

    Height/Width/Length(cm): 2.7/2

    Inscription: "Take hede unto my figure here abowne And se how sumtyme I was fressche and gay Now turned to wormes mete and corrupcion Bot fowle erth and stynkyng slime and clay Attende therefore to this disputacion written here And writte it wisely in thi hert fre At ther at sum wisdom thu may here To se what thou art and here aftyr sal be When thou leste wenes. venit mors te superare When thi grafe grenes. bonum est mortis meditari" (Translation: Take heed of my figure here above and observe how I once was fresh and gay and now am turned to worms' meat and decay, nothing but foul earth and stinking slime and clay; attend therefore to this disputation written here, and write it wisely in your free heart so that you may acquire some wisdom here by seeing what you are and hereafter shall be; when you least expect it, death will overcome you; when your grave groans, it is good to meditate upon death.)

    Related Resources: Matlock, Wendy A. "The Feminine Flesh in the Disputacione betwyx the Body and Wormes," in The Ends of the Body: Identity and Community in Medieval Culture, ed. Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Jill Ross. University of Toronto Press, 2013, pp. 260-282;
    Robertson, Elizabeth. "Kissing the Worm: Sex and Gender in the Afterlife and the Poetic Posthuman in the Late Middle English A Disputacion betwyx the Body and Wormes," in From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe, ed. E. Jane Burns and Peggy McCracken. University of Notre Dame Press, 2013, pp. 121-154;
    Brantley, Jessica. Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England. University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 221-227;
    Rooney, Kenneth. "Tradition and Innovation in the Middle English Debates of Mortality," in Transmission and Transformation in the Middle Ages: Texts and Contexts, ed. Kathy Cawsey and Jason Harris. Four Courts Press, 2007, pp. 157-174;
    Kinch, Ashby. Imago Mortis: Mediating Images of Death in Late Medieval Culture. Brill, 2013, pp. 58-68.

    March 2014

    Title: The Kilpeck Sheela-na-Gig

    Description: The term “Sheela-na-Gig” refers to a corpus of 11th and 12th-century sculptures and stone carvings of a female figure in a squatting position, holding open her exaggerated genitalia. This sheela-na-gig appears on a corbel on the southwest exterior nave wall of the parish church of Saints Mary and David in Kilpeck, England, near the Welsh border. The Kilpeck sheela exhibits all of the defining characteristics that mark a sheela-na-gig, including a bald head, large eyes, and a gaunt torso without breasts. Of the 110 surviving examples, approximately 70 sheelas are found in Ireland and the remainder appear in England, Scotland, Wales, and France. The Kilpeck sheela also exemplifies the context of sheelas in England, where the figures appear most commonly in small country churches. In contrast, Irish sheelas appear most frequently on castles and other domestic spaces. The term sheela-na-gig first appears in 18th century records and may be a modification of the Irish phrase Sighle na gCíoch (“old hag of the breasts”) or Síle ina Giob(“Sheila on her haunches”).

    Scholars since the 19th century have proposed a variety of interpretations for the sheela-na-gig’s provocative pose and the emphasis on her open pudendum. One widely-accepted reading argues that the sheela-na-gig was first and foremost a protective device to ward off evil. Stories from Irish folklore describe young women exposing themselves to heroes to bestow luck, or to the devil in order to turn him away (Ford, 1998). The frequent presence of sheelas above doorways, on gates, or near other liminal spaces in Ireland further supports the notion of the figures’ apotropaic power. Another theory posits that the sheela-na-gig has her roots in Romanesque sculpture from France and Spain and that the motif arrived in the British Isles either through pilgrimage or conquest. Similar “exhibitionist” figures, both male and female, commonly appear in contemporary church architecture in continental Europe. In a Christian context, the sheela-na-gig could personify the sin of lust and serve as a warning to her viewers. Conversely, more recently, scholars such as Barbara Freitag, Juliette Dor, and Marian Bleeke have suggested a syncretic view of the sheela-na-gig. They propose that the popularity of only female exhibitionist figures in the British Isles points to the fusion of continental exhibitionist motifs with traditional insular fertility beliefs. In this case, the sheela’s enlarged vulva represented prosperity and fruitfulness rather than sin.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Rights: Public Domain

    Subject (See Also): Architecture- Religious Fertility Lust (Personification) Nude Obscenity Protection SexualitySheela-Na-Gigs, Carved Figures of Naked Females That Emphasize the Genitals

    Geographic Area: British Isles

    Century: 12

    Date: 1140-1143

    Related Work: An excellent survey of the stone carving in the church of Saints Mary and David, including the corbel table: http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/search/location/kilpeck/site/ed-he-kilpe.html; The Sheela Na Gig project: http://www.sheelanagig.org/

    Current Location: Kilpeck, Church of Saints Mary and David

    Original Location: England, W., Kilpeck in Herefordshire

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Stone

    Height/Width/Length(cm): 37.2/23/

    Related Resources: Bleeke, Marian. "Sheelas, Sex, and Significance in Romanesque Sculpture: The Kilpeck Corbel Series." Studies in Iconography 26 (2005), pp. 1-26; Dor, Juliette. "The Sheela-Na-Gig: An Incongruous Sign of Sexual Purity?," in Medieval Virginities, ed. Anke Bernau, Ruth Evans and Sarah Salih. University of Wales Press, 2003. pp. 33-55; Ford, Patrick K. "The 'Which' on the Wall: Obscenity Exposed in Early Ireland," in Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages, ed. Jan M. Ziolkowski. Brill, 1998. pp. 176-90;Freitag, Barbara. Sheela-Na-Gigs: Unravelling an Enigma. Routledge, 2004. pp. 63-108; Hunt, John. "Kilpeck Church: A Window on Medieval “Mentalité”." Historian 92 (2006), pp. 30-33

    February 2014

    Title: Icon of the Madonna and Child from Santa Maria Nova


    Description: This monumental encaustic icon of the Virgin and Child from the church of Santa Maria Nova (now called Santa Francesca Romana) is one of five early cult icons of the Virgin Mary in Rome and likely the oldest. The icon’s strange proportions are a result of later modifications and over-painting dating from the 12th through 20th centuries. Likewise, the intense black outlines of the eyes and eyebrows of the virgin may be a result of early botched restoration attempts. The heads of Mary and the Christ child date to approximately the sixth century, while the bodies and radiant haloes are 12th-century additions. The current hodegetria pose of the Virgin and Child is also a 12th-century modification and the original spatial relationship of the head of the Virgin to that of the child remains unknown. The head of the Virgin alone measures 53 cm. in height. The icon’s large scale suggests that it was intended as the primary focal point of devotion, perhaps on an altar, in the church it originally occupied.
    A record of the lives and donations of popes, the Liber Pontificalis, mentions an “imago antiqua” kept in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in an inventory list included in the life of Pope Gregory III (731-741). Scholars have hypothesized that the “imago antiqua” refers to this icon and that the icon moved to the nearby, newly-constructed church of Santa Maria Nova in the 10th century after Santa Maria Antiqua fell into disrepair (Wolf, 2005). Each of the five early medieval Marian icons in Rome carried strong ties to individual churches with strong cult veneration of the Virgin and could effectively embody and stand in for the churches themselves. This particular icon’s situation in the heart of the Roman forum allowed it to represent the Virgin’s governance of the city’s civic health. In the 10th and 11th centuries the icon participated in a ceremonial “meeting” with a cult icon of Christ from the Lateran during the feast of the Dormition. Church officials brought the icon of Christ in a procession to Santa Maria Nova where it symbolically greeted and conferred with the icon of the Virgin concerning the prosperity of the city. The Santa Maria Nova icon and its fellow Marian icons in Rome evince a city-wide investment in the Virgin as the city’s benefactress in the early Middle Ages.

    Source: World Images

    Rights: Public Domain

    Subject (See Also): Devotional Objects  Icons  Jesus Christ   Mary, Virgin, Saint and Child
    Mary, Virgin, Saint as the Virgin Hodegetria, Named for the Famous Icon of the Virgin Believed to Have Been Painted by Saint Luke  Mothers Rome Women in Religion

    Geographic Area: Italy

    Century: 6 and 12

    Date: c. 500-525, overpainting c. 1100

    Related Work: This icon belongs to a loose corpus of five total pre-iconoclastic Marian cult icons in Rome: Madonna 'ad Martyres' from the Pantheon; Madonna 'Salus Populi Romani' from Santa Maria Maggiore; Madonna 'della Clemenza' from Santa Maria in Trastevere; Madonna 'di San Sisto' from the convent of Monte Mario

    Current Location: Rome, Church of Santa Francesca Romana (Formerly Santa Maria Nova)

    Original Location: Italy, Central, Rome

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Linen; Paint (Encaustic)


    Height/Width/Length(cm): approx. 92/76.2


    Related Resources: Amato, Pietro. De Vera Effigie Mariae: Anitche icone romane. A. Montadori & De Luca: 1988, pp. 18-22;
    Andaloro, Maria. "Le icone a Roma in età preiconoclasta," in Roma fra Oriente e Occidente: 19-24 Aprile, 2001. Centro italiano di studi sull'alto Medioevo: 2001, pp. 719-55;
    Wolf, Gerhard. "Icons and Sites: Cult Images of the Virgin in Medieval Rome," in Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium, ed. Maria Vasilaki. Ashgate: 2005, pp. 23-50;
    Wolf, Gerhard. Salus Populi Romani: die Geschichte römischer Kultbilder im Mittelalter, Acta Humaniora: 1990.

    December 2013

    Title: Jewish couples dancing together at a wedding to the accompaniment of musical instruments

    Description: This illumination depicts Jewish couples, probably husbands with their wives, dancing in pairs at a wedding ceremony to the accompaniment of music. This image is located in the ""Rothschild Miscellany,"" one of the most extraordinary illuminated Hebrew manuscripts of the fifteenth century. Contained within this book are 37 texts on various subjects such as Biblical and liturgical books, rabbinic exegesis, commentary on Jewish law and philosophy, historical legend, and entertaining stories. During the medieval and Renaissance periods, dancing was engaged in by all levels of Italian society. At the court level, dancing was often a part of celebrations for visiting dignitaries, for marriages, and for Carnival. People of the middle class attended schools where they learned dances from dance-masters, many of whom were Jewish.

    This image is one of the earliest examples depicting Jewish dancing in Italy. It is an illustration for apizmon, an auspicious wedding blessing and in this case a nuptial hymn, by Simeon bar Isaac. In this illumination, a lone musician strums a lute, which suggests that he is performing for a small and intimate party. The composition of the image is unusual because the couples are neither dancing side by side, nor promenading behind one another. However, the positioning of the couples conveys movement, and Barbara Sparti suggests it recalls a specific dance, “Colonnese,” by the great dancing master, Guglielmo Ebreo. The couples are dressed in a proper Northern Italian fashion, but the relative simplicity of their clothing can be explained as a response to Christian sumptuary laws dictating that Jews restrict the richness of their dress, as well as to religious leaders who urged Jews to limit the luxury and grandeur of weddings. Another explanation for the simple attire of the dancers is that it could be a reflection of the patron’s own Ashkenazic background, which was more austere and less fashionable than Christians of similar status in Renaissance Mantua. However, the most likely explanation is that because the artist had to produce over 300 illuminations, he probably selected a simple model that could be rendered quickly and repeatedly throughout. Another interesting feature of this image is the head coverings of the women. The "Rothschild Miscellany" is the only codex that shows women wearing the white coif or veil, which was characteristic of married Jewish women. Also, the cone-headdress worn by two of the dancers was only worn by foreigners and was never adopted by Italian women.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Rights: Public domain

    Subject (See Also): Clothing Dancing Jews Music Veils Weddings

    Geographic Area: Italy

    Century: 15

    Date: 1460- 1480

    Related Work: See ten selected pages from the "Rothschild Miscellany" on the UNESCO website:http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/multimedia/photo-galleries/preservation-of-documentary-heritage/memory-of-the-world-nominations-2012/israel-rothschild-miscellany

    Current Location: Israel Museum, Jerusalem, MS. Rothschild 24, fol. 246b

    Original Location: Veneto, Northern Italy

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;


    Height/Width/Length(cm): 21 cm/15.9 cm/


    Related Resources: Grossman, Avraham. Pious and Rebellious Jewish Women in Medieval Europe. Translated from the Hebrew by Jonathan Chipman. Brandeis University Press, 2004. Pg. 114-117.;

    IMAGINE - The Israel Museum's Searchable Collections Database: http://www.imj.org.il/imagine/collections/

    Sparti, Barbara. "Jewish Dancing-Masters and 'Jewish Dance' in Renaissance Italy: Guglielmo Ebreo and Beyond. In Seeing Israel and Jewish Dance edited by Judith Brin Ingber. Wayne State University Press. Detroit. 2011. Pg. 235-250.;

    November 2013

    Title: Tristan Embraces King Mark


    Description: In 1853 amateur archaeologist Manwaring Shurlock discovered significant numbers of decorated tile fragments among the medieval ruins of Chertsey Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Surrey. Shurlock and the Surrey Archaeological Society further excavated the abbey’s chapterhouse and found many tiles with secular narrative scenes and inscriptions relating to the romance of Tristan and Isolde and the life of Richard the Lionheart. This remarkably preserved round tile depicts the knightly hero Tristan embracing his uncle and liege lord, King Mark. Each man grasps the other’s chin in a gesture marking the moment just prior to a kiss that insures Tristan’s fealty to his uncle. Mark’s crown and full beard illustrate the age difference and power dynamic between the two men. The embrace also clearly parallels visual representations of the kiss of Judas. Careful examination of the Tristan tiles from Chertsey revealed that the scenes adhere closely to the twelfth-century Tristan romance as told by the troubador poet, Thomas of Britain. Thomas’s version of Tristan’s tale focuses on Tristan’s adventures and his demonstration of courtly virtues rather than the hero’s affair with Mark’s wife, Iseult (Isolde). The scene of Tristan and King Mark’s embrace takes place as Tristan departs to slay the Irish knight Morhaut and prevent him from collecting the sons of English barons as tribute. Tristan’s bravery impresses his unmarried and childless uncle, King Mark. The king then demands his nephew’s fealty and rewards Tristan by naming him as his heir. The kiss between Mark and Tristan, the ceremonial osculum sometimes accompanied acts of homage and oaths of fealty which legally sealed an agreement between a lord and his vassal. In the Tristan romance, however, the kiss also takes on an air of betrayal and sexual taboo. Tristan engages in an affair with Mark’s intended bride that is not only adulterous, but also incestuous by medieval standards. Tristan and King Mark’s embrace on the tile thus collapses into a single moment the tensions of political, familial and moral conflict that permeate the Tristan and Isolde romance.

    Source: Flickr

    Rights: Reproduced by permission of Becky Pitzer

    Subject (See Also): Courtly Love Family Fealty Kisses Masculinity Nephews Romance Thomas de Bretagne, Poet- Tristan Tristan (Literary Figure)

    Geographic Area: British Isles

    Century: 13

    Date: ca. 1250-60

    Related Work:

    Current Location: London, British Museum, 1947, 0505.8773

    Original Location: England, S.E., in Chertsey Abbey, Surrey.

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Ceramics

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Clay; Paint


    Height/Width(cm): 8.6/10


    Related Resources: Camille, Michael. "Gothic Signs and the Surplus: The Kiss on the Cathedral," Yale French Studies 80 (1991), pp. 161;

    Eames, Elizabeth. English Tilers. University of Toronto Press: 1992, pp. 38-41;

    Eames, Elizabeth. Catalogue of Medieval Lead-Glazed Earthenware Tiles in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, British Museum vols. 1 & 2. The British Museum: 1980;

    Furrow, Melissa. Expectations of Romance: The Reception of a Genre in Medieval England. Boyell & Brewer: 2009, pp. 4-15;

    Loomis, Roger Sherman. Illustrations of Medieval Romance on Tiles from Chertsey Abbey. University of Illinois: 1916.

    October 2013

    Title: Coronation of Baldwin III of Jerusalem by his mother, Melisende of Jerusalem


    Description: This image depicts the coronation of Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem, by his mother, Queen Melisende. It is located in a thirteenth-century version of the History of Outremer by William of Tyre, the principle source for the history of twelfth-century Jerusalem. He was a client of the Christian kings of Jerusalem and attempted to record the history of the dynasty in legalistic terms while accurately reflecting its politics. For William, Queen Melisende was the lynchpin in the dynasty. She was the eldest daughter of Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem, and was chosen as his heiress. Upon her marriage to Fulk of Anjou, Melisende was consecrated and crowned as queen of Jerusalem alongside her husband. After the death of Fulk, she was appointed sole regent for their son, Baldwin III, and she proved herself to be a skilled, active, and influential ruler for many years. William records that after Baldwin III had been consecrated as king, he and his mother were crowned together. This illumination corresponds to the text with relative accuracy. This illumination portrays the standard coronation assembly, however the artist selectively placed Queen Melisende at Baldwin’s right hand side instead of the bishop. From her position on their shared throne, a crowned Melisende places Baldwin’s crown on his head with the assistance of the bishop. These actions reflect the privilege and priority of her rank not only as queen but also as heiress to the kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as the importance of her specific role in the coronation. The architectural setting of the building is significant because of its references to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was strongly supported by Queen Melisende, and it is one of the only coronation images that attributes such a strong sense of place to Melisende.

    Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

    Rights: Public Domain

    Subject: Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem;  Coronations;  Crusader States;  Crusades;  Kings; Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem;  Queens Regents;

    Geographic Area: France

    Century: 13

    Date: 1201-1300

    Related Work: Histoire de la guerre sainte [par GUILLAUME, de Tyr], traduction et continuation. See the digitized manuscript on Gallica: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b85295204.r=2824.langEN

    Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 2824, f. 102v

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint

    Related Resources: Folda, Jaroslav. "Images of Queen Melisende in Manuscripts of William of Tyre's History of Outremer: 1250-1300." Gesta. Vol. 32. No 2. 1993. Pgs. 97-112.; Folda, Jaroslav. "Melisende of Jerusalem: Queen and Patron of Art and Architecture in the Crusader Kingdom." Reassessing the Roles of Women as 'Makers' of Medieval Art and Architecture (2 vol. set) edited by Therese Martin. Brill. 2012. Pgs. 429-478.; Lambert, Sarah. "Queen or Consort: Rulership and Politics in the Latin East, 1118-1228." Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a conference held at King's College London April 1995 edited by Anne Duggan. Boydell Press. 1997. Pgs. 153-159.

    September 2013

    Title: Nun Harvesting Phalluses from a Phallus Tree and a Monk and Nun Embracing

    Creator: Jeanne de Montbaston

    Description: The bas-de-page of this fourteenth-century manuscript of the Roman de la Rose pairs two erotic and likely humorous scenes. At left, a nun plucks disembodied phalluses from a tree brimming with phalluses and gathers her harvest in a green basket. At right, the same nun engages in a taboo embrace with a blonde, bearded monk in a grey habit. Several additional folios in the manuscript depict equally subversive scenes, such as a team of nuns gathering phalluses, sex among monks and nuns, and a nun leading a monk by a chain attached to his penis. This risqué marginalia comes from a secular Parisian atelier run by a husband and wife team, Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston. The couple collectively copied and illuminated nineteen extant manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose. Jeanne operated the atelier independently after Richard died in 1353, leading some scholars to speculate that the whimsical and often bawdy illuminations in this particular manuscript were solely her creations (Camille, 2003; Rouse and Rouse, 1999).

    Although the appearance of a phallus tree may seem strange at first, the iconographic motif appears to have been quite popular in the late medieval secular world. Phallus trees appear in various mediums, including lead pilgrimage badges, wood carvings, and perhaps most famously, in frescoes like the Massa Marattima fountain mural. While a single concrete meaning behind the phallus tree remains elusive, the image carried connotations of fertility and generation (Hoch, 2006). In other instances, phallus tree iconography poked fun at fear of male impotence. More simply, representations of a phallus tree may have been intended to be funny, especially when they appeared as parodies of images associated with popular devotion (Koldeweij, 2004). Given the monastic subjects of the Roman de la Rose’s illumination, and the raciness of the poem itself, intent to parody spiritual and courtly love may have motivated Jeanne de Montbaston to include the phallus tree and embracing couple in her marginal illustrations.

    Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

    Rights: Public Domain

    Subject : Eroticism Humor, Bawdy Monks Nuns Penis Sexuality   Women Artists

    Geographic Area: France

    Century: 14

    Date: Mid-14th century

    Related Work: Page-turn view of the entire manuscript: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000369q; Massa Marittima Mural: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/massa_marittima-mural.png;

    Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 25526, f. 106v

    Original Location: France, N. Paris

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations


    Height/Width(cm): 26.3/19.3


    Related Resources:

    • Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. Reaktion Books, 2003. pp. 147-49;
    • Mattelaer, Johan J. "The Phallus Tree: A Medieval and Renaissance Phenomenon." Journal of Sexual Medicine 7:2 (2010). pp. 846-51;
    • Rouse, Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse. "A 'Rose' By Any Other Name: Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston as Illuminators of Vernacular Texts," in Manuscripts and Their Makers: Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris, 1200- 1500. Harvey Miller Publishers, 1999. pp. 235-260;
    • Smith, Matthew Ryan. "Reconsidering the 'Obscene': The Massa Marittima Mural." Shift 2 (2009). pp. 1-27;

    May 2013

    Title: Reliquary of Sainte Foy


    Description: This splendid and famous reliquary in the shape of Sainte Foy seated on a throne once formed the focus of intense cultic devotion in the southern French town of Conques. The legend of Sainte Foy alleges that Foy was a young victim of Diocletian’s persecutions and died in the nearby city of Agen at the end of the third century. Foy’s relics resided in Agen until 866, at which point a monastic community in Conques executed a deceptive coup and successfully stole the relics for themselves. Veneration of Sainte Foy blossomed at the abbey of Conques and attracted significant numbers of pilgrims. By the tenth century, the Conques community divided Foy’s body in two and placed her skull in the reliquary statue. The statue itself is made of wood fitted with sheets of gold, with four large rock crystal spheres topping the corners of the saint’s throne. Foy wears magnificent dangling earrings, a huge crown, and a golden robe that covers her from neck to ankle. Even her shoes feature gold and jeweled trim. Restorations revealed that the head and face of the reliquary were fabricated from parts of a Roman-era helmet or funerary mask, accounting for the disturbing masculinity of the girl-saint’s face (Taralon, 1997). The many variegated jewels and cameos that adorn the statue mostly date from the Roman period as well.

    Pilgrims themselves provided much of the reliquary’s luxury materials as gifts to the saint in exchange for miracles. Sainte Foy was an especially active saint who often channeled her activity through her reliquary. She performed the standard miracles and healings associated with sainthood, yet she also played practical jokes, demanded offerings, and even meted out punishment to skeptics and detractors. For example, the saint demanded that a pilgrim with a ruptured scrotum smash his injury with a hammer in order to be healed and even went so far as to kill several unlucky naysayers. Bernard of Angers began recording Foy’s actions in the eleventh century, and several anonymous authors continued to document the saint’s deeds in Conques and the surrounding area. Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn have observed that the reliquary’s actions correspond to the statue’s role as an extension of the desires and aspirations of people, both lay and monastic, who interacted with it. Monks from Conques took the statue on processions in order to assert their authority and order within the town, or to lay claim to disputed property. Townspeople and peasants, however, relied on extra-monastic miracles during procession to enhance their own prestige and reputations without clerical validation. Not only does the reliquary of Sainte Foy provide an example of the height of medieval artistic grandeur, but also of the agency of relics and reliquaries in medieval society.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Rights: Public Domain

    Subject (See Also): Foy, Martyr, Saint;  Hagiography;  Miracles;  Reliquaries;

    Geographic Area: France

    Century: 10

    Date: ca. 980

    Related Work: Alternate view: http://klimtlover.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/sainte-foy.jpg; Side view: http://www.tourisme-conques.fr/fr/histoire-patrimoine/tresor/images/tresor-diap/majeste-sainte-foy.jpg; View of the crown of Ste. Foy: http://www.tourisme-conques.fr/fr/histoire-patrimoine/tresor/images/tresor-diap/majeste-2.jpg;

    Current Location: Conques, Trésor de l'abbatiale Sainte-Foy de Conques

    Original Location: France, S., Conques

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Metalwork

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Gold; Silver; Precious Stones; Rock Crystal


    Height/Width(cm): 85/


    Related Resources: Ashley, Kathleen and Pamela Sheingorn. "Sainte Foy on the Loose, Or, The Possibilities of Procession," in Moving Subjects: Processional Performance in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Ed. Kathleen Ashley and Wim N. M. Hüsken. Rodopi, 2001. pp. 53-67;

    Ashley, Kathleen and Pamela Sheingorn. "An Unsentimental View of Ritual in the Middle Ages, Or, Sainte Foy was No Snow White." Journal of Ritual Studies 6:1 (1992), pp. 63-85;

    Hahn, Cynthia. Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-c.1204. pp. 120-26, 163-64;

    Remensnyder, Amy G. "Legendary Treasure at Conques: Reliquaries and Imaginative Memory." Speculum 71:4 (1996), pp. 884-906;

    Taralon, Jean. "La Majesté d'or de Sainte Foy de Conques." Bulletin Monumental 155:1 (1997), pp. 11-58;

    April 2013

    • Title: The Wife of Hasdrubal and Her Children
    • Creator: Ercole de' Roberti
    • Description: The unnamed wife of Hasdrubal was ashamed of her husband’s surrender of Carthage to the Romans (146 B.C.), so she killed herself and her children by flinging them into the flames consuming the Temple of Eshmoun in order to avoid being displayed in the Roman triumph, which was a humiliation her cowardly husband accepted. In this picture, the wife of Hasdrubal is shown running over the burning fragments of destroyed architecture with the two children she is about to cast into the fire. The way the wife of Hasdrubal is depicted is unusual because pictorial norms demanded aristocratic women be shown as serene and unengaged in any strenuous physical activity. However, the wife of Hasdrubal has an aggressive posture as she drags forward the two nude boys actively resisting her control, and her mouth is open as if she were shouting. Margaret Franklin argues these features of the painting serve to “masculinize” (Gender in Debate, p. 198) the wife of Hasdrubal and depict her “courage, loyalty, daring, and indifference to physical harm.” (Gender in Debate, p. 202)
    • Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
    • Rights: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
    • Subject (See Also): Carthage Children Fire, Image of  Suicide  Wife of Hasdrubal
    • Geographic Area: Italy
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1490-1493
    • Related Work: Margaret Franklin in her article, A Woman's Place: Visualizing the Feminine Ideal in the Courts and Communes of Renaissance Italy, argues that portrait of the Wife of Hasdrubal and her children were part of a cycle of paintings called the donne illustri cycle. This cycle included three paintings: the Wife of Hasdrubal and her Children, Brutus and Portia, https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/search/view/484?text=ercole%20de%20roberti and Lucretia, Brutus, and Collatinus http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Francesco_del_Cossa_030.jpg
    • Current Location: Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art
    • Original Location: Ferrara (?)
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tempera on panel
    • Donor: Laywoman; Eleonora of Aragon, duchess of Ferrara
    • Height/Width(cm): 47.3 cm/30.6 cm
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al, Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, pgs. 607-612; Margaret Franklin, "A Woman's Place: Visualizing the Feminine Ideal in the Courts and Communities of Renaissance Italy," Gender in Debate from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, edited by Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees, Palgrave, 2002, pp. 189-205.

    March  2013

    • Title: Byzantine Circular Pyxis
    • Creator:
    • Description: This circular ivory pyxis was carved in the Byzantine style during the Late Antique period in Egypt. This little box is believed to have been a container for a woman’s jewelry, toiletries, or cosmetics. The subject of the pyxis emphasizes the female identity of the owner, and it flaunts the contents of the container, i.e. objects that will make the owner as beautiful and desirable as Aphrodite. The pyxis illustrates scenes from the Judgment of Paris, a famous story from Greek mythology. The side of the pyxis not shown in the photo above illustrates the beginning of the story; the four Olympian gods are gathered around a tripod table containing a golden Apple of the Hesperides, a trophy for the most beautiful Olympian goddess. On the opposite side of the pyxis which is featured above, Hermes, the messenger god, is shown wearing a chlamys (mantle), winged sandals, and a helmet and holding his caduceus (wand). He is stretching out his arm and presenting the golden apple to Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and sexuality, who was chosen by Paris, prince of Troy as the most beautiful goddess over Hera and Athena. Aphrodite is featured in the center of the scene. She is nude and holds up her hair in order to better display her voluptuous body to the viewer of the pyxis. On the right side of Venus is Athena, goddess of Wisdom and Crafts, wearing the aegis and crown and holding a spear and shield.
    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Beauty Judgment of Paris (mythological figure) Mythology - Classical Nude Venus (Mythological Figure)
    • Geographic Area: Northern Africa
    • Century: 5- 6
    • Date:
    • Related Work: Circular Pyxis (reverse side showing Olympian gods feasting around a tripod table holding a golden Apple of the Hesperides): http://art.thewalters.org/detail/28991/circular-pyxis/
    • Current Location: Baltimore, MD, The Walters Art Museum, 71.64
    • Original Location: Egypt
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculptures
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Ivory; Bone
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width(cm): 8.7 cm/
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources: Martina Bagnoli and Kathryn Gerry, The Medieval World: The Walters Art Museum. The Walters Art Museum, in association with D Giles Limited, 2011, pg. 23; Circular Pyxis, The Walters Art Museum, Works of Art:http://art.thewalters.org/detail/28991/circular-pyxis/; Kalavrezou, Ioli., et al. Byzantine Women and Their World. Harvard University Art Museums, 2003, pp. 256-257.

    February 2013

    • Title: Bathsheba
    • Creator: Memling, Hans, painter (1430?-1494)
    • Description: A servant assists Bathsheba from her bath. The scene depicted in the window frame is a 17th-century addition. It depicts David from a distance looking into Bathsheba's window from the roof of his house. The original window scene (cited below in Related Work) portrays David peering in directly. Through the portal below one can see a depiction of Uriah's death arranged by the adulterous King David. A centrally-planned element to the right of the portal bears sculptures of Moses and Abraham, representatives of the Law.
    • Source: Wikimedia Commons: Web Gallery of Art #14921
    • Rights: Public domain
    • Subject (See Also): Art History- Painting Bathing Bathsheba (Biblical Figure) David, King (Biblical Figure) Domestic Space Love Nude Servants Turbans Women
    • Geographic Area: Low Countries
    • Century: 15, 17
    • Date: 1485
    • Related Work: Original corner section also held in the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie depicts a half-figure representation of David about to give a ring for Bathsheba to a young messenger: http://www.staatsgalerie.de/malereiundplastik_e/nl_rundg.php?id=1
    • Current Location: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
    • Original Location:
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel paintings; Oil tempera; Wood
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width(cm): 191.5/84.5

    December 2012

    • Title: Isidore of Seville presents his work to Florentine (or Florentina), his sister
    • Creator:
    • Description: In this Carolingian frontispiece illustration, Isidore of Seville sits on a high chair or throne. He presents his book, De fide catholica to Florentine, his sister who was a nun. He wrote the text for her as the inscription above them attests. Another brother, Leander, also the archbishop of Seville, wrote De institutione virginum et contemptu mundi for Florentine and her community of nuns. The text includes a 31-chapter rule of life for the women in the monastery. As a child Florentine and her parents fled Spain for the safety of Carthage in North Africa. Years later Isidore brought her back to Spain where she founded a monastery where she served as the abbess.
    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public domain
    • Subject (See Also): Books Donor Portraits Family Florentine, Saint Isidore of Seville, Theologian Monasticism Nuns Sisters
    • Geographic Area: France
    • Century: 9
    • Date: ca. 800
    • Related Work: Isidore of Seville, De fide catholica contra Iudaeos. See the digitized Bibliothèque nationale manuscript: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8426784k
    • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France BnF, Latin 13396 fol. 1v
    • Original Location: Abbey of Corbie (?)
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment)
    • Donor:
    • Height/Width(cm): 27 cm/18 cm
    • Inscription: Soror mea Floren/tine accipie codicem/Quem tibi compo/sui feliciter/ amen [“My sister Florentine, accept the codex that I have happily composed for you. Amen.”]
    • Related Resources: Leander, Saint, Archbishop of Seville, and John R. C. Martyn, ed. and trans. A Book on the Teaching of Nuns; and, A Homily in Praise of the Church. Lexington Books, 2009.

    November 2012

    • Title: Desco da parto [birth tray]: Birthing Chamber Scene (obverse view)
    • Creator: Bartolomeo di Fruosino, painter
    • Description: This tray was used to carry refreshments into a birthing chamber during the new mother's month of confinement following birth. Here the mother sits upright in bed. In the upper section of the scene plants can be seen on the roof. At the bottom of the picture three steps lead to a meadow in which stand a stork and a hoopoe (birds that were believed to care for their aged parents and which therefore were models of filial devotion). A serving maid pours water into a basin so that the mother can wash her hands. A midwife sits with the newborn on her lap while another prepares the baby's bath. Three female visitors stand at the foot of the bed.
    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Bathing Birds Birth Trays Childbirth Domestic Space Infants Midwives Servants
    • Geographic Area: Italy
    • Century: 15
    • Date: 1405
    • Related Work: Reverse view: A sturdy naked male child with a coral amulet round his neck sitting on a pinkish rock and holding a pinwheel and another toy: http://www.daringtodo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Bartolomeo-di-Fruosino-Bambino-nudo-desco-da-parto-retro-Stresa-Isola-Bella-Collezione-Borromeo.jpg
    • Current Location: Isola Bella, Borromeo Collection
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tempera; Gold; Wooden tray
    • Height/Width(cm): 54 cm/55 cm

    October 2012

    • Title: Portrait of Princess Anicia Juliana
    • Creator:
    • Description: This image is part of the oldest extant copy of "De Materia Medica," an herbal that was commissioned as a token of thanks to the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana for funding a church consecration. The enthroned Anicia is flanked by personifications of Magnanimity and Prudence. A personification of "Gratitude of the Arts" kneels at the princess's feet as a putto presents a manuscript to her. This scene is enclosed by rope that forms an eight-point star within a circle. The spaces between the ropes contain putti working as masons and carpenters.
    • Source: Wikimedia Commons
    • Rights: Public Domain
    • Subject (See Also): Dedicatees and Dedications Donor Portraits Patronage, Ecclesiastical Personification Princesses
    • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
    • Century: 6
    • Date: ca. 515
    • Related Work: Vienna Dioscorides; Juliana Anicia Codex. See some additional illustrated pages:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Dioscurides
    • Current Location: Vienna, ONB, Cod. Vindobonensis Medicus Graecus 1, 6v
    • Original Location:
    • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations
    • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
    • Donor: Laywoman; created for Byzantine Princess Anicia Juliana, daughter of Emperor Anicius Olybrius
    • Height/Width(cm): 37cm (whole folio)/30cm (whole folio)
    • Inscription:
    • Related Resources:

    July 2012

    Title: Vierge Ouvrante (or Shrine Madonna)


    Description: The vierge ouvrante is a visual representation of the mystery of the Incarnation. When closed it presents the madonna lactans, a tableau of maternal tenderness in which the Virgin nurses the Christ Child. When opened, the viewer encounters a sculptural representation of the Trinity. The body of Christ on the cross is now missing, as is the dove of the Holy Spirit which would have been attached to the chest of God the Father, above the figure of Christ. Painted scenes on the interior walls of the figure depict scenes from the life of Christ. On the interior left wing is the Annunciation, Nativity, and Adoration of the Magi. On the interior right wing is the Visitation, Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. Thevierge ouvrante became a controversial object, as its message could be taken to mean that the Virgin was the source not only of Jesus's humanity, but also his divinity and even the two other members of the Trinity.

    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic

    Subject (See Also): Jesus Christ- Infancy Madonna Lactans (Artistic Motif) Mary, Virgin, Saint and Child TrinityVierges Ouvrantes, Statues of the Virgin which Open to Reveal a Scene Inside

    Geographic Area: Germany

    Century: 14

    Date: ca. 1300

    Related Work:

    Current Location: New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.190.185

    Original Location:

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oak; Linen covering; Polychromy; Gilding; Gesso


    Height/Width(cm): 36.8 cm/34.6 cm (opened); 12.7 cm (closed)


    Related Resources: Melissa R. Katz, "Marian Motion: Opening the Body of the Vierge ouvrante." Meaning in Motion: The Semantics of Movement in Medieval Art. Edited by Nino Zchomelidse and Giovanni Freni. Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University in association with Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. 63-91.

    June 2012

    Title: Woman Kills a Would-Be Rapist and is Presented with his Belongings

    Description: According to the text of the Madrid manuscript of the "Synopsis historion," a Byzantine chronicle written by John Skylitzes, "There were some Varangians dispersed in the Thrakesion theme for the winter. One of them coming across a woman of the region in the wilderness put the quality of her virtue to the test. When persuasion failed he resorted to violence, but she seized his Persian-type sword, struck him in the heart and promptly killed him. When the deed became known in the surrounding area, the Varangians held an assembly and crowned the woman, presenting her with all the possessions of her violator, whom they threw aside, unburied, according to the law concerning assassins." In the image depicting these occurrences, the woman uses a spear to kill her attacker, and the other Varangian men approach her with armfuls of clothing.

    Source: WikiMedia Commons

    Rights: Public domain

    Subject : Byzantium; Clothing; Murder; Rape; Warfare and Warriors

    Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean

    Century: 12

    Related Work: Synopsis historion

    Current Location: Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS Graecus Vitr. 26-2, fol. 208r.

    Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations

    Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment)

    Donor: Layman; Roger II, King of Sicily

    Related Resources: For the translation cited here: Skylitzes, John. A.  Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057: Translation and Notes. Translated by John Wortley. Cambridge University Press, 2010. 372.

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

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

    Feminae research assistant Leigh Peterson is working on images during the 2012-2013 academic year. She is an undergraduate student majoring in art history at Bryn Mawr College. She will be an intern at the Cloisters Museum during summer 2013.

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

    Sarah’s work has been published in Medieval Feminist Forum and she has also contributed to Judith Dupré's Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life (Random House, 2010). She holds an M.A. in Art History from UT-Austin (2009), an M.A. in Medieval Studies from Fordham University (2007), and she received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003. She also has served on the Graduate Student Committee of the Medieval Academy of America (2010-2012).

    Contact information:

    The University of Texas at Austin
    College of Fine Arts, Dept. of Art & Art History
    1 University Station-D1300
    Austin, Texas, 78712