Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Marie and other pilgrims with St. James
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    The Madame Marie Picture Book is an unusual manuscript, principally composed of a calendar, a list of titulae in Old French, and eighty-seven full page miniatures that feature scenes from the life of Christ and the saints. This book was created for an aristocratic woman, possibly Marie de Rethel, the third wife and widow of Wautier d’Enghien, lord of Mons. The book belongs to a small collection of thirteenth-century manuscripts that privilege pictures over words.

    One of the most unique features of this picture book is the insistent inclusion of its intended user; Madame Marie originally appeared in ten illuminations. She looks the same in practically every image: she kneels at the feet of a standing saint or saints, hierarchically she is smaller than these holy figures, yet at the same time, clearly she shares their pictorial space. The visual argument of the Madame Marie portraits revolves around the idea that as she kneels and looks at these paintings, her looking becomes spiritually efficacious as a form of devotional prayer, and even pilgrimage. Virtually all of these images of Marie were lost or painted out by later owners of this manuscript, however, the image seen here is the one portrait to survive intact.

    In this illumination, Marie kneels, as a member of a group of pilgrims, praying before St. James who carries a stick crowned with green foliage; this stick is an old, relatively obscure attribute of the saint that refers to a story in which the Lord appeared to James and told him that all those who come to his sanctuary in a spirit of prayer would be spiritually purified in the way that the stick was stripped of its brambles. Marie is depicted at the front of the group, which is comprised of two woman and two men. Marie wears a white wimple crowned by a black veil that appears rather monastic. However, Alison Stones has argued that this veil was painted by a later owner, as the hands of the woman behind Marie are awkwardly obscured by the veil and show through in a pentimento. Also, the figure of Marie is notable for her gown, which is painted a rich, saturated shade of yellow. This appears to have been her signature color, and probably possessed either heraldic or symbolic significance for her. The other pilgrims are dressed in shades of red, white, and blue in accord with the general color scheme of the manuscript’s miniatures. These costume elements both help to single out Marie and to place her in a position of special importance.

    In this manuscript, there are multiple instances of the owner appearing within the book’s pages to reflect back to her physical self an idealized view of the performance of devotion in which she engages. Alison Stones has observed that pilgrimage is one of the major themes of the manuscript, and this illumination, which features Marie among pilgrims and the patron saint of pilgrimage, works cleverly to argue that her prayerful and devotional activities as structured by the book constitute a kind of pilgrimage. Whereas the three other figures wear clothing that distinctly identifies them as pilgrims – the old man’s cloak with its pattern of cockleshells, the young man’s deep-brimmed hat, and the young woman’s scrip and sunhat slung over her shoulder – Marie appears ordinarily dressed without any attributes of pilgrimage or notion that she has stepped outside of her house.

  • Source: Bibliotheque nationale de France
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Devotional Practices Hagiography Lay Piety Madame Marie, Owner of a Devotional Picture Book Manuscripts- Ownership of Marie de Rethel, Wife of Wautier d'Enghien Noble Women Picture Books Pilgrimage
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 13
  • Date: 1280- 1290
  • Related Work: Images de la vie du Christ et des saints: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b72000827/f1.planchecontact.r=
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. n.a. fr. 16251. fol. 66.
  • Original Location: Hainaut (Mons?)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor: Laywoman; ? Marie de Rethel, Wife of Wautier d'Enghien, lord of Mons
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 18/13/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Avril, Francois. "Livre d'images de Madame Marie." In L'Art au temps des rois maudits: Philippe le Bel et ses fils: 1285-1328. Reunion des musées nationaux (1997): 294-296.;
    Sand, Alexa. Visions, Devotion, and Self-Representation in Late Medieval Art. Cambridge University Press (2014): 185-190.;
    Stones, Alison. Le Livre d'images de Madame Marie. Les editions du Cerf - Bibliotheque national de France (1997): 11, 32, 70, 74-75.;
    Stones, Alison. "Madame Marie’s Picture-Book." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 16, 2014, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T2089306.