Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The Soul Entrusts her Heart to the Fear of God and to Contrition
  • Creator: Jean Colombe, Painter
  • Description:

    This image comes from a manuscript of Le Mortifiement de Vaine Plaisance, a devotional treatise originally composed by René d'Anjou (1455) for his confessor, Jean Bernard, the Archbishop of Tours. In the Mortifiement the Soul rids itself of worldly desires through a mystical crucifixion of the heart. The personifications, mostly female, are engaged in purging the Heart of its many weaknesses.

    Here the personification of the Soul wears a blue gown with the text of Psalm 44:5 at the hem in gold embroidery ("With thy comeliness and thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign. Because of truth and meekness and justice: and thy right hand shall conduct thee wonderfully."). She kneels before the personifications of Fear of God, above whom floats the sword of Divine Justice, and Contrition, whose breasts are exposed in preparation for self-flagellation with the switch that she holds. According to the account, the Soul offers her heart to these two figures, who in turn take it to a garden where Faith, Hope, Love and Divine Grace purify it through nailing it to a cross with a nail of steel, another of silver, and a third of gold. Here, Fear of God and Contrition return the newly purified heart to the Soul.

    There are twelve surviving copies of the Mortifiement, including ones at the Pierpont Morgan, Berlin, Tournai, Chantilly, and this copy at the library in Metz. Here the detailed illustrations are faithful to the text and provide a guide to the path of redemption. This allegorical narrative was illustrated quite early in its history, perhaps even in the year it was written. Barthélemy d'Eyck is identified as the artist who developed the iconography in the exemplar. While later manuscripts have different styles, the iconography is generally very similar to the exemplar.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Allegory Devotional Literature House of Anjou Personification René d'Anjou, King of Naples
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1470
  • Related Work: See the entire text of the Mortifiement manuscript at the Fondation Bodmer: http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/fmb/cb-0144.
  • Current Location: Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 1486, excised leaf
  • Original Location:
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Gold; Tempera
  • Donor: Layman; Rene d'Anjou, Duke of Anjou, King of Naples (1409-1480) or Circle
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 11.8/12.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Favier, Jean. Le roi René. Fayard, 2008;
    Ferré, Rose-Marie. "Le mortifiement de vaine Plaisance" in Splendeur de l'Enluminure, le roi René et les livres. Ed. Marc-Édouard Gautier, François Avril, Ville d'Angers. Actes Sud, 2009. Pages 284-299;
    Minet-Mahy, Virginie. "L’iconographie du cœur et de la croix dans le Mortifiement de René d’Anjou et les Douze Dames de Rhétorique de George Chastelain." Moyen Age 113, 3 (2007): 569-590;
    René d'Anjou. Le Mortifiement de Vaine Plaisance. Préface de Michel Zink, traduction de Isabelle Fabre. Fondation Martin Bodmer, 2009.