Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Coffret with Frau Minne
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This is a coffret or wooden box depicting images of Frau Minne – Lady Love – and a male lover. The image at the far left of the lid shows Frau Minne shooting her lover with a bow and arrow. The image in the middle appears to be a family crest from the Berstett family of Alsace, Baden, and Austria. The image at the right of the lid depicts the lover presenting Frau Minne with his heart which has been pierced by three arrows. The body of the coffret is decorated with swastikas and iron fittings. There are two German inscriptions on the coffret, the first of which translates as “Lady, send me solace, my heart has been wounded,” while the second reads as “Gracious Lady, I have surrendered.”

    Frau Minne is the German version of Lady Love. She may represent the power of love over people, or she may personify a lover’s own emotions. She is considered responsible for making marriages work. Lady Love is a companion of Christ, and medieval German nunneries often used her image in association with the crucifixion. This is because the crucifixion is a part of the Romance of Christ and the loving soul. Sometimes Frau Minne is even an alternative name used for the Virgin Mary. Frau Minne also appears in the writings of several beguine mystics including Mechtild of Magdeburg who wrote about Lady Love in the role of the lover of God. She is given the ability to manipulate God, and bend him to her will. Portrayals like this have lead to Frau Minne being compared to a virago – a role for females that has masculine associations. Additionally, in Mechtild of Magdeburg’s work, Lady Love is shown causing her lovers suffering and pain in order to rid their souls of all attachments besides love and intimacy. This way Lady Love can change “desirous” love into “divine” love.

    In this particular ivory, however, Frau Minne is not depicted as a companion of Christ or of God, but rather as a representation or manifestation of courtly love. Her attack upon her lover is similar to scenes of the attack on the Castle of Love. Like the women in the castle, Frau Minne also appears to be defending herself from the onslaught of a lover. However, scenes of the attack on the castle of love tend to be comedic and metaphoric, and replace any dangerous weapons with flowers or twigs. This coffret scene, on the other hand, is much more serious. Using real weaponry, much like Cupid, Frau Minne injures her lover, and makes him surrender his literal heart.

    Here, Frau Minne represents the power that love can have over a person. Love is portrayed as an all-consuming force that literally takes your heart and leaves you at the mercy of Lady Love. It is interesting that such immense power is given to a woman. While traditionally in this period, a woman’s role was a silent one, and one of obedience to her husband, this depiction of Lady Love puts her in charge. In the scene on this coffret, men are shown as servants to Frau Minne. This means that this coffret may have been a gift from a man to his lover, to show that he was completely captivated by her and to remind her of their love when he was away.

  • Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Courtly Love Decorative Arts Frau Minne (Literary Figure) Gifts
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 14
  • Date: ca. 1325–1350
  • Related Work: Inside lid of the coffret with painted figures.
    View of the coffret when closed.
    Wooden casket with painted courtly love motifs, second half of the 14th century, Germany.
  • Current Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 50.141
  • Original Location: Upper Rhineland, Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oak; Inlay; Tempera; Wrought-iron mounts; Boxes;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 12.1/27.3/16.5
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barnet, Peter and Nancy Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. Yale University Press, 2012;
    Jones, Malcolm. “Folklore Motifs in Late Medieval Art II: Sexist Satire and Popular Punishments.” Folklore 101, 1 (1990): 69-87;
    Jones, Pruden and Nigel Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge, 1995;
    Lieb, Ludger. "Seeing Love in a World of Lovers: Late Medieval Love Literature as a Fulfillment of Gottfried's Tristan." In Visuality and Materiality in the Story of Tristan and Isolde. Edited by Jutta Eming, Ann Marie Rasmussen and Kathryn Starkey. University of Notre Dame Press, 2012. Pages 83-104;
    Newman, Barbara. God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.