Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Title: Nature Forging a Baby, from the Roman de la Rose
  • Creator:
  • Description: This small painting of Nature fashioning a baby on an anvil is one of ninety-four total miniature illuminations in a late medieval Belgian manuscript of the Roman de la Rose made for Engelbert II, Count of Nassau and Vianden. The Roman de la Rose is an allegorical poem in two sections; in 1230 Guillaume de Lorris composed the first part of the poem, which tells of a courtier’s attempts to seduce his lover within a walled garden, and in 1275 Jean de Meun contributed a lengthy second section to the poem that focused primarily on a learned, allegorical dream sequence with discussions among Genius, Art, and Nature. The Roman de la Rose proved wildly popular from its debut to the sixteenth century; over 300 manuscripts survive. The poem’s quite physical language and often sensual content were also controversial and the Roman de la Rose invited critique from notable intellectuals of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, including Christine de Pizan. The figure of Nature in particular features prominently within Jean de Meun’s addition to the poem. In her interactions with Genius and Art, Nature calls attention to her role as the source of creation and regeneration in the world. In this illustration, Nature appears in the guise of a smith who forges new life from lifeless matter, represented by the macabre fragments of infant bodies in the picture’s bottom-left corner. She appears dressed in a clean gown, skirt, and apron, which may allude to Nature’s insistence upon the purity of her craft as opposed to the artifice of Art’s trade. Her long hair and jeweled headdress may be intended to convey her authority. Though this particular representation of Nature shows her forging human babies, other instances of the motif from copies of the Roman de la Rose depict Nature forging all types of life, including birds, plants, and reptiles.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Allegory Human Reproduction Nature (Personifcation) Smithing Work
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15- 16
  • Date: 1490- 1500
  • Related Work: Detailed view of all of the manuscript's illuminations: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7465
  • Current Location: London, British Library, MS Harley 4425, f140r
  • Original Location: Netherlands, S. (Bruges)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint
  • Donor: Layman; Engelbert II, Count of Nassau and Vianden (d. 1504)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 39.5 cm/29 cm/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Modersohn, Mechtild. Natura als Göttin im Mittelalter: ikonographische Studien zu Darstellungen der personifizierten Natur. Akademie Verlag, 1997. pp. 130-142; Huot, Sylvia. "Bodily Peril: Sexuality and the Subversion of Order in Jean de Meun's 'Roman de la Rose'," Modern Language Review 95, 1 (2000): pp. 41 - 61.