Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 7291
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Smith , Susan L.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Power of Women Topos on a Fourteenth-Century Embroidery
  • Source: Viator 12, ( 1990): Pages 203 - 234.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Animals, Image of Art History- Decorative Arts Commentary, Literary Genre Delilah (Biblical Figure), in Art Hartmann von Aue, Poet- Iwein Imagery Images Laudine (Literary Figure) Lions Love in Art Lunete (Literary Figure) Marriage in Art Misogyny in Art P
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 14
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence: Decorative Art; Malterer Embroidery, stitched wool on linen backing, ca. 1330 (Inv. Nr. 11508, Augustinermuseum, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany). The embroidery features a series of eleven quatrefoils, the first and last quatrefoils bearing the Malterer arms and the “Anna
  • Illustrations: Eight Figures Figure One Malterer Embroidery, stitched wool on linen backing, ca. 1330 (Inv. Nr. 11508, Augustinermuseum, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany). The embroidery features a series of eleven quatrefoils, the first and last quatrefoils bearing the Malterer arms and the “Anna” and “Johannes” in red and white; the figured scenes in the rest of the quatrefoils depict a series of famous male lovers overpowered by women (Samson, Aristotle, Virgil, and Iwein), with the first image in the sequence depicting Samson subduing a lion and the final image in the sequence depicting the Virgin with a captured unicorn. Figure Two Detail of Malterer Embroidery, ca. 1330 (Inv. Nr. 11508, Augustinermuseum, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany). The first (left hand) quatrefoil depicts Delilah cutting Samson’s hair, the center quatrefoil depicts Aristotle turning away from his books to look at a woman (Phyllis) who stands inside a window, the last (right hand) quatrefoil depicts Phyllis wielding a whip and riding Aristotle like a horse. Figure Three Ivory casket, fourteenth century (Lord Gort Collection, Bunratty Castle, Ireland). Casket consists of four panels; the first panel depicts Aristotle seated while reading a book, the second panel depicts Phyllis carrying a whip while riding Aristotle like a horse, the third depicts Virgil sitting in a basket while a woman stands outside a building, the fourth depicts Virgil seated in the basket while townsfolk look on. Figure Four Capital, stone, late fourteenth century (Saint Pierre de Caen). Series of carved figures includes Phyllis wielding a whip while riding Aristotle, Samson subduing a lion, and Lancelot crossing the sword bridge. Figure Five Capital, stone, late fourteenth century (Saint Pierre de Caen). Center column features a seated woman holding a captured unicorn. Figure Six Minnekastchen, last third of fourteenth century (Historisches Museum, Lucerne). Casket’s left hand panel depicts a woman holding a chained, fretted lion. Figure Seven Minnekastchen, early fifteenth century (Stadmuseum, Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany). Casket depicts a crowned lady accompanied by a unicorn and a gentleman accompanied by a lion sitting within an enclosed garden. Figure Eight Minnekastchen, fifteenth century (Musee de Cluny, Paris). Casket depicts a male lover seated with his ankles chained to an anvil while a lady pounds his heart in a mortar.
  • Table:
  • Abstract: "The Power of Women Topos on a Fourteenth-Century Embroidery." One of the best-known examples of the Power of Women topos in late medieval art is the so-called "Malterer Embroidery," an early fourteenth-century German work which depicts the amorous entanglements of Samson, Aristotle, Virgil, and Iwein, followed by the unicorn captured by the virgin. Analysis of the image choices and their sequencing shows that the artist employed a dyadic structure based on the polarities of strength and wisdom and strength and chastity in order to propound a specific thesis: that the power of women to inspire love and desire in the strongest and wisest of men finds its proper outlet in Christian marriage, in which love between the sexes transcends merely carnal desire. The ingenuity with which the artist deployed stock imagery, leading the viewer from one idea to another as through steps in an argument, reveals a level of artistic self-consciousness which is not normally conceded to the "decorative" arts, and suggests that the apparent simplicity and conventional quality of many works of this kind may be deceiving. [Reproduced from the journal website: http://brepols.metapress.com/content/121213/?p=afdbc79947a4444b9739ff05942fde63&pi=0]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of California, San Diego
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1990.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00835897
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: