Medieval Women in Art

When you think of famous medieval artists, what names usually come to mind? Leonardo da Vinci? Lorenzo Ghiberti? Donatello? Most likely. But, if the question is narrowed down to medieval female artists, can you name just one? Neither can I.

It’s highly probable that women were just as much a part of the artistic Renaissance that swept across Europe beginning around the 12th century A.D. – and not dishing up water and tea to the male artists, or serving as models along pastoral backdrops. Sadly, the names of most of these women weren’t recorded in the history books. But, at least one Renaissance contemporary, Giovanni Boccaccio, made an attempt with “De Mulieribus Claris (Famous Women or On Famous Women or Of Famous Women).” First published in 1374, the tome is actually a collection of biographies of famous women in literature and history; from the biblical Eve to Queen Giovanna I of Naples. Boccaccio is best known for “Decameron,” a collection of 100 tales told by seven young women and three young men who sought refuge outside Florence from the “Black Death,” which was ravaging the city and much of Europe at the time. But, in “De Mulieribus Claris,” Boccaccio takes on the more serious themes of daily life, politics, wealth and individual talents – pretty much from an exclusively female vantage point. That, in itself, was a rarity in such a patriarchal environment as 14th century Europe.

The handful of delineations here represent what surely is an unwritten chapter in artistic lore. The names and life stories of these women may be unknown at this time. But, the determination of art historians could help to rewrite the narratives of these mysterious foremothers. Thank you to art blogger Barbara Wells Sarudy for this extraordinary presentation.

Also reference “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” by Marta Madero.

Unknown artist from detail of a miniature of ancient Greek artist Thamyris (Timarete) painting her picture of the goddess Diana, N. France, (Rouen). The original is in the British Library collection ID 43537, c 1400-25.

Unknown artist from detail of a miniature of ancient Greek artist Thamyris (Timarete) painting her picture of the goddess Diana, N. France, (Rouen). The original is in the British Library collection ID 43537, c 1400-25.

Unknown artist ‘Marcia Painting Self-Portrait using Mirror,’ from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste faisant son autoportrait.

Unknown artist ‘Marcia Painting Self-Portrait using Mirror,’ from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste faisant son autoportrait.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste préparant une fresque.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste préparant une fresque.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Des cléres et nobles femmes,” Spencer Collection MS. 33, f. 37v, French, c. 1470 Artist in her Atelier.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Des cléres et nobles femmes,” Spencer Collection MS. 33, f. 37v, French, c. 1470 Artist in her Atelier.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Femme Sculpteur.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Femme Sculpteur.

Roman des Girart von Roussillon, Cod. 2449, f. 167v, Flemish, 1447, Österreichishe Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. Women Building.

Roman des Girart von Roussillon, Cod. 2449, f. 167v, Flemish, 1447, Österreichishe Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. Women Building.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

Royal 16 G V f. 73v Irene, Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Royal 16 G V f. 73v Irene, Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

1 Comment

Filed under Classics

One response to “Medieval Women in Art

  1. We were not very well represented were we. Interesting.

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