Women in power-medieval feminism: the empowered woman

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May 6, 2010

Medieval Art

Women in Power-Medieval Feminism: The Empowered Woman
Before Mary Wollenstonecraft even crafted the Declaration of Women (1791), the embryonic signs of an emerging feminist movement were already visible. Due to religious, social, and cultural dogmas and restraints, women were confined to the private sphere, unable to take part in the activities and pursuits of men.Nevertheless, a few women have propelled themselves and unwittingly their female counterparts to a whole new dimension in the Middle Ages. The woman is a recurrent depiction in Medieval Art and Architecture, not to mention in an age where in the Marian cult (and even in the Greco-Latin mythology) was venerated as goddess, saint, and intercessor. Personification of places, whether cities orcountries especially as regal or armed women, are one of the oldest forms of power symbolism”(Sekules 13). Several countries have depicted women at war as their national icons for example Roma, Germania, Brittanica, Sclavenia, Columbia, Athena, Italia Turrita, Hispania, Polonia, Europa etc. The women are either portrayed as martial, royal, or both. Medieval art demonstrated the empowerment of women,where women sometimes moved out of the home space and actively engaged in business, art, warfare, and politics.
Joan of Arc
One of the women who stands out is Joan of Arc. Historically, Joan of Arc is lauded as a liberator of France who bravely warred against England to set free her countrymen who labored under the British yoke. “Quite apart from her saintly character, Joan’s credibility as amilitary leader may have gained greater currency thanks to the classical tradition that personified the authority of war in female form” (Sekules 165). Art enables social criticism. Martin Le Franc sides with Joan of Arc unique personality both as a feminist and as a woman. Through his medieval portrayal of Joan of Arc both as a heroine, military hero, and spiritual icon, he embraces her as a daringwoman. “Martin Le Franc in Le Champion des Dames, a work directly inspired by the quarrel about Le Roman de la Rose, takes Joan’s part against her detractors. Their arguments focus on her belligerence, her transvestism, and her condemnation by the Church” (Warner 220). In the late-Medieval painting “Le Champion des Dames” (1450), one observes Joan of Arc holding two white flags and flanked bythem in a biblical setting. Although critics say that this portrayal is anachronistic, it voices volumes in asserting the sanctity of a patriot and prophetess who received visions and supernatural messages. “Christine was an admirer of Joan (of Arc’s) achievements and a defender when she needed it” (Sekules 165). Joan of Arc, a powerful woman, inspired another medieval woman in power, Christine dePisan, who highly esteemed Joan as a valiant, holy, and still feminine woman.
Christine De Pisan
Another medieval woman which broke from the social norms and launched out into the space of art, literature, and religion is Christine de Pisan (1365-1434). One could argue that because of her aristocratic status she enjoyed many more liberties than the average woman of the Middle Ages; however openprejudice and misogynist ideologies against the woman existed and was encouraged against both the lower and upper classed woman. Christine de Pisan was literate, cultivated her artistic talent, and was mistress of her household (Christine de Pisan). Although today these characteristics seem ordinary, back in the medieval times, it was a rarity for a woman, even an aristocratic one to be qualifiedwith all these talents. Christine de Pizan was born in Italy but married to a Frenchman. De Pisan was a prolific author as she produced several essays, poems, books, ballads, and epistles. The art piece of “Christine de Pisan Writing” is not as common as it seems for women were often relegated non-scholastic tasks for the general public deemed them inferior. In the depiction of De Pisan writing,...
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