In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Christine de Pizan

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies in English
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Manuscript Tradition
  • Christine and the Humanist Tradition

Renaissance and Reformation Christine de Pizan
Geri Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0528


Christine de Pizan (b. c. 1364–d. c. 1431) was one of the most prolific and impactful writers of the late Middle Ages, an early humanist and a rare female voice among the French literati of her day. Both of those distinctions give her a special standing in the evolution of French literature and thought. While the French Renaissance is generally aligned with the 16th century, consideration of intellectual history requires a broader scope. For Christine, that means reaching back to the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century and the body of humanist literature that would form the foundation of Christine’s own work. Having been born in Venice, Christine’s connection with Italy stems from her earliest days. She relocated to Paris at about the age of four to join her father Thomas, a doctor and astrologer in the employ of King Charles V. Raised in the milieu of the court, with access to a library of one of Europe’s largest collections of classical works translated into French, she was able to cultivate her bookish tendencies and a store of knowledge that would sustain her throughout her life. When she was widowed at twenty-five and faced with forging a life for herself and her family, she turned to writing to assuage her grief and earn a living. While her early works largely comprise poetry about love, she would go on to write increasingly in prose and on wider-ranging topics including politics, philosophy, and the art of warfare. Her involvement in the 1401–1402 public literary debate surrounding the Romance of the Rose marked a turning point in her reputation as a writer and intellectual and made her a central figure in the broader querelle des femmes (“debate about women”) that would carry on for centuries. She was also a publisher, overseeing and participating in the production of her manuscripts. She was known early on to an international audience, and her works continued to be printed and disseminated for approximately two centuries following her death. The influence of her writing would ripple through to the early 17th century, informing the English Renaissance as well, until Christine’s work would fall into relative obscurity along with most of medieval literature. Her “rediscovery” dates to the late 19th century and surged in the 1980s, igniting momentum that continues today. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation articles “Women and Learning”; “Women Writing in French”; and the subsections “Renaissance and Humanism” and “Renaissance and Women” under The Renaissance.

General Overviews

The texts listed here are meant to familiarize readers with Christine and her cultural and literary contexts. First, the works on French women’s writing establish Christine’s essential place in that general discussion. Second, the overviews focused on Christine’s life and works include biographical background as well as orientations to dominant threads in Christine studies.

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