Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0096
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0096
The analysis of medieval art through the lens of gender could be said to have had its genesis with the overall move in art historical discourse away from questions of stylistic analysis, and toward broader investigations of the social and historical contexts for art making and meaning. In particular, feminist scholars of medieval art history, inspired by work done by modernists, as well as by theorists in other fields such as film, began to ask new and different questions about medieval art, particularly about the roles women might have played in its production and reception. Some of the earliest scholarship attempted to recover female artists; although the lack of information about artists in general from the medieval period complicated this endeavor, art historians managed to identify names of some specific female artists, and more generally demonstrate that women were involved in the production of art on a much wider scale than had previously been accepted. The next trend in feminist scholarship was a consideration of the different ways women were represented in medieval art, and how these images often reflected ideological and socially constructed views of women. Representations of women could also function as visual exemplars for actual women, although this was often fraught: the juxtaposition of the Virgin Mary and Eve, for example, created a good/evil binary impossible to either emulate or overcome. The overwhelming negativity of many images of women has perhaps led to a shift in direction and to more recent work that searches for instances of female agency through women’s patronage, ownership, use, and reception of visual culture. And while feminist theory is at the core of much of this work, scholars have expanded their modes of inquiry to consider gender in much broader terms. There has been a move away from understanding women (and gender) as fixed categories, and therefore theories of masculinity, of gender fluidity, of queerness, of the performative and constructed aspects of gender—as well as considerations of race, class, and other cultural markers—have moved alongside of, if not replaced, the previous scholarly focus on women alone.
While feminist art history in general has had a number of state-of-the-field books and articles, beginning in the early 1980s, it took longer for scholars of medieval art using feminism and gender studies to produce histories of their discipline. Dressler 2007 and Easton 2012 are primarily focused on the intersection between feminist theory and medieval art history, although both discuss the way that feminism as a methodology and a terminology has given way before gender studies. Kurmann-Schwartz 2006, Dressler 2012, and Lindquist 2012 provide overviews of gender studies and medieval art; French 2013 focuses on gender and material culture. Caviness 2010 considers the impact of feminism and gender studies on medieval studies more broadly, not just on art history. All sources include useful footnotes and bibliographies, which are treasure troves of other sources, ranging widely in date, that in themselves provide an overview of the changing nature of the field.
Caviness, Madeline. “Feminism, Gender Studies, and Medieval Studies.” Diogenes 57.1 (2010): 30–45.
A comprehensive examination of the evolution of theories of sex and gender over the previous fifteen years, and a look to the future of gender and medieval studies. Includes an extremely useful compilation of essential sources.
Dressler, Rachel. “Continuing the Discourse: Feminist Scholarship and the Study of Medieval Visual Culture.” Medieval Feminist Forum 43.1 (2007): 15–34.
A broad-ranging review of the changing concerns of medieval feminist art history, with a summary of some of the feminist scholarship that has appeared in art history journals.
Dressler, Rachel. “Gender Studies in Medieval Art.” In The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. Vol. 2. Edited by Colum Hourihane, 646–649. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
An excellent, accessible overview and analysis of how the study of gender has been applied to medieval art history, with accompanying bibliography.
Easton, Martha. “Feminism.” Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): 99–112.
Provides an overview of the intersection between feminist theory and medieval art history, with a case study focused on the eroticized images of Saint Catherine in the Belles Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry. The footnotes list a number of key publications on the topic.
French, Katherine. “Genders and Material Culture.” In The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Edited by Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, 197–212. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
An overview of the way consumer culture of the later Middle Ages helped establish identity for both men and women. Focuses particularly on clothing and household furnishings.
Kurmann-Schwartz, Brigitte. “Gender and Medieval Art.” In A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe. Edited by Conrad Rudolph, 128–158. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.
A state-of-the-field essay with the following sections (the topics somewhat belying the title’s use of the term “Gender”): “Women Artists,” “Hildegard of Bingen and Herrad of Hohenbourg,” “Women Patrons,” “The Role of Women in the Use of Devotional Images,” “Monastic Architecture for Women,” and “The Female Image in Romanesque and Gothic Art.”
Lindquist, Sherry. “Gender.” Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): 113–130.
A fundamental analysis of the impact of gender studies on the field of medieval art history, with a case study focused on the Rothschild Canticles. The footnotes list many key publications.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Adornment, Dress, and African Arts of the Body
- Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
- Angkor and Environs
- Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
- Art and Propaganda
- Art of Medieval Iberia
- Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
- Art of the Dogon
- Art of the Mamluks
- Art of the Plains Peoples
- Arts of Senegambia
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Assyrian Art and Architecture
- Australian Aboriginal Art
- Aztec Empire, Art of the
- Babylonian Art and Architecture
- Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions
- Barbizon Painting
- Bartolomeo Ammannati
- Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
- Bohemia and Moravia, Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of
- Borromini, Francesco
- Brazilian Art and Architecture, Post-independence
- Burkina Art and Performance
- Byzantine Art and Architecture
- Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
- Carracci, Annibale
- Chaco Canyon and Other Early Art in the North American Sou...
- Chicana/o Art
- Chimú Art and Architecture
- Colonial Art of New Granada (Colombia)
- Conceptual Art and Conceptualism
- Contemporary Art
- Courbet, Gustave
- Czech Modern and Contemporary Art
- Daumier, Honoré
- David, Jacques-Louis
- Delacroix, Eugène
- Design, Garden and Landscape
- Destruction in Art
- Dürer, Albrecht
- Early Christian Art
- Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
- Eighteenth-Century Europe
- Ethiopia, Art History of
- European Art, Historiography of
- European Medieval Art, Otherness in
- Eyck, Jan van
- Festivals in West Africa
- French Impressionism
- Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- Gender and Art in the Renaissance
- Gender and Art in the 17th Century
- Giotto di Bondone
- Gothic Architecture
- Gothic Art in Italy
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco José
- Great Zimbabwe and its Legacy
- Greek Art and Architecture
- Greenberg, Clement
- Géricault, Théodore
- Iconography in the Western World
- Installation Art
- Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberi...
- Japanese Architecture
- Japanese Ceramics
- Jewish Art, Ancient
- Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern
- Jewish Art, Modern and Contemporary
- Jones, Inigo
- Kahlo, Frida
- Katsushika Hokusai
- Lastman, Pieter
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Luca della Robbia (or the Della Robbia Family)
- Luisa Roldán
- Markets and Auctions, Art
- Marxism and Art
- Maya Art
- Medieval Art and Liturgy (recent approaches)
- Medieval Art and the Cult of Saints
- Medieval Art in Scandinavia, 400-800
- Medieval Textiles
- Meiji Painting
- Merovingian Period Art
- Moche Art
- Modern Sculpture
- Monet, Claude
- Māori Art and Architecture
- Museums in Australia
- Museums of Art in the West
- Nasca Art
- Native North American Art, Pre-Contact
- New Media Art
- New Spain, Art and Architecture
- Olmec Art
- Pacific Art, Contemporary
- Palladio, Andrea
- Parthenon, The
- Performance Art
- Perspective from the Renaissance to Post-Modernism, Histor...
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Philip II and El Escorial
- Photography, History of
- Pollock, Jackson
- Polychrome Sculpture in Early Modern Spain
- Postmodern Architecture
- Pre-Hispanic Art of Columbia
- Psychoanalysis, Art and
- Qing Dynasty Painting
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Renaissance and Renascences
- Rivera, Diego
- Rodin, Auguste
- Roman Art
- Science and Conteporary Art
- Sculpture: Method, Practice, Theory
- South Asia and Allied Textile Traditions, Wall Painting of
- South Asia, Modern and Contemporary Art of
- South Asia, Photography in
- South Asian Architecture and Sculpture, 13th to 18th Centu...
- South Asian Art, Historiography of
- The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the ...
- The Art of Southern Italy and Sicily under Angevin and Cat...
- Theory in Europe to 1800, Art
- Timurid Art and Architecture
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William
- van Gogh, Vincent
- Viking Art
- Warburg, Aby
- Warhol, Andy
- Wari (Huari) Art and Architecture
- Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thi...
- Women, Art, and Art History: Gender and Feminist Analyses
- Yuan Dynasty Art