Published: June 27, 2017
LOS ANGELES – Modern portrayals of medieval women tend toward stereotypical images of damsels in distress, mystics in convents, female laborers in the fields and even women of ill repute. In fact, women’s roles in the Middle Ages were varied and nuanced, and medieval depictions of womanhood were multifaceted. “Illuminating Women in the Medieval World,” on view through September 17 at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, reveals the vibrant and complex medieval representations of women, real and imagined, who fill the texts and images within illuminated manuscripts.
“The roles of women in medieval times is a subject that has been little explored despite the considerable visual and literary evidence that exists,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “There are abundant representations of women in medieval art with which we are all familiar, including female saints, royals and everyday laborers. Looking beyond this core, ‘Illuminating Women’ highlights the more varied roles that women actually played in the Middle Ages, including those that are less known, such as that of arts patron.”
Ranging from the Virgin Mary to the adulterous Bathsheba, the exhibition is divided into five sections and features a wide variety of female figures and roles. Section one focuses on the biblical heroines, female saints and pious nuns who were held in high regard as models of proper behavior. The second section discusses their counterpoint: lascivious women, who were used as warnings against sinful conduct. The third section examines women in their relationships with men, other women and children. The fourth considers women in the medieval arts, and their relationship with commissioning and creating manuscripts. The exhibition ends with works by modern-day female artists who drew upon medieval imagery and artistic techniques.
Although very few female artists from the Middle Ages are known today by name, some records survive of their work, including Jeanne de Montbaston, a Parisian bookseller and illuminator who, with her husband, ran a successful workshop.
The exhibition is curated by Christine Sciacca, former assistant curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, now associate curator of European art, 300-1400 CE at The Walters Art Museum. A richly illustrated book, Illuminating Women in the Medieval World, will be published by Getty Publications to complement the exhibition.
The J. Paul Getty Museum is at 1200 Getty Center Drive. For more information, www.getty.edu or 310-440-7300.
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