Medieval Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

I found a great little book at the thrift store last week: The Medieval Woman: an illuminated Book of Days. It’s a hardcover datebook packed with vibrant illuminations of women doing all sorts of work. This includes traditional occupations such as textile work (from cultivating silk worms to tailoring), farm work, cooking, nursing, and midwifery, to nontraditional work such as trade (often alongside their husbands), painting, sculpture, musical performance, and even masonry, smithing, mining, and castle defense. I’ve scanned a few of the more bookish women to present here.

Medieval Woman
Christine de Pisan, Writing

Collected Works of Christine de Pisan,
MS. Harley 4431, f. 4

French, fifteenth century
British Library, London

Medieval Woman

Giovanni Boccacio. Le livre des femmes nobles et renommées.
MS. Fr. 598, f. 43r

French, fifteenth century
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Medieval Woman
Woman Teaching

Giovanni Boccaccio. Le livre des femmes nobles et renommées.
MS. Fr. 598, f. 71v

French, fifteenth century
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

I particularly enjoy the scholar with her multiple book stands. Perhaps if she were working today she’d have multiple monitors. I also must find out more about Christine de Pisan. According to the book she is the earliest known French female author. There is one illustration in the book of two fine ladies building a city wall from a work called “Cité des Dames” by Christine de Pisan. Could it be a fifteenth century feminist utopia? I must find out!


9 comments on “Medieval Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

  1. Mella DP says:

    Great find! These are beautiful.

  2. Danielle says:

    What a lovely find. Are there any needleworkers (I'd be surprised if there weren't) or just weavers? The woman in the middle is definitely multi-tasking! 🙂 I take it these didn't all appear in the same manuscript? Thanks for sharing the illustrations.

  3. びっくり says:

    What a fun find… and at a thrift store nonetheless.

  4. Sylvia says:

    I find all sorts of good stuff there. Today I found a book on neoclassicism in art and architecture and a lovely old concise Oxford dictionary that will be my new reading companion (after it gets a little orthopaedic surgery from a local bookbinder). A buck each.

  5. Sylvia says:

    Danielle, alas there is shearing, carding, spinning (lots of spinning), and weaving, along with whacking flax, collecting silk cocoons, and cutting cloth, but not a needle in sight! You are correct, the illustrations in the book are from many different manuscripts, though “Le livre de femmes nobles et renommées” (the book of noble and notable women) supplied a number of them, including two of the above.

  6. wil says:

    I haven't read it yet, but I have Pizan's The Treasury of the City of Ladies on my shelf. Alas, I don't have the companion text: The Book of the City of Ladies.

  7. Sylvia says:

    I've requested an anthology of her works from the library. Should be interesting. From what I gather she made her reputation lambasting male authors for portraying women as evil temptresses.

  8. Inkslinger says:

    This is fascinating! I love the multiple book stand woman as well. 🙂 I'm going to need to add Pisan to my 'must check this out' list (ever expanding!).

  9. Stefanie says:

    I have The Book of the City of Ladies on my shelf but haven't read it yet. had no ide before Wil's comment that there was another volume!

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