Session Title

The Other Half of Heaven: Visualizing Female Sanctity in East and West (ca. 1200-1500) I

Sponsoring Organization(s)

International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA)

Organizer Name

Beth Williamson

Organizer Affiliation

Univ. of Bristol

Presider Name

Ioanna Christoforaki

Presider Affiliation

Academy of Athens, Research Centre for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art

Paper Title 1

The Painted Lives of Female Saints in the Late Byzantine World: Gendered Narratives?

Presenter 1 Name

Nicolas Varaine

Presenter 1 Affiliation

École Pratique des Hautes Études/Institut national d’histoire de l’art

Paper Title 2

Visualizing Women of Cappadocia through the Images of Female Saints

Presenter 2 Name

Şebnem Dönbekci

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Koç Univ.

Paper Title 3

Gender Identity, Iconography, and Piety: Imagining a Transvestite Holy Woman on Medieval Cyprus

Presenter 3 Name

Jenny P. Albani

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports

Paper Title 4

Perception of Gender and Visual Narratives in Vita Icons

Presenter 4 Name

Paraskevi Ch. Papadimitrou

Presenter 4 Affiliation

Centre for Byzantine Research, Aristotle Univ. of Thessaloniki

Start Date

9-5-2019 1:30 PM

Session Location

Schneider 1360

Description

If, according to the well-known Chinese proverb, women hold half the sky, did medieval female saints hold half of heaven? In her book of 1998, Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100, Jane Schulenburg calculated that of over 2200 female and male saints examined, only one in seven (or 15%) were women. Although documentation on medieval women is notably scarce, this gender-based asymmetry in the celestial realm clearly reflected the values and hierarchy of earthly society.

Female saints were exceptional women who gained social status, popular recognition and enhanced visibility through sainthood. Medieval female sanctity is a multi-faceted phenomenon, which has been mainly explored through words. Historians and literary scholars have fruitfully mined historical and hagiographical texts not only to draw ‘facts’ about the lives of female saints but also to elucidate social mentalities and highlight gender issues. Holy women, however, were also represented on a variety of media, most notably on icons, frescoes, manuscript illuminations and other artworks. Nevertheless, despite the wealth of historical and hagiographical scholarship on female saints, their visual representations have been exploited almost exclusively in stylistic or iconographic terms.

Beginning in the thirteenth century, the medieval word witnessed some seismic changes. In the West, religious revival, commercial growth and urbanization brought wealth, while in the East, the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 redrew the borders of the Byzantine empire and led to the creation of new state entities. Moreover, the emergence of the mendicant orders gave rise to new saints and set out novel rules for female sanctity. In the period between 1200 and 1500 a number of religious women gained widespread veneration and even canonization as saints, such as Clare of Assisi and Catherine of Siena in the West or Elizabeth of Hungary and Theodora of Arta in the East.

The aim of this session is to consider female sanctity in visual terms both in Western Europe and the Byzantine East. By exploring representations of women saints and their changing iconography, it aspires to shed light on their status and experience in late medieval society. It will examine images of holy women as embodiments of cultural models and explore the social and religious environment that shaped their visual constructions. In the highly symbolic world of the Middle Ages representations of female saints can become a vehicle for multiple interpretations, including social status, gender, identity, ethnicity and collective memory.

Ioanna Christoforaki

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May 9th, 1:30 PM

The Other Half of Heaven: Visualizing Female Sanctity in East and West (ca. 1200-1500) I

Schneider 1360

If, according to the well-known Chinese proverb, women hold half the sky, did medieval female saints hold half of heaven? In her book of 1998, Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100, Jane Schulenburg calculated that of over 2200 female and male saints examined, only one in seven (or 15%) were women. Although documentation on medieval women is notably scarce, this gender-based asymmetry in the celestial realm clearly reflected the values and hierarchy of earthly society.

Female saints were exceptional women who gained social status, popular recognition and enhanced visibility through sainthood. Medieval female sanctity is a multi-faceted phenomenon, which has been mainly explored through words. Historians and literary scholars have fruitfully mined historical and hagiographical texts not only to draw ‘facts’ about the lives of female saints but also to elucidate social mentalities and highlight gender issues. Holy women, however, were also represented on a variety of media, most notably on icons, frescoes, manuscript illuminations and other artworks. Nevertheless, despite the wealth of historical and hagiographical scholarship on female saints, their visual representations have been exploited almost exclusively in stylistic or iconographic terms.

Beginning in the thirteenth century, the medieval word witnessed some seismic changes. In the West, religious revival, commercial growth and urbanization brought wealth, while in the East, the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 redrew the borders of the Byzantine empire and led to the creation of new state entities. Moreover, the emergence of the mendicant orders gave rise to new saints and set out novel rules for female sanctity. In the period between 1200 and 1500 a number of religious women gained widespread veneration and even canonization as saints, such as Clare of Assisi and Catherine of Siena in the West or Elizabeth of Hungary and Theodora of Arta in the East.

The aim of this session is to consider female sanctity in visual terms both in Western Europe and the Byzantine East. By exploring representations of women saints and their changing iconography, it aspires to shed light on their status and experience in late medieval society. It will examine images of holy women as embodiments of cultural models and explore the social and religious environment that shaped their visual constructions. In the highly symbolic world of the Middle Ages representations of female saints can become a vehicle for multiple interpretations, including social status, gender, identity, ethnicity and collective memory.

Ioanna Christoforaki