Sunday, September 6, 2015

Black Key #19

Black Key #19 - virtual (digital) assemblage - 2015, DS
(click to enlarge)

“The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the man who is its vehicle.  The creative urge lives and grows in him/her like a tree in the earth from which it draws its nourishment.  We would do well, then, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche.”
- from The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, Collected Works, 1966, Carl Jung

I'll be away from the "Land of Blog" for the next couple of months, attending to various "unborn works in the psyche".

Before I go, I just wanted to address some elements I deleted from the sidebar... namely my "Followers" section, the pageview-count widget, and the "Search" widget; all three seem to have picked up glitches in the past couple of months, and aren't working - on my computer, at any rate - so, I took them down. I especially wanted my followers to know that this was no reflection on them, and when and if the widgets lose their glitches, I'll put them back up.

My plan is to return around the end of October... till then, adios!


PS  Following the trail of the Black Key: Where the Key was Found. But, the question remains, was the key found before, or after #19? ;-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Patron Saint #11: Frida Kahlo: Portraits of La Santa Muerte

Autorretrato con collar de espinas (Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns) - oil on canvas - 1940, Frida Kahlo
(Apart from this image which is posted at its maximum size, all others on this page
 can be clicked to enlarge.)

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.”

- Frida Kahlo; quote found here.


I've not been a huge fan of most film and television fare in recent years, so I tend to miss a lot of things. And, when Julie Taymor's Frida (2002) appeared on the tube several months ago, I was a liitle hesitant; not convinced that Selma Hayek (or, anyone, for that matter) could pull off the heavy title role. Happily, I was wrong, and, for the most part, I enjoyed the film. And, it renewed my interest in possibly one of the most celebrated, venerated - and, possibly least understood - artists of the past century, Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 - July 13, 1954).

As it was, Frida Kahlo's story came up a few times in the autumn of last year, during research for "Dia(s) de Los Muertos". At first, I thought it was amusing that, while googling "The Day(s) of the Dead," Kahlo's imagery - and photos of Kaylo herself - kept popping up on my computer monitor, but, after exploring some of these links, and doing a little investigation of my own, an intriguing picture began to emerge. Ultimately, Frida Kahlo might not be associated with the Days of the Dead for superficial reasons. As it was, I begin to suspect, in many ways, not only was she aware of La Santa Muerte (or Santisima Muerte) the patron Saint of Death - in spite of the fact that she had not come from, nor lived in the lower class barrios - she, in many ways, identified with her and, possibly, even paid tribute to her, along with the Saint's Mesoamerican forebear, the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Moreover, as documentation of contemporary Santa Muerte worship just happened to originate around the middle of the 20th century - anywhere from the 1940s to the 1960s (Kahlo herself died in 1954) - I suspect that, not only was Frida Kahlo an early contributor (albeit unwittingly) to the religion's more recent form (see here and here), she has become, in a sense, one of the saint's corporeal embodiments...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rejection Letter from Walt Disney Studios, 1938

Rejection letter to an aspiring young artist, 1938
(click to enlarge)

June 7, 1938

Dear Miss Ford:

Your letter of recent date has been received in the Inking and Painting Department for reply.
Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for training school.

The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.

In order to apply for a position as "Inker" or "Painter" it is necessary that one appear at the Studio bringing samples of pen and ink and watercolor work. It would not be advisable to come to Hollywood with the above specifically in view, as there are really very few openings in comparison with the number of girls who apply.

Yours very truly,

Mary Chase

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In the Company of Green Women (V): The Renaissance & Baroque Painters

Susanna and the Elders - oil painting - 1610, Artemisia Gentileschi

(Apart from this image, which has been posted in full, the remainder of the images of this post
 can be clicked to enlarge.)

"If Artemisia had not been a virgin before Tassi raped her, the Gentileschis would not have been able to press charges. During the ensuing seven-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had planned to murder his wife, had engaged in adultery with his sister-in-law, and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to a gynecological examination and torture using thumbscrews to verify her testimony. At the end of the trial Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time..."
- Via the Wiki entry for Artemisia Gentileschi. (Note: Ah, but do not cry for Artemisia; as we will see, she, indeed, has her metaphorical revenge!)

Self Portrait as a Lute Player - oil on canvas - 1615-1617, Artemisia Gentileschi

"It is not easy to explain why the Italian towns and universities gave so much encouragement to the higher aspirations of girls. In poetry, in art, in learning, that encouragement was equally remarkable, and I am tempted to assign its origin to the martial temper of the Middle Ages, which drew many young men from the universities to take part in the exercises of the tilt-yard or in the perils of the battlefield, leaving the fields of learning in need of zealous labourers. Women, on the other hand, exposed their hearts, but not their lives, to the hazards of duels, tournaments and wars; they lived longer than men, as a rule, and hence it was worth while to encourage publicly those gifts of the female mind and spirit which had long been cultivated privately for the benefit of peaceful nunneries."
- Walter Shaw Sparrow from Women Painters of the World, 1905. (Full text)

"A number of obstacles stood in the way of contemporary women who wished to become painters. Their training would involve both the dissection of cadavers and the study of the nude male form, while the system of apprenticeship meant that the aspiring artist would need to live with an older artist for 4–5 years, often beginning from the age of 9-15. For these reasons, female artists were extremely rare, and those that did make it through were typically trained by a close relative..."
- Via the Wiki entry for Flemish artist Caterina van Henessen (1528 – after 1587).

Self Portrait Seated at an Easel - oil on wood panel - 1548, Caterina van Hemessen 

"Occasional doubt has been raised as to the authenticity and provenance of the work. Some have speculated that it was created by her father Jan Sanders van Hemessen (1500–c 1566); he tended to portray women with the same large round, dark, eyes and reduced chin. However these theories are not given much weight by art historians, and the prominence of the signature is taken as evidence of Caterina's intention to mark the work as by her own hand."
- Via the Wiki entry for Caterina van Henessen. (Note: The actual inscription on the painting is: "I Caterina van Hemessen have painted myself / 1548 / Her aged 20.") (!)


Well, finally, after following the exploits of medieval women who, despite their unfortunate invisibility, we now know were active in many fields of visual art, we come to the end of our medieval journey.  We are now entering the High Renaissance and Baroque periods, and, somehow, with no prior evidence or warning, a most curious thing occurs: women artists have suddenly multiplied like rabbits! Not only that, we now have names, faces, and dates to conjure with; yes, actual flesh & blood people. In short, there's enough official data to utterly dispel the falsehood that women have no artistic legacy. Because, yes, there most certainly were great woman artists in the long past, whether certain small, indoctrinated, and biased minds recognize this or not.

But, if any or all of the woman painters I feature (or mention) in this post - an incomplete listing of about thirty-five* - come as a surprise to you, do not feel alone. You and I are sharing the same process of discovery. I can attest to the fact that, as recent as thirty-five years ago, little was known - or, at least shared with the general public - about any of these women outside of Europe, and (possibly) only marginally there, with few exceptions. Moreover, they were known mainly amongst scholars and academics who, for whatever reason, couldn't estimate the importance of the work these dedicated women had produced. And, let's face it, the women had to be dedicated, considering the immense obstacles that stood before them.

Enter the contemporary feminists. And, female art students of today, whether they realize it or not, are beholden to women like artist, Judy Chicago, and historians, Mary D. Garrard, Norma Broude, Frances Sinclair, Jane Fortune, and the numerous others who rescued the full spectrum of human creativity from the waste-bins of history. And, let's not forget the technology. Today an art student merely has to wave his or her hand over a screen to instantly conjure up art from around the world from any period in history... not so easily accomplished before the 21st century, and certainly impossible for women of the Renaissance.

Portrait of Five Women with a Dog and a Parrot - oil on canvas (distressed) - Lavinia Fontana

So, with little more ado I present to you my recent findings - as much, or more, of a shock to me as this information may seem to you. But, if you are a woman keep this one idea in mind: the female artists of the remote past - even more so than many of those today - were sending a codified message... to each other, and to all the marginalized creative woman of the future. Unlike those anonymous artists of the medieval period, the painters of the High Renaissance and those which followed, began signing their work, as if to say: "I did this. I was here. Remember me."

Of course, in reality, there have been many men similarly marginalized by society throughout the ages; so, this underlying message is for them, as well. It is a message for the "outlaws", the mavericks, the dispossessed... the men and women who (along with their work) - were suppressed or lost, or, possibly even destroyed, by the prevalent trends and powers-that-be of their day... or the biased and misinformed whims of chroniclers who came after. It's of some small comfort to know that, In time - although, perhaps, a very long time - those marginalized humans might finally find a rightful place in history, and receive the respect and recognition due to them.

Well, idealistically. But, in any case, truth will "out"... and, that's the main thing.

Below the jump is a listing, arranged chronologically by date of birth, of a gathering (and gallery) of Renaissance painters and those from the Baroque - a French word originally referring to an irregularly-shaped pearl - period which followed. Some of them, along with the examples of their work, I've accompanied with a bit of text; some with only a few links, depending on how much is known about the artist, and/or, specific items of intrigue. It's only the mere tip of the iceberg, but it's the best I can do. Enjoy! :-)

(Note: As of this post, all links will now open up in new pages.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lughnasadh Interlude

Lughnasadh (detail) - digital - 2007, DS

Lughnasadh and the "blue moon" synchronistically fall on the same date this year. What does this mean? It's a prompt: get your Pagan on!

For more information about Lughnadadh try here. For an astrological take on the current blue moon, try here.

Blessed Be,


An apology to my European readers.

It has come to my attention that there are numerous country-specific versions of this blog in cyber-space. Moreover, in the past week or so, the European ones (for example) have had a rather ungainly "cookie" notice plastered over this blogspot's title, due to a recently-enforced European cyber-law. I am dismayed, and sorry for the entire state of affairs, but I'm afraid it, and everything related to it - the "cookies," the notice, and whatever country-specific blog URLs are in existence -  are not of my creation and are entirely outside of my control.  In my opinion, the "cookie notice" should be available to all readers, and should appear on the main .com page; a possibility I'm considering although the actually mechanics involved are daunting.

Then again, as I pay Google nothing for the cyberspace in which this blog resides, I have no legitimate cause, excuse, (nor authority) to complain. Without this free space my blog(s) would not exist and I would have no venue(s). One gets what one pays for. On the other hand, my European readers are important to me, and I hope this recent development has not caused them to doubt my integrity nor the integrity of other American bloggers.

In the end, to my knowledge, "cookies" are the product of most websites across the board and are hardly exclusive. Welcome to cyberspace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In the Company of Green Women (IV): Of Lost Creatures & Forgotten Tales (The Textile Artists)

À mon seul désir - one of six in the series of tapestries entitled: The Lady and The Unicorn - Flanders, 1500s - currently housed in the Musée de Cluny - National Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris, France.

"In the nineteenth century Prosper Merimé the French Inspector of Historic Monuments drew the attention of authorities to the beauty and importance of the tapestries after finding them hanging on damp walls in the rat ridden decaying Château Boussac in 1835. They were still there in 1844 when the renowned author of her day George Sand mentioned them in her novel Jeanne. She endeavoured to use her celebrity status to have them removed to safety, but to no avail.They were still there in 1853 when Baron Aucapitaine drew the attention of Edmond du Sommerard, the Curator of the Cluny Museum at Paris to them and he subsequently negotiated long and hard to secure them.Two important details still elude researchers; the personality of the artist who designed the tapestries for Jean le Viste and the place where they were woven."

- Carolyn McDowall, from The Lady and The Unicorn and ‘Millefleurs’ Style Tapestries.

The Unicorn is Found - one of a series of seven tapestries entitled: The Hunt of the Unicorn - 1490-1505, Brussels - currently housed in The Cloisters, NYC, New York.

"I was so excited to see the tapestries, I think I almost cried.  They are so amazing and the colors are still so vivid.  The tapestries are believed to have been created in the Netherlands, between 1495 and 1515.  The first known record of their existence is from 1680 when they were part of the inventory of the belongings of a French Duke...

...During the Revolution, populist mobs looted the chateau and took the tapestries where they remained out of sight for several generations. It was rumored that they were used to cover espaliered trees and protect potatoes. In the early 1850’s a peasant’s wife came forward with news of some “old curtains” that were covering vegetables in the barn. Can you imagine? It’s amazing that they have managed to retain their pretty, bright colors."

- Thimbleanna, from The Unicorn Tapestries

Salone dei Mesi (Month of March) - Francesco del Cossa - 1470

"The most famous remaining medieval tapestry cartoons were the ones painted by Raphael for "The Acts of the Apostles", a series of tapestries commissioned from a Brussels tapestry shop by Pope Leo X in 1515 for the lower level of Rome's Sistine Chapel. We remember Raphael's name... he's a very famous artist. No one remembers the names of those countless Belgian weavers."

-  Found on this Unicorn page.

"Today it is said that the unicorn never existed. However, it is marvelously clear that when the unicorn was first described and centuries later when the tapestries were woven, everyone believed in unicorns."

- From Marianna Mayer, The Unicorn and the Lake.


Whenever a medieval or Renaissance work of art is found hosting a colony of mold, plugging up a fireplace, or "protectively" wrapping a bin of potatoes, it almost goes without saying that it must have been "women's work" (the art, that is). At least, that's the impression I got as I vainly pursued and attempted to identify medieval women artists and artisans. It seems to have been a trend... and, one we'll revisit, when we've arrive at the topic of Renaissance paintings (note: despite my best efforts, this will not be achieved in the present post).

Which is why I believe the two sets of Unicorn tapestries (examples shown above; also below the jump) - most especially "The Lady and the Unicorn" - were most likely the work of women. This is not to say that men were not involved in the production of textiles in the late Middle Ages. They most certainly were. Weavers were often members of all-male guilds, because - apart from the work emerging from convents and monasteries - women were supposedly banned from the loom. By the late 1400s and early 1500s, however, when the Unicorn tapestries were created, the situation had reversed, and female weavers began to predominate; especially in the Low Countries, where the Unicorn tapestries - both sets - originated.

Moreover, both the "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries, and those comprising "The Hunt of the Unicorn," employed the Millefleur(s) - thousand flowers - technique; a style which (I'd hazard to guess) even the most genteel of men would find hard to swallow, let alone spend countless hours over its execution. I think, too, that it's significant that the French feminist writer, George Sand (French Wiki link) , made a point of championing "The Lady's" recovery (from the no-longer-rat-infested Château Boussac). She sensed there was something "curious" about them.*

But, when both sets of tapestries were finally "saved," it didn't take art historians long to realize that the textiles were artistic masterpieces. As it presently stands, the Unicorn tapestries (of both groups) are officially considered to be the most outstanding examples of medieval art and craftsmanship the world possesses...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

In the Company of Green Women (III): The Illumined and the Illuminators

Zelus Dei - Illumination from Hildegard von Bingen's Scivias - 1151 or 1152 - found here.
(Note: click on images in this post for enlarged views)

"I looked and behold a head of marvellous form ... of the colour of flame and red as fire, and it had a terrible human face gazing northward in great wrath. From the neck downward I could see no further form, for the body was altogether concealed ... but the head itself I saw, like the bare form of a human head. Nor was it hairy like a man, nor indeed after the manner of a woman, but it was more like to a man than a woman, and very awful to look upon.

It had three wings of marvellous length and breadth, white as a dazzling cloud. They were not raised erect but spread apart one from the other and the head rose slightly above them ... and at times they would beat terribly and again would be still. No word uttered the head, but remained altogether still, yet now and again beating with its extended wings."


"From my infancy until now in the seventieth year of my age," she says, "my soul has always beheld this light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into different air... The brightness which I see is not limited by space, and is more brilliant than the radiance around the Sun... I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is 'Shade of the Living Light.' ... With that brightness I sometimes see another light for which the name Lux Vivens has been given me. When and how I see this I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more."

- Two quotes from Hildegard von Bingen, via "The Scientific Views and Visions of Saint Hildegard;" from Studies in the History and Method of Science (full text), 1921, edited by Charles Singer

Frontispiece from Scivias depicting Hildegard von Bingen receiving "divine" inspiration.

O virtus Sapientiae

O Wisdom’s energy!
Whirling, you encircle
and everything embrace
in the single way of life.
Three wings you have:
one soars above into the heights,
one from the earth exudes,
and all about now flies the third.
Praise be to you, as is your due, O Wisdom.

Antiphon for Divine Wisdom by Hildegard von Bingen. This was one of her many musical compositions which are still being performed to this day.

"Therefore the whirlwinds tell me lies in many voices, which rise up within me, saying, 'Who are you? and what are you doing? and what are these battles you are fighting? You are indeed unhappy, for you do not know whether your work is good or bad. Where will you go? and who will save you? and what are these errors that are driving you to madness? Are you doing what delights you? Are you escaping what distresses you?... It would be better for you if you did not exist!' 

And after these whirlwinds have risen up thus within me, I begin to tread another path that is hard for my flesh to bear, for I begin to practice righteousness. But then I doubt as to whether or not the Holy Spirit has given this to me, and I say, 'This is useless.' And I wish to fly above the clouds. How? I wish to fly above the faculties and start things I cannot finish. But when I try to do these things, I only stir up great sadness in myself, so that I do no works, either on the heights of sanctity or on the plains of good will; but I bear within me the disquietude of doubt, desperation, sadness, and oppression in all things."

- Hildegard von Bingen from Book 1, Vision 4, Scivias, (1151/1152).

"Claricia was a German illuminator who included a self-portrait in a South German psalter produced circa 1200 CE. In the self-portrait, she depicts herself swinging from the tail of a letter Q with her name inscribed over her head. Her uncovered head, braided hair, and style of dress (close-fitting tunic, long-waisted dress, long flowing sleeves) suggests that she was a lay student at the convent." - via the Wiki article.

"Nuns created artwork that varied in style, function, market, and quality, like all artists everywhere. Some nuns made private devotional drawings, and some crafted products in a variety of media for sale outside the convent. They had opinions about their work, too. In an early sixteenth-century letter to her brother, a nun in Nuremberg asks him if he would show some of her embroidery to his friend Albrecht Dürer, otherwise known as the Elvis of the northern Renaissance. In another letter she says, 'I have no recreation except painting; if I could only have Dürer for a fortnight so that he could instruct [me].'"

- Whitney Burkhalter from “Nuns Can’t Paint”: Sexism, Medieval Art, and Dudes on Mopeds.

Self-portrait -  1493, Albrecht Dürer

(Note: Now, girls - and some boys - wouldn't you, too, wish to have
this man "for a fortnight..." ? I would!)

"To accommodate the demand, book-making, writing, and illustrating expanded out of monasteries and into secular production houses.  These commercial scriptoriums were prevalent in most major cities, but especially Paris, by the 1300s.  Furthermore, a great deal of the actual painting of these manuscripts was done by women.  Yet another female-dominated industry in the middle ages that you might never have guessed."

-  Merry Farmer from: Medieval Monday - Illuminated Manuscripts.

From: La voie de Povreté ou de Richesse (The Way of Poverty or of Wealth) -1400s, France
Previously attributed to "a follower of the Bedford Master", it is now attributed to the "Fastolf Master". 

“I know a woman today, named Anastasia, who is so learned and skilled in painting manuscript borders and miniature backgrounds that one cannot find an artisan in all the city of Paris – where the best in the world are found – who can surpass her, nor who can paint flowers and details as delicately as she does, nor whose work is more highly esteemed, no matter how rich or precious the book is. People cannot stop talking about her. And I know this from experience, for she has executed several things for me, which stand out among the ornamental borders of the great masters.”

- Christine de Pizan, from The Book of The City of Ladies, (1405), via Mary French's article: Lady Truth and the Author: Female Networking in Medieval Manuscripts.


As you may have noticed, I've a new ploy for getting myself to post these days; I put up the images first - which is half the battle anyway - and this forces me to add my "narrative glue" sooner than I would have otherwise. Unfortunately, sometimes even this maneuver back-fires, and I drum up additional information, and more links, and so many bits of disorganized data, that the whole task becomes hopeless.  And, in the case of medieval women, this has been true from the first and second posts in this series - plus the post that started it all - straight through to this one. And why is this? In four words: it's those rabbits again. I can now pronounce, from deepest experience, that whatever else the Sign of the Three Hares may mean, it - without one single doubt or hesitation on my part - is a magical symbol. It is a symbol of increase. Period. And, as Elmer Fudd might've said, when confronted with three Bugs Bunnies (!): Be vewy careful.

And, so, we come to the medieval scribes, mystics, and illuminators - specifically the invisible feminine side of the medieval equation. And, like myself, you were probably under the impression that this was primarily an empty set, containing one or two obscure female anomalies of little import. In which case you - like myself - would be wrong. And, really, if you follow this blog at all, it should come as no surprise... considering that even very contemporary women of artistic achievement have already seemingly fallen through the cracks of History (emphasis on "His")...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Triangulation & The 3 Hares (In Memory of a Beautiful Mind)

Four Degrees of Triangulation - 2015, DS

"Each planet has energy through it via a visible light spectrum and produces it’s own output albeit in a longer thermal wave and the production of atmospheres, and the concurrence of fluids ruled over by the Trident of Neptune. .. One could call our solar system an example of the conservation of energy...or perhaps not. Perhaps this is a strange astrology..cyclic and yet prone to flux. The visible conjoined to the invisible. And beyond this?

Is there a triadic ordering to the anomalous between existents and non existents? Is there a dipole to this that creates a dynamo that produces a music strange to our senses..attenuated to this exchange resulting not in physicality nor non physicality, but rather a reconciling force?

Your guess is as good as mine. I suppose the interdependence of what Bateson saw as two drum beats creates not a seeming harmonious rhythm but rather discordance as translated by our own triangulations."

- Bruce Deunsing, from his post The Physicality of Metaphysics

Four Degrees of Triangulation (2) - 2015, DS

"Nicola Tesla (1856-1943) in his whole life, did not own a home, he lived in hotels, never got married and besides him being a genius, his interesting personality was always the center of attention. Since he arrived to New York in 1884 he stayed in many hotels (especially the New Yorker which was the one he stayed the longest in) he would order his meal by phone, he would sit all alone in his suit at the table, since he had an obsession of numbers that could be divided by three he would order his napkins according to this and after a thorough hygiene control he would eat his meal."

-  Via this Tesla Society page.

"One of his proudest achievements was his TMT, (Tesla Magnifying Transmitter), or Tesla transponder. The few that have looked into this at a mathematical and experimental level seem to reach the conclusion that it is a system of resonant transformers harmonically balanced to the electric condition of the Earth...If the phase angle of the earth pulsation frequency lags the phase angle of the pulsating frequency, energy is abstracted from the earth's supply of energy and delivered as "free energy" to the transponders. Three distinct standing waves, each coupled to the other through two points of refraction are involved in its operation. This is GROSSLY simplified to arrive at a possible solution to our 3-6-9 problem."

- Via "Steve" from this Physics forums page: Why was Tesla Obsessed with the Number 3?


I thought I'd let the triangulations speak for themselves for a while before I put in my left-brained "two cents". As it stands, I'm having a difficult time writing these days, and I regret stalling on posting to this blog, but it can't be helped. I am currently immersed in 2 relief-sculptural projects - yes, I'm carving plaster again(!) - and the "brains" are battling each other for time.

Then again, I've just been informed that the planet Saturn has gone retrograde. Never a good thing, my fellow earthlings. The bottom line: beware of Karma... yours and everyone else's.

This post is sort of a companion piece to the one posted here - a memorial to fellow blogger, Bruce Duensing, who just happened to be a misunderstood genius - but it's inadvertently dedicated to another "beautiful mind" and another misunderstood genius, Nicola Tesla, with whom Bruce may have had a few things in common...

Friday, May 8, 2015

In the Company of Green Women (II): Medieval Masons & Sculptors

Detail of an allegorical miniature of Christine de Pizan before the personifications of Rectitude, Reason, and Justice in her study; then helping another lady to build the 'Cité des dames', from The Book of the City of Ladies (Le Livre de la Cité des Dames), Christine de Pizan, Fifteenth Century.
(Click on post images for larger size.) 

"Regarding how women were perceived who engaged in this type of work, the voices of many historical authors make it clear that women should be discouraged from working outside the home, and especially should not engage in manual labor. Women who could not adhere to this prescription were considered to be of the lowest class in society, just one step above the class of prostitutes. Their poverty was seen as a punishment for sin. These attitudes led to the vague recordings of women‘s activities in historic documents and to women‘s historic invisibility on the construction site.  However, there were certain crafts related to building design that were deemed acceptable employment for women, such as sculpting, painting and the weaving of tapestries, which were believed to uplift the mind and maintain the virtue of chastity.

In addition to written documentation, there is graphic evidence in European illustrated manuscripts and books that demonstrate women as both laborers, craftswomen and as patrons of building construction.  Some of the imagery appears to be literal documentation of work, however the majority of the known examples use the idea of a woman as patron or as laborer in a symbolic context.  One well-known example is a miniature in Christine de Pisan‘s, The Book of the City of Ladies (Le Livre de la Cité des Dames)."
- From Women in Construction: An Early Historical Perspective, Yilmaz Hatipkarasulu, PhD and Shelley E. Roff, PhD,  2011 (.pdf) (emphasis, mine)

"Baron catalogues the painters, illuminators, and sculptors listed in Parisian tax records of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Although her work does not focus primarily on women, Baron does discover at least twelve female painters, illuminators, and "ymagieres" (a term of uncertain meaning), as well as three other women involved in the stone-working industry...

Medieval women and medieval art have shared an unfortunate fate. Both have been deprived by historians of the very real power that they may have exerted over human thoughts and actions in their own era. As a field of inquiry, the history of medieval women artists and their art invites us to redefine these proverbial objects as dynamic forces in the medieval past."
- From Medieval Women Artists and Modern Historians, Lila Yawn-Bonghi (.pdf)

Medieval Mason and Carpenter Guild emblem 

"Every clause in the 1389 Certificate of the Guild of Masons at Lincoln referred to both brothers and sisters. Carpenters admitted women, and stonemasons often combined with them the other artisans. The 'Old Charges' referred to 'brothers and sisters', 'Masters and Dames' and to "...he or she that is to bee made a mason..."

"There have been suggestions that there may have been an error whereby ‘he or shee’ should have read ‘he or they.’ Of this possibility, Rev. Cryer says: 'Now I have to tell you, that my predecessors in Masonic Research in England from Hughen and Vibert and from all the rest onward, have tried to pretend that the ‘shee’ is merely a misprint for ‘they.’ I now am the Chairman of the Heritage Committee of York. I know these documents; I’ve examined them, and I’m telling you, they say ‘she,’ without any question.'"

"Thus, women not only endured the fatigues of labour in the building trades but also, at least in the Würzburg case, vastly outnumbered the men! Indeed, because of the prevalence of women and their acceptance of lower wages and relatively high productivity, the journeymen’s lodges, fearing for their own prospects, agitated for their exclusion, and that of foreigners, from most trades in the late middle ages. Claudia Opitz , described tension over pay rates towards the end of the middle ages, saying: The competition between various interest groups raged all the more fiercely, especially when times were hard. Journeymen played a key role in these battles; since female maids and apprentices earned a third less on average, the men fought successfully to have them excluded from virtually all guilds by the end of the Middle Ages."

"While we may debate details concerning the involvement of women in the medieval building trades, we find they had an enduring presence that was sufficient for their participation to be legitimized in the Old Charges. I conclude therefore, that the Emperor has no clothes!—That no amount of repetition can make a falsehood true!—And that there were women in the building trades and as Stonemasons!"
- Four quotes from Craftswomen in the Old Charges, in Building Trades and as Stonemasons, by Philip Carter; found on The Quarry Masonic Forum here and here.

"There were so many early women Freemasons about whom we now know very little and what is left is rapidly slipping away. With each passing generation, we know even less. It’s too late to recover the names and stories of the very vast majority. The scholarly squandering and impoverishment cannot be undone. While we may grieve at that, we must accept it and strive not to add to it."
- From Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Woman Freemasons, by Karen Kidd, Cornerstone Publishers, 2009 (.pdf)


I'll never forget the moment it seriously entered my head that a few of the medieval Green Women (and Three-Hare symbols) may have been carved by women (as I intimated at the end of my previous post in this series). Having learned absolutely nothing about the existence of female artists in the Middle Ages - let alone female sculptors or masons - in art school in the 1970s, and (at the time) dismissing the entire possibly that women might have been involved - the unspoken it-goes-without-saying assumption on the part of my male instructors (i.e., women were and are not capable of creating anything artistically meaningful) - It was with great trepidation that I even dared to google such phrases as: "female medieval artists and sculptors" let alone "female medieval masons". Truthfully, I felt embarrassed to ask... and figured the search engine would just skip over the word "female" altogether. Which it mostly did. I had to crawl through a lot of material which just featured medieval artistic representations of women by male artists, which was hardly my point.

But... surprise, surprise! Every now and then I did hit pay dirt; in fact I managed to amass so much data that pulling it all together has been an almost impossible task. But, the upshot is that, yes, it so happens that women most assuredly were employed as both artists, scribes, and masons during the Middle Ages along with the more accepted feminine skills such as spinning, embroidery, etc.. I did not know this. So, perhaps, following rabbits is not a bad thing after all...