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...