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 utilized by most - if not all - web locations across the board and are hardly exclusive to Google blogs. 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")...