Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Book of the City of Ladies

Le Livre de la Cite des Dames, also known by the title, The Book of the City of Ladies, is manuscript very unlike the other works, as it’s content and author are empowering women’s self-confidence. This manuscript, completed around 1405, serves as one of Christine de Pizan's last works. This manuscript originated in Paris, and is written in the vernacular french, but also employs latin syntax within her french prose. The patron of the work was thought to be the Duc of Berry, although this is not certain. There are 9 miniatures included within the manuscript, attributed to the miniaturist, Master of the Cite des Dames.

This manuscript is a prime example of 15th century book making. The script is fluid, yet legible, and very readable for the audience. The text is broken into two rows, and overall the manuscript has a very organized quality to it. It contains 79 folios, made of parchment. Other than the miniatures, the text is decorated with elaborate initials, gilded with gold. This manuscript was essentially a luxury object, and it can be seen that only the best materials were used, such as the vivid pigment used for the paints in the miniatures.The illuminations of the manuscript provide a way to essentially illustrate her prose in a way to compliment her work.
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The author of The Book of the City of Ladies, was none other than a woman herself, named Christine de Pisan. Born in 1365 in Venice, she was taken to France as a young child, as her father worked in the royal court. She was married off at 15, but her husband would later die in 1389. With three children, alone, with no way to support herself, Pisan had to make a choice. She could choose to join a convent, leave her children or sustain herself. She picked the latter, and would be one of the most famous and respected writer of her time. She showed herself to be a capable person, and not let the notions of being a female taint how she was perceived, as she was capable of doing anything she set her mind to. She attracted many patrons, which at the time, would have practically been deemed odd, as other women were not getting the praise and commissions she was getting. She eventually retreated to a covenant in her old age, but continued writing, and essentially empowering the women who read her prose.

The content of this manuscript is a major factor to it’s understanding and discussion. It is essentially an utopian vision of a city of women, in a world of women. Through her book, she gathers important female figures throughout history. These women essentially become this created city of ladies, the women themselves becoming the building blocks and basis of this city, and way of thinking. She bases the city upon three virtues: reason, honesty, and justice. These three points are what she deems to govern the city on. Through her city of ladies, she is trying to show the point in which women are an essential part of society, and their achievements should not go un-noticed.


For example, in this miniature, Christine de Pisan is pictured herself, along with three other women. They are housed in a late gothic house, looking through a manuscript, which happens to be Pisan's own work. These three ladies are meant to resemble the three virtues: reason, honesty, and justice. These three virtues/women, are there to help her build the perfect and ideal city. On the right side, the building of the city is actually seen, with Pisan and one of the virtues essentially making walls. The miniatures were integral not only to communicate parts of her narrative, but to also convey the message of the overall goal of the prose. It is also noted that the author herself in this manuscript had specific domain with the miniatures, and were directed by her vision, not the artists.

The Book of the City of Ladies, is essentially a response to the cliche idea of femininity. The authors goal was to make her book go against the patriarchal standards of medieval women. It was a book in which listed the grievances of women in a male dominated world. I also thought that this book was interesting, as it was basically a response to another manuscript in which we are looking at this week, La Roman de la Rose. The Romance of the Rose latches on to a cliche and standard way of approaching femininity and portraying women, of which Pisan wanted to change. She is tackling not only how women are being portrayed in literature, but throughout history, and her lived life, and is trying to make a case for women as a whole.

This manuscript is an example of the way in which writing and literary were essentially being embraced by the laity and middle class. The concept of the individual, or group of individuals was being assessed by many of her contemporaries in other parts of Europe, and she takes up the challenge, but in the way of using the stories of women. This shift of content, of aspects of reality and essential problems with how women were perceived in her book. This copy of her book provides a revolutionary point in women being writers, and the importance that they could receive. To me, her text truly can be read as one of the first feminist texts of its time, and as the basis for future feminist writers as well. Her literature was truly bounds before any other writer and thinker, bringing up ideas so out of place to when she was living. The copy of her writing in this manuscript allows a way in which to see her writing as it would have been seen in the middle ages, and to me really shows how much of a progressive and individual woman she truly was, and how starkly different her message and content was from other writers.


Sources:

Nobert Woiff and Ingo Walther, Codices Illustres/Masterpieces of Illumination: The World's Most Famous Illuminated Manuscripts (Taschen, 2007): 260-263.

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000102v.

8 comments:

  1. Christine de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies” is fascinating for a variety of reasons. The most obvious being it was written by a woman but also that it became well known. Pizan’s efforts to create a positive perception of women in a time where men believed themselves to be superior is admirable and gives an interesting perspective on medieval gender roles. Pizan’s perspective is obviously fairly liberal, this is especially true considering it was written around 1405.
    The book is strongly influenced by Christianity, Pizan’s makes the Virgin Queen of the City of Ladies, but the women being written about were not just Christian, they were also Pagan and Jewish. These women came from history, mythology, literature, and the Bible. Pizan also doesn’t consider class in her imagined city; she defines “lady” as a woman of noble spirit and not just noble birth. Women in the book were also written about in a positive light, such as women being expected to act as positive example for other women in various ways. Through out the book a lot of other important subjects are touched upon such as the matter of women being educated as men were. It was a revolutionary idea considering women weren’t often able to get the same education men were.

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  2. The Book of the City of Ladies is an interesting perspective in a climate where the fame of educated people belonged almost entirely to men. It is interesting to me that one of Christine de Pizan’s most famous works is a book depicting women’s past important contributions to society. Although still quite conservative in content, emphasizing chastity and virtue as to tools of a woman to insert herself into a man’s society, she creates a world filled entirely with woman, which was a new and important step in forging a greater appreciation of women from this period on. Christine de Pizan even wrote a criticism on the Roman de la Rose disapproving of its misogynistic undertones and lack of clear moral guidance regarding pursuing women, or the” Rose”, in a courtly manner. Like the Roman de la Rose, and a common literary technique at that time, the Book of the City of Ladies uses allegorical figures to express ideas. She then engages with personified Reason, Justice, and Honesty from the perspective of a woman, to highlight their importance in society. Although not a “feminist” in the sense that we would use the term today, The Book of the City of Ladies was instrumental in getting a woman’s voice recognized in society. Established in and accepted by the noble courts, and the more general lay public, Christine de Pizan effectively countered men’s often negative depictions of women in literature and brought women to the public as figures to be respected and appreciated which I think is a very cool and important feat in history.

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  3. It's interesting to me that Christine De Pizan wrote Le Livre de la Cite des Dames in reaction to Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose. In the latter work of French vernacular literature, the "rose" often serves as the name of the lady, or as a symbolic connection to female sexuality (an exercise in semiotics). Pizan was not the only critic; historian Johan Huizinga writes in "The Waning of the Middle Ages," "It is astonishing that the Church, which so rigorously repressed the slightest deviations from dogma of a speculative character, suffered the teaching of this breviary of the aristocracy (for the Roman de la Rose was nothing else) to be disseminated with impunity."

    Pizan no doubt seized the opportunity to counter this "breviary of the aristocracy," with her own literary work; one that captured her utopian imagination in the same format as the Roman de la Rose. The Roman de la Rose, despite being concerned with the "art of love," present perspectives on suiting and courting that seem devoid of moral foundations. Pizan stands apart as almost the embodiment of the growing presence of women in producing and reading manuscripts during the period of time when written vernacular language came to dominate Medieval court culture and aristocratic book production.

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  4. It is very refreshing to see another female writer in this period of history, and I really like the idea that de Pizan was writing a counterpoint to established works of literature at the time. The conception of a feminist utopia recurs in later literature - Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland springs to mind - but not for centuries. I am curious as to how exactly such a book was received. It seems radical to me now that such a thing was written in such a time.

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  5. Finding out about how women started to make their way into the world of manuscripts is always interesting, and this manuscript’s history is certainly no different. To write a book surrounding femininity and women so bluntly seems like it was quite a bold move on Christine de Pisan’s part. Many women, even today, seem wary of straying too far from more masculine themes, so to see so much success coming from a very strongly feminine author and scribe is certainly unusual. Pisan very obviously wanted to change the perception of women in her society, and seemed to do a wonderful job of portraying her beliefs in her own life by finding such success in her work. I think she’d do well among feminists today with the way she tackled gender expectations.

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  6. It is interesting to see the somewhat wide dissemination of a work by a female author, and it’s very interesting that one of the first books written by a woman is a utopian ideal of a society of women. It reminds me of the book Utopia for obvious reasons. Rather than the virtues of common care and charity, the specific virtues of women are addressed and are seen as paragons of good. This is a departure from the mainstream medieval narrative depicting women as unimportant in the world aside from their “natural” role as caregivers and homemakers. This text places their potential as higher than that (it’s important to note that the author is a woman, a writer) and valuable to the society as a whole. I certainly see the significance of this in regards to the society as a whole.-Mason Smith

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  7. As we all have noticed, this is an extremely interesting book. It's author was a woman, Christine de Pizan, and its audience is women. An unusual combination for its time. Through this book we not only learn more about the true hearts of women of this era but also about the author herself. Christine de Pizan seems to have been a very independent and individualistic woman--not virtues that were highly valued in women at the time. She wrote this book in which she created a fantasy world of women, a Utopia, where women are freed from male input and interference. Here they take on all roles, and we can see what she thinks the true capacity of women to be. With only one gender there are no gender expectations, simply expectations. While we today have heard of "Amazon" women and their mythological secluded society of warrior women, this instead is a demure, Renaissance version of it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As we all have noticed, this is an extremely interesting book. It's author was a woman, Christine de Pizan, and its audience is women. An unusual combination for its time. Through this book we not only learn more about the true hearts of women of this era but also about the author herself. Christine de Pizan seems to have been a very independent and individualistic woman--not virtues that were highly valued in women at the time. She wrote this book in which she created a fantasy world of women, a Utopia, where women are freed from male input and interference. Here they take on all roles, and we can see what she thinks the true capacity of women to be. With only one gender there are no gender expectations, simply expectations. While we today have heard of "Amazon" women and their mythological secluded society of warrior women, this instead is a demure, Renaissance version of it.

    ReplyDelete