Sunday, November 20, 2016

Illuminated Manuscripts - The Influence of Venus - Christine de Pisan on Women's Rights

The Influence of Venus. BnF Français 606, Christine de Pisan, L'Epistre Othea

Christine de Pisan or Pizan (Italy to France, 1364-1430) was a medieval writer who advocated for women’s equality. Her works, considered by many to be some of the earliest feminist writings, include poetry, novels, biography, & autobiography, as well as literary, political, & religious commentary. De Pisan became the 1st woman in France to earn a living solely by writing. De Pisan was raised at court in Paris with her physician father, Thomas de Pisan, the astrologer & secretary to King Charles V of France. In 1380, at age 15, de Pisan married Etienne du Castel, a nobleman from Picardy. He was an unusual husband for the time, in that he supported his wife's educational & writing endeavors. When he died in 1390, de Pisan was only 25. After receiving attention from patrons in the court for her poetry & love ballads dedicated to her husband, she decided that rather than remarry she would support her 3 children & newly widowed mother through her writing. She served as a court writer for several dukes (Louis of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, & John the Fearless of Burgundy) plus the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. While she was still establishing herself as a writer, de Pisan also transcribed & illustrated other authors’ works. Her own writing, in its various forms, discusses feminist topics, including the source of women’s oppression; the lack of education for women; different societal behaviors; combating a misogynistic society; women’s rights & accomplishments; & visions of a more equal world which some still claim is a misinterpretation of her writing & intentions. De Pisan’s work, though critical of the prevailing patriarchy, was well received, as it was based in the prevailing Christian virtue & morality. 

Her 2 most famous works are the books Le Dit de la Rose (The Tale of the Rose), 1402, & Le Tresor de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies), 1405. Le Dit de la Rose was a direct attack on Jean de Meun’s extremely popular Romance of the Rose, a work about courtly love that characterized women as seducers, which de Pisan claimed was misogynistic, vulgar, immoral, & slanderous to women. She later published Letters on the Debate of the Rose as a follow-up to the controversial debate. In Le Tresor de la Cité des Dames, de Pisan has a discussion with 3 “ladies,” introduced as Reason, Rectitude, & Justice, about the oppression of women & the misogynistic subject matter & language that her contemporary male writers used. Under the author’s guidance, the women form their own city, where only women of virtue reside.

Although de Pisan’s work was primarily written for & about the upper classes (the majority of lower class women were illiterate), her writing was instrumental in introducing the concept of equality & justice for women in medieval France. De Pisan lived the majority of her life in relative comfort, & in 1418, she entered a convent in Poissy (northwest of Paris), where she continued to produce work, including her last poem Le Ditie de Jeanne d’Arc (Song in Honor of Joan of Arc), in 1429.

Christine de Pizan womansplaing to men. British Library Harley 4431, f.259v.

Primary Sources: Her Works & The Writings of her Contempoaries

L’epistre au dieu d’amours (Letter of the God of Love or Cupid’s Letter), 1399.

Le debat deux amants (The Debate of Two Lovers), 1400.

Le livre des trois jugemens (The Book of Three Judgments), 1400.

Le livre du dit de poissy (The Tale of Poissy), 1400.

Enseignemens moraux et proverbes moraux (Moral Teachings and Moral Proverbs), 1400.

Epitre d’Othea (Othea’s Letter or Epistle of Othea to Hector), 1400.

Epistres du debat su le roman de la rose (Letters on the Debate Concerning the Romance of the Rose), 1401–03.

Cent ballades d’amant et de dame, virelyas, rondeaux (One Hundred Ballades of a Lover and His Lady), 1402.

Le dit de la rose (The Tale of the Rose), 1402.

Livre du chemin de long estude (The Book of the Road of Long Learning), 1403.

Le livre de la mutacion de fortune (The Mutation of Fortune), 1403.

Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage Roi Charles V (The Book of the Deeds and Good Customs of the Wise King Charles V), 1404.

Le livre du duc des vrais amants (The Book of the Duke of True Lovers), 1405.

Le livre de la cité des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies), 1405.

Livre de trois vertus or Le tresor de la cité des dames (The Book of Three Virtues or The Book of the Treasury of Ladies), 1405.

Avision-Christine or L’avision (Christine’s Vision), 1405.

Livre du corps de policie (The Book of the Body Politic), 1407.

Sept psaumes allegorises (Seven Allegorized Psalms), 1410.

Le livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie (The Book of the Deeds of Arms and Chivalry), 1410.

Livre de la paix (The Book of Peace), 1414.

Le ditie de Jeanne d’Arc (Song in Honor of Joan of Arc), 1429.

Translations, Editions, & Secondary Sources


Brabant, Margaret. Politics, Gender and Genre: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.

Brown-Grant, Rosalind. Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Hindman, Sandra. Christine de Pizan’s “Epistre Othéa”: Painting and Politics at the Court of Charles VI. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986.

Hopkins, Andrea. Most Wise and Valiant Ladies. New York: Welcome Rain, 1997.

Lawson, Sarah, trans. The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pizan. New York: Penguin, 1985.

McLeod, Enid. The Order of the Rose: The Life and Ideas of Christine de Pizan. London: Chatto and Windus, 1976.

Pemoud, Régine. Christine de Pisan. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1982.

Quilligan, Maureen. The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Willard, Charity-Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books, 1984.

Yenal, Edith. Christine de Pisan: A Bibliography of Writings By Her and About Her. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1982.

Zimmermann, Margarete, and Dina De Rentiis. The City of Scholars: New Approaches to Christine de Pizan. New York: Gruyter, 1994.

See Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art

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