Representations of Women in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

The medieval and early modern European works in this portfolio show women in both secular and religious contexts. Women in the medieval period were increasingly literate but did not have access to the same power structures that men had; aristocratic women could take on roles as patrons of the arts, while women in working classes frequently played important roles producing goods in local economies. The early modern period saw women’s economic influence limited over time, as social ideals and norms began to concentrate more heavily around their domestic work. The range in media means this portfolio includes objects and images made for specific religious uses as well as secular studies. This portfolio features women of many ages and many roles as represented by male artists. It allows for discussion of the norms, ideals, and statuses of women in medieval and early modern European society, as well as for how these change over time. These depictions invite comparative analysis of religious and secular representations. The questions of how women are represented, who gets represented at all, and by whom, raise issues of historicity and the challenges of recovering marginalized voices.

This standing figure of the Virgin turns slightly toward the left with her head bowed and hands clasped before her in a restrained expression of grief. Her robe is gilded, which contributes a regal note to this somber figure.

Mourning Virgin from Crucifixion group
wood, paint and gilding
38 1/16 in x 11 ¼ in x 8 ⅜ in (96.68 cm x 28.58 cm x 21.27 cm);38 1/16 in x 11 ¼ in x 8 ⅜ in (96.68 cm x 28.58 cm x 21.27 cm);x 8 15/16 in x 6 ⅞ in x 22.7 cm x 17.46 cm
Gift of Michael and Georgia deHavenon.
This carved bone sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary raising her right hand in a gesture of grief while her head is bent in mourning. A similar female figure, holding her hands clasped before her, appears in profile behind the Virgin, and another female figure stands to the left. Behind the mourning women the pointed helmets worn by two soldiers may be discerned.
Embriachi Workshop, Venice, Italy
The Mourning Virgin and holy women (fragment of a Crucifixion from a portable altarpiece)
4 ⅝ in x 1 9/16 in x 1 ⅛ in (11.75 cm x 3.97 cm x 2.86 cm);4 ⅝ in x 1 9/16 in x 1 ⅛ in (11.75 cm x 3.97 cm x 2.86 cm);1 1/16 in x 1 9/16 in x 1 ⅛ in (2.7 cm x 3.97 cm x 2.86 cm);3 9/16 in x 1 3/10 in x 9/16 in (9.05 cm x 3.33 cm x 1.43 cm)
Presented in memory of Rosalie Eisenberg
This miniature painting depicts a group of male figures gathered around a coffin draped with a blue cloth. Two pairs of candles set on tall candlesticks are placed at the head and foot of the coffin. To the left of the coffin stand four mourners wearing long gray robes with hoods. Facing them from the other side of the coffin are three tonsured clergymen dressed in white, who look at an open book placed before them. The group stands upon a green tiled floor next to a pink wall. The background is painted red and decorated with an exuberant pattern of gold scrolling foliage motifs.
Gold Scrolls Group
Leaf from a book of hours with a funeral mass
ink, tempera, gold, and silver alloy on parchment
7 9/16 in x 5 9/16 in (19.2 cm x 14.1 cm);19 5/16 in x 14 5/16 in (49.05 cm x 36.35 cm);7 1/2 in x 5 9/16 in (19.1 cm x 14.1 cm)
Anonymous Gift in memory of Mrs. John Alexander
The majestic figure of the Virgin with the infant Christ on her lap sits enthroned in the center of this painted panel. Her elaborate throne rests upon a dais and is enclosed on three sides by panels bristling with Gothic ornament. Two bishop saints holding croziers stand at the foot of the dais accompanied by two other saints who stand behind them, while fourteen angels crowd the background.
Jacopo del Casentino
Enthroned Madonna and Child with angels and Saints Louis of Toulouse, Zenobius, John the Evangelist, and John the Baptist
tempera and gold on panel
25 ½ in x 15 ¼ in x ⅞ in (64.77 cm x 38.74 cm x 2.22 cm);25 ½ in x 15 ¼ in x ⅞ in (64.77 cm x 38.74 cm x 2.22 cm)
Museum Purchase
This page of an illuminated manuscript on thin parchment is vertically oriented. Centered in the upper two-thirds of the page is a window-shaped scene of a priest celebrating mass. The priest, with red and white robes and a tonsure, holds up a communion wafer at an altar that has a bible and a communion goblet on it and an image of two figures with halos behind them. The altar and the priest’s robes are trimmed with gold leaf. Behind the priest are two kneeling figures, a man and a woman. They are in the interior of a gothic church, with stone vaulting above them. Below the scene are four lines of calligraphy with the first letter, a ‘D’, highly decorated. Decorative detailing surrounds the text and the scene. The left side consists of an ivy-like plant growing out of the "D", and the bottom and right sides have different foliate-derived design depicted in ink, tempera and gold.
Priest Celebrating a Mass (Leaf from the Tarleton Hours)
ink, tempera and gold on thin parchment
5 1/2 in x 4 3/16 in (13.97 cm x 10.64 cm);5 1/2 in x 4 3/16 in (13.97 cm x 10.64 cm)
Museum Purchase
Two figures dominate the image with little reference to setting other than a low horizon line and some pebbles in the lower left. A man stands tothe lelft wearing simple tradesman's clothes; in his right hand he holds a ladle and another cooking implement. A knife in its sheath hangs at his waist. On his left shoulder stands a bird wtih wings open that is facing the man. To the right is a woman with a headdress and veil and cloak wrapped over one shoulder and in front of her.
Albrecht Dürer
The Cook and his Wife
engraving on laid paper
4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in. (10.8 x 7.94 cm);4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in. (10.8 x 7.94 cm);19 1/4 x 14 1/8 in. (48.89 x 35.88 cm);19 3/8 x 14 1/4 in. (49.21 x 36.2 cm)
Museum Purchase
Simon Vostre
Libyan Sibyl, a leaf from an early printed book
tempera and gold on vellum
7 in x 4 1/2 in (17.8 cm x 11.4 cm)
Gift of Mr. Ferdinand Roten
Jacques Callot
Les Gueux, or Les Mendiants. La Mendiante au Rosaire (The Beggarwoman with a Rosary)
etching on paper
5 ⅜ in x 3 7/16 in (13.65 cm x 8.73 cm);19 ¼ in x 14 ¼ in (48.89 cm x 36.2 cm)
Museum Purchase
Luca Cambiaso
Woman and Child
pen and ink on white paper
4 4/5 in x 3 ⅛ in (12.22 cm x 7.94 cm);4 4/5 in x 3 ⅛ in (12.22 cm x 7.94 cm);19 ⅜ in x 14 3/10 in (49.21 cm x 36.35 cm)
Museum Purchase
Hendrick Goltzius
Christ and Woman at the Well
engraving on medium off-white laid paper
13 x 9 7/16 in. (32.9 x 23.9 cm);13 x 9 7/16 in. (32.9 x 23.9 cm)
Gift of Herbert Barrows
Two Standing Female Figures
pen and brown ink
8 ⅜ in x 5 9/16 in (21.27 cm x 14.13 cm);8 ⅜ in x 5 ⅝ in (21.27 cm x 14.29 cm);19 3/10 in x 14 3/10 in (49.05 cm x 36.35 cm)
Gift through the Estate of Edward Sonnenschein
Two Seated Female Figures before a Rondel
pen and brown ink with brown wash and black chalk, heightened with white
14 ⅞ in x 10 15/16 in (37.78 cm x 27.78 cm);18 1/16 in x 22 1/16 in (45.88 cm x 56.04 cm);14 ⅞ in x 9 ¾ in (37.78 cm x 24.77 cm)
Gift through the Estate of Edward Sonnenschein


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Part of 6 Learning Collections

American Orientalist art at the turn of the 20th century
<p>America Encounters Asia in Art</p>

American Orientalist art at the turn of the 20th century
<p>America Encounters Asia in Art</p>

69 Collection Object Sources

Woman and Child (1948/1.27)
Woman at a Window (2009/1.512)
The Milkmaid (1961/1.160)
The Sea Monster (1956/1.74)
Lady in Mask (2005/1.431)
Lady in Mask (2007/2.142)
Schöne Madonna (2013/1.227)
Troy Legend (1942.10)
Troy Legend (1942.9)
Crouching Venus (1984/1.289)
The Plague (1960/2.131)
The Lamentation (1960/1.168)
Seated Virgin (1952/1.88)

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Last Updated

April 4, 2020 2:33 p.m.


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