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Monastic Art Essay

Monastic Art is subdivided in two genres the monastic ascetic art form and the aesthetic art form (Sekules 77). The portrayal of saints in the monasteries is a common theme and narrows it down to the whole religious visionaries and deities which produced those visions. The entire monastic sphere was dedicated to placing oneself in a position to receive sacred communication from God; hence it is not surprising that monasteries and convents heavily sought for visual representation of their favorite saints or God.

In medieval times, monastic art was commonly etched on ceilings, walls, and frescoes to draw the viewer into a realm of holiness to enrich the artistic and religious experience. As aforementioned monastic life could either be ascetic which falls in line with the austere lives of the monks or it could be highly beautified which displayed all the wealth and glamor of the Medieval Catholic Church. Most monastic art are derived from the Byzantine model were paintings were very embellished, attractive, symbolic, and magnificent in size.

At the Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, Spain, there are the Berenguela knitted cushion covers and skillfully decorated gloves, overlaid with gold and scarlet (1275). This highly decorated covers are in memoriam of Prince Fernando de la Cerda (Shadis 168). Benedictine Monasteries The Rule of St. Benedict required them to withdraw from the world into a communal life organized around prayer so that their spiritual inclinations were not directed to other areas of conformity” (Sekules 61). Because of this policy art work conforms to the standards of the monastery.

Jesus Christ, Catholic saints, monasteries, the virgin Mary, holy mother and child paintings are all regular images of the medieval monastery. Benedictine monasteries boasted a wide array of art such as An Illumination of Stephen Harding (1225) at the Abbey at Citeaux. In this classic, monastic painting there are two models of monasteries, handed by two Benedictine monks, one of which is the Englishman Stephen Harding himself, which are delivered up to the virgin Mary to sanction or reject. Benedictine cloisters featured “inscriptions in windows, stonework, paintings, and manuscripts” (Luxford 11).

This type of veneration is called Cisternian illumination where there is a mystic connection and communication with the divine. Golden auras and golden thrones with elaborate architectured monasteries characterize this work. Another famous Benedictine art form is Benedict of Nursia (1435) displayed at the Abbey at Florence, Italy. This painting done by Frey Angelico exhibits the simple face of St. Benedict with a holy halo encircling his head, in a grave, solemn, pensive mood, similar to what one would expect in a monastic setting.

Women in Power-Medieval Feminism: The Empowered Woman Before Mary Wollenstonecraft even crafted the Declaration of Women (1791), the embryonic signs of an emerging feminist movement were already visible. Due to religious, social, and cultural dogmas and restraints, women were confined to the private sphere, unable to take part in the activities and pursuits of men. Nevertheless, a few women have propelled themselves and unwittingly their female counterparts to a whole new dimension in the Middle Ages.

The woman is a recurrent depiction in Medieval Art and Architecture, not to mention in an age where in the Marian cult (and even in the Greco-Latin mythology) was venerated as goddess, saint, and intercessor. Personification of places, whether cities or countries especially as regal or armed women, are one of the oldest forms of power symbolism”(Sekules 13). Several countries have depicted women at war as their national icons for example Roma, Germania, Brittanica, Sclavenia, Columbia, Athena, Italia Turrita, Hispania, Polonia, Europa etc. The women are either portrayed as martial, royal, or both.

Medieval art demonstrated the empowerment of women, where women sometimes moved out of the home space and actively engaged in business, art, warfare, and politics. Joan of Arc One of the women who stands out is Joan of Arc. Historically, Joan of Arc is lauded as a liberator of France who bravely warred against England to set free her countrymen who labored under the British yoke. “Quite apart from her saintly character, Joan’s credibility as a military leader may have gained greater currency thanks to the classical tradition that personified the authority of war in female form” (Sekules 165).

Art enables social criticism. Martin Le Franc sides with Joan of Arc unique personality both as a feminist and as a woman. Through his medieval portrayal of Joan of Arc both as a heroine, military hero, and spiritual icon, he embraces her as a daring woman. “Martin Le Franc in Le Champion des Dames, a work directly inspired by the quarrel about Le Roman de la Rose, takes Joan’s part against her detractors. Their arguments focus on her belligerence, her transvestism, and her condemnation by the Church” (Warner 220).

In the late-Medieval painting “Le Champion des Dames” (1450), one observes Joan of Arc holding two white flags and flanked by them in a biblical setting. Although critics say that this portrayal is anachronistic, it voices volumes in asserting the sanctity of a patriot and prophetess who received visions and supernatural messages. “Christine was an admirer of Joan (of Arc’s) achievements and a defender when she needed it” (Sekules 165). Joan of Arc, a powerful woman, inspired another medieval woman in power, Christine de Pisan, who highly esteemed Joan as a valiant, holy, and still feminine woman.

Christine De Pisan Another medieval woman which broke from the social norms and launched out into the space of art, literature, and religion is Christine de Pisan (1365-1434). One could argue that because of her aristocratic status she enjoyed many more liberties than the average woman of the Middle Ages; however open prejudice and misogynist ideologies against the woman existed and was encouraged against both the lower and upper classed woman. Christine de Pisan was literate, cultivated her artistic talent, and was mistress of her household (Christine de Pisan).

Although today these characteristics seem ordinary, back in the medieval times, it was a rarity for a woman, even an aristocratic one to be qualified with all these talents. Christine de Pizan was born in Italy but married to a Frenchman. De Pisan was a prolific author as she produced several essays, poems, books, ballads, and epistles. The art piece of “Christine de Pisan Writing” is not as common as it seems for women were often relegated non-scholastic tasks for the general public deemed them inferior. In the depiction of De Pisan writing, the setting is clearly at an abbey or monastery.

De Pizan was also the breadwinner of her family following her husband’s passing; therefore she emerged as one of the few women who made a livelihood from writing. Numerous medieval portraits of Christine de Pisan exist where she is either consulting with people in power such as Joan of Arc (Christine de Pisan Livres des Faits des Armes et de Chevalerie, 1409), diligently writing at an abbey (Christine de Pisan Writing), or educating her others (Christine de Pisan Instructing Her Son and Christine de Pisan Lecturing a Group of Men). Convents or nunneries in the medieval period.

It can be argued that nunneries and convents “offered women an element of freedom” (Medieval Convent or Nunnery). At the convents, the nuns had most commodities at their disposal and were not bound to family responsibilities, for here they concentrated on God and pursued holiness in the secluded religious life. Nuns were also enfranchised to vote in an abbess or mother superior, who in turn would govern the affairs of the female community. Since medieval times, the nunnery also was fitted with hospitals, gardens, chapels, dormitories, libraries, and a school.

As a result, nuns had the unique opportunity to be holistically educated and independent. This peculiar branch of female liberation fosters artistic exploration. Art work often has appeared at convents where nuns have drawn or invented masterpieces such as … Second to Nun Paintings Medieval paintings also tended to focus on holy women: whether they be goddesses or cloistered nuns and mothers. One major medieval masterpiece shows Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a nun of St. Benedict of wrote books, plays, sermons, and poetry; practiced medicine, and functioned as advisor to monarchs and popes.

Hildegard is indeed a medieval and modern-day feminist who was not afraid to hold and wield power even among men folk. A celebrated illustration of her is represented in Illumination from the Liber Scivias, 1151 where she receives a vision and transcribes it as a deity reveals it to her. This dynamic woman dictates the divine messages in a book called The Scivias. This portrait conveys the reality of the enlightened woman in all spheres. She too can be an instrument not only for familial purposes but in multifaceted way, contributing to society, religion, and culture.

References: Christine de Pizan <http://www. kirjasto. sci. fi/pizan. htm>. Retrieved 06 May 2010 Les Enluminures Presents Women in Medieval Art <http://www. lesenluminures. com/womencatalogue. pdf>. Retrieved 06 May 2010 Luxford, Julian M. The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries 1300-1540 A Patronage History. Boyell Press, United Kingdom, 2008. Medieval Convent or Nunnery <http://www. middle-ages. org. uk/medieval-convent. nunnery. htm>. Retrieved 06 May


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