Women In Arts


Literature    Visual.Arts    Theatre.Dance.and.Music



Women, like men, wrote when they could. There was no international feminist identity, so Hildegarde of Bingen and Christine de Pisane were almost the only women who wrote about the condition of other women. Most women's writing was about their lives or is found in letters. 

In Christian personification allegories (short moral stories), abstract virtues are often personified as women. Vices, too, are personified as women.

Women were often portrayed as being made up of negative qualities - females are accused of: deceit, spite, materialism, vanity, to name a few.

In keeping with the cult of the Virgin and the related outbreak of courtly love, the idealized woman lover is present in the medieval romances. She usually remains chaste, whatever the temptation or threat, and is obedient to her lord come what may -- whether he is right or wrong. She embodies all female virtues. She is also a stereotype - but then, so are most characters in medieval writing.

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Visual Arts

There was a strong tradition of the visual arts in medieval monastic life. Though monks are typically associated with manuscript illumination (drawing fine illustrations), nuns also worked as painters and sculptors. In the early Middle Ages, most female artists were monastics; later, many of them were professionals. Almost all art was religion-oriented. Secular (religious) women continued the convent tradition when they worked as illuminators. Often a male illuminator would rely on his female relatives for help, but, as in other trades, women were often established independently.

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Theatre Dance and Music

During the Middle Ages, theatrical troupes were groups of travelling players who went from one town to the next, putting on plays of myths and Bible stories and entertaining with variety acts as well. If women were included in these groups, they were ostracised by town dwellers, as most itinerant entertainers were. "Masterless" men and women were considered a moral, if not a physical, threat to the community. Most female musicians and actors had to work as travelling performers, ostracised from and sometimes persecuted by society.

  Dancing was condemned by the Church because it had pagan origins and because it distracted people from Christian worship. Nevertheless, dancing was a popular pastime for all classes. A peasant woman would lead a village dance, marking time by the ringing of a small bell.


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Adapted with permission of Dominion and Domination


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