(active around 1405 in Paris)

Christine de Pisan: The Book of the City of Ladies

c. 1405
Manuscript (Ms. français 606), 360 x 270 mm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Christine de Pisan (1365-c. 1430) was born in Venice, and taken to France by his father who was called to serve as astrologer to the French royal court. She married by the age of 15. When her husband died in 1389, leaving her alone with three children, she sought to support herself, and so became one of the most successful writers of her time, a poet who elicited respect and appreciation from the most exalted circles. Writing in the French language, she repeatedly articulated the grievances of women in the Medieval world of men.

Completed around 1405, the Book of the City of Ladies is one of the poet's last works, a utopian vision of a city of women. Very soon afterwards, and throughout the 15th century, this and other works by Christine were published in a number of illuminated manuscripts. Among the most attractive examples is the manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris thought to have been commissioned by the Duc de Berry sometime around 1405.

In the miniature on folio 2r, through the open archway of a late Gothic house, the author Christine de Pisan is seen reading or leafing through one of her works. This is an extraordinarily fresh and fascinating example of the miniature painting of the period, reflecting the spirit of Gothic art. On the left stands Christine de Pisan, a writer whose name is part of French literary history, engaged in composition and receiving the visit of three royal ladies representing respectively Reason, Honesty and Justice. On the right Christine de Pisan and one of the royal ladies build the Cité Ideále. The genre-character of this miniature, the naïve charm of the mediaeval ladies and the harmony of gay colours are characteristic of the courtly style of the age, but the technique is cruder and simpler than the aristocratic and sophisticated skills of the Limbourg Brothers.

The illuminator, who was named after the illustrations in this manuscript, appears to have been directed by the author herself.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.