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Chapter 2 - Wisdom, Chastity, and War: The Power of Female Didactic Figures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 February 2024

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Summary

De Dyane soies recors

Pour l’onnesteté de ton corps

Car ne lui plaist vie soullée

Ne deshonneste ne toussee.

(Keep Diana in mind

For the purity of your body

For she abhorred a sullied life,

Deceitful and tainted.)

OF THE HUNDRED chapters, or histoires, that make up L’Epistre Othea, three feature the goddess Diana (Dyane). In the Queen's Manuscript copy of this work, each histoire includes a miniature; the image in the first of the three Diana stories (histoire 23) shows a goddess wearing blue and her female followers reading from open books (Figure 12). In this representation, the status of the woman in blue as goddess is determined by her position in a cloud above her followers, a position that also denotes her preceptive role and authority. As can be gleaned from the quotation in the above epigraph, which is taken from this histoire, its theme is chastity, yet the illumination represents literacy – female literacy, more precisely. Thus “a link between literacy and chastity” is unmistakably forged between the text and image in this particular histoire. In their study of the Othea, Desmond and Sheingorn have highlighted the originality of this composition, which “has no known textual or visual source,” suggesting that it must therefore have been created on Christine's instructions. The fact that there is no antecedent for this image is significant in two ways: first, it demonstrates that Christine wanted to depict female literacy in a new and more explicit manner and thus forms a further example of original imagery in her manuscripts; second, it opens up the interpretative possibilities for the goddess-figure dressed in blue.

The previous chapter featured an in-depth analysis of the ways in which, by being depicted wearing the colour blue, an authoritative stance was created for Christine, calling to mind a variety of powerful associations, including the Virgin Mary and the qualities for which she stood, such as wisdom and peace. Since it serves to empower her, I described the costume adopted by Christine in the City of Ladies Master's illuminations as a form of “power dressing,” and described the process by which it also entails the transmission of power from the Marian figure to the author.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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