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Middle Ages Women Artists

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Middle Ages Women Artists
Middle Ages women artists are difficult to research. Medieval women during the Middle Ages were dominated by men. Medieval women had few options in relation to their lives. They basically either married or entered a religious institution as a nun in a convent. Early Middle Ages Art was initially restricted to the production of Pietistic painting (religious art) in the form of illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings in churches.

Both Monks and Nuns were the main artists during the Middle Ages. The women who became nuns were responsible for many illuminated manuscripts.

Middle Ages Artists
Middle Ages Art

Problems identifying Middle Ages Women Artists
The lives of Nuns in the Middle Ages were dedicated to their faith and this included a renunciation of worldly esteem. Nuns adopted a different name when entering a convent - their previous life and name no longer existed. The work of Middle Ages women artists, who were nuns, therefore remained largely anonymous. It would have appeared unseemly and against their religious vows to claim ownership of any illuminations they had painted. The major exception to this was when the women artist was the leader of the convent or nunnery such as an abbess or a prioress.

Names of Middle Ages Women Artists
The known names of Middle Ages women artists include the following who were manuscript illuminators:

  • Claricia - German female artist and nun who illuminated manuscripts in the 12th century
  • Herrad of Landsberg (1125-1195) Abbess of Hohenburg
  • Ende - 11th century nun and illuminator
  • Guda or Guta - German 12th century nun and illuminator
  • Diemud or Diemudis (1057-1130) - 12th century Bavarian nun and illuminator
  • Abbess Hitda
  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Middle Ages Women Artists - Medieval Nuns
All Medieval Nuns led lives which were strictly disciplined. Their lives were dedicated to their God and their faith and was a renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem. Many women were placed into convents by their families. The Church received a dowry from the parents of the nuns which added wealth to the convent or nunnery.  Older women also became nuns, many widows chose this way of life after the death of their husband. The Medieval convents were run on an hierarchal system, just like the Feudal system. Nuns who came from a poor family were given hard, manual and menial work. Women who came from wealthy backgrounds were invariably given lighter work and spent time on such tasks as spinning and embroidery.  Many nuns also worked on religious manuscripts and many became illuminators - these Medieval nuns became the Middle Ages Women Artists.

Women Artists Education during the Middle Ages
The women who entered convents or nunneries who cam from wealthy or noble backgrounds were provided education in the convent. These women often started their education with their wealthy families. Their education continued in the convent or nunnery. The education of women artists during the Middle Ages would have included being taught to read and write, languages and literature. This education was necessary as one of the tasks of these privileged nuns would have been copying the text of manuscripts, prayers and the bible - printing was not developed until the mid 1400's. A nun who showed a talent for art was also given the opportunity to work as an illuminator.

Middle Ages Women Artists - The Illuminators
An illuminated manuscript has the text supplemented by the addition of decoration or illustration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniatures. the Middle Ages women who were illuminators were placed in a position of trust as this type of art was complex and costly to produce. The text of the document would be completed first and the women artists would then paint the illuminations. The Middle Ages women who were illuminators would design the illumination using wax tablets as a sketch pad. The design was often first traced on to the vellum.

Middle Ages Women Artists - Embroidery and Tapestry Art
Embroidery and tapestry art such as the Bayeux Tapestry was an accepted art form of Middle Ages women artist. The names of the women who created the Bayeux tapestry are unknown but are believed to have worked in English convents or nunneries.

Middle Ages Women
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