- Envisioning Gender in Burgundian Devotional Art, 1350-1530: Experience, Authority, Resistance
Historians of early Netherlandish art have come late to gender-based studies, having still found much to learn from previously-unexplored areas of liturgy, [End Page 924] theology, and, particularly, economic history, which was anathema to the age of iconology. It is therefore a delight to find this excellent study, based upon impressive research that sheds new light upon such a number of works about which we had thought we were already well informed.
Pearson compares the patronage of books of hours to that of devotional portrait diptychs, finding that while both types of works focused upon the Virgin, the female owners of books of hours were three times as numerous as males, and that only three of the thirty-six known devotional diptychs depict women as donors — a ratio of six to one. These three women were powerful ones indeed: Jean of France, Mary of Burgundy, and Margaret of Austria. Pearson makes a most convincing case, both for religious observance as a marker of leadership, and for the portrait diptych as evidence of effort on the part of Burgundian duchesses to deal with the male power structure.
The practice of the Little Office of the Virgin by both nuns and laywomen is discussed in terms of its emphasis on Mary's role in the incarnation and infancy of Christ, and of visions, eucharistic miracles, and devotion to the five wounds of Christ as the means of circumventing priestly authority. The visions of Bridget of Sweden, Ida of Louvain, and others are cited, as well as those of the less-familiar Colette of Corbie, who was the contemporary of Philip the Good and Isabel of Portugal. Said to have received the Host from Christ himself, she became the object of devotion by both Margaret of York and her stepdaughter Mary of Burgundy. The role of religious manuscripts in the education of girls at the Burgundian court is traced, beginning with the library inventory of Margaret's own mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who had hosted Margery Kempe. Margaret of York, of course, was also responsible for the early education of her stepgranddaughter Margaret of Austria, only two years old at the time of Mary of Burgundy's death in 1482. Margaret of York's own library of twenty-four exclusively religious and moral manuscripts were the texts for their education. The role of women's reading groups, both in convents and among noblewomen who maintained households separate from those of their husbands, created a sense of feminine identity that made patriarchy irrelevant.
Male discomfort with female religious authority and preemption of the book of hours is discussed in terms of Gerson's attempt to discredit St. Bridget's visions, as well as his campaign to foreground both Joseph and St. Paul. Jean de Berri, Charles V of France, and Philip the Bold reacted by buying up books of hours commissioned by women — making presents of them to other men — and commissioning new ones of their own. The portrait diptychs commissioned by men move away from the Virgin's incarnational role and emphasize instead her power as intercessor. Of the forty-six known portrait diptychs (a complete handlist is included in an appendix), many (twenty-one) were commissioned by laymen, and thirty-six depict the man alone on the donor's wing.
The fashion for portrait diptychs came to a stop with the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, but was resumed with a will under the regime of his granddaughter, Margaret of Austria, who commissioned not only four of herself, but several for [End Page 925] other women, as well as for such male advisers as Everard de la Marck, Bishop of Liège. Margaret, who could not belong to the Order of the Golden Fleece, and whose political authority was under almost-constant attack, owned portrait diptychs of her ancestors John...