October 7 – 28, 2022
Opening reception: Friday, October 7, 2022 5 – 8 p.m.
Hannah Charlton creates medieval style illuminated manuscripts, recreating a historical art form using modern materials. We call them “illuminated” because they are lit up with gold and decoration. The pieces in this show are based on The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, completed in 1405. The City is a collection of women in history: queens, goddesses, witches, folklore figures, and Christine’s contemporaries.
The book was written out of Christine’s despair at how men wrote about women: that they were weak, stupid, and “full of every vice.” She collects stories of what women have accomplished and invites them to inhabit her metaphorical city.
Each misogynist idea is countered with stories that challenge it: men say women are stupid, so Christine tells the stories of the famous scholars Cornificia, Proba, Sappho, and Leontium. Men say women are unfaithful, so Christine tells the story of Penelope, who was faithful to her husband for years and put off her suitors with clever tricks.
The Book of the City of Ladies was obscure for many years. It was translated into English in 1520, and wasn’t translated again until 1982. Today, there are whole departments in universities dedicated to “Christine studies” about France’s medieval feminist writer.
However, The Book of the City of Ladies was never as richly illuminated as it deserves. There are over 100 women featured in the book, so the pieces here are just a start. I want to teach people about Christine de Pizan’s work, but to also help us rethink how we picture the Middle Ages in Europe. Our history is always more complicated than we think. Every story can test our assumptions.