Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thamar with Apprentice

artist unknown "Thamar Painting, with Apprentice"  ca. 1403
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Thamar, also known as Tamar and Thamyris and Timarete, is not a myth or a legend, but was a real person, a Greek painter who lived in the 5th century B.C. In those days, people commonly followed in the trade or practice of their parents and Thamar was the daughter of Micon the Younger of Athens, a well-known and respected painter.  She was one of six women artists mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History compendium. Of Thamar Pliny says, "she scorned the duties of women and practised her father's art."  She was best known in Pliny's time for a panel painting of the Goddess Diana (Artemis) which was displayed in the Goddess's temple at Epheseus. Unfortunately, the temple, along with Thamar's work, was destroyed in either a Goth invasion in the Third Century or  by an anti-pagan mob led by Saint John Chrysostom in the 400s A.D. (Historians disagree on who gets the credit for the destruction.)

This painting of Thamar at work is from Bocaccio's De Cleres et Nobles Femmes, an edition made specially for Philip the Bold in around 1403. It is fascinating and delightful on several counts, particularly: 

1) Thamar's clothing and setting have been modernized into that of an early 15th Century French woman. This "updating" is typical practice for medieval artists. Also contemporary to the times is her painting equipment, including the presence of an apprentice busily grinding pigment (looks like lapis lazuli) for his Mistress. If Thamar did indeed scorn the duties of women, this is probably not her son, in typical Greek family workshop tradition, but instead may depict an apprentice contracted in the more typical medieval fashion through a guild. Women artists did belong to some medieval guilds and did indeed take on apprentices and journeymen, just as their male contemporaries did, although very often a female "master" was attached in some way (even just nominally) to a male, either a Husband, Father or Uncle. Still, such an arrangement was not at all uncommon, and the unknown artist making this painting would have "placed" Thamar in the terms of his/her own times.

2) Thamar has been Christianized as well as modernized. Instead of the pagan goddess Diana, or other Greco/Roman deity, we see Thamar painting a Virgin and Child. Ironic, considering Thamar's renunciation of traditional female roles! But very charming.


Sarah Barr said...

Interesting how we can't control how we are portrayed after we're gone.

Marianne said...

These early paintings astound me!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to appear ignorant - did Tamar paint the Byzantine empress Theodora ? Thanks for the help !!