Monday, April 22, 2013

Medieval Sculptor

artist unknown Le Livre des Cleres et Nobles FemmesFrench, 15th C.
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Florentine author Giovanni Bocaccio's book De mulieribus claris ("Of Famous Women") was first published in 1371. The book was a smash hit, and was republished all over Europe in numerous translations and editions for several centuries. This painting comes from a 15th century French version and the illustrator has dressed his or her subject in the contemporary garb of 15th Century France.

Despite an amazing amount of confusion on the topic of the role of women in the European medieval workforce, there is ample evidence that medieval women worked in the building trade as stonemasons, bricklayers, hod carriers, trench-diggers and in fact in every building job there was. A great advantage to hiring women was that they could be paid far less than men or boys for the same work. In the skilled craftsman fields it is true that women were not at every period of time and in every country allowed to be full guild members, although it appears that there was quite a lot of shifting of supposedly inflexible rules, over the centuries, and many gray areas throughout. Widows and female orphans of skilled craftsmen were indeed often allowed some level of guild membership in even the most gender-segregated countries (for example, historically, Germany had stricter rules barring women from certain professional trades than the Netherlands.)

If you'd like to read some of the latest scholarship on this topic you may read a synopsis of an article here.

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