Sunday, July 20, 2014

Portrait of Diana

Artist Unknown  "Thamar Painting Diana"  France 1400s
This is an illumination or illustration from a copy of Bocaccio's book On Famous Women which was a runaway "best seller" of the middle ages, and was copied and recopied many times. Because calligraphers and illuminators rarely signed their work we have no idea who painted this charming scene of Thamar at work painting her famous portrait of the goddess Diana.  

Despite the contemporary 15th century clothing, Thamar, also known as Timarete or Tamaris, was a 5th century BCE Greek artist. She was the daughter of another painter, Micon the elder, and Pliny wrote about her in "Natural History" (77 CE) saying of her that she"scorned the duties of women and practised her father's art."  This "scorning" was almost certainly referring to the fact that she never married and produced children, rather than the fact that she was a painter. In ancient times women practiced all kinds of crafts and trades, painting among them, usually learning from and assisting a parent or family member, as was the case with Thamar.  It was only a small percentage of upper class women who were free from the necessity to help earn money, and were what we would today typify as "typical" housewives, concerned primarily with domestic duties. In ancient times, as in most times throughout history, the vast majority of women worked at paying jobs in addition to "the duties of women" to support themselves and their families, or else were actively working to assist and support those who actually worked outside the home. Life is almost always a team effort!

Thamar was best known as the creator of a painting of Diana, or Artemis, that graced that Goddess's temple at Ephesus for many centuries. Alas, Ephesus was destroyed, either razed by the Goths in 278 CE. or burned to the ground by an anti-pagan mob in the 400s (historians disagree) and Thamar's artwork was destroyed.

Because Bocaccio's book On Famous Women was such a big hit, there are many many editions of it, all with illuminations. I'll be posting the best of such Thamar at work illustrations as come my way from time to time. Many of them are little gems! To see all the Thamar paintings I have posted to date, just look up "Thamar" in the side bar of artist and subject names, or click here.


Alexandra Tyng said...

Fascinating story! I appreciate how you connect the historical threads.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

You're welcome. I am glad you enjoy the historical back story as much as I do! :-)