Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Matilda of Tuscany, "La gran contessa"

Matilda of Canossa, margravine of Tuscany (died 24 July 1115)

Far too often when I begin a post, I must note that there is very little evidence about the life of the woman I am writing about. Fortunately, that is not the case for Matilda of Canossa (or Matilda of Tuscany, as she is also known). As only one indication of the wealth of material available for her life and work, just check out Wikipedia.

Although I do not rely on Wikipedia as a source for my posts, it's not because I do not appreciate the efforts of those who contribute to "the free encyclopedia"--it's because anyone can easily access that information for herself. But I always do check to see whether there is an entry for the woman about whom I'm writing--and so today, if you click on the Wikipedia entry for Matilda, you will find a lengthy, detailed history, with an extensive bibliography, including many works on Matilda in German, Italian, and English.

Matilda of Tuscany,
from Donizo of Canossa's
Vita Mathildis
Even so, the date of this remarkably accomplished woman's birth is unknown, though it is generally placed about the year 1046. Matilda's father was Boniface III, margrave of Tuscany (and count of Brescia, Canossa, Ferrara, Florence, Lucca, Mantua, Modena, Pisa, Pistoia, Parma, Reggio, and Verona--whew!!). 

Matilda's mother was Boniface's second wife, Beatrice of Lorraine. Beatrice's maternal aunt, Gisela, was the wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II, and Beatrice had been reared at the empress's court--Boniface first encountered Beatrice there in 1036, and the two were married in 1037. (It was the Emperor Conrad who had awarded Boniface with the lordship of Tuscany, in return for Boniface's support for Conrad's becoming Holy Roman emperor.)

The couple, Boniface and Beatrice, had three children: a son, Frederick, and two daughters, Beatrice and Matilda. Matilda is widely regarded as the youngest of the three, though birth order of the children isn't clear. 

Boniface had his son and heir, which might suggest that his daughters would be expected only to be prepared to fulfill a role in marital politics--but Matilda was well educated, probably under her mother's direction. Matilda's twelfth-century biographer, Donizo of Canossa, claims that the "learned Beatrice" carefully tutored "lofty Matilda, modest in mind." According to the monk, Matilda was literate in Latin, composing her own letters in that language, and fluent in both German and French. 

In his seventeenth-century account of Matilda's life, the Italian chronicler Lodovico Vedriani writes that Matilda received military training as well: she "learnt how to ride like a lancer, spear in hand, to bear a pike as a foot-soldier, and how to wield both battle-axe and sword." The historian-priest also depicts her, armed, riding at the head of her army:
Now there appeared in Lombardy at the head of her numerous squadrons the young maid Matilda, armed like a warrior, and with such bravery, that she made known to the world that courage and valour in mankind is not indeed a matter of sex, but of heart and spirit.

(However appealing these accounts are, modern historians tend to discount Vedriani's claims for Matilda's military training and activity.) 

On 7 May 1052, Matilda's father was ambushed while out hunting and killed. After Boniface's assassination, the widowed Beatrice seems to have acted as regent on behalf of her son, Frederick, but the situation is both murky and fraught--the second of couple's daughters, possibly named Beatrice, after her mother, died on 17 December 1053, and under increasing pressure to preserve her husband's lands and titles (as well as her own), Beatrice married her cousin, Godfrey III of Upper Lorraine. 

The marriage, however, had taken place without the permission of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (who was Conrad II's son), against whom Godfrey had already rebelled. (Beatrice's first husband, Boniface, had always been a supporter of the emperor). Traveling to Florence in 1055 for a meeting with the pope, the emperor had Beatrice and her surviving daughter, Matilda, arrested--the two were taken back with him to Germany. The young Frederick, meanwhile, died within days of his mother's arrest.

But the emperor himself died suddenly in October of 1056, succeeded by his son, Henry, a minor. The boy's mother, Agnes of Poitou, was appointed to act as the boy's guardian and regent--and she rather quickly reconciled with Godfrey of Lorraine. Beatrice and Matilda were released and reunited with Godfrey, who was recognized as margrave of Tuscany. 

Following her return to Italy in 1057, Matilda largely disappears from the record for the moment, though she accompanied her mother and stepfather to Rome in 1059. But in 1069, as Godfrey III of Lorraine lay dying, Matilda was married to his son, another Godfrey (he would succeed his father as Godfrey IV). 

The two were not well matched and found themselves on opposites sides of the contemporary power struggle pitting the pope against imperial power--Godfrey supported the young emperor, Henry IV, while Matilda supported the pope. Godfrey and Matilda were together long enough to produce a daughter, Beatrice, who was born and died in January 1071. After the child's death, Matilda left Godfrey, and by January of the next year, she was in Mantua, with her mother.

Godfrey demanded Matilda's return, traveling to Italy and attempting to claim control of Tuscany in Matilda's right. He appealed to Pope Gregory VII for assistance in recovering his wife and promised aid if the pope would make Matilda return to him. But nothing could persuade Matilda, and by 1073, Godfrey headed back, wifeless, to Lorraine. He also failed in his promise to assist the pope. Even so, Gregory would not grant the dissolution that Matilda requested. Godfrey would be assassinated on 27 February 1076, thus solving the matter.

A sixteenth-century 
depiction of Matilda--
which I'm including only
because I love the headgear!*
In the mean time, with Godfrey distracted by conflicts and challenges in his own lands, Matilda had begun to assume power in Tuscany, under her mother's tutelage. After Godfrey's death, the two women governed together, but only briefly--after Beatrice died on 18 April 1076, Matilda of Tuscany became "the major imperial feudatory in Italy": despite the fact that, under Salic law, a woman could not inherit a title or land, "Matilda held the counties of Reggio, Modena, Mantua, Brescia, Verona, and Ferrara, as well as Tuscany." Whatever her own strength of character and abilities, it didn't hurt her cause that, without a male heir, her father's lands and titles would otherwise have gone to the emperor. Her support for the papacy and papal power made sure that did not happen. And, for good measure, Matilda made claims in her dead husband's Lorraine as well.

As the rupture between the papacy and the empire grew, Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV--Matilda not only supported the pope but protected him, offering him safety in her stronghold, the castle of Canossa. It was there that the emperor, standing barefoot in the snow, made his penance. Two women--Matilda and Henry IV's mother-in-law, Adelaide of Turin, negotiated the terms of the reconciliation. (It was something of a family affair--Henry and Adelaide were both Matilda's second cousins.)

That wasn't the end of the conflict between pope and emperor, however--while Matilda continued to support the papacy, she also contributed to the dispute when, in 1079, she gave her lands to the pope, despite the fact that she held many of them as fiefs from the Holy Roman Empire. (She reserved the right to govern them through her lifetime.) 

In the years that followed, from 1080 until her death thirty-five years later--through the life of Gregory IV and his successors, Victor III, Urban II, and Pascal II, through the tumultuous years of Investiture Controversy, and even through a politically expedient second marriage to the young heir to the duchy of Bavaria, some twenty-five years her junior--Matilda remained firm in her support of the papal cause.

As Joan Ferrante notes, "Matilda was the major imperial feudatory in Italy, a force in imperial-papal politics, [and] a supporter of the reform papacy. . . . She offers a striking example of a woman who inherited land and power, who ruled over large territories, put down rebellions, and took part in major events."

In addition to her decades of political and military involvements, Matilda of Tuscany promoted manuscript production, encouraged and supported the development of the law and the judicial system, and patronized the building of scores of churches, monasteries, and hospitals. As Michèle K. Spike notes, Matilda's "cultural legacy is enormous" and includes some 136 "extant stone constructions," many of them "listed by UNESCO" as part of the "heritage of the world."

Before her death on 24 July 1115, Matilda of Tuscany may or may not have reconciled with Henry V, who had succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1111, and may or may not have recognized him as her heir. Whatever she did or did not do, after Matilda's death, he took possession of all the land and titles Matilda held as margravine of Tuscany.

Matilda of Tuscany died while staying in a small castle in Reggiolo, and she was buried in the Benedictine Abbey of San Benedetto in Polirone (near Mantua), which had been founded by her grandfather. Matilda had developed and expanded the abbey and established its library, commissioning a magnificent gospel book which was her gift to the monastery. In the seventeenth century, her remains were moved to the Basilica of St. Peter (Rome) and placed within a tomb designed by Bernini.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's tomb for Matilda,
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

The events of Matilda's life are so well documented and her accomplishments so many that I cannot do them justice here. A readable account of her life, as documented by Donizo of Canossa, is in Joan Ferrante's To the Glory of Her Sex, to which I have linked, above.

Paolo Gollinelli's detailed biographical essay from Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani is available online at the Treccani website (click here). And a large selection of letters to and from Matilda is available at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters (click here).

Michele Spike's Tuscan Countess: The Life and Extraordinary Times of Matilda of Canossa was published in 2004 and is readily available. The scholarship is excellent, but it's a bit too romanticized for my taste--you can access Mary Huddy's 1906 Matilda, Countess of Tuscany and Nora Duff's 1909 Matilda of Tuscany, La gran donna d'Italia via the Internet Archive.

I especially recommend Penelope Nash's Empress Adelheid and Countess Matilda: Medieval Female Rulership and the Foundations of European Society--it's very expensive, so maybe Interlibrary Loan?

*I searched through many pages of Google images, trying to find out more about this portrait--it may have been painted by Parmigianino, and it may be in the Museo Diocesano di Mantova. Here's a link. A similar sixteenth-century portrait by an unknown painter is in Musei Reali (Turin).

Monday, June 28, 2021

Carlotta of Lusignan, Queen of Cyprus

 Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus (born 28 June 1444)

Born on 28 June 1444, Carlotta of Lusignan was the eldest daughter of Giovanni II, king of Cyprus. Although he was also the titular prince of Antioch and the titular king of Jerusalem (from 1432 to 1458), Giovanni ruled only on the island of Cyprus. (The designation "of Lusignan" here refers not to Carlotta's place of birth but to her paternal family connections.)

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus
detail from Cosimo Roselli,
fresco, Sistine Chapel, c. 1481-2 
Carlotta's mother was Giovanni's second wife, Helena Palaiologina, a Byzantine princess. Giovanni and his first wife had no children.) Carlotta was raised in the Byzantine tradition, among her mother's Greek-speaking women, so she was fluent in that language, which she spoke throughout her life. She understood, spoke, and wrote French and Italian, though she was not fluent, but her knowledge of Latin was less certain. 

In 1450, perhaps concerned that he had only a daughter as heir, Giovanni sought a papal dispensation for Carlotta's marriage to Louis of Savoy, his sister's son. 

These plans did not materialize, however, perhaps because of Queen Helena's disapproval of the marriage of first cousins. Adding to the political turmoil in Cyprus was ongoing religious conflict--the queen's Orthodox Christianity frequently placed her in opposition to the Roman church, and there is some suggestion that she was suspicious of papal intervention in such marital connections. (There was cultural conflict between Giovanni and Helena as well, with the queen welcoming Greeks to Cyprus after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.)

Whether it was due to the queen's opposition or not, in 1456, the twelve-year-old Carlotta was married not to her cousin but to João of Coimbra, the son of the Portuguese duke of Coimbra. Some sources suggest that the choice of the twenty-five-year-old João was Queen Helena's. Following the marriage, João and Carlotta were named prince and princess of Antioch.

The couple took up residence with Carlotta's godfather, Peter of Lusignan, count of Tripoli. Their relocation seems to have been the result of growing tension with members of her father's court. Unfortunately, the young João quickly fell ill and died. And, of course, Queen Helena was suspected of having poisoned her daughter's new husband . . . 

Whatever the reason for her husband's death, Carlotta's first marriage was brief--João had arrived in Cyprus in May of 1457, and he was dead by 22 June. The widowed Carlotta returned to her father's home. 

Meanwhile, although Giovanni's only legitimate child was his daughter, he did have another child, an illegitimate son, Giacomo, born in 1438 or 1439 to the king and his mistress, Marietta de Patras (shortly after Helena Palaiologina married Giovanni, she reportedly had Marietta's nose cut off . . . ) Giovanni had provided well for his son, naming the sixteen-year-old as archbishop of Nicosia in 1456, but after murdering a royal chamberlain, the young archbishop was deprived of his office. (Don't worry--Giovanni quickly pardoned his son and returned the archbishopric to him.)

After the death of Carlotta's husband, her half-brother seems to have been involved in a scheme to arrange the marriage of the widowed princess to a candidate of his own choosing, a nephew of the pope, perhaps even going so far as to enter into a plot to kidnap Carlotta. But, instead of arranging his daughter's marriage to his son's preferred candidate, Giovanni turned his attention once more to his nephew, Louis of Savoy.  

A dispensation for the marriage was needed--again, sources suggest that the alliance was opposed by the queen. But events overtook the king and queen of Cyprus--because of Giacomo's rebellion, they were forced to retreat to the fortress of Nicosia, where they both died, Queen Helena on 11 April 1458, and King Giovanni on 28 July 1458. According to at least one chronicle, Giacomo was responsible for Helena's death--he was said to have poisoned her.

Immediately after her father's death, Carlotta was recognized as his successor--and among those who promptly offered his allegiance was her half-brother, Giacomo. Now fourteen years old, Carlotta was crowned queen of Cyprus on 15 October 1458. The coronation did not proceed altogether smoothly, however--during the ceremony, the crown fell off her head. Later, this unfortunate accident was regarded as a sign of what was to come.

Carlotta's marriage contract with Louis was signed a few days later, and on 7 October 1459, a year after she became queen of Cyprus, Carlotta married Louis of Savoy, who became ure oxis, a co-ruler by right of marriage, not a king consort. 

Although Giacomo had sworn allegiance to his half-sister when she became queen, he was soon claiming the throne for himself "in a such way," writes historian Marina Tymviou, "that it amounted to a military coup." In less than a year after Carlotta's marriage, by 26 September 1460, he had captured Nicosia and then had himself crowned king of Cyprus.

Queen Carlotta, young and inexperienced, did not cede her kingdom immediately, but retreated to the castle of Kyrenia, on the northern coast of Cyprus, which remained loyal to her. But after three years, Carlotta was forced to flee. 

She arrived in Rhodes, seeking support and determined to retake Cyprus. As Tymviou argues, Carlotta maintained her role as a "queen in exile and not a former queen." She sought assistance from her husband's father, the duke of Savoy, and from Rome, where she arrived on 15 October 1461 and met with Pius II, who "welcomed her as a fully sovereign queen."

Carlotta's efforts to regain her throne were notable: she traveled widely throughout the Italian peninsula to rally support for her cause. She eventually reached Savoy, taking up residence at her father-in-law's ducal court. (Though her reception seems to have lacked a bit--Pius II wrote that she was received there "coldly," speculating that the duke had been impoverished by efforts to aid Carlotta.)

Leaving Savoy, Carlotta returned to Rhodes, where she established a kind of court-in-exile and was supported by the Knights Hospitaller. The possibility for regaining her throne grew less likely when she was joined in 1463 by her husband, Louis, who was forced to leave Cyprus. Then, in 1464, Pius II died, replaced by a pope who recognized Giacomo as king of Cyprus. And in 1465, the duke of Savoy died--the new duke, Louis' brother, was not eager to spend more resources in Cyprus.  

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus
detail from Giovanni de Fondulis, 
terracotta sculpture, after 1483 
In the mean time, Giacomo had sought to establish himself as the legitimate king of Cyprus. He too had drummed up support on the Italian peninsula. Although Carlotta had sought and received assistance from Venice, it was Giacomo who received a bride from Venice--he was betrothed to Caterina Cornaro in 1468. The two were married four years later, in 1472. 

But, just as Carlotta's fortunes had turned dramatically, so did Giacomo's--within a year of his marriage, he died, leaving his young wife pregnant. Carlotta saw this as an opportunity to reclaim her throne. 

While Carlotta's supporters on Cyprus assassinated several members of Caterina's household, the young widow managed to escape, support from Venice arrived to reestablish order, and she gave birth to a son, Giacomo III, named after his father. With the birth of a boy, who could become king, the question of who was the "legitimate" ruler in Cyprus seemed to be over.

Once again fate intervened. In less than a year, the boy was dead, and Carlotta was once again eager to regain her throne. But it was not to be. 

Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus, was never restored to her throne. Instead, in 1475, she settled in Rome, where she was received by Pope Sixtus IV, installed in an apartment in Castel Sant'Angelo, and provided with a stipend. 

Carlotta was offered a substantial income by Venice if she would renounce her claim to Cyprus, but she refused. She continued to campaign for her return--she seems to have been aided by Naples and Egypt in 1478 and again in 1481, and there is some indication that another effort was considered as late as 1484.

But Carlotta of Lusignan, queen of Cyprus, did not achieve her ambition. She died in Rome on 16 July 1487. She was just forty-four years old. 

Two online sources are particularly good for understanding Carlotta of Lusignan's life and efforts to regain Cyprus. Angela Dillon Bussi's biographical essay, from Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, is available at Trecanni (click here). And Marina Tymviou's doctoral dissertation, "Charlotte of Lusignan and Caterina Cornaro: The Politics of Queenship and Identity in Cyprus and Italy, 1458-1861," is available in its entirety (click here).

Also very useful is the chapter on Carlotta in volume 3 of George Hill's A History of Cyprus.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Levina Teerlinc, Painter at the Tudor Court

 Levina Teerlinc, Artist (died 23 June 1576)

Like her somewhat older contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish artist, specializing in miniature painting, who lived and work at the court of the Tudor kings and queens. And also like Hornebolt, unfortunately, little is known about Teerlinc's life or work.* 

This 1565 miniature of Queen Elizabeth
is one of those most frequently
attributed to Levina Teerlinc
(it's used to illustrate the entry in
Wikipedia, so I've reproduced it here)

Born Levina Bening, Teerlinc was the oldest of five daughters born to Catherine Stroo and Simon Bening (or Binnink). 

Simon Bening was an accomplished and successful miniaturist and illuminator who had been trained in the family workshop in Ghent by his father, Alexander Bening. Simon Bening's mother was Kathelijn van der Goes, a woman who seems to have been either a sister or niece of another noted Flemish painter, Hugo van der Goes. 

Simon Bening left Ghent about the year 1510, establishing himself in Bruges as a producer of elaborate and expensive books of hours for wealthy patrons. This year--1510--is at times given as the date for Levina's birth, although there is no evidence to support that date, and some sources suggest her date of birth was as late as 1520. 

Aside from the names of her parents, nothing at all is known about the young Levina's life. Given her own father's background, most historians assume that Levina was trained in her father's workshop so that she could continue the family business. 

Her mother, Catherine Stroo, died in 1542, and Teerlinc's father, Simon, would remarry, his second wife adding another daughter to his family. At some point Levina herself married, but there is no evidence as to when exactly the marriage took place. Indeed, the first documented reference to Levina is on 4 February 1545, when her appearance, along with that of her husband, George Teerlinc, is noted in official records of the mayor of Bruges as they close accounts related to the death of George Teerlinc's father. Given the range of dates suggested for her birth, Levina might have been as old as thirty-five or as young as twenty-five when the first real fact of her existence emerges.

At some point after this date in early 1545, Levina Teerlinc arrived in England. By November of the next year, 1546, she had entered into royal service at the Tudor court, where documents note that she was awarded an annuity by Henry VIII, to be paid "during the King's pleasure." (For his part, George Teerlinc seems to have been given something of an honorary position at court, becoming a Gentleman Pensioner.) Levina Teerlinc's tenure at the royal court was to outlast Henry's reign--her service continued for thirty years.

In 1547, after Henry VIII's death, "Maistris Levyn Teerling paintrix" was recognized by Edward VI, who continued her annuity of £40 a year, paid quarterly. Teerlinc remained as a court painter during the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth (through all these years of service, the amount she was paid did not change). Based on surviving documentary evidence, Edward Towne concludes, "It would appear that her position at court only required her to produce one miniature annually."**

Records indicate that, in 1551, Teerlnc was asked to "drawe owt" a picture of Princess Elizabeth. As a New Year's gift in 1553, Teerlinc presented Queen Mary with "a small picture of the trynitie." In 1559, during the first year of Elizabeth's reign, she completed "the Quenis picture finely painted upon a card" ("card," in this context, refers to vellum). Records of New Year's gifts in subsequent years show Teerlinc's regular presents to the queen: in 1562, she presents a miniature described as depicting "the Queen's personne and other personages in a box fynely painted"; in 1563, a "card . . . with the Queene & many other personages"; in 1564, "a certayne Journey of the Quenis Ma[ges]tie and the Trayne, fynely wrought"; in 1565, "a howse paynted and theraboute certayne personages in a case of walnuttree"; in 1567, "the picture of the queene," this one, notably, a full-length painting--"her whole stature drawne upon a Card"; in 1568, "a paper paynted" with the queen and "the knyghtes of the order"; in 1575, "a carte paynted upon a card" depicting the queen and "other personages"; and, in 1576, another painting of "the Quenis picture upon a Card" (Town 172).

Meanwhile, in 1566, Teerlinc and her husband applied for denization, a grant of citizenship for themselves and their son--so Levina gave birth to at least one child. The couple also built a house on leased land in Stepney.

By this point, in the mid-1560s, Levina Teerlinc's reputation as an artist was so well established that in his 1567 description of the history and art of the Low Countries, Lodovico Guicciardini includes her among his account of only four "living female artists." The first of these, he says, is Levina, "who, like her father, is excellent in miniature." According to Guicciardini, her skill in miniature painting is why Henry VIII "invited her to his court," where she was "highly rewarded." He notes that royal favor continued under Queen Mary and that Teerlinc enjoys "equal esteem" under Queen Elizabeth. 

It is important to note that Guicciardini speaks about Teerlinc only in general terms, so that he is unlikely to have seen any of her work, and he can be mistaken--he claims that Teerlinc was "splendidly married" after she arrived at the Tudor court. In their groundbreaking Women Artists: 1550-1950, Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin note that Teerlinc's "fame was still part of the tradition when Guicciardini wrote" (26).

A document dated 11 August 1576, "given by the queen under her privy seal," notes that Levina Teerlinc died "the xxxiii of June last past." The queen made the quarterly payment of Levina's annuity to her husband "as our gift." She was buried at St. Dunstan and All Saints, in Stepney.

Unfortunately, as with her countrywoman and near contemporary, Susannah Hornebolt, and so many other women artists (like Marietta Robusti, about whom I wrote a month ago), no surviving work has been firmly attributed to Levina Teerlinc. A great deal of effort has gone into identifying surviving miniatures with those described in the New Year's gift lists, but there are no certainties. Of course, if you Google, you'll find lots of miniatures attributed to Levina Teerlinc, but none of these attributions is supported by evidence. One exasperated art historian bemoans "the current epidemic of unsustainable attributions to Levina Teerlinc"!

In addition to her work as a miniature painter, Teerlinc may have produced designs for coins, documents, seals, woodcut illustrations, and, perhaps, needlework, as part of her duties at court--all of these have been suggested by a variety of different art historians, searching for Levina Teerlinc. It has even been suggested that Teerlinc produced a written "discourse on painting, . . . A Very Proper Treatise." Some of these claims are more plausible than others--none is supported by much, if any, evidence.

It has also been suggested--and subsequently accepted by some--that Teerlinc was responsible for instructing and training the well-known Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard in the art of the miniature, but again, there is no evidence to support such a claim and much to disprove it. 

An even more tenuous (and romantic) connection has been made between Teerlinc and Giulio Clovio, an illuminator and miniaturist who was born in the Kingdom of Croatia but who worked principally in Rome. In the mid-1550s, Clovio's portrait was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola. In Anguissola's portrait of the artist, he is holding a miniature, one which, it is said, he so valued that he kept with him until his death. The art historian Federico Zeri, who owned the portrait of Clovio painted by Anguissola, came to believe earlier claims about this picture--that the miniature in the portrait of Clovio represented Levina Teerlinc, and that the Flemish painter had, early in her career, traveled to Rome to be trained by Clovio. However, as Mary Garrard writes, these "conclusions" seem to rest on misidentification and conflation. Zeri had accepted an earlier identification of Teerlinc as a female miniaturist who was said to have written to Clovio in Rome. And, noting that Clovio may have owned a miniature by Teerlinc, he concluded that the miniature Clovio was holding in Anguissola's painting was of Levina Teerlinc. From this came the notion that Levina Teerlinc had, at some point early in her career, traveled to Rome to train with Clovio. As for the evidence of all this--there is none. In the 1540s, Clovio is said to have addressed a letter to a nameless female miniature painter, a young German woman, though this letter survives only in late copies (and Teerlinc was Flemish, not German). Clovio may have had a female painter training in his workshop, but there is no evidence to support the claim that Levina Teerlinc left Bruges and trained with anyone anywhere at any time before she arrived in England. And an inventory of Clovio's property at the time of his death refers to a portrait by (again, not of) "Livinia meniatrice"--this may or may not refer to Levina Teerlinc.***

*In her blog post on Levina Teerlinc, art historian Louisa Woodville writes that Gerard Hornebolt, Susannah Hornebolt's father, is Levina Teerlinc's uncle, thus making the two women cousins. There is no documentation provided, and I have been unable to find this information in other sources. Gerard Hornebolt was married to a woman named Margaret Saunders (or Svanders), so the two, Levina Teerlinc and Susannah Hornebolt, were surely countrywomen, but I cannot confirm a family relationship. In Pens and Needles: Women's Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye notes that Simon Bening and Gerard Hornebolt collaborated on the production of illuminated manuscripts, which may (?) account for the confusion.

**Town, "A Biographical Dictionary of London Painters, 1547-1625," The Volume of the Walpole Society 76 (2014): 172. 

***Mary D. Garrard, "Here's Looking at Me: Sofonisba Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist," Renaissance Quarterly  47, no. 3 (1994): 575. And here is an example of how undocumented claims about Teerlinc become fact: by the time Susan Frye is writing about Levina Teerlinc, she says that Teerlinc "apprenticed" with Clovio in Rome and that she was "trained . . . within the Italian Mannerist movement"--no footnote in sight.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Mary Dyer, American Martyr

Mary Barrett Dyer, Religious Dissident (executed 1 June 1660)

Note: A few days ago, for reasons that I do not understand, an earlier version of this post (published in 2016!!) was flagged for "violating community standards," and it was made to disappear from the blog. Since there was no explanation of what "community standard" had been "violated," I appealed, and the blog gods--without any explanation--reinstated it. So it's there once again, back where it was in 2016, but just because I am that kind of woman, I am re-posting it here too, so it now appears TWICE. I did take the opportunity to update the images on this version.

So many racists, homophobes, misogynists, and all-around assholes seem comfortable using their "god-given" sense of "religious freedom" as justification for their "right" to bully, harass, humiliate, and persecute anyone who fails to conform to their idea of what is "godly" that it seems like a good time to remind ourselves about the long tradition of "religious freedom" in what would eventually become the United States of America. So here's just one example of how how religious "freedom" usually means religious persecution.

Sculpture of Mary Dyer,
Massachusetts State House,
dedicated 9 June 1959
(photo in public domain)

Born in England probably about the year 1611, Mary Barrett married William Dyer in London in 1633. As Puritans, the Dyers left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In December 1635, the couple is noted among the members of the Boston Church.

Defending the notion of religious tolerance and difference, Dyer and her husband supported Anne Hutchinson and others like her whose religious views began to diverge from those of the dominant Puritan majority.

In the theological and very political fight that erupted in the colony, Anne Hutchinson, among others, was tried and convicted in 1637 for the crime of having "traduced" Boston ministers. She was banished from the colony. For his support of Hutchinson, William Dyer was disenfranchised. When armed insurrection seemed about to erupt, colonial officials were empowered to confiscate "all such guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot, & match as they shall be owners of, or have in their custody, upon paine of ten pound[s] for every default" (so much for the "god-given" right to bear arms too, I guess . . . )

For her part, Mary Dyer had not been officially investigated, though her support for Hutchinson brought her to the attention of officials in 1638, when she committed the mistake of walking hand-in-hand with Anne Hutchinson after Hutchinson's excommunication.

For her act of friendship, Mary Dyer now became the subject of investigation--and in her case, her "sin" proved to be a doozy. It seems that Mary Dyer had given birth to a "monster" a few months earlier, in October 1637. This birth of this stillborn child became the subject of an intense investigation by the Puritan governor of the colony, John Winthrop.

Unfortunately for Dyer and Hutchinson, Hutchinson had been one of two midwives in attendance at the birth. Learning this, Winthrop, accompanied by "above a hundred persons," all of them, obviously, god-fearing defenders of religion, excavated the stillborn infant's grave, finding the remains not human "but a most hideous creature, a woman, a fish, a bird, & a beast all woven together." As Winthrop described the remains in his journal:
it was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape's; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp; two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also; the nose hooked upward; all over the breast and back full of sharp pricks and scales, like a thornback [i.e., a skate or ray], the navel and all the belly, with the distinction of the sex, were where the back should be, and the back and hips before, where the belly should have been; behind, between the shoulders, it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; but, instead of toes, it had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons.
Winthrop concluded that the "monstrous birth" was an unequivocal sign of Dyer's sin for having religious views that diverged from those of the Puritan majority.

Forced to leave Massachusetts Bay Colony, Mary Dyer joined her husband (and the Hutchinsons, as well as others forced out by the Puritans) at a new settlement in the territory later known as Rhode Island. But religious conflicts between all of those in the new settlements--new arrivals as well as those fleeing Massachusetts--soon erupted.

The Dyers returned to England for several years, with William Dyer one of several men who were attempting to sort out the problems with those who had commissioned the Rhode Island settlers. In England, Mary Dyer converted to Quakerism. When she returned to New England in 1657, Mary Dyer settled once more in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, then actively involved in discovering, persecuting, and eliminating Quakers.

Dyer was imprisoned in Boston. Although her husband arranged for her release, ensuring the colonial authorities that she would not speak to any members of the colony and that she would immediately return home, Dyer refused to be silent.

She traveled throughout New England to share her faith. She was arrested in the New Haven Colony in 1658 and forced to leave. By October of 1658, persecution of Quakers had intensified. In Massachusetts Bay, being a Quaker became a capital offense. The punishment for Quakerism was banishment--and if the convicted were to be found within the colony after conviction, the punishment was death.

In June of 1659, learning of the arrest of Quakers in Massachusetts, Mary Dyer left her home in Newport and headed back to Boston. She was arrested and, along with two others, condemned to death. She was taken to her place of execution on 27 October, but after watching the executions of the two men convicted with her, she was reprieved.

Mary Dyer refused to accept the conditions of the reprieve, which meant denying her faith: "My life is not accepted, neither availeth me, in comparison with the lives and liberty of the Truth and Servants of the living God for which in the Bowels of Love and Meekness I sought you; yet nevertheless with wicked Hands have you put two of them to Death, which makes me to feel that the Mercies of the Wicked is cruelty; I rather chuse to Dye than to live, as from you, as Guilty of their Innocent Blood."

Once more returned to Rhode Island, Dyer refused to accept her situation--she decided to force the Puritans of Massachusetts to change their laws or to execute a woman.

Dyer returned to Boston in May of 1660. She was arrested once more and on 31 May was examined in front of the governor of the colony, now John Endicott. Although her husband once more hoped to gain her a reprieve, she was once more condemned.

Edward Burrough's 1661 pamphlet,
decrying the persecution of
Quakers in Massachusetts
(for the full text, click here)

This time, she was also executed. On 1 June 1660 she was taken to the gallows where she had watched her two fellow Quakers executed in October 1659. She refused an offer to save herself, saying, "I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desiring you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law of banishment upon pain of death, made against the innocent servants of the Lord, therefore my blood will be required at your hands who willfully do it; but for those that do is in the simplicity of their hearts, I do desire the Lord to forgive them. I came to do the will of my Father, and in obedience to his will I stand even to the death."

Mary Dyer was hanged that day, becoming one of the "Boston Martyrs." And one of many of those whose lives and death testify not so much to the long and glorious history of "religious freedom" in the U.S. but to religious intolerance, persecution, and blind ignorance.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Marietta Robusti, Tintoretto's Daughter

Marietta Robusti, la Tintoretta (death of her father, 31 May 1594)

Marietta Robusti was the daughter of a famous father, the Venetian painter Jacopi Robusti, more commonly known by his nickname, Tintoretto ("little dyer," from the Italian tintore--his father had been a dyer by trade).

A "self-portrait" long attributed 
to Marietta Robusti,
Uffizi Gallery
For all that Marietta Robusti was the daughter of a famous father, few details of her life are certain, not even the year of her birth. 

The earliest reference to her is found in Raffaelo Borghini's Il Riposo, published in 1584. The Florentine writer and art critic knew Tintoretto and his family, and in his discussion of art, artists, and art collectors, he includes a brief paragraph about the painter's daughter, Marietta, claiming that she is "known to all" as la Tintoretta. 

Borghini also indicates that, at the time of his writing, Robusti is some twenty-eight years old, which would make her year of birth about 1556.

The second early source for the life of Marietta Robusti is a brief chapter (just two pages) in Carlo Ridolfi's Le Maraviglie dell'arte: overo le vite de gl'illustri pittori veneti, e dello stato, published in 1648. 

Though he was writing decades after the death of both Tintoretto and his daughter, Ridolfi knew members of the Robusti family, from whom he obviously gained information about both Tintoretto and Marietta. According to Ridolfi's account, "the daughter of the famous Tintoretto" was thirty years old at the time of her death, in 1590, which suggests that her year of birth was 1560. 

But there seems little to support Ridolfi's claim. In his recent study of Tintoretto, published in 2018 to commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Venetian painter's birth, scholar and curator Robert Echols claims that Marietta Robusti was born about the year 1554. 

And for all their reference to Marietta Robusti, these works are really about her father, not Robusti herself. She rates a few small paragraphs or a couple of pages, no more. The most extended study of Marietta Robusti that I have found--and the only one dedicated to Robusti herself, rather than to her father--is Alicia Savage's 2018 M.A. thesis, "Marietta Robusti, la Tintoretta: A Critical Discussion of a Venetian pittrice" (available here); Savage indicates that Robusti was born in the early 1550s, probably in 1553 or 1554. 

Such discrepancies may not seem all that important, but they do show how little is known about Robusti. Her parentage is not entirely clear either--she was Tintoretto's eldest child, but her mother is unknown. While Tintoretto married a woman named Faustina de Episcopi about 1559, and while the couple had seven children, Marietta Robusti was not Faustina's child. 

Indeed, the circumstances of Robusti's birth may explain one of the more unusual aspects of her life, noted by Ridolfi--"Being small of stature she dressed like a boy. Her father took her with him wherever he went and everyone thought she was a lad" (translated by Savage). In Echols's view, the circumstance of Robusti's birth "probably helps explain" not only the cross-dressing but the fact that her father "trained her as an artist."

Description of "Marietta la Tintoretta,"
Il riposo di Raffaello Borghini (1584)
But Marietta Robusti's training at her father's hand was not unique, and the circumstances of her birth may have had nothing to do with her place in his workshop, for she shared that experience with most of the women painters I have written about in this blog. 

Female painters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries regularly began their careers under their father's tutelage, working with and alongside members of the family--there were few other options for a girl who might have dreamed of being an artist. 

Like at least two of her brothers, Robusti was taught how to draw and paint, especially portraits in the manner of Tintoretto himself; Ridolfi compares her "brilliant mind" to her father's, claiming that she "also painted other works of her own invention" (translated by Savage). 

Aside from work she completed in the family bottega, she is also likely to have have assisted her father in some of his public commissions, for example in the program of decoration at the Robusti family's parish church, the Madonna del Orto. (The church contains eleven paintings by Tintoretto, including a "monumental pair" that were "probably painted in situ".)

In addition to painting, Robusti was a musician. Borghini notes that she played the harpsichord, the lute, and other instruments. According to Ridolfi, her singing and playing were very pleasing to those whom she painted. In addition to her musical accomplishments, Borghini mentioned Robusti's beauty and her grace. About her art, he says that she "paints very well" and that she has "done many beautiful works"--though he cannot say more about them, because he has "no detailed knowledge of her works" (translated by Savage).

But whether he has personally seen her work or not, Borghini indicates that Robusti had earned something of a reputation as an artist: 
And she did, among others, the portrait of Jacopo Strada, antiquarian of Emperor Maximilian II, and the portrait of she herself that, as a rare thing, His Majesty keeps in his room. And [Maximilian], as also King Phillip and Archduke Ferdinand, did everything to have this excellent woman with him and sent to ask her of her father. But [Tintoretto], greatly loving her, did not want her taken from his sight.

One of the few certainties of Marietta Robusti's life is her marriage. In 1578, she married a goldsmith and jeweler known as Marco-Augusta; German-born, he was living in Venice. For Ridolfi, the groom's residence in Venice is critical; Tintoretto chose his daughter's husband "so that she may always be nearby" because he did not want to "be deprived of her.” Notably, unlike most women painters who stopped working after their marriage, Robusti continued to paint. In Borghini's words, "having married, she enjoys its virtues and she does not fail continuously to paint."

The discussion of Marietta Robusti, in 
Carlo Ridolfi's Le Maraviglie dell'arte (1648)

For all of the uncertainties about Marietta Robusti's life--the identity of her mother, the year of her birth, even the date of her death (aside from Robusti's claim, there is no documentary evidence that she died in 1590), the greatest uncertainty surrounds the body of her work. 

The title of Rebecca Ann Hughes's very recent essay says it all: "The Lost Paintings of Marietta Robusti Are a Maddening Renaissance Mystery." As Hughes writes, "A black-and-white chalk drawing of the head of a portly man was recently sold at a Christie’s auction as the only work firmly attributed to Marietta Robusti, daughter of the Venetian master Jacopo Robusti, perhaps better known as Tintoretto." (On Marietta Robusti and the Christie's auction of "Head of a Man, after the Antique," click here.) According to the description, posted by Christie's, the drawing "bears a large inscription, likely her father’s, stating that 'this head is by the hand of madonna Marietta.'" (The drawing, also known as "The Head of Vitellius," sold for €100,000.)

And that's it. The painting most commonly attributed to Robusti is the "self"-portrait, reproduced in this blog post. Although the Uffizi labels this as her work, that attribution is questioned--not only based on the provenance of the portrait but, to quote Hughes, on "the mediocrity of the painting," with its "rudimentary foreshortening" and "poor anatomy." (Another art historian has recently called the portrait a "feeble work.") 

Perhaps the most poignant comment about Robusti's "lost" oeuvre was made by Germaine Greer in The Obstacle Race, her 1979 exploration of "the fortunes of women painters and their work: "Modern scholars attribute none of the work in the Tintoretto bottega to her, although she worked there more or less full time for fifteen years."

As the search for the surviving work of early women artists continues, many paintings have been hopefully identified as long lost work by Marietta Robusti. A quick online search will turn up quite a few example of such attributions, from popular sources (like WikiArt Visual Encyclopedia), general-audience publications (like The Florentine), and museum publications (like the Museo del Prado's online catalogue), to scholarly art-history journals (like Duncan Bull's "A Double-Portrait Attributable to Marietta Robusti" in  The Burlington Magazine). The best summary of the search for works by Robusti is in Savage, "Attributions and Collection History."

While attempts "to restore Marietta's reputation" are on-going, Hughes indicates that, without more "physical evidence" of Robusti's accomplishment, the effort cannot succeed. "For the moment," she concludes, "La Tintoretta, the legendary woman artist, remains just that – a legend."

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Eleanor of England, countess of Pembroke and Leicester

Eleanor of England, countess of Pembroke and Leicester (died 13 April 1275)

Eleanor of England,
from a fourteenth-century
genealogical roll
Probably born in the year 1215, Eleanor of England, named in honor of her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was the daughter John, king of England, and his second wife, Isabelle, countess (in her own right) of Angoulême. 

In order to marry Isabelle of Angoulême, King John had to have his first marriage, to Isabel, countess (in her own right) of Gloucester, annulled--he not only dissolved this inconvenient marriage, he managed to keep his discarded wife's "person" and her lands in his control, but that is another story . . . 

And then, aside from disentangling himself from his own wife, John faced another small difficulty before he could marry Isabelle of Angoulême--she was already betrothed to Hugh IX of Lusignan and living with his family. But that too proved no problem for the determined English king. Isabelle's father "abducted" his twelve-year-old daughter in order for this more desirable match to be made. Isabelle married John on 24 August 1200 in Angoulême.

The marriage caused disaffection and rebellion among the Lusignan family and its allies, and although John eventually prevailed, he also wound up losing Normandy. In a peculiar twist, while John was fighting in France, his second wife seems to have been placed, at least for a while, in the care of his discarded first wife, Isabella of Gloucester.  

John thus spent much of his time during the first years of his second marriage, at least through 1206, fighting on the continent. (A final truce with Hugh IX of Lusignan wasn't settled until 1214.) Either because of their separations or because of Isabella's extreme youth at the time of her marriage, Isabelle bore no child until 1207, when a son and heir, Henry, was born. Four children followed: a second son, Richard, in 1209, and three daughters, Joan (b. 1210), Isabella (b. c. 1214), and Eleanor (b. c. 1215). 

King John died in October 1216, less than a year after Eleanor's birth. After arranging for the coronation of her son, Henry, Queen Isabelle promptly left England for Angoulême, which she held in her own right. The dower queen thereafter married Hugh X of Lusignan, son of the man to whom she had been originally betrothed. In one final note of weirdness, Isabelle had taken her eldest daughter, Joan, with her when she returned to the continent, and it was Joan, not Isabelle, who had been intended as Hugh X's bride . . .

With all that as a preliminary, we can now turn our attention to Eleanor, the youngest of the royal children. Very little is known of her early childhood. After the death of her father and the departure of her mother for the continent, Eleanor and her elder sister, Isabella, were placed in the guardianship of Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, one of King John's most loyal supporters. Payments for her household survive in the records of the bishopric of Winchester from the years 1217 to 1221.

As Eleanor's recent biographer, Louise Wilkinson notes, little information survives about Isabelle's education, though she was literate and would have "received instruction in the Bible and other religious works." Letters to her, written in the 1240s by Adam Marsh, a Franciscan friar, contain references to many biblical passages as well as to "Christian models of acceptable feminine behaviour," suggesting something of the education to which she must have been subjected. I appreciate the succinct comment here of the great nineteenth-century historian Mary Anne Everett Green; writing about Eleanor's "early education," she notes, "Small, however, was the modicum of learning which was considered sufficient for females even of the highest rank."

Whatever her childhood upbringing, at some point before 1219 she was betrothed to the eldest son of William Marshall, first earl of Pembroke, her brother's protector and regent of England during the young king's minority. Eleanor was married to William Marshall, second earl of Pembroke, on 23 April 1224--she was nine years old, her husband, thirty-four. (Another one for "traditional marriage"!) Given her age, Eleanor remained at her brother's court, and her marriage was likely not consummated until 1229, when she was fifteen.
A thirteenth-century
depiction of
Eleanor of England,
as countess of Pembroke
As the sister of Henry III, Eleanor brought her connections to the royal family with her as a marriage portion, though the young king eventually settled upon her ten manors that were to provide her with a dower income in the case that the were widowed. This gift was made in 1229, probably at the time of the consummation of Eleanor's marriage. 

Although Eleanor accompanied her husband as he traveled throughout England, France, and Ireland, she did not bear him any children, and he died not long after their marriage, on 15 April 1231. 

The second earl of Pembroke's brother and heir, the third earl, sold her estates in order to pay her husband's debts, and the various arrangements that had been negotiated for her support at the time of her marriage were not honored. Increasing tensions between Henry III and Eleanor's brother-in-law, Richard, also complicated matters.

Wilkinson suggests that Eleanor's subsequent vow of chastity, which she took in 1234, was perhaps made as part of her struggle over her dower rights. Green, more fancifully, attributes the "public and solemn vow" to the young widow's grief.

Eleanor spent the next years at her brother's court and at the castle of Odiham, in Hampshire, which the king gave her in 1237. But on 7 January 1238, Eleanor broke her vow of chastity and married Simon de Montfort in a secret ceremony in Winchester.

Although the couple married with the king's approval, the clandestine union resulted in a scandal--while a pregnant Eleanor remained in England, no longer at court but sent by her brother to Kenilworth Castle, Simon traveled to Rome in order to get a papal dispensation (after the fact). A victorious Simon de Montfort returned to England in October 1538, with time to spare before the birth of the couple's first son, Henry de Montfort, in November.

What survives of Odiham Castle,
In February 1239, Simon de Montfort was invested as sixth earl of Leicester, a sign of the king's favor, and a few months later, he was one of the godfathers named for Edward, Henry III's son and heir. On this occasion, Eleanor returned to court for the first time since her marriage.

But the couple were soon in conflict with Henry. In August, on the occasion of the queen's churching, the king, who seemed to have been enraged over the couple's debts, claimed that Simon had seduced his sister and that he had allowed their marriage only to avoid scandal. 

Eleanor and her husband left England for the continent. Simon de Montfort returned briefly to England in 1239, welcomed once more by the king, but in 1240 he left to go on crusade in the Holy Land. Eleanor does not seem to have returned to England at this time. While her husband was on his crusade, she gave birth to a second son, named Simon, after his father.

On Simon's return from crusade, the couple went back to England, and the earl joined Henry III's 1242 campaign against the French king. The queen and women of the court followed the men to France, as did Eleanor, presumably--she gave birth to a third son, Amalric, in 1242 or 1243.

Over the course of the next few years, Simon de Montfort served his brother-in-law, the English king, in a number of ways, fighting with Henry in Wales, acting as his representative in Gascony, undertaking diplomatic missions in France and Scotland, defending the king against his subjects' discontent in the late 1250s.

Throughout these years, Eleanor's principal residence was at Kenilworth, though she did travel with her husband at times (notably, her daughter, Joanna, was born in Bordeaux). She gave birth to four more children: Guy (b. 1244), Joanna (born and died between 1248 and 1251), Richard (b. 1252), and Eleanor (b. 1258). 

But the king's increasingly erratic behavior resulted in increasing baronial opposition, and by 1258, Henry had been forced to come to terms and signed the Provisions of Oxford, agreeing to a council of barons and to calling a parliament every three years. Although he sought--and was given--a papal dispensation, releasing him from this oath, civil war loomed. During the conflict, Simon de Montfort joined the opposition, and fled to France in 1262, returning in 1263 when civil war broke out.

Simon de Montfort proved victorious and took control of the government, becoming de facto ruler of the realm, but his victory was short-lived, and the king regained some measure of control. The ongoing conflict of the Second Baron's War lasted from 1264 to 1267.

It was during this period that Eleanor de Montfort took on a notable role beyond that of the medieval noblewoman. At times, from her manor of Odiham, "she acted as a communication hub between her husband and sons as they took control of key areas of the country while networking with supporters, including the Bishops of Lincoln and Worcester, and housing prisoners such as the royalist Sir Robert de Brus" (for the English Heritage discussion of Eleanor de Montfort's role during the Second Baron's War, click here).

Along with her husband, she also presided over a great Christmas court at Kenilworth in 1264, but by 19 February of the following year, she was in Wallingford. On the 21st, she was in Reading, and then back at her manor, Odiham. 

After learning that Prince Edward had escaped from custody on 28 May 1265, Eleanor moved quickly to Dover Castle, "where she could hope to influence the important Cinque Ports (the confederation of the five ports of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Sandwich and Dover)." Surviving household records show the haste of her journey: she left Odiham, traveling all night to reach Porchester the next morning; she stayed in Porchester until 12 June, arriving in Wilmington on the 13th; she was on to Winchelsea on the 14th, and arrived in Dover the next day. 

There she remained, in control of the castle, shoring up its defenses by bringing in a siege engine and an engineer. But on 4 August, Eleanor de Montfort's husband and eldest son were both killed at the battle of Evesham by Prince Edward and his allies. Rather than surrendering the castle, Eleanor remained in Dover. She worked desperately to save her remaining children, securing Richard and Almaric's safe departure for the continent, for example,* and she did her best for her remaining allies. But she was soon under siege:
Attacked from both within and without, Eleanor negotiated a settlement in which she was exiled to the continent, all goods in the castle other than personal clothes and arms were handed over to the king, but her supporters would receive pardons. The success of her negotiations is shown by the fact that at least one of the men with her at Dover, the deputy constable Sir John de la Haye, had his lands returned to him as early as 9 November.

The great tower of Dover Castle,
the where Eleanor de Montfort held out against
Prince Edward and his army

Having secured her own safe passage, Eleanor of England, countess of Pembroke and Leicester, left England on 28 October 1265 and made her way to France, eventually entering into the Dominican abbey of Montargis, which had been founded by Simon de Montfort's sister, Amicie. By the terms of a settlement reached with Henry III, she received an annual payment of 500 pounds from her dower lands and financial provision for Simon, now his father's heir. Not satisfied, she continued her negotiations; eventually a further settlement was reached for herself and for her surviving children. Nevertheless, she continued to make claims about moneys owed to her at least through 1273.

Eleanor died at Montargis on 13 April 1275.

I've linked above to Louise J. Wilkerson's biography, Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England. I do have a great deal of fondness for Mary Anne Everett Green's multi-volume Lives of the Princesses of England, from the Norman Conquest (Eleanor of England's chapters are in the second volume)--with its exhaustive use of documentary evidence, it remains an impressive work of scholarship, and her account of Eleanor's life is full and detailed.

The letters written to Eleanor of England by Adam Marsh are found at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters (click here). There is also a wealth of detail from surviving household accounts there, and if you want more, see Wilkerson's The Household Roll of Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester and Pembroke, 1265: British Library, Additional MS 8877.

To listen to the English Heritage podcast episode "Woman at War: Eleanor de Montford at Dover Castle," click here.

 *Eleanor's son Simon de Montford was at Kenilworth when his father and elder brother died; he was besieged there for six months before escaping and leaving England for the continent. 

Guy de Montfort was held prisoner in Windsor Castle until 1266; he bribed his jailers and rejoined his family in France. 

Eleanor's daughter, also named Eleanor, was thirteen when her father and brother were killed; she left England with her mother and accompanied her mother to Montargis; her father had arranged for her marriage to Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, prince of Wales, and after her mother's death in 1275, the younger Eleanor was married by proxy and set off for Wales with her brother, Almaric. The two were captured en route by their cousin Edward, now king. She was held as a prisoner until 1278, when she was finally released to her Welsh bridegroom. Now princess of Wales, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Gwenllian, in June 1282, but she died during or shortly after childbirth, on 19 June 1282. 

After Llewellyn ap Gruffydd's death in battle in December 1282, King Edward of England confined Gwenllian of Wales in Sempringham Priory (Lincolnshire). She remained there until her death, fifty-four years later, on 7 June 1337.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Catharina van Hemessen, Portrait Painter

Catharina van Hemessen (married 23 February 1554)

Catharina van Hemessen is "one of the first Flemish women artists recorded and the first for whom several certainly authentic works are known."* Although we have few details about her life, thirteen signed works survive.

Born about the year 1528, Catharina was the daughter of the influential Flemish painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen and his wife, Bárbara de Fevere, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Like most of her female contemporaries, Catharina was trained by her father, a master in the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp, where he also had his workshop. She began her career in her father's studio, assisting her father, an artist known in particular for his "multi-figured, abundantly detailed" religious genre paintings. 

self-portrait, Catharina van Hemessen,
dated to 1548 and indicating
her age
In 1551, Hemessen sent his two of his sons, Hans and Gilles, to train as painters in Italy, just as he himself seems to have done. (There is no documentary evidence of Jan Sander van Hemessen's time in Italy, but he is widely believed to have spent time there as a young man, and he is recognized for his "innovative" Italian-influenced style.)

Such a journey would have been impossible for a young woman, of course. But by the time her brothers were sent to Italy, Catharina van Hemessen was already producing her own original work. 

Catharina's earliest known painting is a portrait, a genre in which she seems to have specialized. In fact, it is a self-portrait--a self-portrait of the artist in the process of painting. In a Latin inscription, she both names herself as the artist and dates her painting: "EGO CATERINA DE/ HEMESSEN ME/ PINXI/ 1548." A second version of this painting,  a copy made by Catharina, adds her age: "ETATIS/SVAE/20"(this inscription suggests her year of birth, otherwise undocumented). 

At some point during the decade of the 1540s, she gained an influential patron, Mary of Austria, regent of the Netherlands. In 1555, Catharina is recorded as a "dame de compagnie" at the regent's court. 

Meanwhile, on 23 February 1554, Catharina married Kerstiaen de Moryn, who was soon to be named organist at the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp. I have used this one certain date in Catharina van Hemessen's life--the date of her marriage--as the occasion for this post.

In 1556, when Mary of Austria "retired" from her role as regent and left the Low Countries, Catharina retained her place in the former regent's court and, with her husband, left for Spain. According to the Florentine merchant and writer Ludovico Guicciardini, who lived in Antwerp and whose 1567 Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi (Description of of the Low Countries) contains an enumeration of many contemporary Flemish artists, "this couple [Mary of Austria] took with her to Spain." Guicciardi also notes that the former regent granted an annuity to Catharina. In the words of the eighteenth-century English translation of Guicciaardini's Description, Mary of Austria "bequeathed a sufficient maintenance" to Hemessen.

Another 1548 signed painting
by Catharina van Hemessen.
The sitter's age is given as 22,
and may represent Hemessen's
older sister, Christina
After Mary of Austria's death in 1558, the couple returned to Antwerp, where they seem to have remained until 1561, when they relocated to the city of 's-Hertogenbosch, where Kerstiaen de Moryn had accepted a position as organist for the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady.

After 1565, no further details survive. As Anne Jensen Adams writes, "Catharina and her husband seem to have left the city [of s'Hertogenbosch] by 1565, and subsequently disappeared without a trace.

When he wrote about Catharina van Hemessen in 1567, Guicciardini names her as one of four "living female artists" in Antwerp, so it is possible she had returned to that city. Nothing more is known about her.

What survives is her work--thirteen signed work, nine portraits and four religious paintings. Of these, ten are dated between 1548 and 1552, a fact which has led modern historians (including Harris and Nochlin) to conclude that Hemessen may have given up painting when she was married. (And that her role at the Spanish court may have been in teaching painting.)

Interestingly, Catharina van Hemessen is mentioned in Giorgio Vasari's 1568 version of Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects)--but he includes her in his discussion of "excellent miniaturists." 

To see more of Catharina van Hemessen's surviving work, a good place to start is with the selection of images posted at ArtUK. I also recommend Ellen Moody's excellent overview and fascinating critique of Catharina van Hemessen's work (click here).

In addition, Anne Jensen Adams's 2005 review of Karolien De Clippel's 2004 Catharina van Hemessen (1528 - na 1567): Een monografische studie over een 'uytnemende wel geschickte vrouwe in de conste der schilderyen'  (unfortunately, for me, in Dutch) includes some biographical information, additional material about the surviving paintings, and some speculation about unattributed work.

*This quotation is from Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin's groundbreaking Women Artists, 1550-1950, the catalogue/history/collection of art plates that was published in connection with the first international exhibition of female artists, curated by Harris and Nochlin, and organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition opened on 21 December 1976. The show featured the work of eighty-three artists from twelve countries, including Catharina van Hemessen.