|Miniature of a woman painting, from a 1440 manuscript of Boccaccio's "De claris mulieribus"|
|Woman painting self-portrait; from 1440 manuscript of Boccaccio's "De claris mulieribus"|
These women's voices were joined by male contemporaries, such as Diego Valera and Juan Rodríguez de la Cámara, who both defended the value and virtue of Christian women by revindicating the narrative of Eve, displacing to Adam any role in the Fall and the creation of Original Sin. Martín de Córdoba added to this chorus of male voices with his El jardín de nobles doncellas ("The Garden of Noble Maidens"), which was written specifically for the soon-to-be Queen Isabel the Catholic.
A significant contributor to the debate over women was the courtier, Álvaro de Luna. The Libro de las virtuosos e claras mugeres ("Book of Virtuous and True Women") is a collection of exemplary tales that he wrote about illustrious female figures from the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, and ancient history. He begins this work with the Virgin Mary, whom Álvaro de Luna writes is responsible for the reversal of Original Sin. He follows his marian narrative with the story of Eve, in which he relieves her of any guilt in the Fall, placing blame instead on Adam, in line with the reasoning of the other authors mentioned above. He continues to enumerate the exceptional lives of various biblical women (including Judith, one of my favorites).
|Peter Paul Rubens, "Cimon and Pero" c. 1630|
And yet Álvaro de Luna's enthusiasm for women resounds with an optimism for the future role of women in his society. His series of prologues offers the reader an important framework with which to understand the rest of his text. On multiple occasions, he notes that women are not "inherently" bad or good, they are a product of their habits and habitual actions, as are men. Last week I got the opportunity to discuss this work with my colleagues in a seminar and we all noted how modern Álvaro de Luna's thesis seemed to be. After discussing his Libro, we proceeded to read aloud several of his poems. ...They were so saucy! I can't say that I was surprised to read sensual poems about being hopelessly in love with women (including women other than his wife) from a man who vehemently defended his female contemporaries.
|Woman painting self-portrait from 1440 manuscript of Boccaccio's "De claris mulieribus"|
Finally, in honor of today being Fat Tuesday, I leave you with a picture of my 9-year-old self at carnivale in Venice. Donning a mask my parents got for me earlier that day from a magical little mask shop perching above the glass-green water of the canal, I have my arms outstretched, as if trying to embrace the whole city, all of its masked inhabitants, and the women-loving tricksters that had populated its narrow streets since medieval times...
Happy Fat Tuesday!
Until next time -- keep rustling!