Synopses & Reviews
Like a particularly good detective story, this richly textured book follows tantalizing clues in its hunt for a group of missing artistic masterpieces. Susan Bell recounts both her long search for a series of sixteenth-century tapestries that celebrated women and her efforts to understand their meaning for Queen Elizabeth I of England and the other powerful women who owned them. Opening a new window on the lives of noblewomen in the Renaissance, the brilliantly colored tapestries that were the ultimate artistic luxury of the day, and the popular and influential fourteenth-century writer Christine de Pizan, Bell pursues a compelling tale that moves from centuries past to today.
The tapestries around which this story revolves are linked to Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies (1405), orginally published six hundred years ago in 1405. The book is a tribute to women that honors two hundred female warriors, scientists, queens, philosophers, and builders of cities. Though twenty-five manuscripts of the City of Ladies still exist, references to tapestries based on the book are elusive. Bell takes us along as she tracks down records of six sets of tapestries whose owners included Elizabeth I of England; Margaret of Austria; and Anne of Brittany, Queen of France. Bell examines the intriguing details of these women's livesand#151;their arranged marriages, their power, their affairs of stateand#151;asking what interest they had in owning these particular tapestries. Could the tapestries have represented their thinking? As she reveals the historical, linguistic, and cultural aspects of this unique story, Bell also gives a fascinating account of medieval and early-Renaissance tapestry production and of Christine de Pizan's remarkable life and legacy.
"This is an exceptional, innovative, and interesting study. The scholarship is admirable, even breathtaking at points. The unusual method--the reader accompanying the writer as she treks down the crooked trail leading to these tapestries--is absolutely compelling."--Sarah Hanley, author of "Les Femmes dans l'histoire: La loi salique
"This is an exceptional, innovative, and interesting study. The scholarship is admirable, even breathtaking at points. The unusual methodand#151;the reader accompanying the writer as she treks down the crooked trail leading to these tapestriesand#151;is absolutely compelling."and#151;Sarah Hanley, author of Les Femmes dans l'histoire: La loi salique
"Susan Groag Bell gives us a unique account of the life and legacy of Christine de Pizan. Written with a scholar's consummate rigor and a detective's sense of urgency, Bell's quest for the lost tapestries inspired by Christineand#8217;s City of Ladies makes for compelling reading."and#151;Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen, A History of the Wife, and A History of the Breast
"Bound to become a classic, this meticulously and lovingly researched book is a model of historical scholarship as well as a detective thriller. Susan Bell offers enormous insight not only to readers long familiar with Christine de Pizanand#8217;s City of Ladies but also to those just discovering it. Investigating hitherto neglected archival and art historical evidence, Bell gives new life to the social history of the lost tapestries and their noble and royal owners and reconstructs the integral relation between Renaissance political culture, identity, and Christineand#8217;s classic defense of women."and#151;Earl Jeffrey Richards, translator of the first English edition of Christine de Pizanand#8217;s The Book of the City of Ladies and co-editor of Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan
About the Author
Susan Groag Bell is Senior Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University. She is the author of Between Worlds, in Czechoslovakia, England, and America: A Memoir (1991), among other books, and the essay "Medieval Women Book-Owners, Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture," which appeared first in 1982.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1. The First Clue
2. Christine de Pizan
3. Queen Elizabeth's Tapestries
4. Tapestry Production in the Early Renaissance
5. Margaret of Austria and the Tournai Tapestries
6. Anne of Brittany's "Cite des dames"
7. An Eight-Panel French Set
8. The "Cietie of Dammys" in Scotland
9. The "Citie of Ladies" at the English Court
10. Christine de Pizan's Legacy to the Renaissance
Appendix A. The Dimensions of the City of Ladies Tapestries
Appendix B: Dramatis Personae
Appendix C. Chronology of Events