100 Images of Wisdom
Christine de Pizan
A childhood in Paris
Barely four years old, Christine de Pizan was introduced in 1368 to the King of France, Charles V, as daughter of the Venetian physician, astronomer and astrologer Tomaso Benvenuto de Pizzano. Tomaso had followed the king’s call and brought his entire family to Paris. From this point in time Christine was part of the cultivated court environment so appreciative of the arts.
It was the period of the Hundred Years War in which England and France carried on a costly conflict over the throne. In spite of this fact, Paris was the intellectual centre of the arts and culture under Charles V, also called the Wise. As patrons, the rulers of the house of Valois attracted artists from all over Europe to the French capital. This was also Christine’s world in which she grew up and where she made good relations with the royal family who should accompany her throughout her entire life.
The first self-dependent female writer of the West
The death of her father and then of her husband put an end to the secure existence of the then barely 25-year old woman and here children. Instead of marrying again or taking the veil, Christine de Pizan decided to follow a completely different path: she began to earn her own living writing, first as copyist than as author of her own works. She thereby benefitted from the extensive education she had acquired with her father’s support.
Christine was familiar with the works of classical writers such as Homer, Ovid, or Virgil, and also with those of medieval authors such as Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. This enabled her to perfectly convey the knowledge of her time to the courtly environment, both in artistic and in literary terms.
Christine de Pizan’s sound education formed the basis for her varied literary activities.
The advice of a woman
Two works are above all responsible for the literary glory of Christine de Pizan: her most famous work – even today – is the book on the city of women, Le Livre de la Cité des dames. In her own lifetime, the Letter of Othea from the year 1400, Epistre Othea, with its hundred images of wisdom was extremely popular. The letter of a fictitious goddess of wisdom – Othea – to the fifteen year-old Hector, hero of Troy, made her the teacher of entire generations. Based on a hundred examples taken from the circle of legends on Troy as well as on classical mythological writings she gives advice for a righteous and honest life.
Christine de Pizan emerges here as one of the earliest representatives advocating the need for general education, also for women.
Among the finest illustrated examples of this so clearly structured and captivating text is the painted manuscript in the Royal Library at the Hague written and illuminated in the second half of the 15th century. Even without reading the text, it allows us to experience the overwhelming creativity of Christine de Pizan.
Still anonymous is the outstanding master who created the 98 miniatures. His high-quality painting clearly points to the artistic environment of Barthélemy d’Eyck. The creator of this illuminated manuscript truly is among the greatest painters of his time.
Christine de Pizan and her famous
Letter of Othea
Vivid colours, rich gold ornament and delicate silver mark the 98 illustrations of this manuscript, thus lending the worldly wisdom of Christine de Pizan the atmosphere it deserves. Mostly more than half-page miniatures illustrate the book, which was made at a time when panel painting and illumination directly competed for the first time.