The above article proves that John Shakspear (as he spelled his name), then an official in the borough of Statford upon Avon, was a dedicated Catholic who defied the dictates of the new Protestant regime in England. Rather than destroy the artwork in the church, he had whitewash painted over. This evidence helps to prove my contentions about John, and then William, in my upcoming novel “The Shakespeares and the Crown”.
Posts Tagged ‘art’
Because women were clearly prevalent in the practice of medicine before the advent of the god-man, it is perhaps most surprising that such women existed after the ascension of the male monotheism, as opposed to what they achieved. What is probably most significant about the medical school at Salerno, other than being recognized as an institution representing a high, formal standard of medical training, is that it set the stage for medical licensing.
“It is easy to understand that the attraction which Salerno possessed for patients soon also brought to the neighborhood a number of irregular physicians, travelling quacks, and charlatans. Wealthy patients were coming from all over the world to be treated at Salerno. Many of them doubtless were sufferers from incurable diseases and nothing could be done for them. Often they would be quite unable to return to their homes and would be surely unwilling to give up all hope if anybody promised them anything of relief. There was a rich field for the irregular, and of course, as always, he came. Salerno had already shown what a good standard of medical education should be, and it is not surprising, then, that the legal authorities in this part of the country proceeded to the enforcement of legal regulations demanding the attainment of this standard, in order that unfit and unworthy physicians might not practise medicine to their own benefit but to the detriment of the patients.
“Accordingly, as early as the year 1140, King Ruggiero (Roger) of the Two Sicilies promulgated the law: ‘Whoever from this time forth desires to practise medicine must present himself before our officials and judges, and be subject to their decision. Anyone audacious enough to neglect this shall be punished by imprisonment and confiscation of goods. This decree has for its object the protection of the subjects of our kingdom from the dangers arising from the ignorance of practitioners.'” (Anonymous, 1911)
A century later, in 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II extended and formalized this into law for the entire Holy Roman Empire. Because many countries were still in strife over secular rulers, resulting in the civil authorities being weak, the legal ordering of the practice of medicine was effectively taken up by the Church, and the authority for the issuance of licenses to practice was in the hands of the bishops of the neighborhood. (Anonymous, 1911) Because the Church and temporal rulers were male dominated, this law set the stage for the eventual elimination of women as rivals in the field of medicine. This was bloodily carried out over several centuries. As the “witch trials” of women who practiced medicine (as well as men who practiced chiropractic medicine) is well documented, we will now turn our attention away from the sciences and back to the question of women practicing in the visual arts.
Ironically, the very qualities that were desired in a medieval period woman were those that the male artists and their patrons used to degrade female artists. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375, right), a famous Italian painter and writer, stated that the ideal woman “must be gentle, modest, honest, dignified, elegant in speech, pious, generous in soul, chaste and skilled in household management.” All areas related to “femininity” were denigrated as not being “high art”.
This view is demonstrated by Adrianna Mena: “Up until the nineteenth century, when women were mentioned in art historical texts, it was a matter of exception. For example, in Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Prominent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Sofonisba Anguissola is mentioned. However, Anguissola was the daughter of an Italian noble, and sometimes painted self-portraits showing her seated at a musical instrument accompanied by a chaperone, which removed the focus from her artistic ability to her social status and membership to the cultured elite. Her class position rendered her activity as an artist both possible and worthy of notice and comment, not her talent. In an earlier text by Boccacio, several women are mentioned, but he writes: ‘I thought these achievements worthy of some praise, for art is much alien to the mind of women, and these things cannot be accomplished without a great deal of talent which in women is usually very scarce.’ Clearly he holds no regard for these women’s talent, but only mentions them to emphasize their difference from the supposed average woman.” (Mena, 2005)
It seems that, as long as the artwork did not challenge the confines of what men determined as feminine or proper, then it was sanctioned. As far as the male artists and critics were concerned, if a woman could excel in larger works of art, then the men would have to work harder to prove that they were better or more gifted and more intelligent than women. Being an artistic genius was solely reserved as a male prerogative (Chadwick, 2007). Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574, right) was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists. He proved Chadwick’s assertion by stating: “should women apply themselves too diligently, they risk appearing to ‘wrest from us the palm of supremacy’.” In essence, the prevailing belief was that females should remain “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen.”
During this era, most of the women who were allowed to perform art, on very limited subjects, were nuns. “Early Middle Ages art was initially restricted to the production of Pietistic painting (religious art) in the form of illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings in churches. Both monks and nuns were the main artists during the Middle Ages. The women who became nuns were responsible for many illuminated manuscripts.” (The Middle Ages Website, 2011)
Ende of Spain (left) was one of the 10th -11th Century illuminators of Beatus Apocalypse of Gerona. Guda, Claricia, Diemud, and Harrade von Landsberg were 12th Century nuns and manuscript illuminators in Germany. (Many nuns were either anonymous or known only by their first names because nuns renounced all earthly values and possessions, even their born names.) Caterina dei Vigri (1413-1463) was skilled not only in painting, but in music and illumination. She became Abess of the Convent of the Poor Clares and was canonized; she is regarded as the patron saint of painters. Bourgot, while not a nun, was a 14th Century professional French illuminator, and she also produced some of the best miniatures of the period. Maria Ormani, a 15th Century Florentine nun of the Augustinian order, was quite prolific. There are many more women mentioned in connection with religious art during this period, but almost all were nuns.
Then it seemed society loosened up a little, but only for very small, limited productions. Properzia de’ Rossi (left) was born c.1490 in Bologna, Italy. She studied drawing under Marcantonio Raimondi. De’ Rossi was at first known for her complex miniature sculptures using an unorthodox medium of apricot, peach or cherry stones. In her thirties, she began to produce normal-sized sculptures like portrait busts, and these helped establish her reputation as a serious artist. She was also commissioned to decorate the altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna, and she won a competition to produce marble sculpture for the church of San Pedro in Bologna. Suzanne de Court (c. 1600) was a French enameller; the daughter of Jean de Court, she learned the art of enameling from her father.
Toward the end of the Medieval Period, as both Martin Luther and then Henry VIII were challenging the power of the Catholic Church, a few women artists were allowed to study, primarily thanks to indulgent fathers who did not want their daughters to waste their talent. However, these non-clergy female artists were still very limited in many ways, even as their male counterparts soared to new heights of challenge and creativity.
During the Renaissance period, a period of great cultural change that spanned the period from the end of the 13th Century to about 1600 AD, the new linear perspective form of art developed. Because this new type of art required advanced mathematical skills, it was denied to women. At this time, although it would mean becoming more isolated, should a woman wish to continue her education and still paint, the convent remained one of her two options. It should be noted that many such options were not only denied to women, but restricted in the sense of being the domain of white, upper-class males. “Male privilege and male lines of property and succession were strongly valued.” (Chadwick, 2007)
There was a strong focus on men being able to paint the nude figure, a very difficult task to master as it required knowledge of anatomy and physiology. However, women were barred from studying the nude body. The repeating theme seems to be to “veil their eyes, act with modesty; to know everything is not in accord with chastity.” This attitude is magnified in the ultimate patriarchal religion, Islam. In accord with this attitude, women were only allowed to be educated to become “better wives and mothers, and more virtuous exemplars of the Christian ideals of chastity.” (Chadwick, 2007).
It was then that Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625) entered onto the scene. She evidently chose to remain unmarried for a number of years, as it was impossible to reconcile an artistic career with the domestic life: a husband, children, and running a household. Thankfully, her father, Amilcare Anguissola, a minor noble and wealthy land owner, wanted both of his daughters to express their talents, and sought the support of professional tutors. Training for male painters meant at least four years in an artist’s workshop; Sofonisba was trained, with her sister Elena, by Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti for at least three years, and perhaps more with Michelangelo. Still, she did not receive any training with nudes of any kind and was not able to do large-scale works of art. Again within the constraints of her era, she did many images of women.
Her artwork seems direct, her hands and facial expressions are precise and very lovely. Her painting “Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola” is wonderful, partly in that she restrains
herself and acknowledges “the role of a woman as an object of representation.” We see how she places her instructor looking directly at the viewer, while she, being painted, does not quite have eye contact with the viewer. Since she is an unmarried woman, she needs to maintain her modesty. In her paintings, there is always the qualities so valued in this society, and reflects the “Renaissance ideal of the artist as gentleman/woman rather than the artisan” (Chadwick, 2007).
Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-Portrait” shows a prim, proper woman playing the spinet, supervised by her chaperone. As an artist in a man’s domain, she brought forth the inner beauty of her subjects. She was a guest at the Spanish court for years. It is hard to imagine her remaining an insider to the royal family and having access to painting the female members with such a special relationship should she have been married, and expected to assume the responsibilities that marriage implies. Also, along with marriage, she would have lost a certain innocence. Being a wife, homemaker and mother is a full-time occupation; Anguissola would not have had the time to be creative, as opposed to a man who would not have to split his time and energy.
For a combination of reasons, one of the stronger woman artists of this era was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652/1653). Partly it is because the Catholic Church was losing some of its power, but it was undoubtedly also partly due to the support of her father, Orazio, who seemed to me more interested in her expertise as an artist than his own. He worked in the Caravaggesque style, and passed this on to his daughter. She was expertly taught. Her theme was strong, heroic, sensuous women who triumphed via their virtue. Her first known painting, “Susanna and the Elders” (right), is controversial for several reasons. Some theories state that this was a father-daughter combination. The painting has Susanna in the nude, which women just did not do. Also, Susanna is not in a very graceful position, and is placed in the center of the viewer’s eye; all of this is new and “too masculine” for a woman to paint.
Then came the pivotal event in the life of Artemisia Gentileschi. While her father was encouraging her artistic education, he hired a private tutor for her by the name of Agostino Tassi. Tassi either seduced or raped her, and then went back on his word to marry her. At the heart of the matter was not the rape, but the violation of her father’s “property”, as women in the household were considered the chattel of the man at that time. To add insult to injury, she was forced to undergo a pelvic examination and was tortured by using thumbscrews during the trial to give “true” testimony. Certainly, after her very public trial, she had pretty much been exposed to the general public and did not have much if anything to hide or repress. Having no “modesty” left to lose, her paintings took on more of a vengeful nature. Rumors have it that she used the exposure of her rape to advance her career by painting such work as “Judith Decapitating Holofernes”, where Holofernes strongly resembled Tassi.
Artemisia Gentileschi decided that she would depict nudes at a time that women were not allowed to study nude figures, and Joachim van Sandart may have asserted that she covertly painted from live nude models (Bissell, 1999). Although she was only allowed to paint women from the Bible, she selected scenes that showed women who sought vengeance against men for vile acts. Her colors are extremely rich, and her characters are quite powerful. Her painting of “Judith Decapitating Holofernes (right)” shows a determined, strong, capable woman, along with her co-conspirator maidservant, both set with purposeful, direct action. This is a painting by a woman who had broken down all of her societal barriers, and she was now free to paint without restriction. The firm hold of Judith on her sword, the spray of the blood that shows the carotid was severed, implies that Gentileschi was resisting the conventions of being unable to study nudes or corpses. Furthermore, just the hint of red in Judith’s dress sleeve and also the one on her maidservant indicated that they were not afraid to have blood on their hands to do what they felt was right. It may be reading too much into the symbolism of this painting, but the fact that the sword is in the middle of the painting cutting off his head could also represent cutting off his penis, and therefore Gentileschi/Judith was emasculating the man who raped her, and perhaps those who would deny her anatomical studies.
Viewing her “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” (left), it is almost as if Gentileschi were thumbing her nose at the male artists and critics to say: “Deny me the males-only club of learning from nudes; I will still show you a true artist in action”. She seems to be completely absorbed in work, the light is on her skin, illuminating her, her hair is disheveled, and yet she is feminine with her gold chain around her neck and her graceful dress swirling about her. She might well have said: “I grant I am a woman, but withal a woman well reputed, Orazio’s daughter”, to paraphrase Portia in “Julius Caesar”. Gentileschi is completely fearless, and frank in her actions.
Gentileschi broke the bounds of the last hurdle that women had to get over by being the first Italian woman able to paint general historical scenes, perhaps because those required many human figures in the work, and nudes in particular. Following her example, Angelica Kauffmann (1741 – 1807), although very shy, challenged the Royal Academicians for their monopoly over historical paintings. Her work, “Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Picture of Helen of Troy” (below), reflects a subdued and graceful art. She was a very hard worker, and she was famous and beloved by the people. She was extremely well-known for her designs in china service, engravings, wall paintings, and portraits. But her love was for historical paintings.
While Kauffmann was attempting to pierce the world of male historical painters, she was accused of being unable to have full-bodied work, due to her inability to paint nudes. Of course, this training was denied to her. Consequently, she strove to capture moral content and noble movements in her historical scenes. When viewing “The Beautiful Rhodope in Love with Aesop”, it certainly appears that Kauffmann’s male figures are more effeminate, rather than strongly masculine. But her colors are extremely rich, and the hands and feet are accurate. Her work displays a tenderness and relaxed mood to it. During this era, it seemed as if the critics were looking for more severe, action packed, forceful arenas of history. Not being privy to the same privileges as men, she just had a different style of painting history.
“The Family of the Earl of Gower” is representative of Kauffmann’s neoclassical style. This picture is again very subdued, a calm moment in a family, which is quite restrained. While she may have found it very hard to overcome the restrictions of her sex in regards to painting historical scenes, Kaufmann led the way for female artists after herself. “In 1769, Angelica Kauffman (right) and Mary Moser helped found the British Royal Academy. After Kauffman and Moser, no woman was allowed membership in the British Royal Academy itself until Annie Louise Swynnerton became an Associate Member in 1922 and Laura Knight was elected to full membership in 1936.” (Mena, 2005) In spite of the leadership and determination shown by Kauffman and Moser, it seems the men were still determined to be sexist in regard to talent. “So long as a woman remains from unsexing herself, let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist. When she does, she is a man.” (Anonymous, 19th Century art commentator)
While all artists had to traverse obstacles placed in their way by the Church, females had to overcome the male-centric artistic society, and society as a whole. The restrictions placed on women by a limited education was bad enough, but they were still not overtly able to see anything that might further encourage their minds either technically or creatively. Even if a woman was lucky enough to be born of nobility or to a family with money, she could still be excluded from studying and practicing serious art. Other than a few indulgent fathers, the men acted like they were protecting the females in their lives, while actually asserting their dominance.
Where women were concerned, the Middle Ages were truly the “dark ages”. Fortunately, today the patriarchal Christian Church has lost most of its power, and women have regained much of their independence-at least, in the non-Islamic world. They can study any subject they wish. They can enjoy both a family and a profession. They can be both strong and successful and still maintain their femininity. And, if they have the talent, they can also be great artists or scientists.
I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research and writing.
Part I of 2
During the untold centuries that polytheism held sway, women and men were essentially equal. Because the population was small and survival was difficult, most cultures accepted the fact that every person in the group had to do whatever work they were capable of to help the clan or tribe stay alive, and perhaps even grow. Those societies often pursued agriculture and animal husbandry as primary food production activities, rather than strictly being nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes. While women were occasionally members of a hunting party, they were certainly intrinsic to growing crops and herding animals. Healing the sick and creating art for various purposes were also important tasks, and women either shared or led in both of those endeavors. Religion was certainly very important to primitive humans, and women were also leaders in that facet of life. What changed that balance, and when did it happen? There are a number of factors that diminished the roles of women in society, especially in the arts and sciences, but the primary catalyst was a major shift in religion, from polytheism to a male-dominated monotheism.
As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate primitive religions existed, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). Women served vital roles. In addition to sharing equally in the daily work, goddesses were more predominant than gods (both earth goddess/fertility symbols as well as those serving other purposes), and priestesses were just as prevalent as priests. Although no one can ever know, it is presumed that the artwork found in caves and other places depicting various aspects of the lives of early humans could have been created by women as well as men. What is known is that women were the primary healers of the clan.
Throughout various ancient cultures, medical practices were limited to prayers and incantations, and a basic use of plant materials. A large number of diverse cultures, such as the Amazon and Ona of South America, the civilizations of ancient Crete and Eastern Europe, and the oldest of cultures from Sumer, have myths or artifacts from a very early time showing that women were the primary keepers of the healing and magical arts.
(Gimbutas & Campbell, 2001)
The medieval period is generally regarded as beginning in Byzantium during the very early stages of the Eastern Roman Empire, and lasting for more than a thousand years (approximately 3rd Century AD to the 15th Century). Between conquest and forming alliances, the Romans brought the new religion of Christianity to the Byzantine Empire, as well as to more far-flung areas of Europe as the Germanic and Nordic countries, and as far west as the Celtic tribes in the British Isles.
In the very beginning of the medieval period, there was still some equal footing between the sexes since the lives of ordinary Roman men and women revolved around work. Because the “sensibility” of Christian views regarding nudity had not yet impacted society, works of art, both statues and paintings, featured nudes prominently. While marriage was still pretty much expected of women and at the whims of men, women could choose to live alone and work at some sort of profession. Because of the harsh demands of life, women were seen as partners, and strength and intelligence were valued qualities in both sexes. Although their services were unofficial, women were still accepted as healers and were the primary care givers. In addition, medical research was still progressing, as healers had the ability to study the human body regarding diseases and cures. Finally, women were not mere observers of history; they made it, and presumably were allowed to paint it. However, few artists “signed” their work before the Renaissance period, especially woman, so it is difficult to know when they deserved credit for various works.
However, these early medieval values changed quickly. The perception of the qualities valued in women altered to reflect this new role of the weak, submissive, unintelligent, second-class citizen. The desirable qualities in a woman during the medieval period were such “feminine qualities” as tenderness, sweetness, beauty, chastity, purity, obedience, etc. As the qualities changed, so did their roles in society. Women were barred from the trade guilds, and could only participate in education that would be helpful in their new household once they had married. To see how these changes impacted their roles, we will first explore some of their losses in the healing arts. Later, we will look at how the monotheistic society diminished the visual arts.
“Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. They were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were midwives, travelling from home to home and village to village. For centuries women were doctors without degrees, barred from books and lectures, learning from each other, and passing on experience from neighbor to neighbor and mother to daughter. They were called “wise women” by the people, witches or charlatans by the authorities. Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)
Naturalistic, non-scientific medicine started early in Egypt and Mesopotamia (perhaps around 2500 BC) and, in the west, with Hippocrates (5th Century BC). Both Greece and Rome had “schools” of medicine, and Rome established hospitals for its soldiers. “Deriving knowledge from the medical treatises and methods of the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Egyptians, the Persians and other conquered peoples, the Romans came up with one of the best and most sophisticated medical systems of the ancient world. The science of medicine and the human body was evolving. Ancient Roman medicine was a combination of physical techniques using various tools and holistic medicine using rituals and religious belief systems.” (Prioreschi, 1991)
Due to the military societies of both of those powerful cultures, the roles of women began to diminish in general. However, the decreasing role caused by large, organized military forces was not as important to women as the “God-man” diminishment in their power to pursue the arts and sciences, much more so in medicine than in art. After all, this coincided with an abrupt halt to virtually all medical research in the Roman Empire, which did not change until the 16th Century: “It is commonly agreed that scientific medicine started with Vesalius (1514-1564)” (Prioreschi, 1991). What happened during that period that caused such a lapse in the advancement of medicine? And why was it suddenly jump-started once again?
“For eight long centuries, from the fifth to the thirteenth, the other-worldly, anti-medical stance of the Church had stood in the way of the development of medicine as a respectable profession. Then, in the 13th century, there was a revival of learning, touched off by contact with the Arab world. Medical schools appeared in the universities, and more and more young men of means sought medical training. The church imposed strict controls on the new profession, and allowed it to develop only within the terms set by Catholic doctrine. University-trained physicians were not permitted to practice without calling in a priest to aid and advise them, or to treat a patient who refused confession. By the fourteenth century their practice was in demand among the wealthy, as long as they continued to take pains to show that their attentions to the body did not jeopardize the soul. In fact, accounts of their medical training make it seem more likely that they jeopardized the body.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)
In the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political and religious upheaval. Emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions-paganism, Judaism and Christianity-vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity-an offshoot of the highly patriarchal Jewish religion-while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions.
Upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. While that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.
However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary monotheism, a new religion was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the patriarchal society to the complete subjugation of women. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on many of the conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire. In the former Eastern Empire, women no longer had any societal positions.
As the Catholic Church became dominant in the west throughout the dying days of the Roman Empire, the patriarchal culture also subsumed all equality, and women’s roles became very limited. Mary was elevated to an ethereal saint, Magdalena was portrayed as a repentant whore, and all women (other than a few of the nobility who wielded power indirectly) became subservient to males. Where early medieval art had celebrated both sexes and allowed for many temporal works, later western art became virtually dedicated to a celebration of religious motifs with male-dominated scenes, showing women only in weak or corrupting roles (especially Eve).
One means of controlling females was to formally restrict education. While certain teachers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et alia) had conducted “classes”, these were primarily for small groups of children of the wealthy and politically powerful families. While boys gathered most of the benefit of these famous educators, many wealthy families also had their daughters receive instruction. Virtually the only formal centers of education up until this time were the churches, whether that meant the temples of various gods or goddesses, the newer Jewish temple classes, or the informal “churches” (the gatherings of believers) that were springing up under Christianity. However, eventually the abbacies were not available for women to go to for an education, and the abbots were placed in charge. No more training was given to women in the sciences (especially medicine) or the arts, and even nuns became very second-class clergy. When the Catholic Church began to yield under the pressure of a demand for the advanced medical treatments of the Arab physicians, it still ensured that women were even more excluded from acquiring such knowledge.
“At this time, the role of women as healers was threatened as a result of two roughly parallel developments. The first was the evolution of European universities and their professional schools that, for the most part, systematically excluded women as students, thereby creating a legal male domination of the practice of medicine. Ineligible as healers, women waged a lengthy battle to maintain their right to care for the sick and injured. The second development was the campaign – promoted by the Church and supported by both clerical and civil authorities – to brand women healers as witches. The Church may have perceived these women, with their special, often esoteric healing skills, as a threat to its supremacy in the lives of its parishioners. The result was the persecution of unknown numbers of mostly peasant women.” (Minkowski, 1992)
When the Roman Empire fell and various monarchs battled to gain control across Europe, the Catholic Church was the only unified force. In these turbulent times, one hand washed the other: the Vatican assured the masses that the monarchs ruled “by divine will” (no matter how often the crown changed hands …), and the monarchs ensured the wealth and supremacy of the Vatican. The power of the Church was so great during this period that even kings dared not defy the Vatican on “peril of their mortal souls”. Thus, the entire male structure-political and religious-used every means at their disposal to keep the women under their heavy thumbs. Perhaps thus policy helped to mollify the masses of men, who were subject to every whim of the nobility and the clergy, by giving them a clear superiority over women. This especially went for any woman who dared to challenge a profession set aside for men, and most especially medicine.
One of the shining exceptions was Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1098 – 1179), who was a prolific writer, composer, philosopher, and poly-mathematician. While her contemporary, Ende of Spain, stuck to illustrations and did not rise above the rank of nun, Von Bingen rose high in Catholic ranks. She wrote a text on the natural sciences, Physica, as well as Causae et Curae. “She was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. In both texts, Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God’s effect on man’s health.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Why was von Bingen allowed to create such diverse works, and not be prosecuted as a witch? Partly because she did not openly practice medicine, but rather studied it much as a research scientist might. Primarily, however, it is because she was a famous Christian mystic, a visionary who was later canonized as a saint. A German Benedictine abbess, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165.
As an important member of the Church, one who worked well within the confines of Catholic dogma, von Bingen was honored by the Vatican. For women who were not within the boundaries of a nunnery, however, such work would have been a totally different matter.
“The establishment of medicine as a profession, requiring university training, made it easy to bar women legally from practice. With few exceptions, the universities were closed to women (even to upper class women who could afford them), and licensing laws were established to prohibit all but university-trained doctors from practice. It was impossible to enforce the licensing laws consistently since there was only a handful of university-trained doctors compared to the great mass of lay healers. But the laws could be used selectively. Their first target was not the peasant healer, but the better off, literate woman healer who competed for the same urban clientele as that of the university-trained doctors.
“Take, for example, the case of Jacoba Felicie, brought to trial in 1322 by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris, on charges of illegal practice. Jacoba was literate and had received some unspecified “special training” in medicine. That her patients were well off is evident from the fact that (as they testified in court) they had consulted well-known university-trained physicians before turning to her. The primary accusations brought against her were that she would cure her patient of internal illness and wounds or of external abscesses. She would visit the sick assiduously and continue to examine the urine in the manner of physicians, feel the pulse, and touch the body and limbs.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)
Six witnesses affirmed that Felicie had cured them, even after numerous doctors had given up, and one patient declared that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than any master physician or surgeon in Paris. Regardless, Felicie was barred from practicing medicine on peril of imprisonment or her life. (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)
A much more controversial figure is Trotula de Ruggiero. The Schola Medica Solernitana, or Salerno School of Medicine, was a famous combination of medical knowledge and treatment gathered from throughout the known world, and it flourished between the 10th and 13th centuries. It is believed that Trotula de Ruggerio lived sometime in the 11th or 13th century, and that she occupied the chair of medicine at the School of Salerno. Some scholars dispute that de Ruggerio was a woman, or that such a person even existed. Even though the school was established from the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th Century and remained a close collaboration between the clergy and secular physicians, it is rumored that many women were trained as physicians and some became professors of medicine (Bois, 1996). In that age, and in that setting, such an occurrence would have indeed been miraculous.
The story has it that de Ruggerio was the author of many medical works, the most notable being Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. She allegedly wrote it to educate male physicians about the female body. The book comprises sixty-three chapters and gives information about menses, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, as well as general diseases and their treatments. As the Church forbade direct study of the human body, it is quite reasonable that such knowledge could have come from a woman, although the information might also have come from the Arab, Greek, or other foreign physicians who flocked to Solerno and taught in their native languages. Another influential book, De Aegritudinum Curatione, is credited to Trotula de Ruggerio.
Tomorrow: Part 2
I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research.