Cologne (dpa) – Highly educated women who are artistically active and express their individuality here and there – that is actually not associated with the Middle Ages. In the male society of that time, women were subject to strict restrictions, and artists mostly withdrew completely from their religious work, so that often their names have not even been passed down. The Schnütgen Museum in Cologne – one of the leading international museums for medieval art – now paints a different picture.
The exhibition “Von Frauenhand”, which runs from Tuesday to January 30th next year, is about precious medieval manuscripts. Books were extremely valuable back then because each had to be copied individually – there were no other methods of reproduction. The work in the writing rooms often took months. As the Cologne exhibition documents, this extremely demanding job was not only carried out by men, but also by women. For example, while women were not allowed to study, training to become a scribe or illuminator was entirely open to them.
The exhibition brings together richly decorated and illustrated manuscripts by women religious from northern France, Cologne, Lower Saxony and Nuremberg. The oldest books are 1200 years old. The women who made them at the time made sure that they would not be forgotten: at the end of certain chapters, they left a name reference. The noble ladies were called Girbalda, Agleberta or Eusebia, for example. “They had enormous self-confidence, they knew who they were, otherwise they would never have dared to put their name under it,” explains curator Harald Horst. Their monastery in northern France was also run by a sister of Charlemagne.
The scribe Loppa vom Spiegel from the Poor Clare Monastery of St. Klara in Cologne even immortalized herself in 1350 with a slogan marked in fiery red on the edge of the page. Another illuminator allowed herself the fun of putting a nun’s head on a teasing mythical animal.
In the past, the works of women were sometimes dismissed as naive, lovely “nun paintings”. “But that has since been revised by research,” emphasizes curator Karen Straub. Anything but lovely is, for example, an almost modern-looking pen drawing that is quickly thrown on paper and shows the crucified Jesus. He is covered over and over with blood that is dripping down from him – and only this blood is colored in bright red. An extremely dramatic representation.
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