Women in the Making: Medieval Signatures and Self-Portraits of Women Artists Pierre Alain

Pierre Alain Mariaux, Université de Neuchâtel , pierre-alain.mariaux@unine.ch

The work of women as cultural patrons and creators is now clearly recognized and valued, and it enables one to speak with Annemarie Weyl Carr of women as “arbiters of medieval culture”. Thus, women who sponsored or commissioned works of art did so, like their male counterparts, within definable conventions. Can the same be said of women artists?

A great part of what we know about medieval artists is based on the inventory and analysis of signed works and self-portraits (to say nothing of textual evidence). Yet, signatures give ambiguous information on the authorship of the work of art, since the artist, the designer, the entrepreneur, and the patron were all engaged in the process of “making”, and all may rightly be characterized as creators of the work. It is the aim of this chapter to study visual arts (portraits and self-portraits) and textual sources (mostly signatures, but also narratives, diplomatic sources, etc.) and to propose a “transverse” study of works “made” by women, crossing lexical, art historical, historical, and theological fields. In particular, my intention is to look closely at the implications of the use of the verb “facere” to describe art making. It is well known that books and textiles are the genres in which one most consistently finds women named, and so it is in these that one can best ponder the issues of women’s artistic productivity. But the ways in which women artists sign or represent themselves in their work remains uncertain. The creative gesture was valued, from the 11th century on, as a performative one copied from the sacerdotal gesture of benediction, and was even viewed / understood as homologous to the creation of the body of Christ at the altar. Yet women were excluded from the priesthood, and this very fact disqualifies them as teachers or mediators of the spiritual, such as their male counterparts. How are the signatures of, and self-portraits of women artists to be understood within such a dynamic?