The Queen's Library: Image-Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514

The Queen's Library: Image-Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514

The Queen's Library: Image-Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514

The Queen's Library: Image-Making at the Court of Anne of Brittany, 1477-1514

Synopsis

What do the physical characteristics of the books acquired by elite women in the late medieval and early modernperiods tell us about their owners, and what in particular can their illustrations--especially their illustrations of women--reveal? Centered on Anne, duchess of Brittany and twice queen of France, with reference to her contemporaries and successors, The Queen's Library examines the cultural issues surrounding female modes of empowerment and book production. The book aims to uncover the harmonies and conflicts that surfaced in male-authored, male-illustrated works for and about women.

In her interdisciplinary investigation of the cultural and political legacy of Anne of Brittany and her female contemporaries, Cynthia J. Brown argues that the verbal and visual imagery used to represent these women of influence was necessarily complex because of its inherently conflicting portrayal of power and subordination. She contends that it can be understood fully only by drawing on the intersection of pertinent literary, historical, codicological, and art historical sources. In The Queen's Library, Brown examines depictions of women of power in five spheres that tellingly expose this tension: rituals of urban and royal reception; the politics of female personification allegories; the "famous-women" topos; women in mourning; and women mourned.

Excerpt

I begin my investigation with a revealing image. the stunning miniature that appears in the lavishly illuminated royal copy of the French translation of Petrarch’s Remèdes de l’une ou l’autre Fortune (BnF ms. ffr. 225) features Anne of Brittany holding her rather adult-looking four-year-old daughter, Claude of France, on her lap, surrounded by ladies of the court (fol. 165r) (Figure 1). One of the few extant images of Anne together with Claude, future queen of France herself, this portrayal of the queen, her daughter, and her circle of dames d’honneur seemingly venerates the females of the French court as its own self-contained unit. Yet, staged at the lower left section of the miniature, below the larger, more imposing figure of Reason and the accusatory figure of her husband, King Louis xii, backed up by his male protégés (including Cardinal Georges d’Amboise), Anne of Brittany and Claude of France are not in fact presented here in all their glory, as one might have expected. For in its mise en scène of Louis XII’s confrontation with Reason in the context of “Adverse Fortune,” this visual rendition of Petrarch’s chapter on “Being a King Without Son” conveys contemporary royal anxieties about the lack of a male heir. Whether or not this scenario is directly related to the recent death of the royal couple’s three-week-old son, this image confirms that just five years after Anne’s marriage to her second husband, Louis xii, and four years after the birth of their daughter Claude, considerable concern had surfaced at the French court about the absence of a male heir.

The text that accompanies the BnF fr. 225 miniature reinforces this visual staging of royal apprehensions through the voice of Douleur (Sorrow). Presumably the French king’s alter ego, she complains at length about the lack of a male successor. Yet Rayson continuously responds with arguments demonstrating that the absence of a male heir has its advantages. Thus, the text offers critical insight into the scene depicted in the miniature, in which Rayson essentially consoles the French king, who seems to take to task his own wife and daughter. Indeed Anne’s portrayed position is a humble one—her eyes . . .

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