Holy motherhood

Gender, dynasty and visual culture in the later middle ages

By Elizabeth L'Estrange

Holy motherhood


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8726-4
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published Date: May 2012
  • BIC Category: History, Medieval History, Art History, Medieval style, History of art, Gender studies: women & girls, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Women's Studies, Society & social sciences / Gender studies: women, The arts / History of art: Byzantine & Medieval art c 500 CE to c 1400
  • Series: Manchester Medieval Studies


This study brings images of holy motherhood and childbearing into the centre of an art-historical enquiry, showing how images worked not only to script and maintain gender and social roles within patriarchal society but also to offer viewers ways of managing those roles. Some of the manuscripts discussed are relatively unknown and their images and texts are made available to readers for the first time. Through an adaptation of Baxandall's 'period eye', the study considers the many 'cognitive habits' acquired by aristocratic lay women - and men - through familiarity with prayers for childbirth, the lying-in ceremony, and the rite of churching. It then uses this methodology to interpret the images and prayers in six bespoke manuscripts, including the Fitzwilliam Hours and the Hours of Marguerite of Foix. The book will appeal to advanced students, academics and researchers of art history, illuminated manuscripts, medieval history and gender studies.


The intersection of gender, social practice, and feminine agency underpins much of this literature. Elizabeth L'Estrange makes an important contribution not only to these debates, but to the fields of medieval art history and manuscript studies.


Elizabeth L'Estrange is a Lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Birmingham



Winner of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship First Book Prize


List of illustrations List of figures Preface and acknowledgements Family trees of the houses of France, Anjou, Brittany and Burgundy Introduction Part I Gender, agency and the interpretation of material culture 1. The situational eye: viewing, gender and response in the later middle ages 2. De conceptione ad partum: saints, treatises and prayers for successful childbirth 3. The lying-in month and the rite of churching: post-partum rituals and the material culture of childbearing Part II Manuscript case studies from the houses of Anjou, Brittany and France 4. Holy mothers, sainted monarchs and beata stirps: the Fitzwilliam Hours and Books of Hours for the house of Anjou 5. Steriles fecundas fecisti: viewing and reading holy motherhood in the manuscripts of four duchesses of Brittany Conclusion Appendix I: prayer and translation from the Hours of Marguerite of Foix Appendix II: prayer and translation from the Prayer Book of Anne of Brittany Bibliography Index

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