Christine de Pizan

100 Images of Wisdom

Childhood in Paris

Christine de Pizan was only four years old when in 1368 she was presented to King Charles V of France as daughter of the doctor, astronomer, and astrologist Tomaso Benvenuto de Pizzano. The King had called Tomaso to his court, who then moved to Paris with his family. Since then Christine formed part of the sophisticated environment and culture of the court, who had much of a refined taste for art.

It was the time of the 100 Years War in which France and England, moved by interests of dynasty, held this bloody battle. Nevertheless, during the reign of Charles V “the Wise”, Paris would become the intellectual center of European art and culture.

The Splendor of the French Court

The royals of the house of Valois, sponsors of the arts, attracted the French metropolis to many artists from Europe. It was this world that saw Christine grow and which left a profound mark in her being. Charles V set the foundation of one of the most valuable libraries in the world. Jean Duke of Berry ordered outstanding artists to create the most presumptuous manuscripts of the time. The Dukes of Burgundy rivaled their French cousins as sponsors of the arts and the Parisian goldsmiths exercised their influence throughout Europe. Christine established meaningful protectors within the royal family who would accompany her during the rest of her life.

The Unusual Destiny of a Lady

After a few short years of happiness in which Christine was married and bore three children, she faced some painful experiences. Her father’s death and a short time after, that of her husband, which deeply affected young Christine’s stability.
At that time, a widow’s options were extremely limited: returning to the bossom of her family, find a new husband, or retire to a convent. None of these alternatives could satisfy this young woman who was very aware of her worth.

The First Independent Female Writer of the Western World

Christine de Pizan opted for a very different lifestyle and began to make a living from writing. First as a copyist and then as the author of her own works, relying on the wide background she had obtained thanks to her father’s support. Christine knew the works of men of letters such as Homer, Ovid, and Virgil, as well as medieval authors like Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. In this way, she was able to express her life in a court environment and during this period of time with perfection, in a very literate and artistic manner.

Poetry, History, Ethics, and Society

Christine de Pizan’s solid background transformed in the foundation of her varied literary activity, which received great recognition from the circles of the court from early on. She wrote proses of love, pious texts, as well as philosophical and moral lessons. She also worked on biographies and autobiographies and was not afraid to leave written documentation of her political opinion.
Christine de Pizan put her extensive literary activity to the service of the most prominent princes in her environment: King Charles VI and Queen Isabel of Bavaria, Louis of Orleans, and the Dukes Jean of Berry and Phillip of Burgundy. She created magnificent illuminated manuscripts of her own works for these noble bibliophiles.

A Women with a Voice

Christine de Pizan’s literary fame was mainly established due to two works. To this day she is recognized for The Book of the City of Ladies, “Le Livre de la Cité des dames” . During her life, Christine enjoyed from a special predilection, the Othea Epistre of 1400, with its one hundred icons of wisdom where Christine evolved into one of the first advocate of the women’s rights having access to culture.
The epistle of a fictitious goddess of wisdom– Othea- to the trojan hero Hector who was fifteen, turned this writer into an educator of entire generations. Her advice to leading an honorable life is supported by one hundred examples, which are extracted from cycles of trojan sagas, as well as ancient mythology and literature, where Ovid’s Metamorphoses play an important role. In this way, Christine de Pizan becomes a household name in the literature of her time since authors such as Virgil and Ovid showed an increasing popularity in the XII century, along with Trojan sagas. The great pagan characters of ancient times seemed to have a special contribution to enhancing the depth of ethics in the Christian world. Recurring to these authorities, Christine de Pizan was able to emphasize her educational principles in an adequate manner in order to transmit a clear, moral vision of the world to her readers.

One Hundred Images of Wisdom – Advice turned into Miniatures

At the beginning of the XV century, magnificent illustrated manuscripts of this work came to light, still under the supervision of Christine de Pizan. In some cases it was the same Christine who wrote the texts and the miniatures were created following her instructions. The Othea Epistre with its one hundred images of wisdom, constitutes the most richly illustrated masterpiece of this extraordinary author. During the entire century, book decorators would be inspired by it to create their best works.

The Illustrated Manuscript of the

Royal Library of The Hague

One of the the most beautiful illustrated examples of this text is the one found in the Royal Library of The Hague due to its clear structure and passion. It was written and decorated in the second half of the XV century. The manuscript dazzles its spectators not only because of the varied series of scenes but also because of the bright colors of its miniatures, whose number exceeds the number of pages in the codex. Therefore, Christine de Pizan’s enormous creative force can be perceived without reading this manuscript’s text.