Celebrating Female Agency in the Arts - Christie's Education Symposium

Elite Women as ‘Ambassadors of Culture’; female patronage in the tenth to seventeenth century

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Fees: $235.00


The role elite women played in the arts has been a keystone in the discourses about gender, women and power in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. When late-twentieth-century scholars reacted against George Duby’s vision of a “mâle Moyen Âge” and began gathering evidence of female influence, women’s role as patrons of the arts was a key element in their reassessment, as countless examples demonstrated the active part taken by noble women in commissioning art and architecture. More recently, however, the inclusion in the debate of hitherto neglected object groups, such as textiles and certain manuscripts, has subtly shifted our approach to and understanding of female power. The creativity some women developed as patrons, the importance of certain types of objects or their functions can only be fully understood by admitting that female agency had limitations or was more powerful in certain social contexts than others. One of these contexts is the medieval marriage practice, once identified as the primary example of female disempowerment. In fact, having being transplanted to an often faraway court, women regularly acted as “ambassadors of culture”, bringing both their tastes and specific objects with them, thus encouraging artistic preferences and sometimes the artists themselves to cross cultural and regional borders.

Stefanie Seeberg, Alexandra Gajewski

Alexandra Gajewski (Independent Scholar)
Jitske Jasperse (CSIC, Madrid)
Stefanie Seeberg (Grassi Museum of Applied Arts, Leipzig; University of Cologne)
Adelina Modesti (La Trope University)

Course dates

June 26 - 27, 2018

Christie's New York
20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020


Stefanie Seeberg (Ph.D., Universität München, 1998; PD, Habilitation, Universität zu Köln 2014) is curator of the textile collection at the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts in  Leipzig since 2017. She held several research fellows among others from the DFG and ERC and is teaching Art History at the University of Cologne. Her research concentrates on textiles, medieval art, church decoration and the role of women in the history of art. Among others she published her second book Textile Bildwerke im Kirchenraum (2014) and together with Alexandra Gajewski the essay Having her hand in? - Women as ‘Makers’ of Textile Art in the Middle Ages (JMH 2016). 
Jitske Jasperse (PhD, Art History, University of Amsterdam, 2013) currently holds a postdoctoral position (Juan de la Cierva-Formación) at the Instituto de Historia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid. She is a founding Member of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Amsterdam, as well as the Treasurer and an Executive Committee Member of CARMEN The Worldwide Medieval Network. This year she will publish “Women, Courtly Display and Gifts in the Rolandslied and the Chanson de Roland,”in Mediaevistik and “Matilda, Leonor and Joanna: The Plantagenet Sisters and the Display of Dynastic Connections through Material Culture,” in Journal of Medieval History. Her forthcoming book Power and Material Culture in the Twelfth Century: Matilda Plantagenet’s Treasures (ARC Humanities Press) crosses the limits of traditional approaches and investigates both women and their objects within a dynamic interdisciplinary context. This book demonstrates how artworks facilitated elite women’s active roles in medieval society and politics. 
Alexandra Gajewski (PhD, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1996) is an art and architectural historian specialising in the medieval and late medieval period. She has taught at the University of London (Courtauld Institute, UCL, Birkbeck), at the V&A, for Christie’s Education and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She worked as a Senior Researcher on the ERC project ‘Reassessing Women as Makers of Art and Architecture’, located at the CCHS—CSIC, Madrid. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Her research concentrates on the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, especially on questions of monasticism, cult, patronage, and the role of women. She has published widely on Cistercian architecture in France, the Empire and Bohemia. Her publications include also a review of the work of Emile Mâle and a recent study of women and textiles. 
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