Things to Ponder re: the Construction of Mistress and Slave Relationships in Late Antique Art

1.  One of the aspects I like about this article is that the author posits that female viewership is neither neutral nor passive.  How does this opinion challenge the theoretical “dominion” of the male gaze?

2.  Rose’s thesis is that the representations of mistresses and slaves that she discusses are both a reflection of a late antique social reality as well as a construction of ideal behavior.  Does she succeed in her “mission” and does the contemporary literary evidence that she cites support her findings?

3.  Who was the intended audience of the Projecta casket?  How does that impact its meaning in your opinion?  Do you feel that Projecta was acting as her own agent in fashioning herself as a “beautiful and seductive woman?”

4.  What happens when Venus and Early Christianity collide?

5.  How are slaves depicted on the Projecta and Sevso caskets?  In the mosaics from Carthage?  The interplay of the objects in these images, such as mirrors and jewels, affects not only how we read the mistresses in these works, but also the slaves who accompany them.  What does the nudity of the bathing mistress suggest about the status of the slaves nearby?

6.  In delineating the multivalence of these images, Rose discusses the generic nature of late antique portraits and their function in conveying virtues or social values.  Discuss how these images of mistresses and their servants embody this “culture of display.”

7.  What was the reality of a slave’s existence during this period?  How much do these images really have to do with the mistresses?  Isn’t it all about the master and his status?

8.  How did women’s status change in the 4th century?  Do you think this had an impact on the art under consideration?

9.  “By depicting the women adorning themselves, the images permanently commemorate them in the act of making themselves beautiful for the view of others…….women’s bodies themselves are like toilet articles, ultimately for possession and pleasure.”  Discuss.

10.  Why were women only depicted in the guise of vanity and not in the act of spinning wool?

11.  Do you think these images fostered a sense of loyalty among the slaves depicted therein?  Are we, in the end,  taking about female agency in this group of works?



Discussion Questions on Masquerade: Lola Clairmont

Do you agree that “Female performers do not conceal their identity. There is no secrecy”?

In reference to performing ancestry (70), Bettelheim thinks women perform self in reference to their ancestry. Does this statement coincide or disagree with what we read about the lineage of authorship in African pots from our last reading?

Bettelheim seems to have a very literal interpretation of “hiding” oneself in masquerade, i.e. men hide themselves with a literal mask. Do you agree with Bettelheim’s literal interpretation of masquerade?

Do you think that our perception of the masquerades of other cultures is tainted by our Western ways?

By Bettelheim’s logic, women who do not cover their faces in a masquerade take control of their sexuality and are therefore outside of the conventions of the patriarchy.  Are modern day sexualized dancers (read: strippers) outside the conventions of the patriarchy?


Discussion Questions on “African Women in the Visual Arts”

1.  Many of the gender issues introduced by Chadwick come into play in Aronson’s discussion of African women’s art, such as their works being relegated to the category of craft, etc.  What are some of the parallels that you noticed in these two readings?  What are the differences?

2.  What is the “cocktail” of disciplines that comprise African art history and is it different from one’s approach to western art history?

3.  What did women bring to the table in Senufo art?  What were Glaze’s contributions to the field?  How did Adams flesh out the role of women in the public (i.e., men’s masquerade) and in women’s own form of masquerade?

4. How was biology used in the division of labor between men and women in the various crafts?

5.  Were you particularly struck by any examples of the hierarchy of the arts discussed in this article?  What is the correlation between social status, the household economy, and the domestic arts?

6.  What role does gender play in the production and use of masks?  Scarification?

7.  What are the ramifications of the pottery making traditions of the  Kamba females of Kenya? Can you think of any comparable traditions?

8.  Aronson states that “…economics is essential for explaining some aesthetic rules, organizational patterns, and the important question of sexual division of labor in the arts.”  What are some examples of this?  What are some of the art historical questions that remain on the African horizon?

Syllabus for ART 304, Women As Artists & Patrons

Art 304 – Women as Artists and Patrons

D. Sadler   MW  2-3:15   Dana 101
Office Hours  M 3:30-5 or by apppointment  Dana 109, ext. 6245
Required text:  Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, London,4th edition. 2007.

Introduction to the role of women as both creators and sponsors of works of art. Not only were women the ambivalent object of portrayal from Eve to the Virgin, but also a force behind the pen and parchment. In monastic settings, women copied and illuminated manuscripts and when promoted to abbess, could become as powerful as Hildegard of Bingen. Queens and aristocratic women were the avid patrons in the later Medieval period. By the Renaissance and Baroque periods, we encounter a host of painters and sculptors whose names have finally joined the ranks of the “old masters.”

This is a seminar, which is to me the highest level of discourse available in the classroom.  I hope that I will always fulfill my part of this contract, and I expect you, in turn, to complete your part.    Attendance, both physical and mental, is required.  If you miss more than 3 classes, your grade will be lowered 1/3rd of a letter grade for each subsequent absence. There will be one mid-term reflection paper on the readings and discussion that we have had up to that point. In addition, students will present journal articles to the class for which the presenter and her peers will formulate questions to be posted on the course blog.  After the third week of class students will begin work on your seminar reports that will be the culminating event of this course. After your presentations, you will have the opportunity to incorporate any of the class suggestions, etc. into the final paper version of the above report.  Onward and upward.

The Goals of this course are:

  • to examine the evolution of women both as artists and patrons of art:  what societal forces hindered or helped women find their voices?
  • To improve analytic skills and critical thinking in the field of art history
  • To encourage, develop, and refine students’ ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in written form, about art history
  •  To encourage the poetic imagination in order to foster the desire to tell one’s own story

Your Grade will be comprised of the following elements:

  • 10% Class Participation
  • 10% Course Blog:  Students will post comments and questions about readings (by midnight before the next class!), links to news items, web pages, and other grist for the mill
  • 20% Midterm Narrative
  • 20% Article Presentations
  • 20% Seminar Report
  • 20% Final Paper

Moodle: Be sure to check Moodle frequently for any changes or breaking news in Art 304.

Disability Services: If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please see Kelly Deasy in the Office of Academic Advising and Student Disability Services to register for these services.  Students that receive accommodation checklists, please meet with me to discuss the provisions of those accommodations as soon as possible.

Course Evaluations:  Near the end of the semester you will be notified by e-mail and provided with a link to follow to complete course evaluations online outside of class.  Your feedback is extremely valuable to me, the department, and the administration.  With the help of your insightful comments, I will be able to improve the course the next time I teach it.

Academic Integrity: It is expected that all students will abide by the policies of the Honor Code.  Students who violate these policies through plagiarism, collaboration on projects without permission, submitting the same work for multiple classes, and any other infractions outlined in the Honor Code will be asked to turn themselves in to the Honor Council.  If you have any questions about academic integrity, please speak with me.


Week of January 16: Art history and Feminism,
Reading: Chadwick, Preface and Introduction
Week of January 23 Artists and Patrons emerge from their respective rocks…
Reading: Lisa Aronson, “African Women in the Visual Arts,” Signs, Vol. 16, n.3 (Spring, 1991), 550-574.
Week of January 30: Women in Ancient Cultures?  Greece and Rome?  Egypt?  Mesopotamia?
Reading:  Judith Bettelheim, “Women in Masquerade and Performance,” African Arts, vol. 31, n. 2, Special Issue: Women’s Masquerades in Africa and Diaspora, (Spring, 1998), 68-70; 93-94
Week of February 6: Welcome to the middle Ages
Reading: Chadwick, chapter 1 and Jeffrey F. Hamburger, “Art, Enclosure and the Cura  Monialium: Prolegomena in the Guise of a Postscript,” Gesta, vol. 31, n. 2, Monastic Architecture for Women (1992), 108-134.
Week of February 13: Matilda, Matilda, and Hildegard of Bingen, Two models of female power
Reading: Beth L. Holman,  “Exemplum and Imitatio: Countess Matilda and Lecrezia Pico della Mirandola at Polirone,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 81, n. 4 (December, 1999), 637-664. The Renaissance arrives!
Reading:  Chadwick, chapter 2 and 3
Reflections on artists and patrons I
Week of February 20: Gender and the devotional portrait
Reading: Andrea G. Pearson, “Personal Worship, Gender, and the Devotional Portrait Diptych,” Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 31, n. 1, Special Issue: Gender in Early Modern Europe (Spring, 2000), 99-122.
Reading: Andrea G. Pearson, “Margaret of Austria’s Devotional Portrait Diptychs,” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 22, n. 2 (Autumn, 2001-Winter, 2002), 2+19-25.
Week of February 27: More Monks…
Reading:  Loraine N. Simmons, “The Abbey Church at Fontevraud in the later Twelfth century: Anxiety, Authority, and architecture in the Female Spiritual Life,” in Gesta, XXXI, 2, 1992, 99-107.
Midterm Narrative due on Feb. 22th
Week of March 5: Biblical Barbies
Reading:  “Salome and the Canons,” from Women’s Studies, vol. 11, 1984, 26-66
Week of March 12: Spring Break!
Week of March 19: The Women on Quirinal Hill….Patronage in Rome
Reading:  Carolyn Valone, “Women on the Quirinal Hill: Patronage in Rome 1560-1630,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 76, n. 1 (March, 1994), 129-146.
Week of March 26: Women at Court
Reading: Sheila ffolliott, “Casting a Rival into the Shade: Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers,” Art Journal, vol. 48, n. 2, Images of Rule: Issues of Interpretation (Summer, 1989), 138-143.  Also, Rose Marie San Juan, “The Court Lady’s Dilemma”  Isabella d’Este and Art Collecting in the Renaissance,” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 14, n. 1 (1991), 67-78.
Week of April 2: More Renaissance Women!
Reading: Laurie A. Finke; Martin B. Shichtman, “Magical Mistress Tour: Patronage, Intellectual Property, and the Dissemination of Wealth in the “Lais” of Marie de France,” Signs, vol. 25, n. 2 (Winter, 2000), 479-503.
Week of April 9: Domestic Genres, the Economy, and Mme. de Pompadour with a cherry on top!
Reading: Chadwick, chapter 4, David Ormrod, “Art and its markets,” The Economic History Review,” new series, vol. 52, n. 3 (August, 1999), 544-551. Donald Posner, “Mme. de Pompadour as a Patron of the Visual Arts,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 72, n. 1, (March, 1990), 74-105.
Week of April 16: The Academy and its relationship to Women
Reading: Chadwick, chapter 5
Week of April 23: Seminar Reports
Week of April 30: Seminar Reports

Click here to download a word document of the syllabus.