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Holy motherhood: gender, dynasty and visual culture in the later Middle Ages

Holy motherhood: gender, dynasty and visual culture in the later Middle Ages

L'Estrange, Elizabeth

This text offers a strategy for understanding how certain viewers, mainly but not exclusively aristocratic lay women from late-medieval France, interpreted images of motherhood and childbirth

Hardback, Book. English.
Published Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008
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Available: Newton Park

  • Newton Park – One available in Main Collection 704.948/LES

    Barcode Shelfmark Loan type Status
    00293107 Main Collection 704.948/LES Standard Available


Statement of responsibility: Elizabeth L'Estrange
ISBN: 0719075432, 9780719075438
Intended audience: Specialized.
Physical Description: 320 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 22 cm.
Subject: Mothers in art.; Illumination of books and manuscripts History.; Illumination of books and manuscripts, French.; Christian art and symbolism Medieval, 500-1500.; Christian art; Art criticism; Christian art and symbolism France Medieval, 500-1500.; Gender; Childbirth in art.


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

Author note

Elizabeth L’Estrange is an FNRS Post-Doctoral Fellow in History of Art at the University of Liège in Belgium


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.