“The roles of women in medieval times is a subject that has been little explored despite the considerable visual and literary evidence that exists,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “There are abundant representations of women in medieval art with which we are all familiar, including female saints, royals, and everyday laborers. Looking beyond this core, Illuminating Women highlights the more varied roles that women actually played in the Middle Ages, including those that are less known, such as that of arts patron. The extraordinary depth and quality of the Getty’s manuscripts collection allow us to explore this fascinating subject in all of its richness and complexity.”
Ranging from the Virgin Mary to the adulterous Bathsheba, the exhibition is divided into five sections and features a wide variety of female figures and roles. Section one focuses on the biblical heroines, female saints, and pious nuns who were held in high regard as models of proper behavior. The second section discusses their counterpoint: lascivious women, who were used as warnings against sinful conduct. The third section examines women in their relationships with men, other women, and children. The fourth considers women in the medieval arts, and their relationship with commissioning and creating manuscripts. The exhibition ends with works by modern-day female artists who drew upon medieval imagery and artistic techniques.