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Gender in Art

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, presentations of gender were sublimated mostly in depictions of biblical figures. Notably a single figure, that of the Virgin Mary, represented most of the attributes associated with the feminine in an idealized figure. Mary's role as Christ's mother in depictions such as T'oros Roslin's Christ's Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds, represents at the same time her physical burden as a spiritual concept of chastity, humility, piety, repentance, and salvation. The vast number of depictions of the Virgin Mary as well as her special spiritual importance has redefined other established female stereotypes in art since the Middle Ages. Furthermore, moralistic tendencies in the representations of gender relations can be found from the late Middle Ages onwards, as in the so-called Weibermacht (woman's power) depictions showing maltreatment of men at the hands of women. These depictions by male artists represent the polarity of viewing the female sex: idealization or misogynism.

Flora (c. 1515–1520) by Tiziano Vecelli (Titian). Oil on canvas. Titian's painting of the goddess of spring, flowers, and fertility celebrated sexuality and asserted the beauty of the subject during a period when there was much criticism of works that celebrated female eroticism. © FRANCIS G. MAYER/CORBIS

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Gastrula to Glow dischargeGender in Art - From Antique Through Classical Art, Middle Ages, The Renaissance And The Baroque, Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries