Jewels, Hair and Accessories of the Middle Ages
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Research Proposal
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General Description of Topic:

I have loosely defined my interest as “Romance Items” and how they can be analyzed in the context of feminism and semiotics. Since my “target object”, aumonieres ( alm’s purses) have no research dedicated specifically to them I have identified several themes that relate and several other romance items ( like personal mirrors and portrait miniatures) that I can extrapolate ideas from. I have narrowed down my time period of research to mid 13th– mid-late 14th centuries, primarily in France since this is the period most of the purses I am looking at were made.

Themes of Research

1. Iconography of the Garden of Love.

  • Exploring the rich history of this scene, a man and a woman in a garden, will  illuminate why this image is so popular. The Garden of Adam and Eve, the gardens portrayed in the medieval romances, and the notion of a garden as a tamed wild space for the nobility (the relationship between nature/humanity) all factor in. Gardens have a rich symbolic vocabulary and a lot of the activities that would take place in a garden ( falconry, hunts, etc.) were well known metaphors for the game of love in the Middle Ages.

2. The semiotics of medieval purses in general:

  • I have found a couple of articles analyzing purses in medieval literature. I would like to explore the purse’s relationship to the body, how it functioned differently as a sign compared to jewelry. One analysis compares the opening and closing of a purse to a woman’s willingness to engage in courtly love.

3. The function of clothing in medieval romances:

  • Some scholars have discussed how cloth, and especially cloth giving, grew in importance throughout the middle ages. According to Andreas Capellanus, the famous author of The Art of Courtly Love purses were a token of love from one lover to another. I would like to look at the role ” giving” played in romance (especially if these purses were given.), and why items you wore on your body were so particularly popular and symbolic. This topic  would explore how erotic/ monetary attractiveness were linked, or why someone adorned is considered more attractive.

4. How these purses, embroidered by women, can act as a voice for women:

  • Examples of embroidery by women that was not commissioned by the church are very rare. If these are made by women for women or made by women for the men as a gift, their portrayal of love is very important. I have been looking at books that explore “women’s work” through the centuries and its meaning.

Substantive Research Questions:

Were these objects made by women and given to men?

Who wore them?

Were they given/ worn in the context of marriage contracts (and maybe having something to do with economical “romance”) or were these used in a more flirtatious, playful context?

What did medieval romance literature, primarily Roman de le Rose, mean to a wearer of this purse?

Why proclaim this scene on your body?

What does the imagery on this purse say about gender relations in the Middle ages?

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