My research focuses mainly on the art and culture of the medieval and early modern periods (c. 1350-1600) with a particular emphasis on illuminated manuscripts and on questions of gender in visual culture. In 2008 I published Holy Motherhood: Gender, Dynasty and Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages (MUP, 2008) which won the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship’s First Book Prize in 2010. This study of maternal imagery in books of hours owned by aristocratic women and its relationship to the material culture of childbearing has led to other articles on the patronage of women at the French court, including Anne of Brittany, Anne of France, and Anne de Graville. In Holy Motherhood and in other articles on deschi da parto (birth trays) and carved ivory objects, I have also focused on methodological approaches to assessing women’s agency as viewers.
I am currently working on a book-length study of Anne de Graville (c. 1490-1540), lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France, who amassed an impressive personal library and who rewrote two popular texts (Boccaccio’s Teseida and Alain Chartier’s Belle dame sans mercy) for the queen. This project involves reconstructing Anne’s library to assess the kinds of books she was reading and commissioning as well as analysing how her own works engaged with, and contributed to, literary debate at the French court, notably the querelle des femmes. This research also involves analysing the way Anne presented herself, or was represented by others, in her manuscripts, through motifs, mottos, portraits and riddles. I recently published an article on the text and images in the Beau roman (2015), Anne’s rewriting of the Teseida, and on her copy of the pseudo-Berosus Chaldean Histories, a unique manuscript commissioned for Anne by her husband, Pierre de Balsac. I am also working on an unknown book of hours from the mid sixteenth century housed in the University of Liège. This high quality of these miniatures suggest that it is closely linked to the Bellemare workshop of illuminators.
For both these research projects, I have been awarded Undergraduate Research Scholarships from the College of Arts and Law. These have enabled UG students to work with me for five weeks over the summer, investigating lines of enquiry, compiling bibliographies, and working with manuscripts themselves.
I am also interested in broader questions of gender and sexuality in the medieval and early modern periods, and have co-edited two collections of essays Re-Presenting Medieval Genders and Sexualities: Construction, Transformation (Ashgate, 2011) with Alison More, and Le mécénat féminin en France et en Bourgogne, XIVe-XVIe (a special issue of Le Moyen Age journal, 2011) with Laure Fagnart. In 2015 I co-organised an international conference on Mary of Burgundy which took place in Birmingham’s Brussels Office and in the Groeningen Museum in Bruges. The proceedings of this conference will be published in the coming year. The programme is available at https://maryofburgundy2015.wordpress.com/.
I have also been working on an unknown book of hours from the mid sixteenth century housed in the University of Liège. The book is a hybrid of different hands but the high quality of the miniatures suggest that it is closely linked to the Bellemare workshop of illuminators, active in Paris in the 1520s. The manuscript’s unusual frames suggest, however, that it was produced in the 1540s and that the workshop was active longer than scholars have previously assumed.
I am also starting a new project, with Dr Emily Wingfield (English), to reassess the legacy of Susan Groag Bell’s 1982 article ‘Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture’ (Signs, 7). This article, which considered women’s book ownership in the period 900-1500, was pioneering at a time when women’s and gender studies was in its infancy in the academe. It helped to set in motion a very large field of research into the ways women – mainly aristocratic lay women – commissioned, acquired, inherited and bequeathed books in a time when women were relatively excluded from cultural patronage. However, the article’s overarching focus on English and French women of the later middle ages has also led to female book ownership in other social situations and in different geographical and chronological areas being neglected by scholars. This project aims to expand the original remit of Bell’s article and to offer a broader understanding not only of the history, but also the historiography, of women’s relationship to books over the period 800-1600.
For all these research projects, I have been awarded Undergraduate and Research Scholarships from the College of Arts and Law, and for the Bell project with Dr Wingfield, a Taught Postgraduate Placement student. This has enabled UG and PG students to work with me for five weeks over the summer to gain experience of an academic research project. The students investigated various lines of enquiry, compiled annotated bibliographies, sourced new readings, wrote blog posts, and worked with manuscripts themselves.