My research focuses on the art and culture of the medieval and early modern periods (c. 1350-1600) with a particular emphasis on illuminated manuscripts, book history, 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 drawn on contemporary gender studies to inform my methodological approaches to assessing women’s agency as viewers.
I am now working on a book-length study of Anne de Graville (c. 1490-1540), who amassed an impressive personal library and who rewrote two well-known texts by medieval male authors, Boccaccio’s Teseida and Alain Chartier’s Belle dame sans mercy for Queen Claude of France. 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. I have published an article on the text and images in the Beau roman, Anne’s rewriting of the Teseida in 2015, and another on her copy of the pseudo-Berosus Chaldean Histories in Renaissance Studies in 2016.
In 2017-18 I awarded a five-month fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Paris to carry out research into Anne’s rewriting of Chartier’s Belle Dame sans mercy.
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 which will be published by Brepols. The conference programme is available at maryofburgundy2015.wordpress.com/.
In 2018 I was awarded a ‘special commendation’ by the CARMEN medieval network in their annual Project Prize for my entry on ‘Reassessing Women and the Book, c. 800-1600’.
This project, run in collaboration with Dr Emily Wingfield in EDACS, seeks to reassess the field of women’s book ownership in the middle ages, taking as its starting point the legacy of Susan Groag Bell’s 1982 article ‘Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture’ (Signs, 7). Whereas Bell’s article helped to set in motion a very large field of research into the ways in which commissioned, acquired, inherited and bequeathed books, its overarching focus on English and French aristocratic women of the later middle ages has also led to women’s book ownership in other geographical and chronological areas, and amongst non-Christian women, being neglected. Engaging with current debates within medieval studies more generally about the decentring and globalising of the discipline, this project aims to expand our understanding not only of women’s book ownership in a more diverse context, but also to critically reassess the historiography of book history.
The project has a twitter handle @womenandthebook and a website www.womenandthebook.wordpress.com where an online bibliography provides a first step in showcasing research in fields outside the traditional Anglo-French axis.
I have successfully applied for three Undergraduate and two Postgraduate Research placements within the College of Arts and Law to support my research on illuminated manuscripts, Anne de Graville, and women’s book ownership. 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.