Christine de Pizan (b. 1365 in Venice- d. 1430 in Poissy)
De Pizan’s father moved his family to France when he became the court astrologer/physician to Charles V . Her father and later her husband supported her studies, and when the latter passed away, de Pizan began to support herself and her children by writing commissioned pieces for, or dedicating her compositions to, members of the French court. Extraordinarily, she was able to rely on her poetry and prose for a lifetime of economic stability.
Of her many works, The Book of the City of Ladies (Le livre de la cité des dames), is most striking in its defense of female intellect and education in the face of classical and renaissance writings by men ridiculing womens’ capacities and setting up the male body and brain as the human norm.
The Book of the City of Ladies was produced in manuscript by 1405 and in it de Pizan creates an allegorical city constructed and populated by historial and mythological women: her city of ladies creates a space for women to act as intellectuals in ways that the male-constructed literary and political sphere of renaissance Europe has prevented.
Just as French king Charles V built new walls around Paris during de Pizan’s life, so too do walls feature prominently in the protection of her city. She seeks to protect the collected history of women present within her city from the threat of the male-dominated world outside. By writing a history of women in very spatial terms, de Pizan creates a mnemonic device perhaps meant to teach women about the feats and accomplishments of historic females in order to inspire new action.
For more on the “construction” of Christine de Pizan’s city see Wagner, Jill E.. “Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies: A Monumental (Re)construction of, by, and for Women of All Time.” Medieval Feminist Forum 44, no. 1 (2008):69-80.
Available at: http://ir.uiowa.edu/mff/vol44/iss1/6 [accessed 11-15-2012].
Images of a manuscript of de Pizan’s collected works (commissioned by the French queen Isabeau, presented in 1414). Now at the British Library, Harley MS 4431.