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Woman's Art Inc.

Considering Female Agency: Hildegard of Bingen and Francesca Woodman


Author(s): Marian Bleeke
Source: Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2 (FALL / WINTER 2010), pp. 39-46
Published by: Old City Publishing, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41331083
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Female

Considering
Hildegard

of

Bingen

and

Agency
Francesca

Woodman

By Marian Bleeke

is my own. In her 2001


famousimage fromthenow-lost
self-portraits
VisualizingWomenin theMiddle Ages,
Rupertsberg manuscript of
Caviness comparestwo of Hildegard's
A
HildegardofBingen's(1098-1179)
Sciviaswith
imagesfromtheRupertsberg
visionary work known as the Scivias
a femalefigure
Woodman'sphotographs;
shows Hildegard herselfin the act of
withitshead dissolvedin a streamoflight
textand
producingboththemanuscript's
to the figureswith masked heads in
itsimages(c. 1165;Fig. 1 and PL 14). She
Woodman's 1980 Temple Projectseries,
dictatesthewordsthatformthebasis for
and a narrativeimage of the birthof
its text to her assistant Volmar, who
fromEcclesia(Fig.3) thatshows
Antichrist
records them on a tablet, while she
with a monthe femalepersonification
sketchestheformsthatarethebasis forits
strousgenitalmask to an untitled1976
on a tabletshe holds in her
illuminations
photographof Woodman'sthatalso fealap. As thisimage was also presumably
turesa mask over thewoman'sgenitalia
based on one of Hildegard's designs,it
of a medieval
offersa likelyself-portrait
(Fig. 4).2 Accordingto Caviness, these
woman as an author and as an artist.1
imagesspeak to thepotentialsignificance
and re-assemblage
ofbodilyfragmentation
Comparethisimageto a 1972photograph
that
block
theobjectifying
as
can
a
Francesca
2)
strategies
(Fig.
by very young
thereconstrucmale
and
so
allow
for
sits
Woodman(1958-81).Woodmanherself
1.
from
the
of
gaze
Fig. Hildegard Bingen,
Hessiche tion of female subjectivity.3
Scivias
Caviness's
towards the back of the photograph,
(Wiesbaden,
Rupertsburg
Photo:
Ms
Landesbibliothek,
1)
(c.
1165).
of
these
twopairs
claim
for
the
that
a
shutter
release
cable
onto
significance
holding
Wikimedia
Commons.
of images,however,raisesquestionscontraverses the image space. She has
cerning the possibilities for and
pulledthecablein order
presumably
limitations on women's artistic
to produce this image, and so it
a
as
a
of
woman
agency,bothin theMiddleAges and
presents self-portrait
in the modern world. This article
an aspiring artist. Beyond their
focuseson theissueoffemaleagency
as
selfgeneralconceptualsimilarity
the
two
furthermore,
through strategiccomparisons of
portraits,
that
share
a
detail
aspects of the lives and works of
striking
images
of
inflects
bothoftheirpresentations
Hildegardof Bingenand Francesca
Woodmanand arguesthatthe simifemale artistic agency; like the
laritiesbetween them demonstrate
tonguesofflamesthatdescendfrom
thesewomen's commonstruggleto
above to touch Hildegard's head,
realize themselvesas agentswithin
hair
and
tousled
locks
of
face,
eyes,
die verydifferent
termsprovidedby
obscureWoodman'sfaceevenas she
their
two
distinct
social
worlds.
herself
to
our
gaze.
presents
of
I owe the pairingof Hildegard
Hildegard Bingen'sidentification as an artistis largelydue to
of Bingen's illuminations with
Caviness'sscholarship.In a seriesof
FrancescaWoodman'sphotographs
articlespublishedin the 1990s,she
to MadelineCaviness'sfoundational
to Hildegardthedesignof
on
medieval
feminist
art, Fig.2. Francesca
at 13 (1972). attributed
scholarship
Woodman,
Self-portrait
in theRupertsberg
the
illuminations
of
this
ofGeorgeandBetty
Woodman.
CO. Courtesy
Boulder,
although
particularpairing
FALL
2010
/WINTER

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Sciviasmanuscript
as wellas a setofdesignsforherLiberdiviin theLucca
norumoperumthatlay behindtheilluminations
of thatwork.4AlthoughCaviness's argumentfor
manuscript
as an artisthas notbeenuniversally
Hildegard'sidentification
I do notchallengeit
acceptedamongmedievalarthistorians,
here.5Rathermyconcernis forthelargerconsequencesto be
drawnfromthatidentification.
Indeed,Cavinessherselfseems
to have been unsureof whatconsequencesto draw fromher
own argument:in certainarticlesshe claimsthatHildegard
ought to be recognizedas a "greatmaster"comparableto
Renaissancemasterssuchas Leonardoda Vinci,butelsewhere
feminist"
itis impossiblefor
she writesthatas a "post-modern
herto makesucha claim.6
in assessingthelarger
Cavinessencountered
The difficulty
of
identification
as an artistpresentsa
significance Hildegard's
arthistorythat
tensionin feminist
versionof a long-standing
was classicallyenunciatedin Linda Nochlin's "WhyHave
There Been No Great Women Artists?" Is the project of
feministarthistoryprimarilythatof recoveringthe artistic
work of women and then constructinga canon of female
"masters"to matchthe existingrosterof men? Or should
women's experienceswithartbe used to challengeexisting
arthistory
notionssuchas thegreatmasterand so totransform
Thistensionhas specialrelevanceforfeminist
as a discipline?7
scholars who work on the Middle Ages, forthe general
anonymityof medieval art and the accompanyinglack of
documentationforits productionmeans thatwe typically
littleabout the makers of the material we studyknow
from
Ecclesiafrom
theRupertsburg
ofAntichrist
Fig.3. Thebirth
menor women.Medievalartis simplynota good fit
whether
Ms 1), c. 1165.
HessicheLandesbibliothek,
Scivias(Wiesbaden,
ofarthistorical
for
models
NY.
Photo:Erich
/ArtResource,
inquirythatplace emphasison the
Lessing
the
As
RachelDressierhas written,
of
the
artist.
person
in
a
model
of
such
contemporary
importance
feministarthistoryis demonstratedby the most
recentof theanthologieseditedby NormaBroude
in whichfourteen
outoftwentyand MaryGarrard,
The impetus
threeessays focuson womenartists.8
forthisemphasisis suggestedby theanthology's
title,ReclaimingFemaleAgency,foriffemaleagency
art
feminist
is thecentralconcernof contemporary
in
their
and
Garrard
as
Broude
suggest
history,
introduction
to thisvolume,thenthatagencycan
most easily be identifiedin the work of women
formedievalists,as Dressier
artists.9Worryingly
points out, none of the essays in this volume
This absence of
addresses medieval materials.10
to thefield
medievalartfroma majorcontribution
on thepartofnonsuggestsa perceivedirrelevance,
medievalist scholars, of medieval materials to
arthistory's
feminist
keyconcerns.
ofthemedievalpastto
Thisperceivedirrelevance
feminism
is notlimitedto arthistory,
contemporary
butis a largerissueacrossthehistorical
furthermore,
:
book,HistoryMatters
disciplines.In an important
and theChallengeof Feminism,Judith
Patriarchy
in
therootcause ofthisperception
Bennett
identifies
the medieval past as
to
understand
a
tendency
ofGeorge
RI.. Courtesy
Untitled
Woodman,
(1976).Providence,
Fig.4. Francesca
simplytheantithesisof themodernworld.At one
Woodman.
andBetty
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pointin thedevelopmentof feminist


thinking
scholarship,such antithetical
produceda pictureof theMiddleAges
as a goldenage forwomen.However,
further
showedthistobe an
scholarship
inaccuratepictureofwomen'splace in
the medieval past, and so, Bennett
writes,theMiddle Ages have come to
be perceived instead as a "wretched
The
abyss"- and whystudytheabyss?11
perceptionof the Middle Ages as an
abyssforwomen,furthermore,
impacts
of
female
that
the
issue
agency
upon
Broudeand Garrardidentify
as central
to contemporary
feministworkin art
in
history particular.For Bennettalso
a tendencyin muchfeminist
identifies
scholarship to understand women
livingin patriarchalsocieties,such as
thatof theEuropeanMiddle Ages, as
and so
simplythevictimsofpatriarchy
as lackingin agency.12
Such a perceived
lackof agencyon thepartof medieval
women could even seem to be
confirmed
byourlackofdocumentation
for their artistic work. These
Fig. 5. Hildegardof Bingen,Ecclesiafromthe
perceptions, finally,can be seen as
RupertsburgSc/v/as (Wiesbaden, Hessiche
driving Caviness's interest in
Ms1)(c.1165).Photo:
Erich
Landesbibliothek,
Lessing
identifying
Hildegardas an artist,for
NY.
/ArtResource,
she thusbecomesthegreatexceptionto
of Bingen,
notions of agency. Bennett
themedievalruleas a well-documented
femaleartistand agent.
Fig 6. Hildegard
from
theRupertsburg
writes that women living
To combatperceptionsof theMiddle Ages as simplythe
Synagoga
Hessiche
Sc/V/as
(Wiesbaden,
under patriarchy,
antithesis of the modern world and so as irrelevant to
including
Ms1)(c.1165).
Landesbibliothek,
feminist
Bennett
for
medieval
not
concerns,
women,
argues
contemporary
ought
Photo: ErichLessing/ Art
to be conceived simply as
consideringdeep-rootedcontinuitiesbetweenthemedieval
NY.
Resource,
past and the presentday.13Bennettis carefulto point out,
passive victims of that
structurebut instead as its
however,thatcontinuityis not the same as identityand so
on
continuities
does
not
mean
sense
and evenas itsagents,as theyfoundways
survivors,
resistors,
concentrating
erasingany
of historicaldifference.Instead,she calls forconceivingof a
to live withinits constraintsand so became investedin it.16
morecomplicatedrelationship
betweenpast and present,one
Medieval women, including Hildegard of Bingen, as I
thatmoves beyond seeing the past as entirelyotherto the
demonstratein the followingparagraphs,were agents,but
or
as
the
and
instead
allows
for
their agency was both socially constructed and deeply
same,
present,
simply
differenceand likeness to co-exist.14
Her formulationsare
withthatenshrined
conflicted.
Thispictureofagencyconflicts
the
in
similar
to
medievalist
and
the
notion
of
the
artist
a
as
strikingly
queer-theorist
greatmaster,as describedby
Dinshaw's
of
a
as
as
someone
Nochlin,
Carolyn
concept "contingent"history
possessedof a naturalgeniusthatexists
in
which
and
touch
on
one
outside
of
In comparing
social
constructs
and constraints.17
another,
history
past
present
connections
between
now
and
us
and
of
life
and
work
to
then,
establishing
partial
aspects Hildegard's
aspectsof Francesca
them.In a contingenthistoricalrelationship,the past in its
I
intend
to
call
attention
to
social
construction
of
Woodman's,
in
connection
to
the
to
and
to
the
conflicted
nature
of
partial
present speaks
present-day
agency general
continuing
femaleagencyin particular.
concerns,but speaks in a different
voice,and so can deepen
and complicateourunderstanding
In herlateststatement
ofthoseconcerns.15
on Hildegard,Cavinesspresentsher
in relationshipto both medieval patrons and artistsand
By bringingtogetherHildegardof Bingenand Francesca
Woodmanin thisarticle,I mean to createsuch a contingent contemporarywomen artists(including Woodman), and
thatspeaksto theissueofagencythatis centralto
relationship
explores both relationships to help explain Hildegard's
women
contemporaryfeministart history.I hope to show that
significance.Accordingto Caviness, contemporary
medievalmaterialis relevantto contemporary
feminist
work
artistshave agency;theychoose how to presenttheirown
in the discipline in thatit can deepen and complicateour
bodies in orderto represent
theirown experiences.Medieval
FALL
2010
/WINTER

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of
TheTower
ofBingen,
Fig.7. Hildegard
from
the Rupertsburg
Savias
theChurch
HessicheLandesbibliothek,
(Wiesbaden,
/ Art
Ms 1) (. 1165).Photo:Erich
Lessing
NY.
Resource,
Also problematic is Caviness's
presentationof FrancescaWoodman
as an empowered female and even
thatI
artist.The self-portrait
feminist
in
was
made
to
compare Hildegard's
1972, when Woodman was only
thirteenyearsold. Her genitalmask
photograph was made when
Woodman was about eighteen,and
the Temple Project series that
Caviness discusses dates to 1980,
when she was almost twenty-two.
not
These photographsare therefore
artist.
of
a
mature
nor
mature
woman
work
of
a
the
medieval
for
most
Indeed,
similar
did
not
have
women
agency,
images,includingmostimagesof women,weretheproducts most of Woodman's extant work dates to her years as a
studentat theRhode Island School of Design (1975-78),and
ofmalepatronsand artists.Hildegard,Cavinessclaims,stands
of
her
own
as an exceptionto thatruleas theproducer
images, criticshave remarkedthatmuchof her workappears to be
Her oeuvreis limitedto thisearly
solutionsto set problems.22
with
that
of
some
and so her work bears comparison
she tookherown lifein 1981.
work
because
and
women.18
experimental
contemporary
is
included with Caviness's
information
this
None
of
Caviness's presentationof Hildegard as an exceptional
work.
of
Woodman's
it
medieval female artist/agentis problematic because
presentation
In herwritings,
conflictswithHildegard'sself-presentation.
Today'sscholarsand criticshave struggledto understand
bothHildegard'sdenial of herown agencyand Woodman's
forexample, Hildegard presents herselfas exceptional
suicide. The two are comparable in that suicide can be
preciselyin thatshe is notan agent; she is speaking and
writingnoton herown behalfbutas a mouthpieceforGod.19 understoodas theultimatedenial of one's own agencyas it
removestheselffromtheworld:how are we to understand
This exceptionality without agency also appears in
In herbiographyofHildegard,Sabina
suchactsofself-denial?
Hildegard's self-portrait in the Rupertsberg Scivias
Flanagan argues that we must accept Hildegard's selfmanuscript.The red flamesthatdescend to touchher face
as a mouthpieceforGod as a genuineexpression
markheras an exceptionalbeing.The flames,whichrepresent presentation
23Caviness, on the otherhand,
of her self-understanding.
herpropheticgiftfromGod, stimulateheractivitywithinthe
contestsHildegard'sdenial of herown agency,seeingit as a
boththewordsshe speaks to Volmarand
image,motivating
conventional monastic humilitytopos, or possibly as a
in this
theimagesshe sketcheson hertablet.As represented
deliberaterhetoricalstrategynecessaryforher to writeand
image,neithertextnor image is Hildegard's own product;
createartwithinthechurchmilieu.24In thecase ofWoodman,
insteadbothare theresultof thedivineforcethathas chosen
haveexpressedconcern
In her writings,furthermore, ChrisTownsendand CarolArmstrong
her and acts throughher.20
suicide has served to
Woodman's
on
in
that
with
her
lack
of
her
associates
overemphasis
femininity
agency
Hildegard
She repeatedly pathologizeherphotographs.
However,PeggyPhelanhas the
accentuateherexceptionality.
orderto further
describesherselfas a "weakwoman"and so as someonewho
opposite concern, that Woodman's suicide has been
wouldbe incapableofproducingherworkson herown.These
downplayed in order to rescue her as an empowered
1believethatHildegard'sdenialofher
artist.25
witha Christianlogicofoverturning, female/feminist
areconsistent
statements
own agencyand Woodman'ssuicide may ultimatelyreflect
or thelowlytobe
in whichGod choosestheweak,theinferior,
each woman's internalstruggle:Hildegard's to understand
exalted:so he has chosenherto be his instrument.
Theyare
ofmedieval
herselfand herexperienceswithintheconstraints
likewise consistent with her descriptions of herself as
culture,and Woodman's to findher place in the world. By
uneducatedand even illiterate,whichagain identifyher as
inferiorand as someone who could not produce her texts
examiningselected images by Hildegard and Woodman,I
As Sabina Flanaganand BarbaraNewmanbothwrite, hope to illuminatehow theirshared visual interestsin the
herself.
female body and architecturalformsspeak both to their
the "weak woman" statementsalso suggestthatHildegard
thatidentified similarstrugglesand to ways in whichthosestruggleswere
medievalgenderconstructions
had internalized
worlds.
withweakness.21
shapedbytheirdifferent
femininity
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The femalefiguresthatappearin Hildegard's illuminations


are typicallypersonifications,most oftenof Ecclesia (the
Church) and of Synagoga (the Synagogue). Paired female
figuresof Ecclesia and Synagoga have a long historyin
medievalart,fromearlyCrucifixion
ivoriesto thesculptural
Hildegard'sversionsofthese
programsofGothiccathedrals.26
commonimagesare unusual,however,in herapparentuse of
herselfwiththemand,
theirfemininity
as a meansto identify
in particular,
herselfwiththepowerfulinstitution
to identify
oftheChurch.
appear as immense
Hildegard's femalepersonifications
formsthatdominatetheirframes,whetherwithinnarrative
fromEcclesiaor as iconic
imagessuchas thebirthofAntichrist
formsas in hervisionsof Ecclesia(Fig.5) and Synagoga(Fig.
6). As Caviness writes,the figures' sheer size expresses
In theiriconicforms,both
Hildegard'ssense of theirpower.27
Ecclesia and Synagoga's enormous bodies contain other,
smallerbodies. In the Ecclesia vision reproducedhere,the
Churchelevatesa groupof virgins(monksand nuns) in her
arms. Among these virginsis one prominentindividual,
herselfaccordingto the textof the Scivias,whom
Virginity
as anotherself-representation
ofHildegard.28
Cavinessidentifies
Thisfigure
standsat thecenteroftheChurch'sbodyand repeats
thelargerfigure'soransgesturewithherown arms;she thus
lodgedwithintheheartof
appearsas theChurchin miniature
the Church.AcceptingCaviness's claim thatthisis indeed
as a
Hildegard,theimageshowsHildegardusingherfemininity
herself
tolargerideasand powerfulforces.
meansofconnecting
in
in part,to Hildegard'sself-portrait,
Thisstrategy
conforms,
which the flamesserve to connecther to a powerfulforce
in these
outsideofherself.Her femininity
operatesdifferently
two examples,however;forifher femininity
allows her to
herselfwiththepowerfulformof theChurch,it also
identify
formspartofherdenialofagencythrough
herclaimto divine
Thus
her
as a source
inspiration.
Hildegardportrays femininity
and weakness.
ofbothstrength
The appearance of Ecclesia and Synagoga as bodies
bodiesidentifies
themas maternalforms.According
enfolding
to theSciviastext,Ecclesiais the"MotheroftheFaithful,"
and
the
"mother
of
the
Incarnation
of
the
of
Son
God."29
Synagoga
Thisaspectrelatesto Hildegard'sdisembodiedimageofEve in
theRupertsberg
as a whitecloud filledwithstars
manuscript
"within
her
the
whole multitudeof thehuman
holding
body
race."30The Church as a body full of bodies- a maternal
body- also resonateswitha secondformused in theSciviasto
representthe Church,the "Tower of the Church" (Fig. 7),
which appears toward the end of the text as part of an
elaboratearchitectural
This
allegoryforsalvationhistory.31
inhabitedarchitectural
environment
another
version
presents
of the Church filledwith bodies and so a maternalform.
of thesepowerfulfemalefiguresas
Hildegard'sidentification
maternalbodiessuggeststhatmotherhood
was, forHildegard,
a sourceoffemalepower.To return
to theEcclesiaillumination
discussedin thepreviousparagraph,Caviness'sidentification
of theprominent
virginas Hildegardherselfsuggeststhatby
presentingherselfas a body withinthebody of theChurch
Hildegard was identifyingherselfas a daughter of this

NY.Courtesy
of
Woodman,
Untitled,
(1979).NewYork,
Fig.8. Francesca
and
Woodman.
George Betty
powerfulmother.At the same time,as this virgin's form
replicatesthatoftheMotherChurch,Hildegardseemstoclaim
forherselftheidentity
ofthepowerfulmother.32
In the Scivias,however,Hildegard consistently
portrays
maternalfiguresas endangered.The Churchas Motheris
attackedby some of her own children,who "abandon the
maternalwomband thesweetnourishment
oftheChurchand
troubleherwithmanyerrors,and withdifferent
oppressions
tearto pieces herlaws."33Likewise,theChurchas a toweris
underattack,forsome "act insane...burstintothebuilding;
theyinvade the tower,carryingon and hissing at it like
serpents."34
Synagoga,too,despitethepowersuggestedbyher
in
is
trouble:
she is black fromher navel to her feet
size,
because she has been "soiled by deviationfromtheLaw and
oftheheritageofherfathers";
herfeetarered
bytransgression
because she "killed the Prophetof Prophetsand therefore
slippedand felldown herself';she has no eyesbecauseshe is
blindto thetruth;and herhands are tuckedintoherarmpits
because of her laziness.35
In Hildegard'svisionofAdam and
Eve as well,a massiveblackshape loomsoverthetinywhite
cloud thatrepresentsEve and expels its blacknessonto her.
The corruptedmaternalbody of theChurchfinallytakesthe
formof themonstrousgenitalmask representing
Antichrist
thattortures
herbodybeforeexplodingaway fromher.36
This
image of the Church as a battered woman is one that
Hildegard shared with certainof her contemporaries,in
withRupertofDeutz,who used itto call forchurch
particular
reform.37
Hildegard'suse of thisimage,however,can also be
read as expressingherunderstanding
of herown femininity
and itsconsequences:iffemininity
as motherhood
is a source
ofpower,itis also a sourceofdangerto themotherherself.

WINTER
2010
FALL/

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surfaceof the wall behindher;she has cut open the


back ofherdressto expose herbodybeneathit,much
as the wall has cracked open to reveal its inner
and thefishskeletonshe holds againsther
structure;
back serves to externalizeher spine in juxtaposition
withthebuilding'sexposedsupportsystem.34
In other
blurs
the
boundaries
between
Woodman
photographs
her body and its environment by other means;
covering herselfwith fragmentsof wallpaper, for
example, or manipulatingthe exposure so thatshe
seemsto graduallydisappearintothewall behindher.
Depicting herself as isolated, minimized,
marginalized,and in the process of disappearing,
is anything
butpowerful.
Woodman'sself-imaging
This photograph also shares with Hildegard's
as a metaphorfor
illuminations
theuse of architecture
the female body, although the two artistsuse this
ends. Hildegard's powerful
relationshipto different
bodiesfullofbodies,and
femalefiguresarecontainers,
extendsthis
heruse of thebody/buildingrelationship
idea of thecontainerto herimageof theChurchas a
tower,whichis likewise filledwithotherforms.By
contrast, Woodman's body as it appears in her
photographs is uncontained in that she blurs its
it withthespace aroundit.
boundariesby identifying
RI.Courtesy
of
House#4(1976).Providence,
Woodman,
Fig.9. Francesca
to further
her
She uses thebody/buildingrelationship
Woodman.
GeorgeandBetty
own dissolution,fornotonlydoes herbodyappear to
dissolveintothesurrounding
space,but thatspace is
House series
dissolution.
Woodman's
also
in
the
of
The female body that appears in much of Francesca
process
workthat
feminist
of
Woodman's
Woodman's work is her own, similarto the identification has elicitedsome
readings
because
of
in
with
associatehersetting a house
oppressiveness
suggestedin Hildegard's illuminationsbetweenthe female
with
domesticity.40
producerof theimageand thefemalefigurewithinitsframe. the traditionalassociationof femininity
notes,thehousethatappearsin
However,as CarolArmstrong
However, where Hildegard's personificationsserved to
Woodman Woodman's photographsis farfroman ordinarydomestic
connectherwithpowerfulforcesoutsideofherself,
environment:it is quite clearlyan abandoned and almost
as artistand model is entirelyalone withinher images,in a
Woodman's photographs establish an
self-constructed,
privateworld.Woodman'simagesin general ruined structure.41
in which she represents analogy between her body and this blasted building. In
conformto her early self-portrait
anotherimagein thisseries(1976;Fig.9), Woodmancrawlsin
herselfas cut offfromhersurroundings
by herown hair,as
between the fireplacemanteland the wall behind it, thus
isolatedwithinherself.38
herselfintothehouse'sgaps and holes.Herspread
as a powerfulmove,
Cavinesssaw Woodman'sself-imaging
insinuating
as thefemaleartistseizingcontrolof themeansofproduction legs echo the formof the mantel so that its open center
in order to reformulateher own image and so her own
suggestsa vagina,and in thiswaysheonceagaindissolvesher
even herinnermost
of
Thatreadingis notborneoutbyan examination
by identifying
body intothearchitecture
subjectivity.
Woodman'soeuvre.Whilesome of Woodman'sphotographs formswithits exteriorspace, even as thatexteriorspace is
depictherbody in extremeclose-upand so in a fragmented fallingto pieces. If Woodmanis dissolvingherselfintoher
othersshowherfullfigureinsideofa frame(1979;Fig.8),
environment,thatenvironmentis likewise dissolving all
form,
aroundher.
ina formmorecloselycomparabletoHildegard'siconicimages
As containers,finally,Hildegard's female bodies and
of Ecclesia and Synagoga. Hildegard's narrowrectangular
framesconformto theshapes of herfigures,
however,so that buildings were maternal forms- both powerful and
endangered.Jui-Ch'iLiu argues thatWoodman'sapparent
theydominate theirframesin a display of size as power.
withthespacearoundher
and merger
desireforself-dissolution
Woodman's square format extends the space of her
forreunionwiththe
desire
seen
as
a
should
be
its
size
thus
from
her
outward
daughter's
reducing
figure,
photographs
a responseto feminist
Liu's argument
maternalbody.42
and staturewithintheframe.
is, first,
fearat thelossofthe
This 1979 photograph also demonstratesWoodman's
readingsofWoodman'sworkas expressing
Liu recognizes
domestic
feminine
into
a
and
so
self
herbodywiththesurrounding
to identify
efforts
sphere.
traditionally
space
todissolveherselfintothatspace.As MargaretSundellwrites, that the emotional contentof Woodman's repeated selfis notfearbutdesire,"an activelongingand positive
thepatternsin Woodman'sclothingcorrespondto themottled dissolution
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tomerge/'in Liu's words.43


Liu's argument
is
struggle
Secondly,
builtuponSurrealist
identifications
oftheabandonedhouseas a
home,
metaphorforthewomb,as thehumansubject'sformer
and on Woodman'sapparentinterest
in Surrealism.(Her first
exhibitionwas shown in the Maldorerbookshop-galleryin
and she frequently
reRome,whichspecializedin Surrealism,
usedestablished
Surrealist
Liu's argument
canbe
iconography.44)
extendedby recognizing
thatWoodman'sdissolutionintothe
surroundingspace ifther photographsis extendedby the
dissolutionofthatspace itself;ifherself-dissolution
expresses
herlongingformerger
withthematernal
of
body,thedissolution
that space expresses the impossibility of realizing that
desire- forthe mothertoo is disappearing and so thereis
stableforhertomergewith.
nothing
NeitherHildegardofBingen'silluminations
norFrancesca
Woodman'sphotographswere creationsex-nihilo;bothused
whethertheEcclesiaand Synagoga
imageryfromtheirculture,
in
personifications Hildegard's work, or the Surrealist
iconography of the abandoned house (and the termsof
commonartschool assignments)in Woodman's.Theirwork
can be comparedin thatboth used these commontypesof
so thattheir
imagerytowardtheend of self-representation,
workclearlydemonstrates
thesocialconstruction
oftheselfin
and throughimagery.45
Bothartists'worksalso show signsof
internalconflict.Hildegard's representations
of Ecclesia as
both powerful and endangered point to an ambivalent
as simultaneouslya
understandingof her own femininity
sourceof power and a site of weakness.For Woodman,the
was to findsomeotherway ofbeingin theworld,as a
struggle
selfmergedwiththeworld as withthemother.Woodman's
suicideis understandable
as thefinalmeansforherto realize
thisdesire.As PeggyPhelanwrites,how can we not see her
to thatfinalact,herrepeatedvisualselfimagesin relationship
dissolutions as "rehearsals" for her final act of selfdestruction?46
The comparisons I have drawn in this articlebetween
Woodman and Hildegard, have led me to a new
Woodman'sfinalact. By linkingWoodman's
understanding
workand thisaspectofherlifewithHildegard'simagesand
experiences,Woodman's suicide becomes somethingother
thanan individual,anomalous,and inexplicableact.Instead,I
can see it as partof a commonand continuingstruggle,the
struggleofbeinga womanin theworld,and thatallowsme to
empathizewithher.LinkingWoodman'sphotographswith
hersuicidedoes notpathologizeherworkbut givesmeaning
to her death by allowing it to be seen as part of thatlarger
struggle.Likewise,the comparisonsdrawn here give me a
differentway of understandingHildegard of Bingen,for
linkingherwithWoodmanmakesherworkand experiences
seem less exceptional. I have to wonder how many other
medieval women struggled similarly to understand
themselves
and theirexperiences
usingtheresourcesprovided
medieval
but
did
so
withoutleaving textualor
culture,
by
visual traces.Ratherthanbeingthegreatmedievalexception
as a femaleartist
to see Hildegardas a modelof
/agent,I prefer
medievalwomen'scommonstrugglesforself-understanding,
thatwe can compareto ourown.
struggles

Marian Bleeke is an AssistantProfessorof Art Historyat


ClevelandStateUniversity.
Notes
1. Forthisinterpretation
ofHildegard's
inthisimage,
activities
andfor
theimageunderstood
as a self-portrait,
H.Caviness,
see Madeline
"Anchoress,Abbess, and Queen: Donors and Patronsor
inJuneHallMcCash,ed., Women's
Intercessors
and Matrons,"
andArtistic
intheMiddle
Univ.
of
Literary
Patronage
Ages(Athens:
"GenderSymbolism
and
GeorgiaPress,1996),115-17;Caviness,
TextImageRelationships:
Hildegardof Bingen'sScivias,"in
M.Beer,
Jeanette
intheMiddle
andPractice
ed.,Translation
Theory
Ml:MedievalInst.Pubi.,1997),87; Caviness,
Ages(Kalamazoo,
"Artist:
'ToSee,Hear,andKnowallat Once,"inBarbara
Newman,
ofBingen
andHerWorld
ed.,inVoiceoftheLiving
Light:
Hildegard
Univ.
ofCalifornia
Press,1998),112,115;andCaviness,
(Berkeley:
to herWorks,"in
"Hildegardas Designerofthe Illustrations
ofBingen:
TheContext
ofherThought
andArt(London:
Hildegard
Inst.,
1998),29,31.
Warburg
2. Madeline
H.Caviness,
Women
intheMiddle
,
Visualizing
Ages:Sight
Univ.
ofPennsylvania
, andScopicEconomy
Spectacle
(Philadelphia:
Press,
2001),170-71,
figs.78,79.
3. Ibid.,131-33,
153-55.
4. The Rupertsberg
Sciviasmanuscript
(Wiesbaden,Hessische
Ms 1) disappeared
from
Dresdenduring
World
Landesbibliothek,
WarIIandis nowrepresented
bya copymadeintheAbbeyofSt.
inEibingen
1927-33.
Caviness
makesa distinction
Hildegard
during
inherargument
betweenHildegard's
directinvolvement
withthe
Sciviasmanuscript
illuminations
anda moredistanced
Rupertberg
andmediatedrelationship
to theLuccaLiberdivinorum
operum
Ms1942).See "'ToSee, Hear,and
Governativa,
images(Biblioteca
Knowallat Once,"112-13,121-23;and"Hildegard
as Designer,"
30-1,34-8.
E. Suarma-Jeltsch,
5. See Lieselotte
im"LiberScivias"
Die miniaturen
derHildegard
vonBingen:
Die Wucht
derVision
unddieOrdnung
derBilder(Wiesbaden:Dr.LudwigReichert,
1998);and Keiko
Suzuki,BildgewordeneVisionenoder Visionserzhlungen:
Studieberdie Visionsdarstellungen
in der
Vergleichende
"Scivias"
-Handschrift
undimLuccheser"Liber
Rupersburger
- Codexde Hildegard
divinorum
vonBingen
(Bern:Peter
operum"
Caviness
1998).
Lang,
respondsin herreviewof books on
Hildegard,"Hildegardof Bingen:Some RecentBooks,"in
77/1(Jan.2002):113-20.
Speculum
6. Forthefirst
see Madeline
ofBingen:
Caviness,
position
"Hildegard
German
andMusical
inDeliaGaze,
illustrator,
writer,
Composer,"
ofWomen
Artists
ed.,Dictionary
(London:
Dearborn,
1997),
Fitzroy
686,and"ToSee, Hear,andKnowAllat Once,"124:andforthe
second"Hildegard
as Designer,"
41-42.
7. LindaNochlin,
Have
There
BeenNoGreatWomen
in
Artists"
"Why
Women
and
, Art,andPowerandOtherEssays(NewYork:
Harper
Row,1988),145-48.
8. RachelDressier,
theDiscourse:
Feminist
"Continuing
Scholarship
andtheStudyofMedieval
inMedievalFeminist
VisualCulture,"
Forum
43/1(2007):19.
9. NormaBroudeand MaryD. Garrard,
"Introduction:
Reclaiming
Female
inReclaiming
Female
Feminist
ArtHistory
Agency"
Agency:
after
Postmodernism
Univ.
ofCalifornia
Press,
2005),1-3.
(Berkeley:
10.Dressier,
theDiscourse,"
15,20. Bycontrast,
"Continuing
Whitney
Chadwick
includesa chapteron medievalartand a sectionon
ofBingen
inhersurvey
3rd
text,Women
, ArtandSociety,
Hildegard
ed. (NewYork:
Thames
8cHudson,
2002),43-66,esp.59-62.
11. Judith
M.Bennett,
: Patriarchy
Matters
andtheChallenge
of
History
Feminism
Univ.
ofPennsylvania
Press,2006),37-39,
(Philadelphia:
43,82-84.

FALL
2010
/WINTER

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totheVirgin
inHildegard's
30.Ibid.,77.Onsimilar
12.Ibid.,10-11,59-60.
Mary
hymns
imagery
Embodiment
and
Voice:
"Flesh
of
the
Wood
see
Bruce
Holsinger,
13.Ibid.,60-83.
ofBingen,"
intheMusicofHildegard
ofDevotion
theHomoerotics
14.Ibid.,43,125-26.
inSigns(Autumn
1993):100-02.
andCommunities, 31.Hildegard
Sexualities
Medieval:
15.Carolyn
Dinshaw,
Getting
use of
of Bingen,Scivias,451, 455; on Hildegard's
NC:DukeUniv.
Pre-andPostmodern
Press,1999),12-21,
(Durham,
Allat
Know
and
"To
see
architectural
Hear,
See,
Caviness,
imagery
34-36,39-54.
Once,"118-22.
16.Bennett,
10-11,
59,76
Matters,
History
tofemale
identifies
32.BruceHolsinger
relationship
figures,
Hildegard's
inhermusic,
as appearing
thefigure
oftheVirgin
inparticular
153-56.
HaveThereBeenNoGreatWomen
17.Nochlin,
Mary
Artists,"
"Why
"FleshoftheVoice,"116desire:Holsinger,
as oneofhomoerotic
intheMiddle
Women
18.Caviness,
Ages,136.
Visualizing
22.
ofthe
St.Hildegard's
ofWisdom:
Sister
19.Barbara
Newman,
Theology
196.
ofBingen,
33.Hildegard
Scivias,
ofCalifornia
Univ.
Feminine
Press,1987),2-3,34-35,82(Berkeley:
461-63.
34.
Ibid.,
452,
ofBingen
179):A
(1098-1
83,246-47;SabinaFlanagan,
Hildegard
Life(London:Routledge,1998),4, 13-14;Barbara 35.Ibid.,133-34.
Visionary
LifeandTimes,"in
Newman,"SibyloftheRhine:Hildegard's
Mews, 36.Ibid.,493,498,507-08.
6-7;andConstant
Newman,
ed., VoiceoftheLiving
Light,
'Smokeinthe
37.Kathryn
'A FrailHumanBeing'on FieryLife,"in
"Prophetand Reformer:
Kerby-Fulton,
"ReligiousThinker:
78-84.
of
the
Voice
in
89.
of
the
Newman,
ed.,
Voice
Living
Light,
52,
ed.,
Vineyard,"'
Newman,
Living
Light,
model
see
artist
and
as
both
dualrole
see Lynn 38.On Woodman's
textandself-images,
issuesinHildegard's
Armstrong,
20.On authority
Likea
"Just
"Francesca
Solomon-Godeau,
"TheTropeoftheScribeandtheQuestionof
Woodman,"
353;Abigail
StaleyJohnson,
Work
Woodman:
inFrancesca
andMargery
ofNorwich
ofJulian
intheWorks
Woman,"
(Wellesley,
Photographic
Authority
Literary
"A
MA:Wellesley
Riches,
1986),19-21;Harriet
66(1991):823-24.
inSpeculum
CollegeMuseum,
Kempe,"
ofa Reputation,"
Portrait
Woodman's
Francesca
Act:
Disappearing
ofWisdom,
Sister
21.Newman,
239,246-47;Flanagan,
2-3,35,182-85,
27:1 (2004):98-99.
ArtJournal
inOxford
ofBingen,
13-14,
42,53-54.
Hildegard
ofFrancesca
ThePhotography
Point:
Sundell,
"Vanishing
Problem 39.Margaret
Woodman:
"Francesca
Rosalind
22.See forexample,
Kraus,
: An
Visible
Inside
the
de
in
Catherine
ed.,
Woodman,"
Zegher,
MITPress,1999),161-77;George
Sets,"inBachelors
(Cambridge:
from
the
and
Art
Twentieth
of
Traverse
of,
in,
Century
Elliptical
and Margaret
LauraLarson,
AnnDaly,NancyDavenport,
Baker,
also
see
MIT
Feminine
Phelan,
436;
1996),
Press,
(Cambridge:
inArtJournal
Sundell,"FrancescaWoodmanReconsidered,"
993.
"Woodman's
Photography,"
"ScatteredinSpace and
2003):59; ChrisTownsend,
(Summer
"JustLikea
40.
8.
435; Solomon-Godeau,
Point,"
Woodman
in
Francesca
Sundell,
Phaidon,
2006),
"Vanishing
(London:
Time,"
and
theWorld:
"The
Self
and
Helaine
Posner,
31;
Woman,"
203.
ofBingen,
23.Flanagan,
183-84,
Hildegard
Ana
of
in
Art
the
Boundaries
Mendieta,
Kusama,
Yayoi
Negotiating
andQueen,"11;and"ToSee,Hear,
24.Caviness,
Abbess,
"Anchoress,
inDawnAdes,ed., Mirror
and FrancescaWoodman,"
Images:
AllatOnce,"124.
andKnow
MIT
and Self-Representation
Surrealism,
Women,
(Cambridge:
1998),169-70.
Press,
inSpace andTime,"8; CarolArmstrong,
"Scattered
25.Townsend,
"FrancescaWoodman:A Ghostinthe Houseofthe'Woman 41. Armstrong,
350.
"Francesca
Woodman,"
de Zegher,
andCatherine
inCarolArmstrong
eds.,Women
Artist,"'
Woodman's
"Francesca
42.
Jui-Ch'i
Liu,
Transforming
Self-Images:
MITPress,2006),350-51;
Artists
at theMillennium
(Cambridge:
in Woman'sArtJournal
BodiesintheSpaces of Femininity,"
the
Death
and
"Woodman's
Phelan,
Image
Photography:
Peggy
2004):26-31.
(Spring/Summer
inSigns27/4(Summer
OneMoreTime,"
2002):979-1004,
esp.98343.Ibid.,26.
85.
see also Solomon44.Ibid.,26-27;on Woodmanand Surrealism,
A
Rider
Nina
26.See, forexample,
Rowe,"SynagogaTumbles,
"A
Like
a
"Just
Act,"
of
Riches,
Woman,"
19;
the
Viewers
and
Godeau,
Disappearing
Clerical
Bamberg
Furstenportal
Triumphs:
100-02;and Susan RubinSuleiman,"Dialogue and Double
inGestaXLV/1
(2006):15-42.
Cathedral,"
andtheHistorical
Artists
Woman
SomeContemporary
Allegiance:
27.Caviness,"Anchoress,
Abbess,and Queen," 115; "Gender
Surrealism
Mirror
in
, and
Women,
ed.,
Ades,
Avant-Garde,"
Images:
as
and
Text
and
83;
"Hildegard
ImageRelationships,"
Symbolism
146-51.
Self-Representation,
32.
Designer,"
"ADisappearing
Likea Woman,"
"Just
19;Riches,
HartandJane 45.Solomon-Godeau,
Columba
Mother
trans.
of
28.Hildegard Bingen,
Scivias,
and
andDoubleAllegiance,"
129-33;
Suleiman,
100;
Act,"
"Dialogue
Bishop(New York:PaulistPress,1990), 201-10; Caviness,
"Francesca
162,165,172-73.
Woodman,"
Kraus,
40.
as
"HildegardDesigner,"
985-1002.
"Woodman's
46.Phelan,
Photography,"
ofBingen,
29.Hildegard
133,169.
Scivias,

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WOMAN'S

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Pl.13.Niki
LtoorLacrucifixion
de SaintPhalle,
andvarious
fabric,
(c.1965),
paint,
objectsonwiremesh,
ArtFoundation.
961/2"x70".2010Niki
Charitable
Photo:
Laurent
Condominas.

Sc/V/as
PL14.Hildegard
ofBingen,
from
theRupertsburg
Ms1)
Hessiche
Landesbibliothek,
(Wiesbaden,
Wikimedia
Commons.
(c.1165).Photo:

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