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Christine de Pizan | The first professional woman writer

Christine de Pizan or Pisan, born Cristina da Pizzano (1364 - c. 1430), was a poet and author at the court of King Charles VI of France and several French dukes.
Venetian by birth, Christine served as a court writer in medieval France after the death of her husband. Christine's patrons included dukes Louis I of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and his son John the Fearless.
Her best known works include The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, both written when she worked for John the Fearless of Burgundy. Her books of advice to princesses, princes, and knights remained in print until the 16th century.

Christine de Pizan - Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français

In recent decades, Christine's work has been returned to prominence by the efforts of scholars Charity Cannon Willard, Earl Jeffrey Richards, Suzanne Solente, Mathilde Laigle and Marie-Josephe Pinet.


Christine de Pizan was born in 1364 in the Republic of Venice, Italy. She was the daughter of Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano. Her father became known as Thomas de Pizan, named for the family's origins in the town of Pizzano, southeast of Bologna. Her father worked as a physician, court astrologer and Councillor of the Republic of Venice.
Thomas de Pizan accepted an appointment to the court of Charles V of France as the king's astrologer and in 1368 Christine moved to Paris.
In 1379 Christine de Pizan married the notary and royal secretary Etienne du Castel.
She had three children. Her daughter became a nun at the Dominican Abbey in Poissy in 1397 as a companion to the King's daughter Marie.
Christine's husband died of the plague in 1389, and her father had died the year before.
Christine was left to support her mother and her children.
When she tried to collect money from her husband's estate, she faced complicated lawsuits regarding the recovery of salary due her husband.
On 4 June 1389, in a judgment concerning a lawsuit filed against her by the archbishop of Sens and François Chanteprime, councillors of the King, Christine was styled "damoiselle" and "widow of Estienne du Castel".

Christine riceve Dama Giustizia | Miniatura tratta dal manoscritto "Libro della Città delle Dame",Seconda metà del XV secolo | Biblioteca di Ginevra

Writing career

In order to support herself and her family, Christine became a court writer.
By 1393, she was writing love ballads, which caught the attention of wealthy patrons within the court.
Christine became a prolific writer. Her involvement in the production of her books and her skillful use of patronage in turbulent political times has earned her the title of the first professional woman of letters in Europe.
Although Italian by birth, Christine expressed a fervent nationalism for France. Affectively and financially she became attached to the French royal family, donating or dedicating her early ballads to its members, including Isabeau of Bavaria, Louis I, Duke of Orléans, and Marie of Berry.
In 1402 she described Queen Isabeau as "High, excellent crowned Queen of France, very redoubtable princess, powerful lady, born at a lucky hour".
One page of Christine's book Le livre des trois vertus. In the illumination Christine is kept from rest by the Three Virtues.
France was ruled by Charles VI who experienced a series of mental breakdowns, causing a crisis of leadership for the French monarchy.
He was often absent from court and could eventually only make decisions with the approval of a royal council.
Queen Isabeau was nominally in charge of governance when her husband was absent from court, but could not extinguish the quarrel between members of the royal family.
In the past, Blanche of Castile had played a central role in the stability of the royal court and had acted as regent of France. Christine published a series of works on the virtues of women, referencing Queen Blanche and dedicating them to Queen Isabeau.

Christine believed that France had been founded by the descendants of the Trojans and that its governance by the royal family adhered to the Aristotelian ideal.
In 1400 Christine published L'Épistre de Othéa a Hector (Letter of Othea to Hector).
When first published, the book was dedicated to Louis of Orléans, the brother of Charles VI, who was at court seen as potential regent of France.
In L'Épistre de Othéa a Hector Hector of Troy is tutored in statecraft and the political virtues by the goddess of wisdom Othéa.
Christine produced richly illustrated luxury editions of L'Épistre de Othéa a Hector in 1400.
Between 1408-1415 Christine produced further editions of the book.

Throughout her career she produced rededicated editions of the book with customised prologues for patrons, including an edition for Philip the Bold in 1403, and editions for Jean of Berry and Henry IV of England in 1404.
Patronage changed in the late Middle Ages. Texts were still produced and circulated as continuous roll manuscripts, but were increasingly replaced by the bound codex. Members of royal family became patrons of writers by commissioning books.
As materials became cheaper a book trade developed, so writers and bookmakers produced books for the French nobility, who could afford to establish their own libraries. Christine thus had no single patron who consistently supported her financially and became associated with the royal court and the different fractions of the royal family - the Burgundy, Orleans and Berry - each having their own respective courts.
Throughout her career Christine undertook concurrent paid projects for individual patrons and subsequently published these works for dissemination among the nobility of France.

In 1402 Christine became involved in a renowned literary controversy, the "Querelle du Roman de la Rose".
Christine instigated this debate by questioning the literary merits of Jean de Meun's popular Romance of the Rose. Romance of the Rose satirizes the conventions of courtly love while critically depicting women as nothing more than seducers.
In the midst of the Hundred Years' War between French and English kings, Christine published the dream allegory Le Chemin de long estude in 1403. In the first person narrative she and Cumaean Sibyl travel together and witness a debate on the state of the world between the four allegories - Wealth, Nobility, Chivalry and Wisdom.
Christine suggests that justice could be brought to earth by a single monarch who had the necessary qualities.

In 1404 Christine chronicled the life of Charles V, portraying him as the ideal king and political leader, in Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V.
The chronicle had been commissioned by Philip the Bold and in the chronicle Christine passed judgement on the state of the royal court.
When praising the efforts of Charles V in studying Latin, Christine lamented that her contemporaries had to resort to strangers to read the law to them.
Before the book was completed, Philip the Bold died, and Christine offered the book to Jean of Berry in 1405, finding a new royal patron.
She was paid 100 livre for the book by Philip's successor John the Fearless in 1406 and would receive payments from his court for books until 1412.

In 1405 Christine published Le Livre de la cité des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) and Le Livre des trois vertus (Book of Three Virtues, known as The Treasure of the City of Ladies).
In Le Livre de la cité des dames Christine presented intellectual and royal female leaders, such as Queen Zenobia.
Christine dedicated Le Livre des trois vertus to the dauphine Margaret of Nevers, advising the young princess on what she had to learn.
As Queen Isabeau's oldest son Louis of Guyenne came of age Christine addressed three works to him with the intention of promoting wise and effective government. The earliest of the three works has been lost.
In Livre du Corps de policie (The Book of the Body Politic), published in 1407 and dedicated to the dauphin, Christine set out a political treatise which analysed and described the customs and governments of late medieval European societies.
Christine favoured hereditary monarchies, arguing in reference to Italian city-states that were governed by princes or trades, that "such governance is not profitable at all for the common good".
Christine also devoted several chapters to the duties of a king as military leader and she described in detail the role of the military class in society.

Christine de Pizan nel suo studio, miniatura del Maestro della Città delle Dame dal Libro della Regina, 1410 | Manoscritto Harley MS 443, British Library


Christine produced a large number of vernacular works, in both prose and verse. Her works include political treatises, mirrors for princes, epistles, and poetry.

Christine's book Le Dit de la Rose (The Tale of the Rose) was published in 1402 as a direct attack on Jean de Meun's extremely popular book Romance of the Rose which characterised women as seducers. Christine claimed that Meun's views were misogynistic, vulgar, immoral, and slanderous to women.
The exchange between the two authors involved them sending each other their treatises, defending their respective views. At the height of the exchange Christine published Querelle du Roman de la Rose (Letters on the Debate of the Rose).
In this particular apologetic response, Christine belittles her own writing style, employing a rhetorical strategy by writing against the grain of her meaning, also known as antiphrasis.

By 1405 Christine had completed her most famous literary works,
The Book of The City of Ladies (Le Livre de la cité des dames) and The Treasure of the City of Ladies (Le Livre des trois vertus).
The first of these shows the importance of women's past contributions to society, and the second strives to teach women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities.

In the book of The City of Ladies Christine created a symbolic city in which women are appreciated and defended.
She constructed three allegorical figures - Reason, Justice, and Rectitude - in the common pattern of literature in that era, when many books and poetry utilized stock allegorical figures to express ideas or emotions.
She enters into a dialogue, a movement between question and answer, with these allegorical figures that is from a completely female perspective.
Together, they create a forum to speak on issues of consequence to all women. Only female voices, examples and opinions provide evidence within this text. Through Lady Reason in particular Christine argues that stereotypes of women can be sustained only if women are prevented from entering into the conversation.

In City of Ladies Christine deliberated on the debate whether the virtues of men and women differ, a frequently debated topic in late medieval Europe, particularly in the context of Aristotelian virtue ethics and his views on women.
Christine repeatedly used the theological argument that men and women are created in God's image and both have souls capable of embracing God's goodness.
Among the inhabitants of the City of Ladies are female saints, women from the Old Testament and virtuous women from the pagan antiquity as portrait by Giovanni Boccaccio.

In The Treasure of the City of Ladies Christine addressed the "community" of women with the stated objective of instructing them in the means of achieving virtue. She took the position that all women were capable of humility, diligence and moral rectitude, and that duly educated all women could become worthy residents of the imaginary City of Ladies.
Drawing on her own life, Christine advised women on how to navigate the perils of early 15th century French society.
With reference to Augustine of Hippo and other saints Christine offered advice on how the noble lady could achieve the love of God. Christine speaks through the allegorical figures of God's daughters - Reason, Rectitude and Justice - who represent the Three Virtues most important to women's success.
Through secular examples of these three virtues, Christine urged women to discover meaning and achieve worthy acts in their lives. Christine argued that women's success depends on their ability to manage and mediate by speaking and writing effectively.
Christine specifically sought out other women to collaborate in the creation of her work. She makes special mention of a manuscript illustrator we know only as Anastasia, whom she described as the most talented of her day.


Christine published 41 known pieces of poetry and prose in her lifetime and she gained fame across Europe as the first professional woman writer.
She achieved such credibility that royalty commissioned her prose and contemporary intellectuals kept copies of her works in their libraries.

After her death in 1430 Christine's influence was acknowledged by a variety of authors and her writings remained popular. Her book Le Livre de la cité des dames remained in print.
A Dutch edition of it exists from the 15th century, and French editions were still being printed in 1536.
In 1521 The Book of the City of Ladies was published in English.
Christine's Le Livre des trois vertus (The Treasure of the City of Ladies) became an important reference point for royal women in the 15th and 16th century.
Anne of France, who acted as regent of France, used it as a basis for her 1504 book of Enseignemens, written for her daughter Suzanne Duchess of Bourbon, who as agnatic heir to the Bourbon lands became co-regent.
Christine's advice to princesses was translated and circulated as manuscript or printed book among the royal families of France and Portugal.
The City of Ladies was acknowledged and referenced by 16th century French women writers, including Anne de Beaujeu, Gabrielle de Bourbon, Marguerite de Navarre and Georgette de Montenay.

Christine de Pizan | Sway in the Cite

Christine's political writings received some attention too. Livre de la paix was referenced by the humanist Gabriel Naudé and Christine was given large entries in encyclopedias by Denis Diderot, Louis Moréri and Prosper Marchand.
In 1470 Jean V de Bueil reproduced Christine's detailed accounts of the armies and material needed to defend a castle or town against a siege in Le Jouvence.
Livre des fais d'armes et de chevalerie was published in its entirety by the book printer Antoine Vérard in 1488, but Vérard claimed that it was his translation of Vegetius.
Philippe Le Noir authored an abridged version of Christine's book in 1527 under the title L'Arbre des Batailles et fleur de chevalerie (The tree of battles and flower of chivalry).

Livre des fais d'armes et de chevalerie was translated into English by William Caxton for Henry VII in 1489 and was published under the title The Book of Feats of Arms and of Chivalry as print one year later, attributing Christine as author.
English editions of The Book of the City of Ladies and Livre du corps de policie (The Book of the Body Politic) were printed in 1521 without referencing Christine as the author.
Elizabeth I had in her court library copies of The Book of the City of Ladies, L'Épistre de Othéa a Hector (Letter of Othea to Hector) and The Book of Feats of Arms and of Chivalry.
Among the possessions of the English queen were tapestries with scenes from the City of Ladies. However, when in the early 19th century Raimond Thomassy published an overview of Christine's political writings, he noted that modern editions of these writings were not published and that as a political theorist Christine was descending into obscurity.
Suzanne Solente, Mathilde Laigle and Marie-Josephe Pinet are credited with reviving the work of de Pizan in the 20th century.
A writer who had been forgotten in France but noted elsewhere. Laigle noticed that de Pizan's work for instance had not been translated into Spanish but other writers had borrowed extensively from her work.

While de Pizan's mixture of classical philosophy and humanistic ideals was in line with the style of other popular authors at the time, her outspoken defence of women was an anomaly. In her works she vindicated women against popular misogynist texts, such as Ovid's Art of Love, Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose and Matheolus's Lamentations. Her activism has drawn the fascination of modern feminists.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949 that Épître au Dieu d'Amour was "the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defence of her sex".
The 1979 artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Christine de Pizan.
In the 1980s Sandra Hindman published a study of the political events referenced in the illuminations of Christine's published works. | © Wikipedia

Gli amanti alla fontana di Narciso, miniatura dal Roman de la Rose, circa 1405 | The Morgan Library and Museum

Christine de Pizan | Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français

Christine de Pizan, od anche Christine de Pisan, nata Cristina da Pizzano (Venezia, 1364 - Monastero di Poissy, 1430 circa), è stata una scrittrice e poetessa Italiana naturalizzata Francese.

È riconosciuta in Europa come la prima scrittrice di professione e, quattro secoli prima di Madame de Staël, la prima storica laica.

Nelle sue opere liriche e narrative trae spunto dalla propria esperienza di vita, e non dalla tradizione religiosa o mitologica, come era frequente al tempo.
Ha redatto nel 1404 una biografia di Carlo V di Francia riportando eventi di cui era stata testimone oculare e consultando fonti bibliografiche.
A capo di uno Scriptorium in cui riproduceva libri miniati molto apprezzati, è molto famosa inoltre per aver dato inizio alla cosiddetta Querelle des femmes: dopo avere letto due opere rispettivamente di Boccaccio e di Jean de Meun, che sostenevano l'idea che la donna sia per natura un essere vizioso, consegnò alla regina Isabella un'opera intitolata Livre de la Cité des Dames (Libro della Città delle Dame), in cui elencava esempi di donne virtuose e importanti nella storia dell'umanità.


Cristina nacque a Venezia nel 1365, figlia di Tommaso da Pizzano. Il padre era originario di Pizzano (ora frazione di Monterenzio), un borgo nei pressi di Bologna, città nella cui Università si era laureato in medicina dedicandosi poi alla pratica dell'astrologia.
Si era poi trasferito a Venezia, dove la sua attività di astrologo gli aveva procurato un'ottima reputazione, tanto che ricevette due inviti, uno dal re di Francia Carlo V e uno dal re d'Ungheria Luigi il Grande, a lavorare come astrologo di corte.
Dopo aver riflettuto a lungo, Tommaso optò per la Francia, dove si trasferì nel 1369 con la moglie ed i figli Cristina, Paolo e Aghinolfo.

Christine crebbe in un ambiente di corte stimolante e intellettualmente vivace: lo stesso Carlo V, sensibile alle tematiche intellettuali, aveva fondato la Biblioteca Reale del Louvre, a cui Christine aveva libero accesso e che descriverà anni più tardi come «la belle assemblée des notables livres» («la bella collezione di libri importanti»), una biblioteca senza pari in Europa per la quantità e la qualità dei preziosi libri splendidamente miniati.
Contro il parere di sua moglie, più tradizionalista, il padre Tommaso le impartì un'istruzione letteraria approfondita, cosa assai rara per una donna dell'epoca.

Christine componeva poesie e ballate molto apprezzate a corte.
Nel 1379, a quindici anni, sposò Étienne de Castel, notaio e segretario del re, con cui ebbe tre figli, una femmina e due maschi, uno dei quali morì in giovane età.
Un matrimonio sereno e felice, che Christine rimpiangerà spesso nei suoi scritti: il marito infatti morì in un'epidemia nel 1390.
Espresse il suo dolore in molte poesie, la cui più famosa è probabilmente Seulete sui.

«Seulete sui et seulete vueil estre
Seulete m'a mon douz ami laissiee;
Seulete sui, sanz compaignon ne maistre
Seulete sui, dolente et courrouciee,
Seulete sui, en langueur mesaisiee,
Seulete sui, plus que nulle esgaree,
Seulete sui, sanz ami demouree.
Seulete sui a uis ou a fenestre,
Seulete sui en un anglet muciee,
Seulete sui pour moi de pleurs repaistre,
Seulete sui, dolente ou apisiee;
Seulete sui, rien n'est qui tant messiee;
Seulete suis, en ma chambre enserree,
Seulete sui, sanz ami demouree.
Seulete sui partout et en tout estre;
Seulete sui, ou je voise ou je siee;
Seulete sui plus qu'aultre riens terrestre,
Seulete sui, de chascun delaissiee,
Seulete sui durement abaissiee,
Seulete sui, souvent toute esplouree,
Seulete sui, sanz ami demouree.
Prince, or est ma douleur commenciee:
Seulete sui, de tout deuil manaciee,
Seulete sui, plus teinte que moree:
Seulete sui, sanz ami demouree.»

«Sono sola, e sola voglio rimanere.
Sono sola, mi ha lasciata il mio dolce amico;
sono sola, senza compagno né maestro,
sono sola, dolente e triste,
sono sola, a languire sofferente,
sono sola, smarrita come nessuna,
sono sola, rimasta senz’amico.
Sono sola, alla porta o alla finestra,
sono sola, nascosta in un angolo,
sono sola, mi nutro di lacrime,
sono sola, dolente o quieta,
sono sola, non c’è nulla di più triste,
sono sola, chiusa nella mia stanza,
sono sola, rimasta senz’amico
Sono sola, dovunque e ovunque io sia;
sono sola, che io vada o che rimanga,
sono sola, più d'ogni altra creatura della terra
sono sola, abbandonata da tutti,
sono sola, duramente umiliata,
sono sola, sovente tutta in lacrime,
sono sola, senza più amico.
Principi, iniziata è ora la mia pena:
sono sola, minacciata dal dolore,
sono sola, più nera del nero,
sono sola, senza più amico, abbandonata.»

Sola, senza nemmeno la protezione del padre (morto nel 1385) e del re Carlo V (morto a sua volta nel 1380), con tre figli ed un'anziana madre da accudire, la famiglia caduta in disgrazia presso il nuovo sovrano Carlo VI, Christine dovette compiere una simbolica metamorfosi, e di sé scrisse «diventai un vero uomo», intendendo con questa metafora il passaggio a una vita più autonoma e responsabilizzata, per i tempi prerogativa esclusiva del maschio.

«Or fus jee vrais homs, n'est pa fable,
De nefs mener entremettable»

«Allora diventai un vero uomo, non è una favola,
capace di condurre le navi»

Christine de Pizan tiene una lezione

Mentre era impegnata in cause legali e in un'apprezzata attività di calligrafa (conduceva una bottega di scrittura, con maestri calligrafi, rilegatori e miniatori specializzati in riproduzioni di libri pregiati), compose in soli due anni Le Livre des cent ballades, che ebbe un grande successo e grazie al quale ottenne protezione e committenze da illustri personaggi, quali i duchi Filippo II di Borgogna e Giovanni di Valois, fratelli del compianto Carlo V, e la regina consorte Isabella di Baviera.
Queste protezioni le permisero di dedicarsi esclusivamente alla scrittura e all'attività di poetessa e intellettuale, ottenendo riconoscimenti e attestazioni di stima, anche da personaggi come Jean Gerson e Eustache Deschamps.

Scrisse moltissimo, aiutata da una naturale facilità di scrittura: tra gli altri Le Livre de Corps de Police, in cui incoraggia i principi ad aiutare le vedove (chiaro il riferimento alle sue vicende personali), l'autobiografico L'Avision-Christine, L'Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, in cui condanna chi usando l'amore inganna e diffama le donne, Le Livre de Trois Vertus, ideale continuazione de La Città delle Dame, nel quale incoraggia le donne a essere forti e a uscire dagli stereotipi sessuali. Scrisse inoltre una biografia nel 1404 del re Carlo V nel solco della tradizione letteraria medievale degli specula principum, scritti cioè dediti ad educare il futuro sovrano.

Nel 1418, all'età di 53 anni, Christine de Pizan si ritirò in un convento. Dopo undici anni di silenzio scrisse il suo ultimo lavoro sulla sua contemporanea Giovanna d'Arco del 1429, il primo entusiastico poema e l'unico a essere composto mentre l'eroina era ancora viva.
La data della sua morte è sconosciuta, ma dovrebbe aggirarsi intorno al 1430.

La Città delle Dame

Scritto nei mesi invernali tra il 1404-1405, il Livre de la Cité des Dames (la Città delle Dame) è probabilmente l'opera più famosa di Christine de Pizan. Fu scritta in risposta ai libri di Giovanni Boccaccio (De mulieribus claris, “Sulle donne famose”), Jean de Meung (autore del Roman de la Rose, testo del XIII secolo che dipingeva le donne solo come seduttrici) e del filosofo Mateolo, nonché di altri testi avversi alla condizione femminile, intrisa, secondo loro, solo di dubbio, malinconia ed intemperanza. De Pizan ne rimase sgradevolmente colpita e ne fece una questione da discutere a corte.

«Sembrano tutti parlare con la stessa bocca, tutti d'accordo nella medesima conclusione, che il comportamento delle donne è incline ad ogni tipo di vizio»

Pizan presenta invece una società utopica ed allegorica in cui la parola «dama» indica una donna nobile di spirito, non di sangue.

Nella città fortificata e costruita secondo le indicazioni di Ragione, Rettitudine e Giustizia, De Pizan racchiude un elevato numero di sante, eroine, poetesse, scienziate, regine, ecc., che offrono un esempio dell'enorme, creativo e indispensabile potenziale che le donne possono offrire alla società.
Tra le altre, Semiramide e Didone, fondatrici di Babilonia e Cartagine, l'eroina Griselda, Lucrezia che si suicidò dopo lo stupro e che offre lo spunto per emettere una legge “giusta e santa” che condanna a morte gli stupratori, Pentesilea che si oppone alla barbarie...
Centrale nella Città delle Dame è poi il tema dell'istruzione femminile, che Christine de Pizan avvertiva come fondamentale.
L'impossibilità infatti di imparare, unita all'isolamento tra le mura domestiche, avevano causato la presunta inferiorità femminile e la sua assenza dalla scena culturale.
Ma è una inferiorità di tipo culturale e non naturale, come si desume dai vari esempi che porta la scrittrice (Saffo, Proba, Novella, Ortensia e altre), visto che

«una donna intelligente riesce a far di tutto e anzi gli uomini ne sarebbero molto irritati se una donna ne sapesse più di loro»

Ispirato chiaramente a La città di Dio di Sant'Agostino, è di agevole lettura nonostante l'alto livello nozionistico e culturale.

«Sono certa che quest'opera farà chiacchierare a lungo i maldicenti»

Christine de Pisan and Queen Isabeau

Christine visits the Heavens