Christine de Pizan

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Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pisan - cathedra.jpg
Christine de Pizan lecturing men
Born 11 September 1364
Died c. 1430 (aged 65–66)
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Etienne du Castel
Children Daughter
Jean du Castel
Parent(s) Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan; French pronunciation: [kʁistin də pizɑ̃] (About this sound listen) ; 1364 – c. 1430) was an Italian French late medieval author. Her most famous literary works are The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. She served as a court writer for several dukes (Louis of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and John the Fearless of Burgundy) and the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. She wrote both poetry and prose works such as biographies. She completed forty-one works during her 30-year career from 1399 to 1429.[1] Her success stemmed from a wide range of innovative writing and rhetorical techniques that critically challenged renowned writers such as Jean de Meun, author of the Romance of the Rose, which she criticized as immoral.

She married in 1380 at the age of 15, and was widowed 10 years later. Much of the impetus for her writing came from her need to earn a living to support her mother, a niece and her two surviving children. She spent most of her childhood and all of her adult life in Paris and then the abbey at Poissy, and wrote entirely in her adopted language, Middle French. Her early courtly poetry is marked by her knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion of the day, particularly involving women and the practice of chivalry. Her early and later allegorical and didactic treatises reflect both autobiographical information about her life and views and also her own individualized and humanist approach to the scholastic learned tradition of mythology, legend, and history she inherited from clerical scholars and to the genres and courtly or scholastic subjects of contemporary French and Italian poets she admired. Supported and encouraged by important royal French and English patrons, she influenced 15th-century English poetry.

In recent decades, Pizan's work has been returned to prominence by the efforts of scholars such as Charity Cannon Willard, Earl Jeffrey Richards and Simone de Beauvoir. Certain scholars have argued that she should be seen as an early feminist who efficiently used language to convey that women could play an important role within society. This characterization has been challenged by other critics, who say that it is either an anachronistic use of the word or a misinterpretation of her writing and intentions.[2]


Christine de Pizan was born in 1364 in Venice, Italy. She was the daughter of Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano (Thomas de Pizan, named for the family's origins in the town of Pizzano, south east of Bologna), a physician, court astrologer, and Councillor of the Republic of Venice.[3] Following her birth, Thomas de Pizan accepted an appointment to the court of Charles V of France, as the king's astrologer, alchemist, and physician. In this atmosphere, Pizan was able to pursue her intellectual interests. She successfully educated herself by immersing herself in languages, in the rediscovered classics and humanism of the early Renaissance, and in Charles V's royal archive that housed a vast number of manuscripts. But she did not assert her intellectual abilities, or establish her authority as a writer until she was widowed at the age of 25.[4]

At the age of 15 she married Etienne du Castel, a royal secretary to the court. She had three children, a daughter (who became a nun at the Dominican Abbey in Poissy in 1397 as a companion to the king's daughter, Marie), a son Jean, and another child who died in childhood.[5] Pizan lost her husband in 1387 when he suddenly died in an epidemic while in Beauvais on a mission with the king.[6] Following Castel's death, she was left to support her mother, a niece, and her two children.[7] When she tried to collect money from her husband's estate, she faced complicated lawsuits regarding the recovery of salary due her husband.[8] 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".[9] Note that in letters he signed as secretary of the king in 1381 and 1382 the signature of Etienne was "Ste de Castel".[10] The abbreviation of his first name could be read both as a phonetic abbreviation of Estienne and as the first letters of his name in Latin: Stephanus.

In order to support herself and her family, Christine turned to writing. By 1393, she was writing love ballads, which caught the attention of wealthy patrons within the court. These patrons were intrigued by the novelty of a female writer and had her compose texts about their romantic exploits.[4] Her output during this period was prolific. Between 1393 and 1412, she composed over 300 ballads, and many more shorter poems.

Christine de Pizan presents her book to Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France.

Pizan participation in a literary debate, in 1401–1402, allowed her to move beyond the courtly circles, and ultimately to establish her status as a writer concerned with the position of women in society. During these years, she involved herself in a renowned literary controversy, the "Querelle du Roman de la Rose".[11] She helped to instigate this debate by beginning to question the literary merits of Jean de Meun's the Romance of the Rose. Written in the 13th century, the Romance of the Rose satirizes the conventions of courtly love while critically depicting women as nothing more than seducers. Christine specifically objected to the use of vulgar terms in Jean de Meun's allegorical poem. She argued that these terms denigrated the proper and natural function of sexuality, and that such language was inappropriate for female characters such as Madame Raison. According to her, noble women did not use such language.[12] Her critique primarily stems from her belief that Jean de Meun was purposely slandering women through the debated text.

The debate itself was extensive and at its end, the principal issue was no longer Jean de Meun’s literary capabilities. The principal issue had shifted to the unjust slander of women within literary texts. This dispute helped to establish Christine's reputation as a female intellectual who could assert herself effectively and defend her claims in the male-dominated literary realm. She continued to counter abusive literary treatments of women.


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

Pizan’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. Pizan 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 Pizan published Querelle du Roman de la Rose (Letters on the Debate of the Rose).[13] In this particular apologetic response, Pizan belittles her own writing style, employing a rhetorical strategy by writing against the grain of her meaning, also known as antiphrasis.[14]

By 1405 Pizan had completed her most famous literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. 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.[15]

In The Book of the City of Ladies Pizan 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.[16] 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 Pizan argues that stereotypes of women can be sustained only if women are prevented from entering into the conversation.[17]

In City of Ladies Pizan entered the debate on 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.[18] Pizan repeatedly uses 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.[19]

In The Treasure of the City of Ladies Pizan 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, Pizan advised women on how to navigate the perils of early fifteenth-century French society.[20] With reference to Augustine of Hippo and other saints Pizan offers advice on how the noble lady could achieve the love of God. Pizan 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, Pizan urged women to discover meaning and achieve worthy acts in their lives. Pizan argued that women's success depends on their ability to manage and mediate by speaking and writing effectively.[21]

Pizan was greatly interested in history, ranging from the Matter of Troy to the "founding of the royal house of France" (for her the latter was a consequence of the former). She obtained her knowledge of Troy from the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César, and chose an anti-Trojan position. Hector especially served as a model and a measure of masculinity for her.[22]

From Pygmalion at the Temple of Venus, c. 1475

Her final work was a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who said God had commanded her to secure the French throne for Charles VII. Written in 1429, The Poem of Joan of Arc ("Ditie de Jehanne dArc") celebrates the appearance of a woman whom Pizan describes in the poem as "a simple shepherdess" while commenting: "It is a fact well worth remembering That God should now have wished (and this is the truth!) to bestow such great blessings on France, through a young virgin", adding "For there will be a King of France called Charles [VII], son of Charles [VI], who will be supreme ruler over all Kings."[23] After completing this particular poem, it seems that Pizan at the age of 65, decided to end her literary career.[24]

Pizan 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.[25]


Pizan 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 keept copies of her works in their libraries.[26]

After her death in 1430 Pizan's influence was acknowledged a variety of authors and her writings remained popular. Her book The Treasure of the City of Ladies remained in print. Portuguese and Dutch editions of The Treasure exist from the fifteenth century, and French editions were still being printed in 1536. In 1521 The Book of the City of Ladies was published in English.[27]

While 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.[28] 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".[29][30]

Translations and contemporary scholarship[edit]

  • The Book of the City of Ladies was brought to greater attention by Earl Jeffrey Richards's translation, published in 1982 by Persea Press.[31] Richards is also the co-editor of an edited collection on Pizan, Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan.[32][33] The first English translation of Christine de Pizan's The Treasure of the City of Ladies: or The Book of the Three Virtues is Sarah Lawson’s (1985).
  • The standard biography about Christine de Pizan is Charity Cannon Willard’s Christine de Pisan: Her Life and Works (1984).

List of works[edit]

  • L'Épistre au Dieu d'amours (1399)
  • L'Épistre de Othéa a Hector (1399–1400)
  • Dit de la Rose (1402)
  • Cent Ballades d'Amant et de Dame, Virelays, Rondeaux (1402)
  • Le Chemin de long estude (1403)
  • Livre de la mutation de fortune (1403)
  • La Pastoure (1403)
  • Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V (1404)
  • Le Livre de la cité des dames (1405)
  • Le Livre des trois vertus (1405)
  • L'Avision de Christine (1405)
  • Livre du corps de policie (1407)
  • The Book of Deeds of Arms and Chivalry (1410) (ISBN 0271018801)
  • Livre de paix (1413)
  • Epistre de la prison de vie humaine (1418)
  • Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc (1429)


The artwork The Dinner Party features a place setting for Christine de Pizan.[34]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Jenny Redfern, "Christine de Pisan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorician and Her Rhetoric" in Lunsford, Andrea A, ed. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women and in the Rhetorical Tradition (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), p. 74
  2. ^ Earl Jeffrey Richards, ed, Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992), pp. 1–2.
  3. ^ Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. by Rosalind Brown-Grant (London: Penguin Books, 1999), introduction.
  4. ^ a b Redfern, p. 77.
  5. ^ Charity C. Willard, Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works (New York: Persea Books, 1984), p. 35.
  6. ^ Famiglietti, R.C. (2015). Audouin Chauveron. 2. pp. 260–261. 
  7. ^ Pizan, ed. by Brown-Grant, introduction.
  8. ^ Willard, p. 39.
  9. ^ Famiglietti, R.C. (2015). Audouin Chauveron. 2. p. 261. 
  10. ^ Thomas, A. (1892). "Jean Castel". Romania: 21e année, p. 274 n. 3. 
  11. ^ Willard, p. 73.
  12. ^ Maureen Quilligan, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan's "Cité des Dames" (New York: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 40.
  13. ^ "Christine de Pisan". Brooklyn Museum. Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Retrieved 18 Nov 2017. 
  14. ^ Redfern p. 80
  15. ^ Willard 1984, p. 135
  16. ^ Campbell, p. 6
  17. ^ Campbell, p. 7
  18. ^ Bejczy, Istvan P. (2011). "Chapter 1: Does Virtue Recognise Gender? Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies in the Light of Scholastic Debate". In Green, Karen; Mews, Constant. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. Springer. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9789400705296. 
  19. ^ Bejczy, Istvan P. (2011). "Chapter 1: Does Virtue Recognise Gender? Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies in the Light of Scholastic Debate". In Green, Karen; Mews, Constant. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. Springer. pp. 10–11. ISBN 9789400705296. 
  20. ^ Redfern, Jenny R. (1955). "Chapter 5: The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorical and Her Rhetoric". In Lunsford, Andrea A. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780822971658. 
  21. ^ Redfern, Jenny R. (1955). "Chapter 5: The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorical and Her Rhetoric". In Lunsford, Andrea A. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 74. ISBN 9780822971658. 
  22. ^ Abray, Lorna Jane (2004). "Imagining the Masculine: Christine de Pizan's Hector, Prince of Troy". In Alan Shepard. Fantasies of Troy: Classical Tales and the Social Imaginary in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Stephen David Powell. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. pp. 133–48. ISBN 9780772720252. Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
  23. ^ Kennedy, Angus, and Varty, Kenneth (translators). "A Translation of the 'Ditie de Jehanne d'Arc". Online at: Accessed 8 May 2014.
  24. ^ Willard 1984, p. 207
  25. ^ Christine de Pizan: An illuminated Voice By Doré Ripley, 2004 Accessed October 2007
  26. ^ Redfern, Jenny R. (1955). "Chapter 5: The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorical and Her Rhetoric". In Lunsford, Andrea A. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 9780822971658. 
  27. ^ Redfern, Jenny R. (1955). "Chapter 5: The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorical and Her Rhetoric". In Lunsford, Andrea A. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 75. ISBN 9780822971658. 
  28. ^ Redfern, Jenny R. (1955). "Chapter 5: The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorical and Her Rhetoric". In Lunsford, Andrea A. Virtue Ethics for Women 1250-1500. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 75. ISBN 9780822971658. 
  29. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings". Vintage Books. 
  30. ^ Altmann, Barbara. Christine de Pizan: A Casebook. Routledge. Retrieved 2003.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  31. ^ Altmann, Barbara K.; McGrady, Deborah L. (2003). Christine de Pizan: A Casebook. Psychology Press. p. xiii. ISBN 9780415939096. 
  32. ^ Crane, Susan (1994). "Reinterpreting Christine de Pisan by Earl Jeffrey Richards, Joan Williamson, Nadia Margolis, Christine Reno; The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan's "Cité des Dames" by Maureen Quilligan". Renaissance Quarterly. 47 (1): 167–72. doi:10.2307/2863124. JSTOR 2863124. 
  33. ^ Huot, Sylvia (1994). "Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan by Earl Jeffrey Richards, Joan Williamson, Nadia Margolis, Christine Reno". Modern Philology. 92 (1): 89–93. JSTOR 438227. 
  34. ^ Place Settings. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 2015-08-06.


  • Altmann, Barbara K., and Deborah L. McGrady, eds. Christine de Pizan: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Altmann, Barbara K., "Christine de Pizan as Maker of the Middle Ages," in: Cahier Calin: Makers of the Middle Ages. Essays in Honor of William Calin, ed. Richard Utz and Elizabeth Emery (Kalamazoo, MI: Studies in Medievalism, 2011), pp. 30–32.
  • Brown-Grant, Rosalind., Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women: Reading beyond Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Brown-Grant, Rosalind. trans. and ed. Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1999.
  • Campbell, Karlyn K., Three Tall Women: Radical Challenges to Criticism, Pedagogy, and Theory, The Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture National Communication Association November 2001 Boston: Pearson Education Inc, 2003.
  • Cerquiglini-Toulet, J., Christine de Pizan et le pouvoir du nom, in: Le Moyen Français 75 (2014), p. 3–17.
  • Desmond, Marilynn, Pamela Sheingorn, Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture: Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea (Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press, 2003).
  • Dulac, Liliane, Anne Paupert, Christine Reno, and Bernard Ribémont, eds., Desireuse de plus avant enquerre... Actes du VIe colloque international sur Christine de Pizan (Paris juillet 2006): Volume en hommage à James Laidlaw (Paris, Éditions Champion, 2008) (Etudes Christinienne).
  • Fenster, Thelma S., and Nadia Margolis, eds. and trans. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Duke of True Lovers. New York: Persea, 1991.
  • Green, Karen, and Constant J. Mews, eds. Healing the Body Politic: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan, Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2005.
  • Green, Karen, Constant J. Mews, and Janice Pinder, eds. The Book of Peace by Christine de Pizan.University Park: Penn State Press, 2008.
  • Kosta-Théfaine, Jean-François. La Poétesse et la guerrière : Lecture du 'Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc' de Christine de Pizan. Lille: TheBookEdition, 2008. Pp. 108.
  • Laigle, Mathilde, Le livre des trois vertus de Christine de Pisan et son milieu historique et littéraire, Paris, Honoré Champion, 1912, 375 pages, collection : Bibliothèque du XVe siècle siècle (this book is the translation of an American thesis of Mathilde Laigle, Columbia U.)
  • Margolis, Nadia, An Introduction to Christine de Pizan. New Perspectives in Medieval Literature, 1. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011.
  • Mühlethaler, J.-Cl., Désir et étonnement: de l'auteur au lecteur. Émotion, écriture et lecture au temps de Christine de Pizan, in: Le Moyen Français 75 (2014), p. 19–42.
  • Parussa, G., Stratégies de légitimation du discours autorial: dialogie, dialogisme et polyphonie chez Christine de Pizan, in: Le Moyen Français 75 (2014), p. 43–65.
  • Quilligan, Maureen, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan's "Cité des Dames". New York: Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • Redfern, Jenny, "Christine de Pisan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorician and Her Rhetoric" in Lunsford, Andrea A, ed. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women and in the Rhetorical Tradition, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.
  • Reno, Christine, and Liliane Dulac, eds. Le Livre de l’Advision Cristine. Études christiniennes, 4. Paris: Champion, 2000.
  • Reno, Christine, La mémoire de Christine de Pizan dans ses manuscrits, in: Le Moyen Français 75 (2014), p. 67–83.
  • Richards, Earl Jeffrey, ed., Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
  • Richards, Earl Jeffrey, ed. and trans. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies. Intro. by Natalie Zemon Davis. Rev. ed. New York: Persea, 1998.
  • Walters, L. J., The Queen's Manuscript (London, British Library, Harley 4431) as a Monument to Peace, in: Le Moyen Français 75 (2014), p. 85–117.
  • Willard, Charity C., ed, The "Livre de Paix" of Christine de Pisan: A Critical Edition, The Hague: Mouton, 1958. (now superseded by Green, et al. ed., see above).
  • Willard, Charity C., Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books, 1984

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]