Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 170



170
JFemale
OA N Dpower
E J OAinNConstanza
E S / Holy Family
de Castilla’s tomb
Female power in Constanza de Castilla’s tomb
It was not unusual in Castile, during the second half
of the fifteenth century, for sepulchres and other
monuments to be decorated with these allegories.47
Representations of virtues were carved on the tombs
of John II of Castile and his second wife, Elisabeth
of Portugal, in the charterhouse of Miraflores outside
Burgos (1489-1493); on the tomb of Álvaro de Luna in
the chapel of Saint James in Toledo Cathedral (1489);
and on the tomb of Alfonso Carrillo de Acuña, in the
Magistral of Alcalá de Henares (1482-1489).48
A comparison of these sepulchres and that of
Constanza de Castilla demonstrates, once more, the
singularity of the prioress’s tomb, which was probably
sculpted between 1464 and 1478, in other words before
the others. This fact once more highlights the pioneering
nature of her monument, and reflects the ambitions of a
powerful royal abbess such as Constanza de Castilla.
Fig. 10 / Effigy of
Constanza de Castilla
(detail), Tomb of
Constanza de Castilla,
1464-1478, marble,
Madrid, National
Archaeological Museum.
The royal sepulchre of Miraflores was conceived to
contain the remains of John II and his second wife.
The virtues that decorate the sepulchre refer to both
sovereigns as representatives of royal power, and
not Elisabeth of Portugal per se. With regard to the
tombs of Álvaro de Luna and Alfonso Carrillo de
Acuña, it should be noted that both belong to men.
Indeed, as has already been indicated, the sepulchre
of Álvaro de Luna’s second wife, Juana Pimentel,
located next to that of her husband, features a
similar decorative scheme, but on this occasion the
virtues have been replaced by eight apostles.49 The
sepulchre of Constanza de Castilla was possibly one
of the first female Castilian tombs decorated with
virtues, an iconographic and literary theme that
seems to have originally been mainly masculine.50
This would not have posed a major problem to Sister
Constanza when designing her tomb’s iconography. In
fact, she may have been encouraged by the discourse
of certain Castilian courtesan writers51 who, during
the mid-fifteenth century, defended female virtue, in
contrast to others whose message was misogynistic.52
171
Two of these treatises in defence of women were
written by Álvaro de Luna and Diego de Valera, both
clearly influenced by Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus
(ca. 1361),53 in which women are considered virtuous
when behaving as men.54 This should come as no
surprise: in several letters, Saint Catherine of Siena,
whom Constanza de Castilla mentions in her Book of
Devotions,55 recommends that her recipients aspire to
the same ideals of love of God and virtues as men.56
In his Libro de las claras e virtuosas mugeres (1446) Álvaro
de Luna is unequivocal in his defence of gender
equality: “as for virtue and the goal for which they
are raised, men as well as women, are both equal.”57
The Condestable says that he wrote this because “it
seemed inhuman that so many works of virtue and
examples of kindness found in women’s lineage were
silenced and buried in the darkness of oblivion.”58
Diego de Valera, who dedicated his Tratado en defensa
de virtuosas mugeres (ca. 1444) to Mary of Aragon (died
1445), the first wife of John II of Castile,59 states
that virtue is practiced “by both women and men.”60
Likewise, Brother Martín de Córdoba, in his Jardin
de nobles doncellas (1467-1476), claims that the pain he
feels because of Prince Alphonse’s premature death
is eased when he contemplates his sister Elisabeth’s
flourishing virtues.61
Constanza’s sepulchre could thus be seen as an artistic
expression of the so-called Querelle des femmes, which
has been described as “the vehicle through which
most early feminist thinking evolved.”62 This debate
was carried on mostly by “the female members of a
distinctively modern, literate class,”63 a class to which
Constanza de Castilla and her noble sisters belonged.
As María del Mar Graña Cid has claimed, it is
important to highlight the existence of a “feminine
Humanism” at the end of the Middle Ages, promoted
by privileged and literate women who became
involved in the creation of important literary and
artistic works.64

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