Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Medieval/Renaissance Studies: Sample Writing

Melissa Baty
Humanities 302
September 2002

Hildegard of Bingen’s illumination “Sophia: Mother Wisdom, Mother Church” holds many interesting features which point to the artist’s belief of “strong and wise women” being “the most courageous workers.” This can be seen first in the color she chooses to use to portray both the main figure, and in the background: blue. Blue often is equated with the Virgin Mary in art, and Hildegard uses this color to equate Mary with the virgins. Comparing the two gives the virgins credibility, as Mary is revered as the greatest among women. More noticeable is the two types of “coverings” given to the main figure in the illumination. Below, the figure is covered with scales, which could be seen as a serpent-like characteristic. Above, the virgin martyrs appear to be nested between the wings of a bird, much like the shape of a dove. Significantly, these two creatures point to a verse in the New Testament: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless [innocent] as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus gave this command to the apostles as he was sending them out into the world. Interestingly, Jesus spoke to twelve male disciples, yet Hildegard uses the imagery solely in regard to women. This utilization clearly points to her belief of women as able to do just as much, if not more, than male workers in God’s kingdom. She singles out women in her illumination to portray their potential and strength to do the same work given to the male apostles many centuries before, portraying a revolutionary idea for women in her time.