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

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1364 – c. 1430) was an Italian French late medieval author. 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. As a poet, she was well known and highly regarded in her own day; she completed 41 works during her 30-year career (1399–1429), and can be regarded as Europe’s first professional woman writer.[1] 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 for herself and her three 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 adoptive tongue of 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. Her success stems 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 work she criticized as immoral.

In recent decades, de 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 claim that it is either an anachronistic use of the word or a misinterpretation of Pizan's writing and intentions.[2]


Christine de Pizan was born in 1365 in Venice. 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, de 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. Pizan did not assert her intellectual abilities, or establish her authority as a writer until she was widowed at the age of 25.[4]

She married Etienne du Castel, a royal secretary to the court, at the age of 15. She had three children, a daughter (who went to live 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] De Pizan's family life was threatened in 1390 when her husband, while in Beauvais on a mission with the king, suddenly died in an epidemic.[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.[6] In order to support herself and her family, de Pizan 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.[8] 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.

De Pizan’s participation in a literary quarrel, 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 debate, the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose”.[9] 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. De Pizan 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.[10] 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 de Pizan'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.


By 1405, de Pizan had completed her most successful literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, or The Book of the Three Virtues. 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 order to counteract the growth of misogyny.[11]

De 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 got 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.[12]

Her final work was a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who took a very public role in organizing French military resistance to English domination in the early 15th century. Written in 1429, The Poem of Joan of Arc ("Ditie de Jehanne dArc") celebrates the appearance of a woman military leader who, according to de Pizan, vindicated and rewarded all women’s efforts to defend their own sex.[13] After completing this particular poem, it seems that de Pizan, at the age 65, decided to end her literary career.[14]

In the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose,” she responded to Jean de Montreuil, who had written her a treatise defending the misogynist sentiments in the Romance of the Rose. She begins by claiming that her opponent was an “expert in rhetoric” as compared to herself “a woman ignorant of subtle understanding and agile sentiment.” In this particular apologetic response, de Pizan belittles her own style. She is employing a rhetorical strategy by writing against the grain of her meaning, also known as antiphrasis.[15] Her ability to employ rhetorical strategies continued when de Pizan began to compose literary texts following the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose.”[citation needed]

In The Book of the City of Ladies de Pizan created a symbolic city in which women are appreciated and defended. She constructed three allegorical foremothers: Reason, Justice, and Rectitude. She enters into a dialogue, a movement between question and answer, with these allegorical figures that is from a completely female perspective.[16] These constructed women lift Christine up from her despair over the misogyny prevalent in her time. 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. Christine, through Lady Reason in particular, argues that stereotypes of woman can be sustained only if women are prevented from entering the dominant male-oriented conversation.[17] Overall, de Pizan hoped to establish truths about women that contradicted the negative stereotypes that she had identified in previous literature. She did this successfully by creating literary foremothers that helped her to formulate a female dialogue that celebrated women and their accomplishments.

From Pygmalion at the Temple of Venus, c. 1475

In The Treasure of the City of Ladies, she highlights the persuasive effect of women’s speech and actions in everyday life. In this particular text, Christine argues that women must recognize and promote their ability to make peace. This ability will allow women to mediate between husband and subjects. She also claims that slanderous speech erodes one’s honor and threatens the sisterly bond among women. De Pizan then argues that "skill in discourse should be a part of every woman’s moral repertoire".[18] She understood that a woman’s influence is realized when her speech accords value to chastity, virtue, and restraint. She proved that rhetoric is a powerful tool that women could employ to settle differences and to assert themselves. Overall, she presented a concrete strategy that allowed all women, regardless of their status, to undermine the dominant patriarchal discourse. For the general reader the Treasure is appealing because she gives fascinating glimpses into women's lives in 1400, from the great lady in the castle down to the merchant's wife, the servant, and the peasant. She offers advice to governesses, widows, and even prostitutes.

De Pizan specifically sought out other women to collaborate in the creation of her work. She makes special mention of a manuscript illuminator we know only as Anastasia whom she described as the most talented of her day.[19]


Christine de Pizan contributed to the rhetorical tradition by counteracting the contemporary discourse. Her discourse differed from critical race theorists and contemporary discussions by feminists,[20] mainly through the poetic use of words and images in an attempt to intervene in historical affairs. De Pizan is often labeled as a poetic mediator who engaged with historical texts to interpolate her royal readers and encourage ethical and judicious conduct. Rhetorical scholars have concluded, from studying her persuasive strategies, that she forged a rhetorical identity for herself and encouraged women to embrace this identity by counteracting misogynist thinking through persuasive dialogue. De Pizan arguably “began her literary career by singing, alone in her room, and she finished by shouting in the public square.”[21] She left an influential footprint in the field of rhetorical discourse and successfully encouraged women to assert themselves in male-dominated literary fields. Her 41 written poetic works evoked a revolutionary feeling, which influenced women to undermine the dominant patriarchal discourse. 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", making Christine de Pizan perhaps the West's first feminist, or protofeminist as some scholars prefer to say.[22][23]

Selected bibliography[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, Virelyas, 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)
  • Livre de paix (1413)
  • Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc (1429)

Contemporary scholarship[edit]

  • The standard translation of The Book of the City of Ladies is by Earl Jeffrey Richards, (1982). 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). Willard’s biography also provides a comprehensive overview of the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose.” Kevin Brownlee also discusses this debate in detail in his article Widowhood, Sexuality and Gender in Christine de Pisan (in The Romanic Review, 1995)
  • For a more detailed account of Christine de Pizan’s rhetorical strategies refer to Jenny R. Redfern’s excerpt Christine de Pisan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorician and Her Rhetoric (in Reclaiming Rhetorica, ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, 1995).
  • M. Bell Mirabella discusses Christine’s ability to refute the patriarchal discourse in her article Feminist Self-Fashioning: Christine de Pisan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies (in The European Journal of Women’s Studies, 1999).
  • Karlyn Kohrs Campbell presents an interesting argument about Christine’s ability to create a female-oriented dialogue in her lecture Three Tall Women: Radical Challenges to Criticism, Pedagogy, and Theory (The Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture, National Communication Association, 2001).
  • Refer to The Rhetorical Tradition (ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, 2001) and The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (ed. Vincent B. Leitch, 2001) for some commentary on Christine de Pizan’s life, literary works, rhetorical contributions and other relevant sources that one may find useful.

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. ^ Redfern, p. 77.
  5. ^ Charity C. Willard, Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works (New York: Persea Books, 1984), p. 35.
  6. ^ a b Willard, p. 39.
  7. ^ Pizan, ed. by Brown-Grant, introduction.
  8. ^ Redfern, p. 77.
  9. ^ Willard, p. 73.
  10. ^ Maureen Quilligan, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan's "Cité des Dames" (New York: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 40.
  11. ^ Willard 1984, p. 135
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Willard 1984, p. 205
  14. ^ Willard 1984, p. 207
  15. ^ Redfern p. 80
  16. ^ Campbell, p. 6
  17. ^ Campbell, p. 7
  18. ^ Redfern, p. 87
  19. ^ Christine de Pizan: An illuminated Voice By Doré Ripley, 2004 Accessed October 2007
  20. ^ Altmann, Barbara. "Christine de Pizan: A Casebook". Routledge. Retrieved 2003. 
  21. ^ Desmond, Marilynn. "Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference". University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  22. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings". Vintage Books. 
  23. ^ Altmann, Barbara. "Christine de Pizan: A Casebook". Routledge. Retrieved 2003. 


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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]

  • Angus J. Kennedy's "Christine de Pizan: A Bibliographical Guide and supplements (London: Grant & Cutler, 1984, 1994, 2004)

External links[edit]

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15 news items

History News Network
Sun, 13 Apr 2014 22:47:00 -0700

A friend of the poets Eustache Deschamps and Christine de Pizan, Guillaume belonged to a courtly literary club and had written some love poetry. He had also translated an originally Arabic book of moral wisdom from Latin into French, a work later ...


Sun, 13 Apr 2014 12:07:30 -0700

1La faveur critique de Christine de Pizan ne semble pas devoir faiblir : c'est ce dont témoignent deux ouvrages sortis en 2013 et issus de thèses de doctorat, l'une soutenue en 2004 à l'université Paris 3‑Sorbonne Nouvelle (Claire Le Ninan, sous la ...
Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:07:30 -0700

La vénitienne Christine de Pizan (1 364 - vers 1 430) fait partie des plus grands écrivains du XIVe siècle en France, et est l'une des premières écrivaines de la littérature française. Son œuvre est abondante, forte et engagée. Elle mêle des travaux ...


Tue, 15 Apr 2014 03:52:30 -0700

Penelope, Messalina, Rosvita Di Gandersheim, Costanza D'Altavilla e Christine de Pizan: cinque donne della Storia che si raccontano, cinque protagoniste di storie non tramandate. Donne che sfidano il loro tempo e la loro condizione di genere per ...
BSC News
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 04:48:45 -0700

Voilà pourquoi je donne de très nombreux exemples de femmes écrivains et poètes des lettres d'Héloïse, à Marguerite Duras et Emmanuelle Riva en passant par des femmes de lettres connues, comme Christine de Pizan, Marguerite de Navarre, Madame de ...


Wed, 02 Apr 2014 17:00:00 -0700

Un'ambiziosa tetralogia teatrale tutta al femminile, che attraversa epoche e culture lontane (dall' antichità al tempo presente) e di cui Vetustà costituisce la prima parte. Penelope Messalina Rosvita Di Gandersheim Costanza D'Altavilla Christine de ...
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 04:26:15 -0700

... donc question de fantômes, de personnes et de personnages, d'un fameux médium japonais, d'un escroc à la petite semaine, Ted Serios, qui, dans les années 1950, prenait des photos avec sa pensée, de Christine de Pizan et de l'excellent Robert Jaulin.
MagaziNet (Blog)
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 03:52:46 -0700

Penelope, Messalina, Rosvita Di Gandersheim, Costanza D'Altavilla, Christine de Pizan: cinque donne della Storia che si raccontano, cinque protagoniste di storie non tramandate. Donne che sfidano il loro tempo e la loro condizione di genere per rompere ...

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