Below are the first three paragraphs of the new Intro and so the projected first three paragraphs for the book as a whole. My goals here are to get someone interested in actually reading the thing and then to lay out some big ideas for the book as a whole - the theoretical perspective plus some sense of the argument. Let me know what you think.
7/1: I did a bit more fiddling with this - added a sentence and moved some things around. I've highlighted the new sentence.
She stands with her weight shifted slightly to her left and with that hip pressed outward and upward, in a version of the classical contrapossto pose. She puts that pose to a different end, however, propping a baby up on her hip and securing him against her body with a strong grasping hand. He reaches out with one hand to grasp her veil and pull it over her chest – and with that gesture he calls attention to the play of fabric folds that the contrapossto pose creates over her lower body. On her right, a series of curves at varying depths arc across her body from her extended hand to where the child’s body presses against hers. The topmost of these folds flips the garment inside out, revealing its white inner surface and so rhyming with her white veil above. On her left, by contrast, the fabric gathers into tight folds along vertical lines that extend down from the pleats in the lower portion of the child’s garment. And the very end of her veil gathers into similarly tight folds as it dangles from his hand. The placement on this flare of folds against her chest calls attention to her breasts, which are further emphasized by curving lines that extend upwards to them as drapery folds created by the tight cinch of her belt below.
This book asks what this sculpture – an early fourteenth-century French Virgin and Child – along with a host of other medieval sculptural representations of female bodies – including the Annunciation and Visitation pairs from Reims cathedral, the femme aux serpents from the church of Saint-Pierre at Moissac, the transi of Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendome, the Eve from the church of Saint-Lazare at Autun, and a number of other Virgin and Childs – have to say about motherhood in the Middle Ages. The most obvious answer to that question is little or nothing. The work of anonymous but presumably male sculptors, often working for clerical and so celibate male patrons, there is little to no chance that these artworks speak of motherhood on the level of their makers’ self-expressions. Likewise, these sculptures were not made for women as their primary beholders and so were not made to speak directly to women about their social roles as mothers.
However, the sculptures were produced as public art for the exterior walls and interior spaces of church buildings where they had a wide range of beholders – including lay women who were mothers and potential mothers. The difference between the producers of these sculptors and women as mothers as one group of their beholders opens a gap between their intended meanings and the other meanings liable to be produced by women coming to these artworks with their own interests, ideas, and concerns. Thus to understand these sculptures in relationship to medieval women as mothers, we must first recognize that the interaction between a work of art and its beholders is a meaning-making activity - a theoretical perspective that is developed in this Introduction. Approached from this perspective, the sculptures become sites where medieval women could consider their own experiences as mothers and the meanings those experiences held for them. Indeed, the reason this book focuses on sculpture as a medium is the opportunity that this gap between producers and beholders, intended and potential meanings, creates to consider medieval women as active makers of the meanings of their own lives.
As they continue to exist today, furthermore, these sculptures create opportunities to reconstruct at least some of these women’s maternal experiences and some of the meanings they made from those experiences. This work of reconstruction shows motherhood to have been a complex experience for medieval women, one riven by tensions and oppositions, between life and death, empowerment and subordination, merger and separation, joy and sorrow, even love and hate. To return to the Virgin and Child introduced above as an example, the visual forms of this sculpture suggest the tension between merger and separation that marks the process of parturition, which is explored in detail through an examination of multiple such sculptures within the context of the medieval cult of the Virgin in Chapter Four. The mother and child are pressed together here within the vertical format of the work of art, but they are also distinguished by the two different types of drapery folds; her horizontal curves in contrast to his vertical pleats. As those curving folds accumulate on her lower abdomen they suggest her former pregnancy in contrast to the child she now holds in her arms. And as these same folds lead across her body to that child, they suggest his movement out of her body, a suggestion that is reinforced by the inside-out twisting of the topmost fold. And yet as her veil resembles that fold, so his reach for it becomes a reach back into her interior. And as the veil transforms from a curve into a tight flare of folds, it indicates his hold over her in his continuing need for her, as his need for nourishment from her body. They are thus both joined and separated, split apart and tied together.