A woman artist in the Middle Ages
Teresa Dieç, a woman artist in the Middle Ages.
Always by chance … we need very many happy coincidences to understand the Middle Ages, a time of mysteries and legends, dark secrets, or maybe… were there not so dark?
In its visceral reaction against the Academicism which prevailed in the 19th century, Romantic generation turned its eyes to the past, to a time when the man had not been reduced to an equation.Then, they created a Middle Ages as they like: sentimental, exaggerated, chaotic. But what data were they based on? Available to few, although they were really fans of Archaeology and History. Even today we have few available sources, and universities or museums were still attributing many of the paintings and sculptures of those centuries to a ‘master of this or that town’. Always to ‘a male master’, never to ‘a female one?
However, when we come along with someone who signed as Teresa, we have to surrender to the evidence: she was a woman.
In Zamora (Spain), in the 14th century, Teresa Dieç decorated the walls of the monastery of Santa Clara de Toro with scenes of the Epiphany and of the Baptism of Christ. ‘Teresa Dieç me fecit (Teresa Dieç painted here)’, she signed in the band of the coat of a giant St. Christopher, holding the infant Jesus in his arms to help him crossing a river.
Who was Teresa Dieç? Little more we know, but we do not know much more about the individual biographies of medieval male artists. However, we know something about that society: the usual would be that Teresa was hired by the monastery to do the frescoes and she was in the guild of painters and she was a master. The murals are of high quality, fruit from a hand who had painted other murals and knows how to keep the proportions of the Gothic style without hesitation.
Less likely it would be that she was a nun of the monastery: lay nuns could neither read and the ‘important nuns’, as they were of noble provenance, they preferred to order these ‘dirty’ tasks to the guilds.
Beneath the signature, it is a shield (not yet known which house belongs it) but it is another clue to identify the authoress. Perhaps of noble origin, perhaps a rebel against the noble habit of not working with soiled materials.
Anyway, noble or commoner, this woman made a splendid and colorful work; noble or commoner had a cultural background; noble or commoner, she signed in a time when the idea of author had not taken root.
She was Teresa Dieç and painted very well.
** In the exhibition of ‘the Ages of Man’ celebrated inValladolid (Spain) in 1988, they also attributed to Teresa Dieç the murals of the life of Santa Catalina and San Juan Bautista in Hiniesta (Zamora).