The Speculum Virginum and the Audio-Visual Poetics of Women’s Religious Instruction

  • Morgan Powell
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter considers the role of auditory and visual images in the Speculum. It argues that the treatise was composed to be delivered aloud by a male preacher addressing a community of female religious either individually or in groups.The illustrations in the treatise, far from being appendages, are integral to its use and conception and provide the basis for a sophisticated aesthetic argument that relies on simultaneous consideration of spoken word and image. The original beginning of the Speculum virginum can be seen in the opening of part three of the Speculum virginum a free elaboration of Psalm 44.11–12 (“Listen, daughter, and see”).The commentary on these verses highlights the importance of auditory and visual means of communication. This pedagogically innovative treatise offered a new way by which spiritual directors could present traditional teaching, providing women with alternative access to and participation in the revelation of religious truth.


Fifteenth Century Twelfth Century Biblical Text Latin Text Part Eleven 
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  1. 20.
    Lawrence G. Duggan, “Was Art Really the ‘Book of the Illiterate’?” Word and Image 5 (1989): 227–51, provides an overview of the reception of Gregory’s dictum. For an inquiry into the play between the historical and metaphorical dimensions of its termsCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. see Michael Curschmann, “Pictura laicorum litteratura? Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Bild and volkssprachlicher Schriftlichkeit im Hoch- and Spätmittelalter bis zum Codex Manesse,” Pragmatische Schriftlichkeit im Mittelalter, ed. Hagen Keller et al., Münster Mittelalter-Schriften 65 (Munich: Fink, 1992), pp. 211–29.Google Scholar

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© Constant J. Mews 2001

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  • Morgan Powell

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