Between Mary and Christ: Depicting Cross-Dressed Saints in the Middle Ages (c. 1200-1600)

Thesis author: 
Andrea-Bianka Znorovszky
Year of enrollment: 
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2011 - Jun, 2016
Thesis supervisor: 
Gerhard Jaritz
Thesis supervisor: 
Marianne Sághy
Thesis abstract: 

My study is a comparative research on the visual representation of one group of transvestite saints: the virgins. Although much textual analysis has been done in this field, a comparative analysis of the visual sources (illuminations, engravings, and so on) is missing. My aim is to analyze patterns and developments in the visual representations of transvestite saints in comparison with their hagiobiographies (vitae) focusing mostly on the period from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. I analyze the changes, developments, additions, and omissions that occurred in the patterns of their visual representations in different periods and regions of Western Christianity (England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain) according to various audiences. The research concentrates mostly on a nucleus of three of these transvestite saints as the source material is more abundant with regard to them: Saint Marina, Saint Eugenia, and Saint Euphrosyna, while the other virgin monks (Margareta Reparata, Apollonaris, Hilaria, Papula of Gaul, Susanna of Eleutheropolis) will cluster around this group for the purpose of comparing patterns.
Most of these depictions are manuscript illuminations from French versions of Legenda Aurea or Speculum Historiale. As almost all of these representations are illuminations, I lay special emphasis on the text-image relationship and its function(s). Although the saints’ vitae share common patterns such as entrance into the monastery, transvestitism, temptation, penance, and identity revealing, each saint’s visual representation shows these episodes in a different manner.
All of these saints used transvestitism in certain episodes of their lives. One of the most emphasized patterns is that of the discovery of their identity. Not only the vitae, but also the visual representations depict this episode. The centre of these images is the representation of the saints (sometimes naked) body. This is connected to the theological concept of purity since the discovery of their true identity spares them of false accusations.
Moreover, the evolutions of some of these transvestite saints’ visual representations have been influenced by religious syncretism as they have been constantly confused with other saints. This leads me to another phase of my research, namely, the influence of their cult and of their prototypes on these female monks’ depictions.
These saints are glorified for their chastity, purity, penance, and rejecting sinful life. Therefore, one can speak not only of transvestite saints but also of transvestite martyrs, penitent monks or recluses. All these lead me to the following questions I intend to answer.
Is it necessary to depict a naked body in order to emphasize the purity of holy female monks? Is a theological concept illustrated through the female body of a former masculine woman? Were they vehicles used by monastic communities? If yes, what were they promoting? Who were the recipients of these images and which other the theological concepts did they recall when looking at them?