The Virgo inter virgines: Art and the devotion to virgin saints in the Low Countries and Germany, 1400--1530

Stanley Edward Weed, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation presents the first systematic study of the Virgo inter virgines, or Virgin among the virgins, theme. Works of art that depict the Virgin and Christ Child surrounded by Early Christian virgin martyrs were produced in significant numbers in Northern Europe between 1400 and 1530. These varied from panel paintings and prints, to manuscript illuminations and sculpture, and served as both communal altarpieces and private devotional images. Despite this evidence, there has never been an attempt to analyze the Virgo inter virgines as a devotional theme. ^ This study is broadly divided into two parts. The first half traces the development of the Virgo inter virgines theme from its origins in late fourteenth-century Germany, to its appearance in Flanders later in the fifteenth century. Although current scholarship on the Virgo inter virgines universally focuses only on the Flemish examples, it will be shown that the theme originated in the German city of Cologne and surrounding province of Westphalia. Only after the theme spread throughout Germany did it appear in Flanders. Moreover, it will be argued that the artist Hans Memling introduced the theme into Flanders. ^ The second part of this dissertation examines the Virgo inter virgines' place within the contemporary devotional climate, and seeks to uncover what the works of art would have meant to their primary audience, religious women. The veneration of the Virgo inter virgines was in response to the intercessory powers of Mary and the saints, but also closely reflected, and supported, the Immaculate Conception, the hotly debated belief that Mary was conceived without sin. Although the Virgo inter virgines was venerated by a wide audience, it was most popular with religious women. The majority of works of in this study came from convents. The specific iconography of the images, with their emphasis on enclosure, contemplation, and veneration of the Christ Child provided ideal models of devotion for the nuns, whose own existence was so closely mirrored in the works of art. ^

Subject Area

Religion, History of|Art History

Recommended Citation

Weed, Stanley Edward, "The Virgo inter virgines: Art and the devotion to virgin saints in the Low Countries and Germany, 1400--1530" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3073070.