How does a girl-power manual would look in 1504? It only takes to browse “Lives of Famous Women” to find out.
In the very beginning of the 16th century, French Queen Anne of Brittany ordered educated Dominican monk Antoine Dufour to compose for her a series of biographies narrating the lives of important women.
Her order was materialized in the form of “Les vies des femmes célèbres“, an illuminated manuscript where the lives of 91 historical and mythical women, from Eve to Joan of Arc, are described and depicted in a book suitable for a true female leader.
It is not difficult to think of Anne seeking inspiration from great women of the past. In an era when the idea of Homo Universalis represented the ideal man, women followed suit. Many royals and aristocrats actively developed a taste for intellect, knowledge as well as beauty. They became patrons and inspiration of various artists, scholars, and explorers. Anne was contemporary to Spanish uber -Queen Isabella of Castille, Italian aristocrats Catherine Sforza , Isabella d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia and two generations behind Elizabeth I of England herself. Indeed, Anne was a strong competitor. She left back a legacy of ideal queenship, as one of France’s successful female rulers.
For the record, the manuscript still survives in the Dobree Museum, Nantes, France.