Theses Doctoral

Contested Sites of Feminine Agency: Ivory Grooming Implements in Late Medieval Europe

Le Pouésard, Emma Marie

This dissertation contends with the diverse corpus of Gothic ivory grooming implements carved in France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Employing feminist, queer, posthumanist, and ecocritical methodologies, it explores these objects as tools in gender and identity formation. Attending to the complexity of medieval attitudes to grooming and women and to the polysemy of these objects’ iconographies, this dissertation argues for the inherent ambiguity of the bodies that constitute and were constituted by these tools. It participates in a broader project of revealing the inherent ambiguity of medieval gender and its deep enmeshment with the nonhuman animal world by presenting ivory beauty implements as nexuses of excess and resistance to feminine ideals.

Calling attention to the body of the elephant as the source of the grooming tools’ materiality, its analysis demonstrates how the subjugation of the nonhuman animal reverberates through objects created to give order to human animal bodies, in particular the bestial female body. The material, iconographical, functional, and textual strands wound together in ivory grooming tools reveal the women of flesh and ivory to be far more multilayered and subversive, resourceful and complex, than scholarship has hitherto recognized. At once tools of subjugation and instruments to assert agency, in the hands of their users, ivory grooming tools become sites of identity expression and self-transformation.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Klein, Holger Alexander
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 1, 2023