An Interpretation Activity

Assessing Women's Past Through Art



Task: Examine the picture presented below, then answer these questions:

1. What is happening in the image?  ____________________________________________________

2. What civilization might it come from? ____________________________________________________

3. Approximately what time period was it made? ____________________________________________________

4. What snipet of information can be deduced about the role of women in the society from which it comes? ___________


#1  Stone Carving

Woman making thread using a hand spindle. Stone relief from Susa (8th-7th century B.C.) This ancient tool is used to make thread. Material such as cotton, wool, or flax is pulled from a distaff onto the top of the spindle. The spindle is sent twirling downward, pulled down by the weight on the end called the whorl. Thread is made by the twisting, downward thrust of the spindle. The boy beside her may be her son, holding his writing instrument and book.

#2 Images Found on a Vase

Women engaged in various household tasks drawn on a Greek vase from the classical period. The women are folding cloth, carrying either wool or food stuffs, weaving, and spinning thread using a distaff and spindle. Women's domestic work was essential to the household economy, even in Athens when, during in the period of the development of Greek "democratic" institutions, they were mainly confined to their homes.

#3 Drawing on Wall of Royal Tomb

Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.) fresco of musical performance on wall of a 7th century tomb of a high ranking official. Scattered all over the Central Plain in Shaanxi Province, the art found in these tombs show the high achievements of Chinese culture in this period. The kneeling performers are playing the windpipe, lute, harp and zither (a popular instrument of women). Behind, four servants wait on them. Lively Tang tomb fresco figures show women on horseback, dancing, playing in the garden, in long procession as servants to their mistresses. They illustrate the relative freedom of women in the Tang period. The presence of female musicians also reflects the refined, cosmopolitan life of the upper class life in this era.

#4 Miniature Painting in a Book Commissioned by the Court

Princess presenting a garland to a prince in the imperial Mughal court of Shah Jahan, 17th century India. (Muchal or Mogul period - 1526 - 19th century India). This shows the betrothal of a prince and princess commisioned by Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal. This image of Muslim royal women reflects the active, public role many took during the Mughal period.

#5 Drawing on Wall of a Tomb

Painting of girls playing games on an ancient Egyptian tomb wall.  It is one of many that show women in active roles. Women in ancient Egypt led relataively unrestricted lives and had high status.

#6 Contemporary Etching of an Historic Event

Drawing done at the time illustrating the Parisian market women's march on Versailles in 1789.  Louis XVI held his court at Versailles. In a moment of anger over the shortages of bread, the women set out from Paris to take their problems directly to the king. The result was the "capture" of the king, queen, and their son, the Dauphin, and their forced return to Paris. This was a pivotal event in the early days of the French Revolution.

#7 Illustration in a Book

Women defending castle with bow and crossbow. This illumination of medieval women is from the manuscript De nobilitatibus, sapientiis, et prudentiis regum by Walter de Milemete, England, 1326-1327. In medieval Europe, women often were called upon to defend family property when men were away.

#8 Magazine Cover

This cover from a British suffragette magazine portrays the fighter for women's vote as Joan of Arc with the press and evils of "indecency" allied against them. The suffragettes were a militant arm of the suffrage movement. "Deeds" not Words" became their motto; their sometimes violent agitation resulted in vigorous opposition to their cause. One effective way they got their message across was the use of illustrated pamphlets, postcards, posters, badges and cartoons. Many forwarded the their concept of women as a source of purity whose participation in government could help clean up the corruption and dirty politics they associated with male participation.

# 9 Drawings Showing Work of Farmers in Different Seasons

Part of a series of drawings made of the work of Inca farmers. The artist was a Peruvian of Indian-Spanish blood who sent these drawings in the 1580s to the King of Spain as part of a treatise on Inca life. Both Spanish and Quechuan words appear in the pictures. The drawings illustrate various roles of women. The first is a symbolic ceremony when the Inca emperor and noblemen turn over the first earth in a sacred field. Three women bow to them. The empress offers corn beer. The second shows a man punching holes into which women scatters corn seeds. The Incas believed female planters ensured successful crops. The last is harvest time. Men cut the stalks; women carry bundles to be stacked to dry. The laborious task of turning corn into tortillas was women's work.

#10 Propaganda Poster

Soviet propaganda poster showing the part played by women in the rebuilding of Leningrad, which had been destroyed by the fierce fighting that raged around it during WWII. Propaganda posters aimed at women appeared in all the participating countries in the war.. They either exhorted women to take on jobs to help the war effort, or conserve food and fuel, or stand by the men who had to fight. Domestic scenes featuring women and children also were used as symbols for what the country were fighting to protect.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum