Anton Woensam: The Wise Woman (1525)

(Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Cologne, Germany)

An engraving by the German artist Anton Woensam (1493–1541). This print is an allegory about which character traits a woman should have in within a marriage. The 16th century was a period of social upheaval (especially with the upcoming of the protestant faith) and there are a lot of engravings against moral decline and how men and women should behave. The woman depicted here is composed of several objects, each of which has a special meaning which is described in the German text:

At the top:
Look at this figure, which signifies
a wise woman; any woman who does as
she instructs, protects her honor well.

I see as keenly as the hawk
And discern the honest from the false.
I guard myself both day and night
From one who against my honor plots.

I shall not be discouraged
From opening my ears
So that they can hear God’s word,
Which keeps the pious on their guard.

Right Hand:
I will despise pride
And behold myself in the mirror of Christ,
Through whom God has redeemed us.

Every hour, day and night,
I wear a golden lock upon my lips
So that they say no harmful words
Or wound another’s honor.

Like the turtle dove,
I have a steadfast heart,
Faithful to him who will be my husband.
No fault of his will break my loyalty.

My waist is girded with serpents,
As should that of every honest woman
Who wants protection from the poison of scandal,
From evil love, and shameful play.

Left hand:
I shall serve the aged freely
And thereby gain eternal life.
No other thing that I can do
Will bring this end about.

I shall go about on horses’ hoofs
And be steadfast in honor.
And not fall into sin,
Which, while sweet at first, turns bitter as gall.

At the bottom:
Any woman who has such traits
Will maintain her honor undiminished.
And surely earn from God above
An eternal kingdom in heaven.

In short, a wise woman should be: know the difference between right and wrong, be humble, does not gossip, is faithful, performs good deeds and 'is steadfast in her honor'. Engraving from 1525