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.


Eyes:
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.


Ears:
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.


Mouth:
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.


Breast:
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.


Waist:
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.


Feet:
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


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