Hildegard of Bingen : a Self Portrait

Self portrait by Hildegard of Bingen, detail, Scrivias f., 1r, 1142 - 1152

‘Self portrait’ by Hildegard of Bingen, detail, Scrivias f., 1r, 1142 – 1152

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) an influential and creative Benedictine abbess from the Rhineland lived at the time of the building of Chartres Cathedral, the evolution of the University of Paris and in the lifetimes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Thomas a Becket, Fredrick Barbarossa and Bernard of Clairvaux has been an influence on my artwork –  the self portrait and portrait. Hildergard has been described as a poet, artist, musician, scientist, administrator and visionary. In her life time she challenged civic and religious leaders through her writing.

This self portrait could also be seen as part democratisation of an artform , the selfie of its era.

While Hildegard may not have painted this self portrait illumination herself its contents and concept were hers and she would have directed its execution. It shows flames of inspiration arising around her head as she writes watched by her secretary and monk, Volmar. A private instant of conversion “in the process of” self expression freeing her from writer’s block, doubt, subservience and illness due to cultural constrictions. Society thought that women like Hildegard exceptional but at the same time the profession they pursued was deemed masculine.

Flame imagery was associated with Pentecost (Holy Spirit) so in this way Hildegard privatised an emblem that had been reserved for imagery of the apostles. Women’s social functions were subordinated to, or defined by their sexual capacities as someones wife, mother or daughter. (Portraits let alone self portraits were generally reserved for rulers, aristocracy and church dignitaries in a feudal society where they were depicted on coinage, sculpture or etched in stone on cathedral architecture.)

Christian representations of women in the Middle Ages were focused on the opposition of Eve and Mary, seducer and saint. Images of creative women (below) from Antiquity however were acceptable as examples of exceptional persons but distinct from the experiences of everyday women.

Hildergard’s images of self expression and the depiction of the process and technique of producing the image seemed unusual in an era when “doing your own thing” was centuries away.

Self portrait "Thamar" from Boccaccio's De Claris Mulierbus  1355 - 59.

Self portrait “Thamar” from Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulierbus 1355 – 59.

Anonymous, Thamyris Painting, early 15th century manuscript.

Anonymous, Thamyris Painting, early 15th century manuscript.

These images showing women as persons aware of their self identity at that time were truly revolutionary and inspiring.


Fox, Matthew, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen. Santa Fe, Bear & Company, 1981

Parker, Rozsika & Pollock, Griselda, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology. New York, Harper Collins, 1981

Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art and Society. London, Thames & Hudson, 1990

Etching and Collage about Sea Erosion

Sea Erosion Theme

This continuing theme expressed through etching and collage will replace the gouache and mixed media artwork about the topic on my Home Page. I wonder sometimes if the medium of etching, intaglio, drypoint on rice paper, handmade and printmaking paper seems a more urgent direct, stark way to represent this subject in comparison with oil and gouache painting where the element of colour tends to dominate. With colour taking a secondary place strong tonal contrast becomes the main game.

All these images are single, unique one off pieces of artwork. They are not part of an edition of prints. I enjoy playing with one etched plate and then combine the print with different media such as collage of hand made paper, chine-colle on rice paper, ink wash, pen and pencil drawing and also staples.

These artworks are part of a series titled Return to Sand and Water. 

Sketch and Underpainting stage for Untitled Commission

Preliminary studies of Point Roadknight

This commissioned painting in its very early stages started out as a seascape depiction of erosion at Point Roadknight but something in me had become dissatisfied and I felt like a change of subject matter. I turned the canvas on its side into vertical position and imagined how I could retain aspects of the original subject and combine it with an emergent figurative shape that seemed to float as a ghostly indistinct form. The idea figures merging into and out of landforms such as those in Begin with Sand, Silt and Water seems suitable now only instead of those done with the Golden Spike in the Flinders Ranges I would depict aspects of Point Roadknight.

These sketches are the preliminary studies done several months ago before I began this commission where I have been given free rein.