The Female Body Politic: Re-modelling The Book of the City of Ladies

Penelope Haralambidou

MA HCT & PhD Debates: History in Translation. Marina Lathouri and Guest Speakers

Thursday 13 February | 4:00pm | 32 Bedford Square (First Floor Back)

The paper will present my practice/drawing-led research, which focuses on two works by French late medieval author Christine de Pizan: The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405; and The Book of the Body Politic, c.1404-07.
Conflating the act of writing a book – a thesis against institutional misogyny – with the construction of an imaginary city, the first work, The Book of the City of Ladies, has been seen as a proto-feminist manifesto. Although widely studied in terms of its literary significance, I focus on the under-researched architectural and urban allegory depicted in the text, which imagines a Utopia inhabited solely by women and constructed for them by a woman (de Pizan herself), as well as its accompanying illuminations (miniature illustrations) displaying three different stages of the foundation and physical construction of the city. Inspired by Aristotle’s Politics and revisiting the ancient Greek metaphor, by which a state or society and its institutions are conceived of as a biological human body, in the second work, The Book of the Body Politic, de Pizan offers her version of a medieval political theory, which I attempt to connect with her allegorical city.

Image: Photograph by Andy Keate


Penelope Haralambidou (2016). ‘With-drawing Room on Vellum: The Persistent Vanishing of the Architectural Drawing Surface’. In Allen, L., Pearson L. (Eds.). Drawing Futures: Speculations for Contemporary Art and Architecture (pp.82–89). London UCL Press

Sandra L. Hindman. ‘With Ink and Mortar. Christine de Pizan’s Cite des Dames’. In: Feminist Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 457-483

Earl Jeffrey Richards. ‘Where are the men in Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies. Architectural and Allegorical Structures in Christine de Pizan’s Livre de la Cite des Dames.

Biography: Penelope Haralambidou is Associate Professor and Director of Communications at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. She coordinates MArch PG24, where she promotes a highly innovative research-based teaching methodology that uses digital film and immersive environments to re-think architectural design through time. Her research employs architectural drawing, model-making and digital film as investigatory tools to analyse ideas and work, not only in architecture, but also visual representation, the politics of vision, art and cinema. Her work has been exhibited internationally, she is the author of the monograph Marcel Duchamp and the Architecture of Desire (London: Routledge, 2013), and she has contributed writing on themes, such as architectural representation, allegory, figural theory, stereoscopy and film to a wide range of publications. Her solo show, ‘City of Ladies’, presenting her practice-led research of Christine de Pizan’s proto- feminist text The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405, was hosted by DomoBaal gallery in January–February 2020.