Women's Roles, Viewed Through Art

Queen, martyr, mother, wife: explore women's roles throughout history in the collections of the Museum of Huesca.

Museo de Huesca

Museo de Huesca

Figure of a Woman (100 - 300) by UnknownMuseo de Huesca

Queen, martyr, mother, wife: women's roles throughout history have varied greatly. Although often overshadowed by men, they have played a decisive role in the course of history.

This exhibition at the Museum of Huesca, based on its own religious and secular collections, was held to mark International Women's Day in 2014.

The Annunciation (1515 - 1519) by Maestro de SijenaMuseo de Huesca

Entrusted with a Divine Mission

Mary, mother of Jesus, is a venerated figure in the Catholic faith. She is the embodiment of spiritual purity, from the immaculate conception, to the virgin birth, to her relationship with her son.

Mary's greatest accomplishment was in her role as the mother of Jesus: she raised the son of God and witnessed the journey of his life. The Virgin Mary is one of the main figures in Catholicism. She is at the center of the faith and is an object of devotion, embodied in the founding of institutions, churches, and chapels, as well as being the subject of prayers and festivals.

Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist (c. 1600) by Neapolitan schoolMuseo de Huesca


Looking after children has traditionally been women's main role: raising and caring for children, as well as educating and watching over them throughout their lives.

The idea of women as mothers has been enshrined as central to their role since prehistoric times: female images and fertility idols have been present throughout history. In Christianity, the figure of Jesus's mother is central, and a recurring theme in paintings, sculptures, and reliefs.

The Visitation (1515 - 1519) by Maestro de SijenaMuseo de Huesca


Women were eternal companions—known for their loyalty and devotion, not just as wives but also as friends, followers, and disciples.

The Visitation by the Master of Sigena shows Mary greeting her relative, Elizabeth, following the Annunciation.

This encounter is a recurring theme in Christian iconography. During the Annunciation, the angel told Mary that her cousin—who was infertile—had become pregnant in old age, with God's help. The miraculous nature of this event was all the more significant, given that Elizabeth's son was John the Baptist: prophet, and Jesus's baptizer and forerunner.

Saint Mary Magdalene (c. 1475 - 1490) by Martín Bernat and Miguel JiménezMuseo de Huesca

St. Mary Magdalene: apostle to the apostles.

Notwithstanding the beliefs regarding her past as a prostitute, or a supposed relationship with her teacher, Mary Magdalene became one of Jesus' most faithful followers.

She was the only woman to share Jesus's teachings alongside the disciples, and was also chosen to witness his resurrection.

Saint Quiteria (c. 1475 - 1490) by Martín Bernat and Miguel JiménezMuseo de Huesca


Female saints and martyrs feature heavily in Christian art and iconography. Women who practiced the Christian faith were persecuted and martyred as a result. Some were from noble families, while others were from more humble backgrounds, mystics, and even founders of religious orders. They are depicted with the paraphernalia of their martyrdom and appear as devotional images.

St. Quiteria was persecuted along with her eight sisters, having been disowned by their Roman parents and raised by Christians.

Saint Lucia (1600 - 1633) by Vicente CarduchoMuseo de Huesca

St. Lucy was also accused of being a Christian. Her martyrdom—in which her eyes were gouged out, but she was miraculously able to see—led to her becoming an object of worship.

Saint Teresa of Jesus (1665) by Vicente BerdusánMuseo de Huesca

St. Teresa: mystic, writer, and founder of the Carmelites.

María Luisa de Parma (Portrait of a Princess) (1765) by UnknownMuseo de Huesca


Women have also had an indisputable role in royalty; not just as consorts, but also as queens.

The wife of King Charles IV of Spain, Queen María Luisa of Parma, was an intriguing figure in her day. She was married in 1765, became queen consort in 1788, and went on to have several children with her husband.

María Luisa was known for having made enemies of much of the royal court, in particular as a result of her relationship with the prime minister, Manuel de Godoy. He became a powerful political figure because of his influence over the queen and, as a consequence, over the king.

Cleopatra (1600 - 1699) by UnknownMuseo de Huesca

Enigmatic and intelligent, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was known for her power and her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. She took political decisions to avoid conflict between Egypt and Rome, marking the end of Egypt's last Hellenistic period. As a historical figure, she has inspired countless artistic and literary works.

There can be no doubt that she is one of the most fascinating women in history.

Paula Melzi de Eril (c. 1770 - 1775) by Francisco Bayeu y SubíasMuseo de Huesca


The 18th century was the golden age of the nobility in Spain.

Paula Melzi de Eril was the very epitome of a noblewoman: cultured, elegant, and extremely beautiful. Originally from Italy, she was known as the Sun of Milan.

She married Juan Felipe de Rebolledo Palafox, Marquess of Lazán, and was María Luisa of Parma's lady-in-waiting.

Minerva and Sertorius (1768) by Juan Andrés MerkleinMuseo de Huesca


In Roman mythology, goddesses had the same power and significance as gods. Just like the gods, goddesses had children with mortals, disagreements with their equals, and specific attributes of their own.

Minerva, Venus, and Juno were Roman goddesses with great power and influence in classical culture.

Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, the arts, and warfare. Merklein's painting is an allegory in which the goddess is showing the plans for the University of Huesca to General Sertorius, who founded a school in the city to teach Greek and Roman writing to the children of his allies.

Portrait of Conchita Monrás (1934) by Ramón Acín AquiluéMuseo de Huesca

Artist's Muse

Wife and muse: for many artists, their wives became their inspiration, object of devotion, and confidante.

Salvador Dalí and his wife, Gala, epitomized this type of relationship. They were married in 1929, and remained together until she died. Dalí said, "She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife." The numerous portraits that Dalí painted throughout their relationship were the result of the strong, lifelong bond between the artist and his wife.

The muse in the Museum of Huesca is Concha Monrás, wife of the Huescan artist, Ramón Acín. She was good-natured, cultured, and intelligent.

They built a family together, but their lives were cut short with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in which they were both shot for their anarchist beliefs. Concha was not just his wife, but his companion, muse, and source of inspiration.

Credits: Story

Museum of Huesca, Government of Aragon.

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