One of the first to give voice to the autonomous virtues of women was the French poetess and historiographer Christine de Pisan (c. 1363–c. 1430). In her Livre de la cité des dames (c. 1404; Book of the city of the ladies) Pisan developed a comprehensive categorization of women's positions and functions as found in the society of her time. Others, like the Dutch writer Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam (1466?–1536), the Spanish humanist and philosopher Juan Luis Vives (1492–1540), and the German writer and philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), had laid the foundation for humanism's more progressed vision of women's role in society and culture.
The growing appreciation of the necessity to redefine female social roles coexisted with such phenomena as male dominance, misogyny, and the witch hunt. In Renaissance and Baroque visual arts, mostly made by men, female figures appear less often than depictions of men, irrespective of whether they are the central figures or not. In addition to their outnumbering presentations, males are mostly depicted in dominant and central positions.
Since the Middle Ages demonology had been chiefly associated with femininity. The identification of women as more prone to witchcraft than men was based on traditional misogynist beliefs of what was perceived as basic female nature. Trials of witchcraft promoted discussions of gender issues and influenced the visual arts. In Renaissance graphic art, especially in northern Europe, female sorcery was a popular theme, as can be seen in engravings and woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) and Hans Baldung Grien (1484–1545). In these works naked or partly nude, unsightly sorceresses are depicted in a variety of allegedly supernatural acts.
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