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The Secret Histories of Chastity Belts
Myth and Reality
(23rd July - 24th October 2010)


Concept of exhibition: Benedek Varga
Curator: Benedek Varga
Visual Design: HeonlabGraphical design: Heonlab
Conservation-restoration: va Cspny, Edit Jank, rpd Nostczius, Judit Torma
Copy artworks: Lszl Nemes-Takcs, Pter Schramk, Zoltan Szeker
Organisation and administration: Anita Nagy, Krisztina Scheffer
English version: Orsolya Kapintnffy
Latin translations: Gbor Bolonyai, Lszl Andrs Magyar
Lighting technique: Zoltn Vass


Introduction

In popular opinion, the use of chastity belts dates back to the time of the Crusades and its aim was to enforce and ensure womanly fidelity.

The concept is false. It is actually based on an 18th century myth, which not only survived until the end of the 20th century both in scientific literature and the literature of popular science, but the collections of major and minor museums also made efforts to provide some relevant data.

The real history of chastity belts is a series of the history of mentality, the history of sexuality, the history of medicine, and the museology of the past 500 years, full of distortion, falsification and flashbacks. It is much more about the modern age or, more exactly, how the modern age, from the century of the Enlightenment on, wanted to observe the culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Our exhibition demonstrates to the visitors the attempt to project this invented medieval object with the support of fake museum pieces.


The Myth

According to myth, the use of chastity belts was introduced within the framework of the culture of medieval chivalry, so that the knights leaving for battles, pilgrimages or Crusades could be sure of their wives' fidelity, since the unrestricted desire of women seemed untameable.
It is, however, enough to have a glimpse at any of the metal chastity belts, and the observer will immediately become doubtful. How can these rough, hard objects be worn on the groin without causing deep and gradually more and more infected cuticular wounds within a few days, vaginal or anal infections, serious sepsis, and eventually death?
And why cannot even an allusion to chastity belts be found in the rich literature of 14th-16th century erotic satire, that is, in the writings of Boccaccio, Chaucer, Bardello or, for example, Rabelais? Could it be possible in a literary stream whose explicit intention is to mockingly or sometimes cheerfully describe the exuberant sexuality, deceitfulness and jealousy of everyday people?


The Interpretation of the Objects

The information we have on the objects of earlier ages always comes from three different traditions: the textual and the visual traditions, and the tradition itself related to the objects.

Although the textual tradition, or the narrative, as it is commonly called today, mostly examines the formation, appearance and use of a phrase (or idea), the earlier existence of a term doesn't necessarily indicate that it had the same meaning as it has today. That is to say that a word or phrase could be used by another culture in a completely different meaning.

The interpretation of the visual tradition can also be done partly with the help of contemporary texts about the object, and partly with the help of the system of symbols of contemporary visual motifs, which is similar to language, as well as through the meaning of the representation changing over times.

In the case of the material tradition, defining the age is just as vital as in the other two traditions, and here important guidelines are also provided by the physical examination of the object's material and of the way it was created. However, in order to understand how the object was used, we can turn to data partly from the textual and partly from the visual tradition. At the same time, because of the slow nature of the changes in the biological characteristics of human beings, we can also figure out how an object was used on the basis of our direct experiences.

Thus, in an unusual way, we provide an overview of all three traditions, so that an accurate picture can be made of the myth of chastity belts.


Textual Tradition I.

The Name

Chastity belt, Florentine belt, Venetian belt, Girdle of Venus

The term appears in the vulgar languages of Europe in the 15th-16th centuries. In all the languages its content refers to virtuousness, virginity, maidenliness, chastity, virginal innocence, expressed by different words, which demonstrate the aura of specific linguistic communities, as well as the cultural relationships between certain nations.

ceinture de chastet (French) [virtuousness, chastity]
Cintura di castita (Italian) [virtuousness, chastity]
Cinturn de castidad (Spanish) [virtuousness, chastity]
chastity belt, girdle of chastity (English) [morals]
Keuschheitsgrtel (German) [purity, innocence]
Kuisheidsgordel (Dutch) [purity, innocence]
Kyskhedsbalte (Danish) [purity, innocence]
Kyskhetsblte (Swedish) [purity, innocence]
Ps cudnosti (Czech) [purity, innocence]
Pas cnoty (Polish) [righteousness]
Deviki pas (Slovenian) [chastity, purity]

At the same time, by the 15th century, the Latin term [cingulum castitatis] had become a theological concept, known for almost 1000 years, and used extensively in prayers and commentaries. Its meaning, however, had nothing to do with the sexual object, but it was used figuratively, as a metaphor, to represent moral purity, cleanliness and chastity.


Bodily Abstinence, Purity

Gregory the Great (c. 540-604):
"Now what is meant by >a cord<, but sin?  As Solomon says, >His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.< And because fleshly gratification has its dominion in the 'reins,' the strict Judge of the conscience, Who looseth the belt of kings, girdeth their reins with a cord, that, when the girdle of chastity is undone, then the gratification of sin should have dominion over their members, so that those whom pride pollutes in secret, He may shew even publicly to be as abominable as they are." Gregory the Great: Moralia In Job 11.13) (translated by John Henry Parker. London, 1844)

Alcuin (735-804):
"Divest me of my past sins, protect me from presently imminent ones, fortify me against future ones. Provide me with due abstinence from food and drink, a chastity belt, purity of heart and lips, grant me patience, forbearance, good will, modesty, spiritual joy and total contempt of the world." (On the Use of the Psalms, 8)


St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
"They went out with torches, having their loins girded up, and holding burning lamps in their hands, in order that both the chastity belt around their body should be fastened and the light of the example of their action should shine to the use of their neighbours and to the glory of the Father." (On the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Sermon 710)

Nicolaus Gorranus: (1232-1295)
"Because you have been promised such a mighty grace that you will see Him whom only the Angels are now allowed to see, when you are girdled against the excess of lewdness by a chastity belt not only in your bodily loins, which is the source of lewdness, but also in your spiritual loins, in order to unburden your minds from superfluous pleasure."


Chastity

In the period of early Renaissance, we can find the term >cingulum castitatis<, or chastity belt used in a similar sense. At the same time, the Renaissance interpretation goes back to elements of Greek and Roman mythology. This also explains the origin of the tem >belt of Venus< or >girdle of Venus<:

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
"And that is why they called Iuno Cynthia after Cinthia (which is a name of the moon), thinking that it was she who untied the brides' girdle of chastity before they united with men, a task which -whatever they say- in my view belongs to Venus, who was, according to Albericus, said to follow Juno Domiduca ("leading the bride home") in the wedding ceremony. For it was Junos office to begin the marriage ceremony, but it was Venus's office to unite bridegroom and bride in love, and untie the girdle of virginity, which they (sc. the ancients) attribute to Venus, and call "kestos" ("charming girdle"). And Juno was called "Matron", because she presides over only those women who are mature (matura) for men and suitable for conception; such women can be called matrons even if they do not marry, as they could be mothers (mater) because of their age."   (Genealogy of the Gentile Gods)

It is clear that the term >chastity belt< was used in the 6th-14th centuries in a figurative sense, as a symbol to refer to the purity of the body and later of the soul, to cleanliness and chastity, and >untying the chastity belt< meant losing purity. All faithfulness meant was faithfulness to the Lord and his commands.

The fact that Boccaccio used the term >cingulum castitatis< in his Latin text (and also interpreted it in a particular way), sheds even more specific light on the other fact that he didn't use it at all in his collection of short stories written in the Tuscan language, The Decameron. All this suggests that in the middle of the 14th century, for a well-travelled and frivolous author, also a humanist, the chastity belt as the device to enforce the fidelity of the wives and as a special object to lock away the female lap didn't exist.


Textual Tradition II.

The Stories


Until the 12th century, there are no textual memories related to chastity belts at all (not even any allusions without actually using the term) where the reference is not in a theological or mythological context. [fidelity]Marie de France was a famous 12th century poetess, representing the mature lyrics of the Middle Ages. Although we know her poetry, the figure of the reclusive author, which was a typical characteristic of the age, is surrounded by speculation. She offered her ballads, written in Norman French, to the English king, Henry II. They include the story of the knight Guigemar, where the lovers, having lost their hopes, seal their faithfulness with clothes shielding their groins.

Guigemar is the son of Oridial, and vassal of Hoel, king of Britanny. Love is unknown to him, but while chasing a doe on a hunting expedition, his arrow turns back and wounds him. The doe curses him that his blood will flow right until he is healed by love. Guigemar starts wandering and happens to reach a faraway island, where an old king lives with his young wife. Guigemar becomes enamoured of the queen, who heals him and eventually they fall in love. Later, when their relationship comes to light and before they part, they exchange love tokens: the queen ties a knot in his shirt that only she can untie, while the knight ties a tight girdle around her loins that only he knows how to untie. Thus they could only become lovers with others if they cut their clothes. Lovesick Guigemar sails away, but the queen follows him. While trying to find him, she is taken captive by Lord Meriaduc. Guigemar defeats the lord in a duel, sets the queen free and the lovers happily unite.

"Friend, that I may be sure of this,
let me take your tunic and plait in it a fold
below the lappet in such wise that if any
woman can undo it, or know how to take
out the fold, her you may love with my
consent."

He gave it to her, with assurances of his
faith; and she made the plait in such
manner that no woman could undo it,
unless she used force or knife.

And when she returned the tunic, he
took it upon the covenant that he might
also be assured of her by means of a girdle.
Whoso could open the buckle thereof,
without breaking it or injuring it, him might
she well love. Thereupon he kissed her, and with that was content.

(translated by Edith Rickert, 1901)


In Marie de France's text, the chastity belt, although still used in a symbolic sense to confirm fidelity, also appears as a real object. Although these tokens of their fidelity can be opened with force, as is emphasised by the poet, they can only be untied by the lovers.

Le Voir Dit (c. 1362-5) by Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377), poet, musician and composer has a similar story, where again knotted shirts cover the loins of the lovers. At the same time, in chivalric poetry, the symbol of chastity belts proving/ensuring fidelity didn't become widespread. [ridiculousness]Pierre de Bourdaille abb de Brantme (c. 1540-1614)Pierre de Bourdaille, soldier, courtier and also abbot lived in the middle of the 1560s in the court of the last Valois kings and Catherine de Medici. His writings were only published after his death, in 1665-1666, from his manuscripts. The series of his memoirs appeared in four consecutive collective editions in the 19th century. In his memoirs, Brantme gives an account of the rather loose sexual morals of the 16th century French court, most of the time with cheerful understanding. He tells a short story about a merchant from Florence who was selling chastity belts in Paris. We are informed that although a few jealous husbands bought his special goods, one of their wives immediately found the weak point of the uncomfortable device, and had a duplicate key made by a locksmith. The locksmith didn't miss the chance to also cuckold the husband, and as soon as the story spread, all the husbands got rid of the devices which could be used for the wrong purpose, and expelled the merchant from the town. The irony of the story is obvious. Although here chastity belts already appear as real objects that have actually been produced, their idea seemed absurd to the author as well, and it was just this ridiculousness that he based his story on. After Brantme's diary entries, nobody in the French literature mentions chastity belts for almost 150 years(!). At the end of the century, in the writings of Tallemant des Raux (1619-1692), and then Madame de Svign (1626-1696), we can find them again in the stories about the eternal triangles of charming women, disarming seducers and jealous husbands, as the symbol of being ridiculous.


Satire

Voltaire: Le Cadenas (The Padlock) 1724

Voltaire dedicated a whole poem, Le Cadenas (The Padlock) to the idea of chastity belts.

Pluto, the wealthy god hated by everybody reigns in the underworld with his wife, Proserpina. His wife often and justifiably cuckolds him, as Pluto is a mean and jealous god. So Pluto summons his council made up exclusively of men who had been cuckolded by their wives before getting to the underworld. One of his counsellors, a man from Florence, suggests to Pluto that all women should be killed. However, as pointed out by the others, Proserpina is an immortal goddess, and so the inventive Florentine gives another piece of advice:

A padlock, therefore, I'd invent,
Which should such accidents prevent;
She must be virtuous, of course,
When under the restraint of force;
Not to be come at by her elf,
You're sure to have her to yourself;

The Padlock
Trans. by William F. Fleming. New York, 1901.



Je voudrais donc, pour votre suret,
Qu'un cadenas, de structure nouvelle,
Fut le garant de sa fidlit.
A la vertu par la force asservie,
Lors vos plaisirs borneront son envie;
Plus ne sera d'amant favoris.

Could, however, the padlock be a reliable device? According to Voltaire, if someone has already won a woman's heart, all the obstacles will be removed from his path. The real guarantee is love itself and not mechanic structures. Voltaire's story is also characterised by a tone of irony: it makes the person trusting chastity belts and his surroundings (the underworld) ridiculous, while the other figures (previously cuckolded men) show the absurdity of the concept of the device.


Textual Tradition III.

Encyclopaedias

Several of the encyclopaedias and lexicons published from the 18th century on have >chastity belt< among their entries. The purpose of the encyclopaedias is to summarise the basic elements of the knowledge generated about the past and the present and introduce them in a system that is easy to follow and handle. Of course, the encyclopaedias themselves also shaped the knowledge - defining the meaning of words and assessing different phenomena brought along not only an ideal summary of science, but was also an interpretation, a statement and an effort to check the meaning of words.
Several significant authors of the Enlightenment reflected on the culture of the Middle Ages with suspicion, distrust and refusal. The "dark ages", as opposed to the century of light were for many the equivalent of the cruelty of raw violence, irrationality, meaningless religious trance and oppression.
Not just the assessments condemning the Middle Ages were produced one after the other, but, if needed, myths as well, including that of chastity belts. They were no longer used as a theological or literary symbol, and instead the image that we still have was created: a chastity belt is a device forcing the wives' fidelity and the symbol of barbarism and the oppression of women.


Pseudo-scientificity

The Universal-Lexikon of Johann Zedler (1732-1763) was the first to include the term >cingulum pudicitiae< as an entry, but, typically, it didn't include the German word Keuschheitsgrtel, which was later commonly spread and used. Zedler, however, reflected upon his subject with sober criticism, which does him some credit.
"It is a belt that was fastened on to unfaithful wives in order to prevent them from lying with other men. It is very doubtful, however, whether the belt can provide complete safety, because women can easily elude it by changing their posture."

Johann Heinrich Zedler: Grosses vollstaendiges Universal Lexikon Aller Wissenschaften und Kuenste Vol 6 (Halle-Leipzig: 1732-63)

The encyclopaedia of Diderot and D'Alambert, which is of major significance for the Enlightenment, however, gives up the critical approach and mentions widespread use:
"It was a custom among the Greek and the Romans that the husband untied his wife's girdle on the wedding night. ... In modern times it is presented by the jealous husband to her wife after the wedding night. This infamous instrument that hurts the female gender is said to have been invented in Italy, but this rumour is perhaps just calumny, for what is certain is that Italy is not the only country where it was used."
Encyclopdie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonn des Sciences, des Arts et des Mtiers (1751)

A few decades later, the Oekonomische Enzyclopaedie of Johann Georg Krnitz also gives up critical examination saying that chastity belts originated from Italy at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries and from Spain in the Middle Ages. At the same time, the work of Krnitz provides an extensive picture of the use of chastity belts from Mongolia to Arabia to Africa. His anthropological approach also opened the way for the literature of anthropological sexology of later times. Up until now, the interpretation of the concept of medieval chastity belts has been one of the favourite topics of this latter.
"In Italy a certain padlock of chastity is used, with which they think they can safeguard the women's chastity."
Johann Georg Krnitz Oekonomische Enzyclopaedie, oder allgemeines System der Land=, Haus= und Staatswirschaft, in alphabetischer Ordnung (Berlin, 1786)


Visual Tradition I.

The first authentic depiction of chastity belts can be found in Konrad Kyeser's Bellifortis, a codex from 1405, belonging to the library of the University of Gttingen. Kyeser's work is about weapons, catapults, armours and devices for interrogation, so the chastity belt is in an astonishing environment.

The author added the following comment to the drawing:
These are hard iron breeches of Florentine women which are closed at the front.
Est florentinarum hoc bracile dominarum. Ferreum et durum ab antea sic reseratum.

Because it is a codex of military science, we might think that the belt was to be used either against rape or as a torture device, or even already in the modern way. Kyeser, however, inserted the following comment before the parts introducing the chastity belt (and other objects):

Padlocks unto the four-legged creatures, breeches unto the women of Florence, A joke binds this lovely series together, I recommend them to the noble and obedient youth.
Clausuras quadrupedum bracile florentinarumJocus ligat seriem perpulchram congeriemHec trado juvenibus nobilibus morigeratis.

Therefore, we see irony again. And the unrefined and sketchy depiction of the belt suggests that Kyeser or his drawing artist actually didn't really see such belts. Although Bellifortis is the earliest representation of chastity belts, the ironic voice of the author implies that even if the device did exist in 1405, it was certainly not widespread.


Visual Tradition II.

From the 16th century on we can see a type of iconography in representing chastity belts where a naked woman is standing wearing a chastity belt, between an older man in rather poor clothes and a wealthily clad younger man. The haversack of the older man is full of money, and the woman is rummaging in it, while the young man is holding a key in his left hand and his right hand is in the woman's hand perhaps giving something to her or taking something.

This is the text of the poem belonging to the engraving:

The Old man:
I give you money and treasures,
if you do as I wish,
my purse is yours with all my wealth,
if I can open your padlock.

The young woman:
What is a padlock for a woman?
Will she stay true when she is on fire?
For your money I'd by a key
more precious than treasures.

The young guy:
Here's the padlock's key
used for so many conquests.
You must be a big fool
to pay for this woman.

There are two interpretations of this picture in contemporary art history. In one version, the woman is a prostitute accepting money from the client, who is given the key in exchange. The old man is the woman's procurer, that is why he is dressed so poorly, and the woman puts the money into his haversack. This suggests that the purpose of the chastity belt is to guarantee that the price is paid.
The text of the poem contradicts this. The poem implies that the woman has two suitors: a wealthy but apparently mean old man and a wealthily clad young man. The padlock/chastity belt is the symbol of the woman's lap, while the key represents the virility of the young man.

The text makes it difficult to unequivocally interpret the representation within the context of the three figures of prostitute-procurer-client. However, considering the gesture of the old man (he is pushing the woman away), it can't be excluded that this is what the engraving in fact depicts, and the poem is simply an ironical juxtaposition to the picture.

If this is not the case, then what we have here is, again a symbol, where, on the basis of the poem, the chastity belt is not an object ensuring actual fidelity, but refers to the female lap and the emerging desire of the woman.


Visual Tradition III.

Another engraving refers explicitly to prostitution. Here the woman, with her clothes on but her blouse open is standing next to an old man and rummaging in his bag full of money. The engraving is attributed to Hans Sebald Beham (1545-1600), a renowned German minor master from the 16th century.
The woman's belt in the picture is not a chastity belt, but an accessory alluding to her profession, so here we can obviously see a prostitute and her client. This suggests that wearing a belt may be a symbol of prostitution.


Another type of iconography has a similar meaning. Here the woman wearing the chastity belt is lying on a broad four-poster bed, relying on her right hand, and is giving a key to a wealthily dressed man. A man and a woman with a key in her hand are peeping from behind the bed, while a maid) in the foreground is emptying the content of a scarf into a basket. Next to the bed, a cat is looking at a mouse running past.
Although we can't see the action itself when the money is handed over, it is obvious that the man here is already a client: the way the prostitute is depicted on the engraving is typical of the age, and the woman in the background is the procuress, while the other finely dressed man raising his hand excitedly is the next client.


Objects I.

Chastity Belts dated to the Middle Ages

Forgeries

The chastity belts dated to the Middle Ages appeared from the middle of the 19th century in the most significant and then also in the minor museums of Europe.

The most significant collection of medieval culture, the Muse de Cluny in Paris (Muse National du Moyan ge) exhibited a chastity belt dated to the 12th century and another one dated to the 16th century. The Doge's Palace in Venice presented a chastity belt made at the order of Francesco da Carrara, the last sovereign lord of Padua, but some pieces from the 15th-16th centuries also appeared in the collections and exhibitions of the British Museum and the Science Museum in London, the Nordiske Museet in Stockholm, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, as well as several smaller institutions.

With this, the object, whose textual tradition by this time, the second part of the 19th century, had become widely known, turned into tangible reality. And, at the same time, the reason for using it was also finalised: to ensure the wife's fidelity.

The piece dated to the earliest time is the chastity belt of the Muse de Cluny, dated to the age of the Crusades. It is an unsuitable device because of the way it was produced and because of its form, as it obviously doesn't prevent penetration. And, as our textual and visual sources show, this type didn't exist later either.

The other exhibit of the collection of Paris was considered to be the chastity belt of Catherine de Medici for a long time. At the same time, it is odd that the Muse de Cluny, according to its catalogue, bought it from a certain M. Mrime. It is suspicious, as it was Prosper Mrime, the famous romantic writer of short stories and dramas, who in 1858 started the publication of Brantme's writings, mentioned earlier, in eleven volumes. Did maybe he himself sell the belt to the museum? Or did the idea of a joke occur to him while publishing the text? Anyway, the Muse de Cluny had considered both belts authentic right until the 1990s, and it was only then that they noted in their records that the objects are probably forgeries. The earlier practice of the museum was strange, as in the case of other types of objects (weapons, locks) the technical development of metalwork could easily be followed already in the 19th century. Thus, with a simple microscopic material examination, the century of the production could have been established from the forging technique of any metal object.

The type of the piece from the British Museum is similar to the belt related to Catherine de Medici. Basically this is the form that we can see in most collections. The belt was dated to the 16th century, and it was an exhibit from the 1840s. In 1996 two researchers proved that the object was made in the 1840s and was an obvious forgery. The museum took the piece out of the exhibition and corrected the date in the catalogue.

The Science Museum in London is still having on display (among early contraceptive devices) three richly ornamented chastity belts dated to the 16th century, although they express their doubts as well in the captions.


Cruelty

The piece attributed to the prince of Padua, Francesco de Carrara II, has a very special place among the objects. The structure of the belt is fundamentally different from that of the pieces found in French, German or English collections. The copy of this type could be seen in the Semmelweis Museum of the History of Medicine and in also several other foreign collections.

The thickness of the metal and the structure of the belt make it really impossible to be used for a longer period, unless it was meant to be a torture device. At the same time, this is the only piece that can be traced, at least from 1548, when it was included in the catalogue of the Armoury of the Doge's Palace in Venice. It has been exhibited up till now as an original object (Armeria, Sala 4. Invent. No. 388), thus deserving special attention.

The problem arises from the life and activities of the lord of Padua. Francesco II, "Il Novello", as he was distinguished from his father, "Il Vecchio", was the third lord of independent Padua descending from the house of Carrara. From the end of the 1380s, Padua (together with Florence and Venice) was fighting an endless battle with Gian Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Milan, who, despite his protesting neighbours, wanted to establish a unified Italian kingdom. He managed to take Padua and make Francesco's father captive. However, our man, the younger Francesco in 1393 recaptured his inheritance, heading Bavarian forces, but when Gian Galeazzo died in 1402, Il Novello wanted to use the political hiatus left after him to completely force Venice, the major power of the region, out of the mainland. It was a hasty decision. By 1405 Franceso had lost the war against the Serenissima Respublica and was taken to Venice into captivity. After several futile attempts to free him, he was strangled in his cell, together with his son. And two weeks later Venice issued a golden bull declaring Padua to be its mainland province. The authority of Venice was maintained until 1797.

None of the contemporary chroniclers mentions Francesco's secret torture chamber, the torture devices developed by him, or the chastity belt that was kept in the Doge's Palace and which has been mentioned in the catalogue since the 16th century. Although Francesco was far from being the perfect gentleman, from contemporary sources he doesn't seem to have been a pervert or a sadist, and treated his wife with respect.

Neither is the chastity belt in question included in the registry taken of his movables when he was captured in 1405. However, from the end of the 16th century, there are several reports (by travellers, diplomats etc.) on the devices in Francesco's torture chamber that were seen in the Doge's Palace. The chastity belt is also mentioned, and is either thought to have been made for his wife, or for his numerous lovers. And from the 17th century on, historical writings have remembered Il Novello as a tyrant and a pervert.

The background is obvious: it was embarrassing for Venice, even after 150 years, that it simply had a sovereign ruler and his children strangled, because it needed the mainland town in order to be able to ensure its Terra Ferma. That is why it turned to the reliable means of a denigration campaign. If Francesco was a sadistic, perverted and tyrannical ruler, then the rule of the free republic, the Serenissima Respublica, over Padua can be morally justified, and both the town and Italy benefited from the Venetian authority.

In the middle of the 16th century, (as seen above), the first representations of chastity belts already appear, suggesting that it could not be a problem to actually make the belts. As for the way it was used - whether to ensure fidelity or as a torture device - the 16th-17th century resources are contradicting. At the same time, they found their way into the historical writings as pieces not from the end of the 16th, but from the beginning of the 15th century.

Even if, however, we considered the object original, the existence of just one piece (of uncertain use) couldn't prove that chastity belts were commonly used devices from the end of the 15th century.
Between 1995 and 2000, most European museums, except for the collection in Venice, withdrew the chastity belts from their exhibitions or mention in their catalogues the uncertain provenience.


Objects II.

19th Century Chastity Belts

The widespread, if not mass, use of chastity belts can be witnessed in the 19th century. The material of the belts was improved, their structure was refined, metalworking became more sophisticated, and the belts put on only for a few hours didn't cause injuries any more.

These belts are bought by women in England and France, often after being seen in fashion journals, with the purpose of avoiding rape. We shouldn't forget that, as a result of the 19th century industrialisation, broad masses of women start work, getting into an environment of unrefined and often violent men, either as factory or as office workers.

In the United States and in Scotland, patent applications of chastity belts are submitted one after the other, with a detailed justification and a comprehensive description of how to use them. The patents and the advertisements published in medical journals suggest that at this time chastity belts also become popular as a means to ensure fidelity. So the 18th century concept attributed to the Middle Ages becomes practice in the 19th century.

Another target group also appears: the adolescent girls and boys of the middle classes, whose nocturnal masturbation is to be prevented by the chastity belts.

According to the bourgeois moral hypocrisy of the 19th century, masturbation could lead to illnesses of the body and the soul, so many people felt justified to fight against it in any possible way.


The Real Story

Chastity belts weren't created in the Middle Ages, weren't used at all until the 16th century and could only rarely be found until the 19th century.

The idea of chastity belts appeared originally as a symbol, first in the language of medieval theology, and then, from the 16th century on, in satirical literature and works of art. By the middle of the 18th century, the myth of the medieval chastity belt was established, where chastity belts served as tokens of marital fidelity. The 19th century used it against rape and in order to prevent adolescents from masturbation, but at this time it also appears as a means of enforcing fidelity.

And the museums and public collections of Europe didn't hesitate to verify the myth about the existence and general use of medieval chastity belts by exhibiting fake pieces.

The practice of forgery also raises the following question: To what extent can visitors trust the material in the historical exhibitions of even the most respected museums?

Museums, as we can see it in our example, are sometimes not only places to preserve, present and interpret the past, but occasionally also to construct an imaginary history.


Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) Livre du Voir-Dit (ca 1365)

Adont la belle m'acola

Then the fair lady hugged me...
So she reached a little key
Of gold made by a master-hand, And said: "This key carry,
Friend, and keep it safe,
For this is the key to my treasure.
I make you lord of it henceforth,
And above all you shall be master of it,
And therefore I love it more than my right eye:
For it is my honour, it is my wealth,
It is what I can be generous with.

Albrecht Classen:
padlock and key: explicitly refer to female and male genitalia




 
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