Objects of Museo Nacional de Cerámica y Artes Suntuarias “González Martí”

Room of illustrious personages

Gender and history

Gender roles

The terms used to designate the room of illustrious personages allude to ambiguity of gender. However, all of the personages depicted are male figures. This highlights the absence of celebrated Valencian women over centuries of history. Although some stood out in various facets and obtained public recognition, their merits have been rendered silent by history. There are various women who are worthy of this place: Isabel de Villena (1430–1490), the first known female Valencian writer; Jerónima Gales, an important 16th-century printer who headed major publishing projects; and Margarita and Dorotea de Juanes, who painted admirably in the same style as their father. During the 17th and 18th centuries, women burst into public spaces, but in the 19th century they were pushed back into private areas. Few devoted themselves to intellectual activities, but they served as a model for those who would begin moving towards emancipation following the revolution of ‘68.

Kitchen panel

General division of labour

Public/Domestic dichotomies

This kitchen scene alludes to the roles performed by men and women in an 18th-century lower-class family. The clear opposition between these tasks demonstrates that women were excluded from intellectual and leisure activities, as well as those associated with the outside world. The traditional situation of women kept them shut away in the home, limiting their functions to the domestic sphere and their social life to religious events. Enlightenment reformism brought positive change for women, although this was restricted to the upper classes. Even so, during this period, women played an important role in the country’s economy, doing agricultural work and working in the textile industry, craft workshops, shops and domestic service. The tasks performed by the men in this panel present the image of provider of food and support for the family.

Fumoir (smoking room)

Gender and social class

Gender stereotypes: public / domestic

In the 19th century, the residences of the aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie would often contain a fumoir, a room exclusively for male use. Its origins are linked to British style clubs, a space where men would meet to smoke, talk business, play or relax.

This division between the male and female spheres was a reflection of society. Women were legally dependent on a guardian and did not have access to the same education as men, as their joining the working world was a question of need or preparation for their role as wife.

Spring; Autum

Gender and social class

Gender and space

Gender stereotypes: desiring subject / desired object

These canvases by Emilio Sala decorated a celebrated Valencian café, El León de Oro. Like other fin-de-siècle establishments, it was also a focus of intellectual life. There, men, owners of the public space, would discuss political scandals, cultural activities glorifying the bourgeois, business opportunities and women. All of this was carried out under the gaze of the scantily clad allegories, who also adorned the streets and squares of a city growing at a feverish pace. Among these decorations, painted and sculptural, protectors of industry, banks and communications would soon proliferate. The modern heiresses to the ancient Virtues and Muses were devoted to supporting economic order, with no change in clothing or gestural language. And so the shift of female allegorical representations to advertising images brought few surprises. Even today, any of the delicate women in Sala’s public spaces could be used in advertisements to sell products.

Beauty Wounded by Cupid. The Tale of the Goats.

Gender and body

Gender and sexuality

Gender stereotypes: subject of history / allegory

These two canvases provide an example of how women were depicted at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. The work of Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench represented a formal change within his milieu, although its content reflects common models in the plastic arts of the period. The female figure is depicted lying horizontally, recreating a position repeated throughout the history of art. It was used to represent allegories such as love, art and truth itself. Since the 1980s, from a feminist perspective, this same image has been associated with the concept of sexual object and with a reductionist conception of women’s capabilities, summed up as their reproductive function. In this case, the point of inflection is virginity, the loss of innocence, which characterizes the shepherdess and which Beauty wounded by Cupid has just lost.

José Brel y Giralt, Genius, Glory and Love

Gender roles

Gender stereotypes: genius / muse

Gender stereotypes: subject / object

The work Genius, Glory and Love conveys a very clear message: thanks to love, personified here by the women who provide inspiration for poets, (male) artistic and poetic genius achieves glory, inscribing its name and work in the history books. The scene demonstrates the assignment of clearly established gender roles, with the woman as muse and the man as genius. This constitutes a gender stereotype based on a binary opposition which is often repeated in the history of art. But a feminist art history critic has undertaken a reconstruction of these myths, firstly, rescuing female artists from oblivion, and secondly, proposing a new way to write the art history which has traditionally been based on heteropatriarchal models.

Engagement ceremony plate

Gender and life cycle: marriage

Even today, it is common for many families to assemble a trousseau for their daughters. But what did this trousseau mean in the 19th century, when a woman’s role was limited to reproduction and motherhood? The trousseau was part of the dowry which the woman brought to the marriage in order to contribute to their shared responsibilities. The dowry was provided by the parents or family members of the bride and (depending on the social class) was made up of linens, the future wife’s clothing, furniture and/or property. It was an important strategy when it came to marrying off a woman and a symbol of social status. Once they were married, the husband was responsible for managing these assets, but their owner was still the wife. In the event the marriage was dissolved or the woman was widowed, the dowry was returned to her. Therefore, the dowry had a special meaning, with marriage being one of the only ‘decent’ paths which a woman could follow in life, together with the convent.

Serving dish

Gender and education

This patterned china serving dish, produced by La Amistad factory in Cartagena, features a decorative motif taken from a print by José Severini based on an illustration by Alfredo Perea for The Women’s Bible by Abdón de Paz (1867). Unlike most images of women associated with patterned china from Cartagena, this scene shows three women engaged in an intellectual pursuit: reading a book with a landscape in the background. Paz’s work sought to defend women, their rights and their emancipation, attempting to dismantle existing male prejudices around them. However, this defence is based on an essentialist view of the genders. In other words, it attributes ‘natural’ and innate traits to both men and women. The work is also written from an androcentric position, that is, from a male point of view and experience.

Powder Room

Gender and space

The luxury powder room of the Palacio de Dos Aguas, which houses the Museo Nacional de Cerámica, is located on the main floor, between the porcelain room and the antechamber. Formerly it could be accessed solely through the porcelain room. From the medieval chamber to the powder room and boudoir, women have been assigned a space within the domestic sphere. While the medieval chamber could be either public or private, the powder room was an area of retreat and isolation that served different functions: social, where women could receive close friends; personal care; study and work. The narration and representation of 19th-century powder rooms tended to focus on the activities of washing, beauty, and even eroticism and licentiousness, generally disregarding the other functions.


Gender and space

The ballroom of the Palacio de Dos Aguas, which houses the Museo Nacional de Cerámica, is located on the main floor and is the most socially representative room of the palace. Society balls were hosted here, a function of great social relevance in the 19th century. Privately-hosted society balls were governed by a series of social norms that attributed specific roles to men and women. These norms are explained in various urban manuals published in Spain throughout the 19th century, reflecting the ideals of the bourgeoisie. Behind this set of norms lie the ideas around which gender identity was constructed in this specific socio-historical context.

Ceramic Bowl with Drinking Figure

Gender and history

Gender and the body

Gender stereotypes

This ceramic bowl with drinking figure is one of the most significant pieces of the MNCV collection. The Moorish piece from Al-Ándalus was produced in the region of Valencia in the 11th century. The decorative figure is of particular relevance, as human representations are infrequent in Muslim art.

The figure painted on this delicate vessel has frequently been described as a youth, or prince, automatically assuming a male identity, yet a closer analysis of the anatomy, stance and clothing is not sufficient to determine the gender of the figure.

Documented history of some women in Al-Ándalus palace society allows us to suggest alternatives to the traditional interpretation that has been made of this piece. These new readings do not claim to be more truthful than traditional interpretations, but rather aim to enhance visibility of the participation of women in the history of our cultures.