Queen Brunhilde still wears her crown as a horse drags her through the streets by her hair in Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio’s early 1400s manuscript “Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women.” She looks young there, though the Frankish queen, who led a kingdom and its military, was 80 when her enemies executed her in 613 A.D. She tells her own story in Boccaccio’s book, sharing the ways that she was wronged. But the narrator — Boccaccio — continually interjects to remind her that her devious femininity and power hunger actually ruined her until, eventually, she’s contrite.
Often, Boccaccio’s manuscripts are commended as some of the earliest deep looks at strong historical women. The women are powerful, but the exhibition “Outcasts,” at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, points out the prejudices inherent in his approach. The queen “fell victim to the misogyny of later medieval authors who cast her as the archetypal ‘nasty woman,’” reads the exhibition label about Boccaccio’s manuscript, paralleling Brunhilde’s treatment with insults hurled at Hillary Clinton.