Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Pope Joan

signature image

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography

Pope Joan
Legendary, reputedly flourished circa 850, Rome

According to legend, a woman named Joan (Johanna), disguised as a man, gained favor with the Vatican by virtue of her extraordinary knowledge of scripture. She was elected pope in the 850s and served for about two years before her sex was unmasked when she gave birth to a son. In some versions of the story, she dies in childbirth; in others, she is stoned to death by an angry mob. The story of Pope Joan had wide currency in the later Middle Ages. While appealing, its historicity is credibly contested and the story likely had its origin either in satire or as a cautionary tale.

Related Place Setting


Related Heritage Floor Entries

Abella of Salerno
Ageltrude Benevento
Bertha of Sulzbach
Stephanie De Montaneis

Francesca of Salerno
Bettisia Gozzadini
Sarah of St. Gilles
Theodora the Senatrix

Primary Sources

Boccaccio, Giovanni. De mulieribus claris. c.1360. Translated by Virginia Brown as Famous Women. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Translations, Editions, and Secondary Sources

Boureau, Alain. The Myth of Pope Joan. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.