Domestic Shebas: A Response to Ann Rosalind Jones, “Needle, Scepter, Sovereignty”
Early Modern Culture, No. 3 (2003)
In “Needle, Scepter, Sovereignty: the Queen of Sheba in Englishwomen’s Amateur Needlework,” Ann Rosalind Jones surveys Englishwomen’s representations of the Queen of Sheba in needlework to argue that through them, women celebrated female power, even equating it with the supreme male power embodied in King Solomon. Against modern and early modern understandings of needlework as a medium of female passivity, Jones’ reading of these Shebas in needlework offers a compelling example of the broader phenomenon that Stallybrass and Jones trace in Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, when they find that “even as a woman bent over her sewing appeared to be fulfilling the requirement of obedient domesticity, she could be materializing a counter-memory for herself, registering her links to other women and to the larger world of culture and politics.” By depicting the Queen of Sheba, needlewomen did exactly both: by forging links with an iconic woman, they stitched themselves into a “counter-memory” of female power.