As their recurrence in different epochs and cultures shows, archetypal images exercise a powerful influence on imaginative and expressive modes. This essay addresses the problem, encountered by feminist critics and artists, of how to deal with 'positive' female archetypal images, of which
Matelda (Purgatory XXVIII–XXXIII) is an expression. The analysis of the development of this image and of its interaction with an often contrasting social reality is expressive of the tensions and aspirations at play within a nation's culture. As the longevity of these images resides in their dynamism, women artists, rather than dispensing with them, may find it a more fruitful strategy to transform them by giving them new meanings.