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"Enamelled with the blood of a noble lineage": tracing noble blood and female holiness in early modern Neapolitan convents and their architecture (1).

The stark antithesis between the secular and the religious has been effectively challenged by scholarship of early modern Italy, which has shown the degree to which these fields necessarily overlapped. Nevertheless, studies of early modern female devotion, especially within convents, often present women as caught between competing claims of kinship and clerical authority, a conflict between family and convent, an opposition between the secular and the divine. (2) This paper argues that within Neapolitan conventual circles, at least, nuns' noble blood was regarded as enhancing the spiritual value of their convents, and that, on the whole, the way in which the Decrees of the Council of Trent were interpreted served to "aristocratize" convents. Something of a fusion occurred between nobility and spirituality in women. This paper relates this fusion to discourses on nobility and to the aristocratization of convent culture after enclosure at Trent, examining how it marked post-Tridentine Neapolitan convent architecture and urbanism. In short, I argue that nuns' nobility enhanced the spiritual value of Neapolitan convents after Trent, and that such status was communicated discursively, architecturally, and urbanistically.

Many female convents in seventeenth-century Italy were dominated by nuns from aristocratic, powerful, and rich families, as has been well established. (3) The assumption that has sometimes followed from this fact, that their enclosure was the result of a cynical sacrifice of religious ideals to meet the demands of family lineage, adopts insufficiently critically the viewpoint of contemporary ecclesiastical prescription and is perhaps only half the story. (4) Recently, Daniel Bornstein has insisted that conventualization did not represent powerlessness for women. Rejecting what he sees as the received wisdom, "which holds that women were pawns manipulated by men in the sociopolitical game of marriage alliances, and that those who were too ugly or too expensive to marry off were dumped in whatever convent would take them," Bornstein offers instead his vision of women as able to exercise vigorously "the one form of authority they enjoyed: sacred charisma." (5) Nuns enclosure, therefore, should not be viewed in stark opposition to a chance to exercise authority in an external "real world"; their spirituality could endow them with social authority.

The muddying of the waters by Bornstein and others has been very useful. But his notion of women as "consumers of the sacred," even as possessing "sacred charisma," as exemplary consecrated virgins, perhaps does not go far enough. (6) The relationship between female spirituality and high birth was long-standing and significant. That women of high birth were more likely to be accepted as candidates for beatification and canonization than their counterparts of inferior social rank has been convincingly demonstrated. (7) However, while noble birth and good social connections were almost indispensable for recruiting the sponsorship necessary for the processes of sanctification, they were usually incidental, not intrinsic, to the actual performance of female sanctity. (8) Indeed, female sanctity often assumed the form of self-abasement, social humiliation, and the repudiation of worldly privilege. (9) Such actions could be threatening to the social order, including ecclesiastical hierarchies; and the processes of beatification and sanctification were intensely policed. (10)

It is my contention here that conventional conventual spiritual holiness was understood, at least within aristocratic religious institutions in Naples, in very different terms. It was regarded as necessarily enhanced by upper-class blood. In other words, upper-class women actually enhanced sacredness, even produced it, because of, and not despite, their noble blood. This, in turn, impacted on the architecture and urbanism of aristocratic convents and, consequently, on the entire city, as convents projected their nobility architecturally and urbanistically.

In this paper I shall focus on Naples, the most populous city in Italy (second only to Paris in Europe), but largely neglected by historians and art historians. (11) It is now well established that the fortunes of female convents in Naples were intimately entwined with those of the city's rich and powerful families. I am not concerned here with the many (instrumental) ways in which extra-conventual politics swayed abbesses and nuns in the governance of their institutions, or with familial exploitation of convents, whether to maintain undivided patrimonies or to take advantage economically or politically of conventual coffers and the social connections they afforded. Such relationships certainly benefited both convents and their families in social, economic, and material terms; convent buildings, especially their churches, were beautified as a result of aristocratic bequests and donations for art patronage. (12) The worship of God was accordingly indirectly enhanced by conventual connections with rich and powerful patrons. Instead, my concern in this paper is both to investigate the ways in which nobility of blood was regarded as directly enhancing female spiritual value and to consider how this was articulated by convents architecturally.

This article seeks to explain the articulation of holiness-nobility by conventual architecture in relation to the social, political, and spiritual dynamics of the seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century city of Naples. It examines the conventual discourse on the relationship between nobility of blood and spiritual value--itself a crucial motor in allowing the slippages between holiness and nobility that conventual finances, dowries, and status permitted and exploited. I explore how the close relationship between spiritual and noble values is represented architecturally and seek to relate it to long-standing debates about the nature of nobility itself. I end by suggesting that these observations may require refinements to the sweeping narratives of both nobility and piety proposed by recent scholars and that the emphasis on noble holiness should be seen as part of the "aristocratization" of conventual life after Trent.


In the Kingdom of Naples the aristocratic order assumed a somewhat curious, even contradictory, shape. (13) There were various sorts of nobility, depending on title, feudal powers (which varied in degree), and membership of a Seggio (aristocratic assembly and administrative districts) within the city. The titled nobility constituted a recognized hierarchy (princes, dukes, marquises, counts) and enjoyed jurisdictional powers over feudal lands. But while genealogists readily acclaimed the illustriousness of many noble families, it was clear that the elite "signori titolati del regno" were concentrated in about ten ancient noble families, inter-related by marriage. (14) The most important noble families enjoyed both membership of a Seggio within the city and exercised feudal rights in the Kingdom.

Neapolitan town government was based on the Seggi, dominated by the nobility. An administrative structure, developed under the Angevins, the Seggi functioned as administrative, judicial, and social machines, such that government was, in effect, largely in the hands of a narrow oligarchy. Five Seggi represented the nobility, while the people were represented by only one, the Seggio del Popolo established in 1495. City government was in the hands of a college of seven Eletti (Elect), one for each of the six Piazze, with two representatives from the Montagna with one vote between them; the Eletto of the People's Piazza was selected from a group of candidates by the viceroy. (15) Of the Seggi, the two most important, with the highest concentration of aristocratic families, were those of Capuana and Nido, while those of Porto, Montagna, and Portanova had considerably less social standing and political influence. (16)

The aristocratic Seggi played a key role both in the definition of nobility and in the government of the city; and they were the principal mediators in the relationship between the religious institutions and the city. Membership of the Seggi meant unequivocal recognition as a noble and the possibility of participation in city government, but it was restricted to aristocrats resident in Naples, and, by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, new rules made it very difficult for new families to join. (17)

The Spanish Crown and the Viceregal Court nurtured the rise of non-nobles to the ministerial machinery of the Court bureaucracies. But meanwhile the indispensable centrality of nobility to Neapolitan society was reaffirmed. In spite of being shot through with divisions and inequalities, during the sixteenth century the Neapolitan aristocracy reasserted its social and political significance and exclusivity. (18) From the mid sixteenth century the aristocracy closed their ranks, making it very difficult for new families to gain entry.

The mid-sixteenth-century policy of "serrata" and of oligarchic closure effected by the Neapolitan patriciate exacerbated tensions within the noble class, which remained strong throughout the early modern period. There were many who were neither citizens nor members of a Seggio, including hundreds of noble families of greater and lesser importance (known for this reason as "fuori Seggio"), amongst them recent arrivals from the province, those recently ennobled, and about half to two-thirds of the non-noble population (including well-to-do merchants and the numerous urban poor). The feudal nobility, moreover, prevailed in the General Parliaments of the Kingdom, and after these ceased to be called after 1642, feudal grandees increased their pressure to be accepted into the Seggi, which assumed the principal functions of the Parliaments. (19) In order to resist the pressure, particularly of the new nobility and the professional and merchant classes, which represented most of the ascendant social energy in the city (at Court), the noble Piazzas requested and obtained agreement from Philip II that no new members could be admitted to the Piazzas without royal license and the full agreement of all the nobles of the Seggio in question. This suited both the citizen nobles, who retained their exclusive edge on power, and the Crown, which was the major beneficiary of the continuing discord between the noble groups. (20) In 1595 C. Vitignano described Naples as having "two orders of nobility, one, the noble families of the Seggi, and the other, noble families which do not enjoy the Seggi." (21) And, as Novi Chavarria has observed, these tensions included their struggle over the control of ecclesiastical spaces. (22)

Crucially, it was the Seggi that elected the committees in charge of the administration of buildings, streets, and fountains. And the Seggi participated in the recruitment of nuns. (23) Convents were consequently regulated directly by the Seggi, or indirectly by the Seggi's dominance over city affairs. Seggi could exercise direct financial and administrative control over female convents. Thus during the 1560s, the nobles of the Seggio of Montagna secured control over the convents of S. Arcangelo a Bajano and S. Maria degli Angeli by assigning Vincenzo Sanfelice and Giovan Francesco Poderico, respectively, as financial managers. (24) Aristocratic influence in conventual organization and politics transformed their localized power into richer currencies--urban power and spiritual power.

Seggi were essentially territorial. Just as noble families built their palaces in the Seggi to which they belonged, so convents found themselves in the sway of the local Seggio. (25) Certain Seggi tended to dominate specific convents located in the districts they administered. The leading families of the Seggi of Capuana and Nido--the Minutolo, di Sangro, di Somma, Capece, Bozzuto, and some of the branches of the Brancaccio and Carafa families--preferred the convents of S. Patrizia and S. Gregorio Armeno for their daughters, for instance. In turn, convents referred to the Seggio from which their inmates were drawn to confirm their aristocratic and social standing. (26)

The Neapolitan baronage sought to safeguard the interests of both monasteries and their own Seggio and to bind the two institutions together through lavish conventual endowments. Typical in this regard is a stipulation attached to a bequest of 700 ducats to the monastery of S. Maria d'Agnone in 1543 made by Alfonso Caracciolo that "the Monastery may not take women to become nuns except for nobles of the [Seggi of] Capuana and Nido, that the abbess should be as closely related as possible to Caracciolo himself, and that nuns from the Caracciolo family should have their dowries reduced to only 100 ducats." (27) In this way, by exploiting his position in the Seggio, Caracciolo attempted to secure the future good-standing of unmarried kinswomen with minimum investment.

I turn now to show how the dynamics of the Seggi and their impact on concepts of nobility in Naples are crucial to understanding the relationship between blood nobility and female holiness. I shall first consider "virtuous nobility," before turning to consider "noble femininity and piety."


Oligarchic closure generated continuous tension and fed the debate over the relative importance of blood ("antiquita") and virtue ("splendore") in discussions of nobility. (28) The theme of virtuous nobility was articulated in Naples as early as the late fifteenth century. (29) Giovanni Muto has argued that while Cristofaro Landino's De nobilitate (Naples, 1480) emphasized nobles' leisure and the deeds of their ancestors, a century later Scipione Ammirato's Delle famiglie nobili napoletane (Naples, 1580) presents a much more disciplined nobility that adhered more closely to codes of noble behavior found elsewhere in Italy. Ammirato argues for both "antichita" (consisting of "many degrees" or many generations of nobility) and "splendore" (baronages, title, and dignities "in accord with our customs," which could include churchmen, such as popes, cardinals, and bishops). (30) In his Discorsi cavallereschi (Naples, 1573), G. Toralto implied that nobility was intrinsic rather than extrinsic, declaring that "Nobility is a disposition that principally is impressed on the mind." (31) During the last decades of the sixteenth century the debate on nobility received new emphasis as the "nobilta civile" claimed equal status with the blood nobility. In turn, this led to greater stress, not only on titles, dignities, and offices, but on all the social signs of honor by which the nobility distinguished themselves and were recognized (coats of arms, imprese, arms bearing, hunting, riding, duels). (32) In his Dell'origine e fundation de" Seggi di Napoli (Naples, 1644) Camillo Tutini distinguished between the Neapolitan people ("popolo") and the (anti-noble) plebians, claiming that the former had governed the city together with the nobility since 1495 (a system threatened by the anti-noble plebians). Indeed, the "popolo" could be regarded as "nobilissimo," since for him the true fount of nobility was virtue. (33) Tutini sets up something of an implicitly circular argument here in which the source of nobility is virtue, which in turn denotes the sharing of noble values held by nobles and rejected by their enemies. By contrast, as the feudal aristocracy encountered obstacles to their erstwhile hegemony, a new concern with legitimacy and purity of blood was spawned. Past blood legitimated present and future wealth and power, with the result that genealogists enjoyed a field day. Legal safeguards for patriarchy included tighter control on marriage and firm grips on inheritance (particularly through entail and primogeniture). The behaviors consequent of these strategies became the very definitions of aristocratic status. (34) In other words, nobility was a contested term, although one that always had positive meaning. Its definitions or applications varied on a spectrum, between "blood" and "behavioral" definitions.


Definitions of nobility therefore ranged between its dependency on antiquity of blood and titles, service and behavior. Such discourses concentrated overwhelmingly on the qualities (intrinsic or extrinsic) of males. For women the questions assumed rather different form. Descriptions of female nobility tend to emphasize (carefully regulated) female piety in particular, suggesting that feminine piety perhaps functioned as, or substituted for masculine "splendore." Female nobility was certainly regarded as enhanced by female piety. Thus in his encomium to the Duchess of Martina, Donna Aurelia Imperiali (1646-1735), wife of Petracone Caracciolo, Eighth Duke of Martina, the Jesuit writer P. Ignazio Maria Vittorelli approvingly describes her court as resembling "a cloister of fervent religious": "Its order ... was marvelous, marvelous was its silence.... [There occurred] there reading of devout books, wise and holy discussions, frequentation of pious exercises." (35) As noble virtue was given greater weight, so the virtuous female court was praised for resembling a convent. A full discussion of the relationship between concepts of piety and feminine nobility at court lies beyond the scope of this article, but initial indications like these suggest that female nobility was increasingly conceived in relation to female piety. (36) This connection was strengthened because conventualization was more socially acceptable for an aristocratic woman than to marry beneath her rank. We shall now consider the implications of this issue for the relationship between female nobility and piety.

The transmission of blood nobility was gendered; and this, too, meant that aristocratic pragmatics translated into a tendency to equate female conventualization with high social class. This occurred because gender crucially determined the transmission of social class. Women were the bearers of social status but did not possess it so as to be able to bestow it on others. If a noblewoman married a mere gentleman, an immediate loss of status ensued, as Giovan Battista de Luca warned in 1657: "the honorary status of the woman depends on the quality of her husband, so she is a sort of moon that receives all her light and splendour from the sun which is her husband." (37)

The usual form of social mobility was for women of newly rich families to marry up; very few daughters of high feudal families married men of the provincial nobility. (38) Such marriages provoked the sharpest criticism, and aristocratic families closed ranks to refuse new families entry to their most exclusive circles. (39) When Zevallos' scribe became a marquis, he was able to marry his daughters to representatives of the aristocracy, but his son Ferdinando "could not marry Neapolitan noblewomen and looked for a wife who was noble but foreign." (40) Although the Vaaz, a family of Portuguese speculators, managed to acquire the title of Count through the acquisition of numerous fiefs, they were barred from the sphere of the most prestigious feudal families. (41) Sixteenth-century treatises resisted cross-class marriage by warning prospective husbands of the risks of marrying a woman who was nobler or richer than they. Her social advantages, it was suggested, would encourage her to abrogate unrightful power to herself. (42) Thus the woman's role in the patrimonial politics of aristocratic families was increasingly marginalized. (43)

The loss of honor and status when an aristocratic woman married a man of lower birth meant that, except in unusual circumstances, families sought aristocratic husbands. But their escalating expense rendered cheaper conventual marriages ever more attractive. If no aristocratic husband was available for an aristocratic woman, then she was seen as making a better wife for Christ than for a non-nobleman in this world: "when noble women cannot, because of the poverty of their house, be married to a gentleman equal to them, they choose instead the path of spiritual marriage and become nuns." (44) During periods of economic hardship, more daughters became nuns. The years 1620 to 1660 were particularly tough, and in that period two of the three daughters of both Giovan Battista, Marquis of Brienza, and Carlo Caracciolo Sant'Eramo were placed in convents; while in subsequent years no women in the family became nuns. (45) Had more daughters married in this period, the high cost of husbands might have been disastrous for family finances. But female convents were not simply dumping grounds for unmarried nobles; they actively--visibly--protected the honor and social prestige of the nuns' families.

In short, female sexuality occupied a central role within the political economy of the aristocracy. The embodied past determined the future. The aristocratic political order occurred through and was guaranteed by the aristocratic female body, by its protection, cultivation, and preservation from the dangers of contact with others and, above all, by isolating it from others to retain the differential value of the class. (46) Thus the sex-gender system defined aristocratic class identity at its most vulnerable and, therefore, most ardently defended point. Once the needs of a family had been met in terms of patrilinear inheritance and marriage, stringent circumscription of female sexuality and reproductivity occurred, but in circumstances that enhanced the family's standing. Virgin daughters in convents thus both protected and represented the impregnable aristocratic body.


It is now well documented that nuns frequently maintained close contact with their families, even after profession. Aristocratic strategies for preserving their patrimonies through primogeniture and entail meant that convents ended up with considerable numbers of rich and aristocratic daughters in their keep. If there were personal costs in this situation, there were political, economic, and even spiritual compensations for convents. Not only were individual nuns aristocratic and often rich, but their dowries and familial bequests ensured that their convents were well endowed, too. The most significant result of the intertwining of economic, social, and political issues of high order with the fates of female convents was that those cool and sheltered spaces were necessarily hotly politicized, caught up in the restless intrigues of mundane politics, where even spirituality was defined in relation to nobility. That connection was sharpened by Trent.

Much of the reforming ethos of the Council of Trent sought to strengthen conventual discipline at the expense of familial ties, deliberately separating consecrated virgins from their blood families through careful regulation of bodies and buildings. (47) The most important decree in this regard was the renewal of the Bull Periculoso (1298) of Boniface VIII, which required bishops to reinstate the strict enclosure of nuns (absolute prohibition against their leaving the convent, except in case of emergency) wherever it had been violate ("ubi violata fuerit') and to preserve it wherever it was inviolate ("ubi inviolata est, conservari maxime procurent"). (48) But while ecclesiastical prescription urged sharp distinctions between spiritual life and blood ties, convents themselves remained economically and politically dependent on powerful noble connections, while ambitious noble families sought to maximize their influence over rich and socially significant convents. Three principal interest groups, often competing, always overlapping, therefore emerge: family, convent, and ecclesiastical authorities. The intimate relationship between noble family interests and conventual interests has often been regarded by modern historians, as it was represented by early modern ecclesiastical authorities, as a tension. (49) However, this well-worn story has tended to render inaudible another argument. Clearly articulated, particularly by proponents of the grand Neapolitan female convents, was the argument that nobility, far from compromising religious devotion, actually strengthened it.

Enclosure, which Trent insisted upon in December 1563, not only set religious women apart from lay people, but its requirements of physical separation were interpreted in such ways as to draw sharper social distinctions between different groups of female religious. Social segregation between convents was not new to the post-Tridentine period; some convents, such as S. Chiara in Naples, had enjoyed noble, even royal, associations since medieval times. (50) But because Tridentine regulations were interpreted overwhelmingly through the architectural expression of enclosure, convents required more money to implement new ecclesiastical requirements--thereby justifying expensive entrance fees, in the shape of conventual dowries. Those dowries effectively restricted acceptance by certain convents to the daughters of rich and well-connected families.

Whether formally articulated or simply understood through practice, convents were either grand and noble or more modest and non-aristocratic. Conventual dowry rates played a crucial role in this regard, since convents could insist on payment of their full rate to exclude potential monacands from socially undesirable backgrounds, or relax them to attract particularly fragrant young women. In Naples reputations for particular social exclusivity were nurtured at S. Andrea, the Sapienza, Regina Coeli, S. Gregorio Armeno, S. Maria Donnaregina, S. Chiara, S. Marcellino, and S. Patrizia. Ranked slightly below them were the Croce di Lucca, S. Maria Donnalbina, S. Maria del Divino Amore, and S. Geronimo. (51) This ranking broadly corresponds to dowry rates, especially before their stricter regulation in 1629.

Among the aristocratic convents, dowries of several thousand ducats were not unusual in Naples and elsewhere. Don Martino de Leyva gave more than 6,000 ducats to the Benedictine convent of S. Margherita in Monza for his daughter Mariannina (the famous "Monaca di Monza"). (52) In Naples no convent expected such towering riches. At S. Geronimo (Franciscan), Divino Amore (Dominican), S. Maria Donnalbina (Benedictine), the Consolazione (Franciscan), S. Croce di Lucca (Carmelite), and S. Maria Egiziaca (Augustinian), dowries were 1,000 ducats; at S. Maria Donnaregina (Franciscan), S. Marcellino (Benedictine), S. Gregorio Armeno (Benedictine), S. Potito (Benedictine), SS. Trinita (Franciscan), the Sapienza (Dominican), and S. Francesco delle Cappuccine (Capuchin) dowries were established at 1,500 ducats. (53) Local politics, not religious order, determined dowry rates.

In practice, conventual dowries, like marriage dowries, were established relationally. Sometimes money mattered more to a convent than a connection to a titled family; at others familial prestige allowed financial considerations to assume secondary importance. Families might pay over the odds to ensure acceptance of their daughters at particularly favored institutions. Thus the count of Piacento, Ottavio Ursino, paid 3,000 ducats in dowry for sister Maria Giovanna at the socially exclusive convent of S. Maria della Sapienza in 1603. Instead of the customary 1,000 ducats, Giovanna d'Aquino paid 1,500 ducats at S. Maria Donnalbina in 1644, and Virginia Caposcacco paid the same at S. Geronimo in 1658; at the Divino Amore Maddalena Montoya de Cardona paid 1,500 ducats in 1642, while Anna Brancaccio paid as much as 2,000 ducats a year later, as did Ottavia Villani in 1646. Dowries at S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi varied widely: Scolastica Muscettola paid a specially negotiated dowry of 1,000 ducats in 1605, while most nuns paid 2,000 ducats between about 1605 and 1621. At the Trinita, which accepted only noble girls, nuns from Naples paid the usual dowry, but girls from the Kingdom had to find 3,000 ducats (usually reduced to 2,000). (54) S. Francesco delle Cappuccinelle, eager for noble connections, made special provision for the Duke of Montecorice. His daughter, sister Maria Illuminata dalla Spirito Santo (formerly Angiola Giordano), was the convent's first noble nun in 1700. In 1712 another daughter followed. Both paid dowries of 1,500 ducats. In 1721 the convent not only accepted two more of his daughters, but kept their dowries artificially low at the same figure and accepted payment in installments from income from rents on houses because the Duke could not pay in cash. (55) Very occasionally, even the most aristocratic convents accepted a woman without a dowry. Thus sister Patrizia Maiorana (Virginia Maiorana, daughter of Carlo Maria Maiorana and Lucrezia Carafa), described as "poor" and "without dowry," was received at S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi in 1605. (56) Only rich convents could afford such risky strategies. Patrizia Maiorana lived to the ripe old age of 72-44 years at the expense of her sister nuns. (57)

Sometimes dowries were transferable. Monies were transferred, for instance, from Giulia Caracciolo to Isabella Acquaviva at the convent of S. Gregorio Armeno in Naples in 1628. (58) In June 1628 Signore Carlo Brancaccio, in charge of the bonds established for Giulia Caracciolo, promised to pay 105 ducats annually to the convent of S. Gregorio to cover the cost of food for Donna Isabella Acquaviva. In addition, he promised 1,500 ducats for her dowry, 400 ducats for the cost of her monacation, and a further 400 ducats for the expenses of profession. Another 50 ducats were to be paid to her annually throughout her life. "Other promises" were also made, presumably pledges of small sums of money. (59) The conventual system intertwined and made apparent the relations between blood, familial prestige, the dowry system, and social charisma.

Poorer women were, on the whole, excluded from convents by the dowry demands and, at best, could opt to be tertiaries (religious laywomen loosely affiliated to monastic orders) or enter a conservatory, a cheaper alternative that shared with convents the physical rigors of enclosure. (60) Since conservatories were cheaper than convents, they were also of lower social class. Poorer women could also become bizocche, of which there were in Naples as many as 750 in 1579. (61) These women, also known as "house nuns" or "pinzochere," lived in their own homes and wore religious habit. They had to be at least forty years old, live with relations of first or second degree, be acceptable to the Ordinary, and be able to support themselves. (62) In short, the dedication of a woman's life to God, even in its institutionally humblest form almost always required economic support from her family. When Trent insisted on enclosure and emphatically raised the status of enclosed convents above all other forms of religious institution, it effectively made female religious dedication within a convent not only stricter but more economically and socially exclusive.

Dowry rates were intimately connected to the processes of enclosure. The building costs of enclosure were met by and were often used to justify raising dowries. The relationship between the conventual dowry and a convent's social and urbanistic ambitions was close. Dowries routinely covered the costs of food and debts, paid for repair work and new buildings, and bought income-bearing property to the convent. In theory, a dowry was dedicated to the needs of the individual nun to whom it belonged; in practice, convents regarded dowries as useful sources of loans, and even when a girl left the convent, her dowry did not entirely revert to her family. Convents were advantaged in the dowry system in that when a nun died, the convent retained the capital and fruits of her dowry, whereas when a wife died in a marriage, her dowry was returned to its source. (63)

In these circumstances, conventual dowries were of stark significance to convents. They not only safeguarded the standard of living of well-to-do women within their walls, but were a vital source of income for the convent as a whole. Raising dowries was an established mechanism for improving conventual finances. An important impetus behind transforming a conservatory into a convent was the chance to charge higher dowries, as well as the concomitant higher social status of those attracted. When the conservatory of S. Monica became enclosed in 1646, for example, its dowry was raised first from 600 to 800 and then to 1,000 ducats. (64) In the 1730s that modest Augustinian convent received about 1,600 ducats annually from the founder's legacy and about the same sum from properties and rents. (65) Annual expenditure was a little over 854 ducats, leaving 525 for food, paid for by educande (boarders) and passeggianti (paying guests), and a surplus of about 1,270 ducats. But when S. Monica lost money from the failure of its bank while spending thousands of ducats on building a new church and extensive reparations to convent buildings, it was able to meet the shortfall by raising dowries again to 1,200 in ca.1741. (66)

Likewise the relationship between noble and powerful families and convents was solidified through the practice of educating young girls as boarders (educande) in the grandest convents. (67) During this time the family paid a fee to the convent and for the educanda's food (in advance, term by term). As with dowries, so the rates for educande varied from one convent to another. Archbishop Filomarino wanted the sum to be at least seventy ducats a year and four years of payments to be made on entry, but persistent practices ran directly counter to this. (68) A period as educanda guaranteed the chastity and respectable preparation for society marriage, as in the case of Isabella Pignatelli, who entered the convent of S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi as educanda in 1667, left in 1674 to return to her parents' house, followed by her marriage to Duke Pignatelli. (69)

Just as aristocratic women were separated from their lower-class counterparts in the outside world, so they were within convents. A strict hierarchy obtained inside convents, so that aristocratic privileges were not demeaned by being shared with women from more plebeian backgrounds. (70) Dowries created a two-tiered system within convents, with strong distinctions made between the choir nuns (coriste) of upper social class and lay sisters (converse) of lower social class. Choir nuns played a key role in running the convent, occupying significant positions within it, and voting on conventual policies and decisions. Lay sisters' pathways through conventual life were less circumscribed and less prestigious.

Spatial organization within convents reaffirmed hierarchical divisions. The nuns' choir was marked spatially, spiritually, and socially as the most significant part of the convent church. On entering a convent, a girl received explicit and implicit spatial rules, according to her social class. Lay sisters were kept subordinate to choir nuns by conventual regulations. The Constitutions of S. Andrea, for example, stipulate that literate girls would not readily be allowed in as lay sisters and, if they were accepted, they would not be permitted to sing Holy Office in the choir. (71) While lay sisters usually signed with a cross, almost all professed nuns were literate. (72) Choir nuns were even called "lady nuns," indicating that they lived like ladies and that their high social status was unblemished by taking the veil. Their cost of living was high and dowries had to meet that cost.

Attempts to systematize and moderate the conventual dowry system were never wholly successful. On November 16, 1629 the Sacra Congregazione dei Regolari addressed some of the most controversial aspects of the conventual dowry system in Naples, including the spiraling costs of conventual dowries and the exorbitant expenses associated with the rituals of monacation. It established a maximum of 1,500 ducats in normal circumstances and 2,500 for supernumeraries. (73) The revenue from such a sum, the letter acidly remarked, abundantly sufficed to maintain a nun. To avoid dowries being treated as simple payments guaranteeing entry to convents, it insisted that dowries should not be paid when a girl first entered a convent, but the monies should be deposited in cash, before entry, either in the Monte di Pieta or in a suitable public bank. Only after a nun's profession and with the license of the Vicar, could a nun's dowry be used by the convent, and only then could it be inventoried in its entirety as real estate. Spending dowries on conventual needs, including building, required the Vicar's permission, and even then the dowries of supernumerary nuns could not be so used. (74) A similar measure was designed to alleviate office holders, such as the portiere or refettoriere, from shouldering the burdensome costs of their offices (thereby effectively buying undue influence within their institution). Having forbidden this practice, the Sacra Congregazione coyly advises instead that the official may "do something for the Church, or for the good of the monastery." (75)

It has been suggested that the lavishness of Neapolitan conventual dowries served to compensate women for their loss of worldly pleasures. (76) That was certainly one of the effects of high dowries, but it was not their principal cause. There were many other ways in which families could ensure that daughters had access to the finer things of life (such as endowing them with a vitalizio, or showering them with luxurious gifts). The single most important cause of high conventual dowries was to keep convents socially pure. For the grandest convents the imposition of a set dowry had the advantage of ensuring that their inmates came from amongst the richest and most powerful families of the Kingdom. Good birth and rich girls enhanced a convent's prestige and attracted daughters from other distinguished families. Conventual dowries, justified in terms of enclosure, helped to pay for the public articulation of separation. The protection of noble honor was architecturally announced by the high walls, regulated apertures, and institutional respectability of enclosed convents (Figure 1).


Since becoming a nun was a gradual process, marked by the rituals of vestiture, profession, and consecration, a nun's relationship with her family shifted slowly over the years, while the family enjoyed plenty of opportunities to exploit ceremonies of transition to redefine and advertise their social significance, institutional connections, and their piety. Blood families shouldered the expenses of nuns' rites of passage. These included vestitions, when nuns assumed the habit; profession, when nuns made public vows; and consecration, when nuns were fully integrated into the convent, symbolized by their veiling. As a result, these were often extra lavish occasions with apparati, hangings, music, special sweets, and distinguished visitors from family and ecclesiastical authorities. The monacand's family and convent were responsible for inviting the distinguished guests. The reinforcement and projection of nobility (both social and religious) were performed for an audience whose views of the nun and her family were of value to both the family and the convent.

Celebrations assumed dramatic visual form, extending out into the city streets, linking noble blood and feminine piety in gorgeous display. For the monacation party for Signora Ullone at Donn'Albina in 1732 the bill for brocade alone for decorating the church and atrium came to 22 ducats 2 tari 10 grani. (77) The most magnificent brocade, eight canne of white brocade with a green background, worked in silver, decorated the church facade to advertise to the city the special event taking place inside. (78) The atrium was hung with blue brocade, with four canne of broccato camorcio adorning its entablature; while festoons of pale blue brocade on a deep blue blackground embellished the church itself.

Large numbers of participants were orchestrated to celebrate these heavenly matrimonies, which also represented institutional marriages of family to convent. As many as four choirs were brought in to sing at the monacations of Maria Geronima and Maria Cecilia, twin daughters of Ugo Boncompagni and Maria Ruffo, Duke and Duchess of Sora, which took place at S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi in 1663. (79) Cardinal Filomarino himself organized the music, which continued for eight hours. (80) For sister Arcangela Maria Ruffo (in secular Hippolita) in 1673 the festivities befitted a daughter of Carlo Ruffo and Adriana Caracciolo, Duke and Duchess of Bagnara. At a great festa "Archbishop Caracciolo not only brought with him his own music but invited other foreigners and conducted many solemnities for the function and the entire church, outside too, was adorned." (81)


Festivals were only the most visual manifestation of the close relationship between noble families and prestigious convents, which helped bind notions of noble honor and female piety closely together. Over and over again, we find the concepts of holiness and nobility pushed together in early modern Naples. (82) In determining whether or not to admit a girl to the monastic life, Francesco Vargas Macciucca claimed, convents took only two things into account: "first whether she is of birth so as not to cause shame to the convent, in which the vows of poverty and humility do not at all prevent a jealous concern with genealogy. Secondly, it is asked whether she has what is required in dowry and offerings to dress in their habit." (83) This is not necessarily to say--as Vargas Macciucca implies--that convents operated unreligiously. Rather, convents operated on the basis that the religious value of the female body was intimately connected to her social class.

Church historian Carlo De Lellis refers to the noblewomen joining the Sapienza in its early years as combining "nobility of blood" with "goodness and holiness of life." (84) In his account of the foundation and development of the Benedictine convent of Donn'Albina, dated August 1, 1689, Bonifacio de Sanzio continually emphasizes the nobility of the convent and the nobility of its inhabitants. He does not simply conflate the inmates' nobility of blood with the noble standing of the convent, but represents the convent's nobility in dynastic terms, through the metaphor of the cradle:
 Not only are there and have there been nuns of the most illustrious
 and noble Piazze or Seggi of this most faithful city and vast
 kingdom, but the Avalos and others from Spain, the Valois from
 France, of regal descent and royal blood; so that this venerable
 convent remains with that illustrious dignity and splendid
 magnificence of nobility that it received from its first and
 glorious cradle. (85)

Origins are crucial; high birth and noble foundations are elided with moral qualities (as in the non-conventual discourse of male nobility discussed earlier). But here the best conventual family is a noble family, with royal connections, and just as noble families strive to preserve and augment their good name and blood, so do the best convents. Holiness and nobility are presented as inherent in the convent from its inception, just as "blue blood" courses through a noble baby's veins. A similar conceit is presented in the history of the convent of S. Maria Donna Regina, written at the instigation of Abbess Caterina Pignatelli with the assistance of Francesco di Maio, in 1707: "Not only was it founded but it flourished in the greatest holiness and nobility." (86)

Thus the blood of noble women is presented as flowing from the family and into the convent, and from the city, through the family to the convent, from where it enhances the city. Noble blood is represented as circulating like other precious resources, and the convent, not as an institution that dully absorbs nobility or simply converts it to spiritual wealth, but as one that is enhanced by its lustre, assumes the very essence of nobility itself through the blood of virgins within its walls, and is able to bestow that lustre on the city as a whole. In their Vita di S. Patrizia (Naples 1643) P. Regio and C. Torbizi link the celebratedly noble blood of S. Patrizia's conventual inmates to St. Patricia herself, a connection validated by the careful custody by the nuns in their inner church of the saint's celebrated relics: "one could expect no less from the presence and name of St. Patricia, who conjoined nobility of blood with holiness of spirit, to the point that you could not say which in her was greater." (87)

Nor were such views restricted to those institutions that they most directly benefited. When contemporary historians of the city of Naples, Carlo Celano or C. D'Engenio Caracciolo, refer to a female convent, they almost invariably comment on the social status of its composition. (88) A convent's respectability depended on two things: the extent to which its inmates were rich and aristocratic and its reputation for observance. These qualities were usually presented as mutually inflected.

Just as illustrious origins were important for noble families and convents, so, too, was continuity of noble blood. An anonymous document of 1742, discussing the fourteenth-century foundation and subsequent history of the convent of S. Francesco dell'Osservanza, states that it has "always received there [as nuns] the noblewomen of the city [my italics]." (89) Thus the undiluted nature of its noble blood is emphasized--just as with secular claims to nobility. The presence on both sides of the main altar of the tombs of two noblewomen patrons, Giovannella Gesualdo (d.1480) and Caterina Della Ratta, Countess of Caserta, Duchess of Atri and Marchioness of Bitonto (d.1511), physically affirmed this fact. (90) In granting noblewomen prominent burial in the most holy place in the conventual church, that holiest part and, by extension, the convent as a whole, was marked as noble. (91)

Such concerns were uppermost when convents were suppressed after Trent, and new institutional homes were sought for their inmates. When the convent of S. Arcangelo a Bajano was closed in 1577, its inmates were carefully redistributed to four noble institutions (S. Patrizia, S. Gaudioso, S. Maria Donnaromita, and, above all, S. Gregorio Armeno), "all cloisters of noble sisters, as was the coenobium from which they were expelled," insisted seventeenth-century historian Carlo Celano. (92) Likewise, the absorption of nuns from the convents of S. Agata and S. Agnello a Petruccio by Donn'Albina in 1563 was justified by Bonifacio de Sanzio in 1689 in strikingly secular terms: "although the nuns of each convent were all of signal nobility, in the eminence of its site, and in its agreeable air, our convent was superior to the other two, and after various disputes, the aforementioned monasteries of S. Agata and S. Aniello were joined with this one." (93) It was not because of Donn'Albina's greater devotion or more fervent religious reputation, nor even because of richer holdings by way of relics, that the decision was justified, but in terms of site and air. And this, he is at pains to point out, became a factor because "all three convents were of the most eminent nobility." (94) Of course, site and air were not inconsequential considerations, leading to better or worse health amongst inmates and better or worse chances of being overlooked by houses or other monasteries, but the ease with which De Sanzio eschews any religious or devotional explanation for a decision of this magnitude is striking. His account could easily be mistaken for an explanation of an aristocratic family's decision to move to one of their palaces rather than another.

The emphasis amongst the aristocratic convents on their social and material eminence tended to elide distinctions between high birth and spirituality. This elision between social rank and holiness, between the social world and the most radical and absolute form of negation of the world, had two notable consequences. First, the confluence of noble and spiritual values meant that the aristocratic policy of placing surplus daughters in convents could be effected relatively painlessly to all concerned. Second, this confluence further disguised economic and social motivations behind monacations, making it always possible to present the decision in terms of the holy.

Thus convents functioned in parallel to aristocratic families as an alternative form of social dynasty, while sharing many of the same values. Thus in 1568, faced by the demands of Tridentine enclosure, a dominant group of nuns at S. Gregorio Armeno rejected the eminently practical suggestion that the convent should move to a more spacious and agreeable site in order to accommodate the necessary architectural changes. Instead the nuns insisted that they should stay where they were, in the heart of the city, on the site where they had been raised from girlhood, where they had professed, and where the bodies of so many of their dearest sisters were buried. (95) Such arguments are unapologetically "genealogical," establishing the convent as the ancestral home and representing its inmates as a holy family. It even intimates that the bodies of the dead nuns exercised the powers of saintly relics.

But the most striking examples of the conflation of spiritual and noble values occurs in Fr. Domenico Gravina's Vita of St. Gregory of Armenia and relationship to the convent of S. Gregorio Armeno in Naples (Naples, 1630). (96) Gravina articulates an intimate relationship between nobility of blood and spiritual virtue:
 as nobility of blood is wont to be an instrument of the virtues, and
 adorns holiness as [the] silver [mount] adorns the gemstone that is
 set in it, they do not admit into this monastery but [those] from
 the noble families of [the Seggi of] Capuana and Nido. (97)

Here Gravina carefully relates conventual spiritual value to the most aristocratic and socially exclusive of the Seggi. (98) Gravina's metaphor of jewelry is telling. Jewels were an established mode by which the nobility might demonstrate its "splendor." (99) Holiness, likened to a gemstone, something rare and valuable, is already presented in worldly terms; it is further enhanced in value and is transformed into jewelry by nobility, figured as a silver mount, indicating something costly, highly wrought, and carefully crafted, which renders a natural rarity into a conspicuous luxury, itself a badge of wealth. Thus holiness and nobility enhance each other. Gravina is careful not simply to equate nobility of blood with spiritual nobility, but emphasizes the necessity of humility:
 if the humblest nobility is not shown, it would be rather for the
 worse than for better, but they [should] search with piety to ascend
 to the holy virtues, and humility in the other exercizes of prayer,
 and suffering, and mortification, paying attention not only to
 external worship, but to internal worship, which is the most
 important that God looks for in us. (100)

Although humility is vital, nevertheless it must also be noble. Thus Gravina advocates "the humblest nobility"; humility alone is not sufficient, and he does not even make reference to humbleness in terms of humble origins.

Instead, having made this point, Gravina goes on to claim, again drawing on the metaphor of jewelry, that social nobility can enhance religious dedication:
 For, if it is true that nobility is what is least esteemed in a
 life's holiness, and in Christian perfection, nonetheless our Lord
 God is wont often to dispose it as a means for illustrious deeds.
 For if indeed plebeian virtue is admirable and gem-like, but
 unaccompanied, when accompanied and set in a noble subject, and
 enamelled with the blood of a noble lineage, it is made that much
 more admirable. (101)

Virtue is more valuable when it is noble. For Gravina the high social class of nuns not only raised the social prestige of the convent, but also enhanced the significance and purity of their religious devotion (provided that it was properly accompanied by humility).


In the same period that convents were aristocratized as a result of interpretations of Trent, so the city of Naples was aristocratized by the policies of the Viceregal Court; and these two developments were inter-related. The establishment of the Viceregal Court permanently in Naples in 1503, and viceroy Pedro de Toledo's energetic urbanism in the 1530s and 1540s, encouraged the aristocracy to set up residence in the city and provoked them to a building spree. The traditional aristocracy and the new nobility, high-ranking functionaries of the Spanish state, vied with each other within the city, in building splendid palaces. "In effect," writes Gerard Labrot, "the viceroys relinquished the city to these powerful families, shrewdly directing their aggression towards competition for prestige and the magnification of their own sense of honor." (102) It is this aristocratic model that religious institutions assumed. The urbanization of nobility, promoted by the Spanish Crown, articulated in Pedro de Toledo's urbanistic interventions, and by the increased tendency of nobles to build palaces and take residence in Naples, also impacted on urban female convents. Not only were they drawn into the net of aristocratic lineage decisions, but their emphasis on both the relationship between noble blood and spiritual honor, and their benefit to the city as a whole, contributed to the trend towards noble urbanization.

Blurring the boundaries between social and spiritual nobility was attractive to many on both sides of convent walls. This discursive conflation occurs not only in relation to the qualities of conventual inhabitants, but seeps into discussion of the sites, fabric, and even architecture of convent buildings themselves. (103) The nobility of conventual architecture was communicated externally and internally to rather different audiences. Externally, in the broadest terms convent architecture, dominating the center of the city and prestigious city sites, assuming the architecture of fortification and resembling noble palaces, communicated to everyone that these were institutions to be reckoned with. The key audiences were, however, other convents and the urban nobility. To these groups, relative status was expressed externally urbanistically and architecturally through the occupation of prestigious sites and the visual command of the city through height and scale in particular. Internally, it was communicated through lavish decoration, rich materials, and expensive art works whose programs articulated claims to social and spiritual significance, impressive spiritual genealogies, and strategic social connections. Again the key audience here was a powerful, educated, socially aware urban elite, which included inmate nuns, potential monacands, and their families.

Noble residential areas and aristocratic convents were often contiguous, or overlapping, both within and without the city walls. An undated history of S. Maria della Consolazione, for instance, written as a preface to its financial accounts in ca.1695 emphasizes how it, like many other convents, was situated almost indistinguishably in the midst of noble palaces and formed part of the same habitus:
 situated in the midst of many other monasteries of reverend nuns,
 ... as among many principal palaces and buildings of individuals
 and from its beginnings up until the present it has been maintained
 and is maintained with every splendour and propriety, because of
 having always been inhabited by religious women from noble and
 very illustrious and civil families of this city. (104)

In contradistinction, lower social class conservatories were clustered outside the city walls or in insalubrious areas. Thus the "Pentite" for formerly dissolute women was established near the hospital; and, as Gaetana Cantone has pointed out, the establishment of five female religious institutions, three of which were conservatories, in Pontecorvo was part of a concerted attempt to improve the moral nature of that neighborhood, notorious for prostitution. (105)

In urbanistic terms, the emphasis on high birth and nobility gave rise to the architecture of "the vertical city," aggressive urbanistic strategies, ever extending borders, proposed extensions, new wings, taller bell towers and belvederes (Figure 2)--with accompanying urbanistic feuds, protracted lawsuits, and bitter rivalries, just as between vying noble families. (106) To be overlooked physically was to be socially subordinated: the fear of pregiudizio rings constantly through convent records like an alarm bell. In 1586 the Benedictine nuns of S. Gaudioso claimed that the new building of S. Andrea would, because of its proximity, "bring with it notable disadvantage" and deprive them of their view and block the air. (107) In 1590 the Augustinian nuns of S. Andrea appealed to Pope Innocent IX about the damage to their new sacristy orchestrated by S. Gaudioso--arguing that such violence could provoke new scandals, particularly "between relations of the lady nuns of both convents." (108) Likewise, the Augustinian nuns at S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi were at loggerheads in 1678 with their neighboring convent, S. Maria del Gesu, which, while taking down the upper doors of its bell tower (Figure 3), had seized the chance secretly to erect a belvedere with windows overlooking S. Giuseppe. (109) The Augustinians appealed to the Archiepiscopal court, requesting that the belvedere's apertures be closed up. (110) As if quarreling with one neighboring institution were not enough, S. Giuseppe took issue with the Basilians at S. Maria Donna Regina over the latter's wish to build a second campanile and to raise the height of a dormitory wall, a struggle that dragged on from ca.1678 to 1706. (111) The new bell tower was resisted on the grounds that it was too close to the choir of S. Giuseppe, which would cause "the utmost inconvenience" to nuns during recitation of the holy offices, and also because it was not necessary, but "purely voluntary, for show." (112) Here we witness the indignant frustration of a convent whose own splendid facade and urban prominence were threatened by a neighboring institution with similar ambitions, and the fervid competition for urban glamour, where a bell tower signified local supremacy and a belvedere social consequence.


Just as the emphasis on birth and nobility fed an architectural urbanism of emulation and display based on height, so conventual architecture adopted aristocratic references in plan, decoration, and discourse. In something of a circular argument, convents were presented as noble, both because of their architecture and because they housed noble women, wives of Christ, as in Donn'Albina's own conventual history: "The plan and site of the ... very old and very noble convent [of Donn'Albina] is square in form, with finest symmetrical architecture, recently built, with the magnificence of very beautiful rooms and dependencies, and worthy of the grandeur of so many very noble nuns, wives of Jesus Christ [my italics]." (113) Of greatest importance to Bonifacio de Sanzio, the author of this description of the Benedictine convent of Donn'Albina of 1689, was the nobility of the monastery and its inhabitants, whom, as we have seen, he described as of signal nobility ("di segnalata nobilta"). He links the nobility of the monastery itself, like that of an old house of blue blood, to its venerable age, while that of the nuns he associates with their status both through their birth and through their marriage to Christ. As to the architecture, he emphasizes its square plan, its symmetry, its newness, and the magnificence of its beautiful rooms--all qualities, he suggests, that make it "worthy" of the grandeur of noble women espoused to Christ. Fine architecture is justified in terms of the august institution that it houses and the nobility of blood of its inhabitants and their (ipso facto) relationship to Christ. For De Sanctis, the architecture appears to be inseparable from the high social class of the convent. He makes no direct mention of high standards of worship or devotional distinction. It is status, rather than practice, birthright and position, rather than aspiration, that count.

Conventual architecture appropriated much from the aristocratic palace. Just as noble families concentrated their new city dwellings in massive blocks, which bore witness to the subordination of the individual to the clan, so convents strove to take over adjacent buildings, so as to occupy entire blocks and to present the face of the fortified citadel to the outside world. (114) Thus in the mid seventeenth century Diomede Carafa employed Cosimo Fanzago to aggrandize Palazzo Maddaloni, built on a more modest scale by Cesare d'Avalos in 1582 (Figure 4). (115) The way in which convents swallowed up entire blocks is best represented visually in B. Stopendael's map of Naples of 1653 (Figure 5). Emphatic rustication on key areas declared not only that the convent was a citadel well protected from external temptations, but also referenced the rhetorical fortifications of patrician palaces, which, Gerard Labrot has argued, were designed to clearly demarcate the palace from the street, the noble from the common people. Thus S. Gregorio Armeno's dramatic rustication rehearses in a minor key that of the grandiose Palazzo Maddaloni (Figures 4 and 6). (116) Most striking amongst convent facades, that of the Dominican convent of S. Maria della Sapienza deliberately evokes the familial and noble over the ecclesiastical and godly (Figure 7). Its facade strikes an overtly secular note. No one would think on passing that this was a church; and its inscription, "SAPIENTIA EDIFICAVIT SIBI DOMUM" ("Wisdom has built herself a house"), proclaims unequivocally that it is a house. It consists of a single-storied portico, in which the central three arcaded bays are articulated by coupled Ionic columns. The end bays, articulated by Corinthian pilasters frame narrow rectangular entrances. The busts of sister and brother, abbess Maria Carafa and Gian Domenico Carafa, while largely responsible for the establishment and protection of the Sapienza, are at best ambiguous. They emphasize noble familial blood on this convent church in a manner reminiscent of the Orsini family busts on the spectacular facade of Palazzo Gravina (Figure 8). (117)


Claims to the close relationship between noble blood and religious dedication, though still advanced by nuns in the early eighteenth century, appear to be wearing thin by then. Thus the limits of this discourse are hinted at in a dispute between the Benedictine nuns of SS. Marcellino e Festo by ca.1720. The Jesuits planned to build a new road cutting between the Jesuit College and the convent of SS. Marcellino e Festo, which they justified in economic terms of improved urban communications. (118) Unlike the Jesuits, the enclosed nuns were unable to dress their case up in terms of the city's street systems without betraying their enclosure and were forced instead to resort to their only legitimate claim to civic authority. They reminded the Tribunal:
 in the convent of S. Marcellino live women of the first rank of this
 city, who to serve God and the public good, having chosen to spend
 their lives in perpetual claustration, caring nothing for the
 pleasures of the world and the comfort of their own homes, are
 deserving of all the greater justice, and attention, so that they do
 not change their minds about their condition, and in future do not
 cease to profess it. (119)

In this veiled threat, the nuns wield their social distinction and service to both God and the city to persuade the courts to allow them to retain an upper hand vis-a-vis the Jesuits. The nuns make three important inter-related points. First, they are of the highest social rank. Second, they serve the community as a whole (their piety has a public dimension). Third, their piety should be valued the more highly because of their noble blood and the self-sacrifice in wordly terms that their claustration represents. Here we see a stark claim as to how the high social rank of enclosed nuns enhanced the spiritual standing of not only their own institution but the city as a whole. The notion of and claim to urban-holiness was dependent on close ties with high-ranking family honor. References to their noble birth and their threat of withdrawal from religious service, with the concomitant damage to the public realm find no parallel in the Jesuits' arguments, and even at this date sound old-fashioned. In August 1713 the Tribunal found in favor of the Jesuits on condition that they make their street suitable for carriages. (120) Thus streets, representing improvements in urban communications, won out against God and the self-sacrifice of nobility. (121)


I have shown that the discourse of noble holiness amongst enclosed nuns received special impetus at Trent and was articulated architecturally in the proud new architecture of post-Tridentine enclosure. Under the Spanish, Naples was increasingly an aristocratic city. The strong presence of convents is one aspect of that. Arguably, having sisters and daughters resident in "noble" convents constituted part of that display of virtue indispensable to nobility. Convents, on the other hand, present the relationship in rather different terms. Rather than presenting certain qualities as inherent in nobility, they present noble blood as substantially enhancing the quality of holiness. What we have observed here is the eagerness with which conventual institutions inscribed themselves into claims of distinction, including spiritual distinction, based on nobility.

It was precisely convents' role both in converting noble blood into spiritual sustenance for the city as a whole, and in safeguarding familial (noble) honor, that allowed them to occupy such urbanistic and social significance in Naples during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Convents were seen as bulwarks, physically protecting the city from divine disgrace. (122) A city's safety could be strengthened by the intercessive prayers of religious, which, in turn, depended on the strength of its religious institutions. As we have seen, seventeenth-century convents tended to present their holiness as a function of the noble blood they contained. It was their nobility that set them apart. In turn, this is related to the shift in emphasis to virtue, as opposed to bloodline alone, in defining nobility, which occurred in Naples from the late fifteenth century. Male and female nobilities depended on male and female virtues; just so, female religious virtue depended on social rank and was enhanced by noble blood. Just as women's nobility was regarded as enhanced by her piety, so female piety was enhanced by noble blood. Aristocratic convents drew heavily on these noble discourses. And they served them well.

(1.) Research for this article was made possible by an AHRB Matching Leave Award taken in conjunction with Manchester University research leave (2001-02) and British Academy Small Grants. I am pleased to thank those institutions for their support. My colleagues in the School of Art History and Archaeology displayed their generosity of spirit and intellectual commitment in their support for my research leave. My greatest debts are to Neapolitans. Giuliana Boccadamo, Gaetana Cantone, Giuseppe Galasso, Cesare de Seta, Genoveffa Palumbo, and Architetto C. Pasinetti deserve special thanks. I am indebted to the unfailing efficiency and helpfulness of Nicola Spinosa, director of the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale di Napoli, and to his staff. My thanks also to Felicita de Negri and her staff at the Archivio di Stato, to all at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli (especially in the manuscript section), the Archivio Diocesano, and the Biblioteca della Societa Napoletana di Storia Patria. Massimo Velo in Naples and Michael Pollard and Derek Trillo provided timely photographic assistance. Encouragement and stimulating insights throughout the process of research and writing came from many people, but I should thank especially Sara Cabibbo, Sarah Cormack, Joseph Connors, Simon Ditchfield, Irene Fosi, Peter Higginson, Roberto Rusconi, and Mike Savage. I presented an earlier version of this paper at the "Religion and the Early Modern State" conference at Keele University in June, 2003; it benefited considerably from the questions I received then. Margaret Littler gave thoughtful feedback during the last stages of writing. Elegant translations were provided by Mary Pardo; otherwise they are my own. Finally, I should like to thank the anonymous readers of Church History for their stimulating questions and insightful suggestions in the last stages.

(2.) See, for instance, E. Schulte van Kessel, "Virgins and Mothers Between Heaven and Earth," in A History of Women in the West: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes, eds. N. Zemon Davis and A. Farge (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 132-66; John Bossy, "The Counter Reformation and the People of Catholic Europe," Past and Present 47 (1970): 55.

(3.) For Naples, see Carla Russo, I monasteri femminili di clausura a Napoli nel secolo XVII (Naples: Universita Istituto di storia medioevale e moderna, 1970); E. Novi Chavarria, "Nobilta di Seggio, Nobilta Nuova e Monasteri Femminili a Napoli in Eta Moderna," Dimensioni e Problemi della Ricerca Storica 2 (1993): 84-111, and Monache e Gentildonne: Un labile confine. Poteri politici e identita religiose nei monasteri napoletani secoli XVI-XVII (Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2001); M. A. Visceglia, "Linee per uno studio unitario dei testamenti e dei contratti matrimoniali dell'aristocrazia feudale napoletana tra fine Quattrocento e Settecento," Melanges de L'Ecole Francaise de Rome 95 (1983): 393-470. For other areas of Italy the literature is extensive; see, for example, Gabriella Zarri, Recinti. Donne, clausura e matrimonio nella prima eta moderna (Bologna: Il mulino, 2000), esp. 43-143; J. G. Sperling, Convents and the Body Politics in Late Renaissance Venice (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999), 18-71; Stefano Andretta, "Il governo dell'osservanza: poteri e monache dal Sacco alla fine del Seicento," in Storia d'Italia: Annali 16. Roma, la citta del papa, eds. Luigi Fiorani and Adriano Prosperi (Turin: Einaudi, 2000), 397-430; P. R. Baernstein, A Convent Tale: a Century of Sisterhood in Spanish Milan, (New York: Routledge, 2002).

(4.) See, for instance, R. Canosa, Il velo e il cappuccio. Monacazioni forzate e sessualita nei conventi femminili in Italia tra Quattrocento e Settecento (Rome: Sapere, 1991). Such ideas have a long-established lineage. In a sermon delivered at S. Maria Novella in Florence in the early fourteenth century, for instance, Fra Giordano da Rivalto suggested that convents were little more than dumping grounds for women who could not make it in marriage: "Which woman today enters the monastery, called by the spirit? No one. She enters there either through lack of beauty, because they are ugly, or through a defect of poverty so that they cannot have a husband." Quoted by S. Weddle, "Enclosing Le Murate: The Ideology of Enclosure and the Architecture of a Florentine Convent, 1390-1597" (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1997), 49.

(5.) Bornstein, Daniel, "Women and Religion in Late Medieval Italy: History and Historiography," in Women and Religion in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, eds. Daniel Bornstein and Roberto Rusconi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 4, 5.

(6.) Ibid., 5. Their virginity endowed nuns with special status. Virginity offered both the ideal of Christian transcendence of mundane social divisions, with virgins symbolizing redemption, even at great personal cost, and a sort of religions superiority, in which virgins, like the angels, were free from death, which was linked to sexuality and lust. Virginity was a potentially powerful state, with the capacity to mediate between the mundane and the divine, to transcend manhood and womanhood. Ecclesiastical authorities attempted to regulate and restrict virginity, partly because of its potential for transcendence and partly to support marriage, which was brought into the sacred realm at the Council of Trent that stipulated in 1563 that marriage vows required divine confirmation and clerical supervision. On virginity, see J. Bugge, Virginitas: An Essay in the History of a Medieval Idea (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975); A. Blok, "Notes on the Concept of Virginity in Mediterranean Societies," in Men and Women in Spiritual Culture, ed. E. Van Kessel (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1986), 22-39; G. Fiume and L. Scaraffia, eds., Quaderni Storici, n.s. 25:3 (1990): 701-14. On nuns' virginity and the city, see J. G. Sperling, Convents and the Body Politic, 127-36; Helen Hills, Invisible City: the Architecture of Devotion in Aristocratic Convents in Baroque Naples (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 45-61.

(7.) Over 50 percent of Neapolitan saints were drawn from the highest social ranks (patricians, high-ranking officials, and aristocrats); under 9 percent came from artisanal or peasant groups. See J-M Sallmann, Santi barocchi: modelli di santita, pratiche devozionali e comportamenti religiosi nel regno di Napoli dal 1540 al 1750 (Lecce: n.p., 1994), 197. For these issues specifically within Naples, see also J-M Sallmann, "La saintete mystique feminine a Naples au tournant des XVIe et XVIIe siecles," in Culto dei santi: istituzioni e classi sociali in eta preindustriale, eds. S. Boesch Gajano and L. Sebastiani (Rome: L'Aquila L. U. Japadre Editore, 1984), 638-721. See also C. Renoux, "Canonizzazione e santita femminile in eta moderna," in Storia d'Italia. Annali 16. Rome, la citta del papa, eds. L. Fiorani and A. Prosperi (Turin: Einaudi, 2000), 731-51.

(8.) While nuns' Vitae emphasize above all the inherent merits of the individual nun, they frequently reveal crucial interventions by powerful patrons. They are often written by a family relation ambitious for the elevation of one of their members and are carefully dedicated to significant political players. Thus D. M. Marchese's Vita della Serva di Dio Suor Paola Maresca, monaca del Monastero di santa Caterina da Siena di Napoli, published by Geronimo Fasulo in Naples in 1669, was dedicated to Viceroy Pedro Antonio d'Aragona and promoted by Giovanni Domenico Maresca. On the patronage of female saints, see A. Benvenuti Papi, "Il 'patronage' nell'agiografia femminile," in Ragnatele di rapporti: patronage e reti di relazione nella storia delle donne, eds. L. Ferrante, M. Palazzi, and G. Pomata (Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1988), 201-18; S. Cabibbo and Marilena Modica, La Santa dei Tomasi: Storia di Suor Maria Crocefissa, 1645-1699, (Turin: Einaudi, 1989); G. Zarri, ed., Finzione e santita tra medioevo e eta moderna (Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1991); G. Barone, M. Caffiero, and F. Scorza Barcellona, eds., Modelli di santita e modelli di comportamento, (Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1994). For further bibliography see S. Ditchfield, "Sanctity in Early Modem Italy," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 47:1 (1996): 98-112.

(9.) This was a general pattern and by no means confined to Naples or even to southern Italy. Thus the Palermitan, sister Rosaria Caterina (1668-1716), defied her family at crucial junctures in her dedication to God in the convent of S. Vincenzo Ferrer in Carini (A. Mongitore, Compendio della Vitae Virtu della serva di Dio Suor Rosaria Caterina alias Detta di Gesu [Palermo: n.p., 1718], esp.15, 22-25, 28, 41); and the Capuchin nun of Pavia, Maria Domitilla Galluzzi (d.1671), disconcerted her family, including her "pious aunts," by her search for "great poverty." See, E. Ann Matter, "The Personal and the Paradigm: the Book of Maria Domitilla Galluzzi," in The Crannied Wall, ed. C. Monson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 87-97, esp. 91.

(10.) See Sallmann, Santi barocchi, 201-12, 229-70.

(11.) Seventeenth-century Naples was Europe's second most populous city (after Paris). Scholars disagree as to precise figures but concur that the number of inhabitants swelled significantly. At the end of the fifteenth century immigration had increased the city's population to ca. 100,000 (at a time when the population of neither the Kingdom of Naples nor of the Mediterranean world was increasing). By the end of the century, following a boost in population due to immigration from the countryside in the second half of the sixteenth century, the population of Naples was probably in excess of 240,000. In 1630 G. C. Capaccio, Secretary of the City, estimated the population at 300,000, but that figure represents only citizens of Naples. By the middle of the seventeenth century the population of Naples reached over 400,000, probably around 450,000. C. De Seta, Napoli, (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1995), 129, 147.

(12.) For these issues, see C. Russo, Monasteri femminili; H. Hills, Invisible City; and E. Novi Chavarria, Monache e gentildonne.

(13.) For discussions of nobility in Renaissance and early modern Naples, see G. Vitale, "Modelli culturali nobiliari a Napoli tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento," Archivio storico per le province napoletane 105 (1987): 27-103, and G. Muto, "'I Segni d'honore.' Rapp resentazioni delle dinamiche nobiliari a Napoli in Eta moderna," in Signori, Patrizi, Cavalieri, ed. M. A. Visceglia (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1992), 171-92. On the Neapolitan feudal aristocracy, see T. Astarita, The Continuity of Feudal Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). On the idea of nobility in early modern Italy in general, see C. Donati, L'idea di nobilta in Italia. Secoli XIV-XVIII (Bari: Laterza, 1988).

(14.) In the early years of the seventeenth century, the system of municipal government was based on less than 100 noble families and about 20,000 families that were politically active in the piazze or ottine (districts)--out of a population that reached a peak of at least three times that figure. Galasso, Napoli Spagnola, X-XIV. On noble titles in Naples and their "inflation," especially during the first three decades of the seventeenth century, see G. Muto, "'I Segni d'honore.' Rappresentazioni delle dinamiche nobiliari a Napoli in Eta moderna," in Signori, Patrizi, Cavalieri, ed. M. A. Visceglia (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1992), 177-79. On the genealogical industry, including the false manufacturers of noble family trees, see C. Donati, L'Idea di Nobilta in Italia, 220, 242, nn. 73 and 75.

(15.) on the Seggi, the principal source remains C. Tutini, Del origine e fundatione de' Seggi di Napoli (Naples: II Beltrano, 1644). See also G. Galasso, "Un'ipotesi di 'blocco storico' oligarchico borghese nella Napoli del '600," Rivista Storica Italiana 90 (1978): 507-29; Astarita, Continuity of Feudal Power, 24.

(16.) Carlo Celano, Notizie del bello, dell'antico e del curioso della citta di Napoli con aggiunzioni ... del Cav. G.B. Chiarini,, ed. G. B. Chiarini (1856-60); new edition with introduction by P. Macry (Napoli: Edizioni dell'Anticaglia, 2000), 3:629-35; 4:110-12, 133-34; Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 176, n. 22. For the late-sixteenth-century popular radicalism within the Piazza del Popolo, which included alliance with the plebe against the Seggio nobles, see Rosario Villari, The Revolt of Naples (Cambridge: Polity, 1993), 56-71.

(17.) Membership of a Seggio did not confer noble status; it was a recognition of the status of established resident nobles. L. Contarini, La nobilta di Napoli. Dialogo (Naples: Giuseppe Cacchij, 1569), 31. Attempts to open up Seggi to aristocratic families who were not members were thwarted in the sixteenth century, and after 1599 all applications required preliminary approval from the king. Thereafter each case was treated individually. Astarita, Continuity of Feudal Power, 24. The Seggi were not abolished until the edict of April 25, 1800. Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 175.

(18.) See Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 171-92.

(19.) Galasso, Napoli Spagnola, XIV.

(20.) Ibid, XIV.

(21.) C. Vitignano, Cronica del Regno di Napoli (Naples: n.p., 1595), 4.

(22.) Novi Chavarria, "Nobilta di Seggio," 87-88.

(23.) Celano, Delle Notitie del Bello, 3:140; Novi Chavarria, "Nobilta di Seggio," 86. See also Visceglia, "Scegliere la sepoltura," 107-39.

(24.) Novi Chavarria, "Nobilta di Seggio," 87.

(25.) See E. Novi Chavarria, Monache e Gentildonne, (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2001), 20-120.

(26.) Archivio di Stato, Naples (henceforth ASN), Caracciola, "Esemplare delle nobili," ff.156v-164r, ASN, Monasteri Soppressi (henceforth Mon. Sop.), S. Gregorio Armeno, 3435; Nova Chavarria, "Nobilta di Seggio," 87.

(27.) Visceglia, "Testamenti e Contratti," 411.

(28.) On these debates outside Naples, see Donati, L'Idea di nobilta in Italia. On these issues within Naples, see Scipione Ammirato, Delle famiglie nobili napoletane (Florence; G. Marescotti, 1580); Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 179-80. On "magnificentia," "splendor," and "liberalitas," see Vitale, "Modelli culturali," 27-41.

(29.) Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 179. This led, in turn, to Agostino Nifo and Luca Prassiccio's disputes betwen 1520 and 1526 about the relative superiority of arms and letters. Ibid.

(30.) Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 171-92; Donati, L'Idea di Nobilta, 219-21.

(31.) G. Toralto, Discorsi cavallereschi (Naples: Appresso Horatio Saluigni, 1573), 1. See also Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 179.

(32.) Muto, "I Segni d'honore," 180-82. On the emphasis on the male noble's physical accomplishments, which were seen as a reflection of the nobility of the house as a whole, see Vitale, "Modelli culturali," 54-56.

(33.) C. Tutini, Dell'origine e fundation de Seggi di Napoli, 185-89; see also Donati, L'Idea di nobilta, 277-78.

(34.) For the strategies of the feudal aristocracy faced with the rise of the bureaucrats at Court, see T. Astarita, The Continuity of Feudal Power, 159-201. On the use of entail, see Ibid., 164-66 and M. A. Visceglia, "Linee per uno studio unitario dei testamenti e dei contratti matrimoniali dell'aristocrazia feudale napoletana tra fine Quattrocento e Settecento," Melanges de l'Ecole Francaise de Rome 95 (1983): 393-470.

(35.) "sembrasse una tal Corte un chiostro di ferventi Religiosi," I. M. Vittorelli, Della Vita e Virtu della Duchessa di Martina, D. Aurelia Imperiali nelli Caracciol (Naples: n.p., 1743), 15.

(36.) On female aristocratic behavior in this regard, see Visceglia, II Bisogno di eternita, 141-74. Aristocratic women's piety was carefully contained, for instance, through her husband's careful selection of a strict confessor. See Ibid., 172-73.

(37.) G. B. de Luca, La Dama e il cavaliere (Rome: n.p., 1657), 501.

(38.) Astarita, Continuity of Feudal Power, 179, n. 43.

(39.) Confuorto, "Notizie," MS (1693), BNN, I-D-5.

(40.) R. Vinari, La rivolta antispagnola a Napoli: le origini 1585-1647 (Bari: Laterza, 1994), 124.

(41.) Visceglia, "Testamenti e Contratti," 446.

(42.) Visceglia, II Bisogno di Eternita, 166-72; Frigo, "Dal Caos all'Ordine: sulla questione del 'prender moglie' nella trattatistica del sedicesimo secolo," in Nel cerchio della luna: figure di donna in alcuni testi del XVI secolo, ed. M. Zancan (Venice: Marsilio, 1983), 83-98.

(43.) Marginalization was produced by a series of interrelated aristocratic strategies and practices, such as the preferred choice of the groom's family household as home for newly married couples. See Visceglia, II Bisogno di eternita.

(44.) De Luca, La Dama e il Cavaliere, 502.

(45.) The eldest daughters were allowed to marry. Astarita, Continuity of Feudal Power, 176.

(46.) Foucault exaggerated the differences between aristocratic (backward looking) and bourgeois (forward looking) attitudes in this regard. Michel Foucault, A History of Sexuality (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1976), 1:123-24.

(47.) Canones, et Decreta Sacrosancti Oecumenici et Generalis Concilii Tridenti, sub Paulo III, Iulio III, Pio IIII, Pontificibus Max (Rome, 1564), Engl. trans. J. Waterworth, The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent (New York: C. Dolman, 1848); R. Creytens, "La Giurisprudenza della Sacra Congregazione del Concilio nella Questione della Clausura delle Monache (1564-1576)," Apollinaris 37 (1964): 251-85; R. Creytens, "La Riforma dei monasteri femminili dopo i Decreti Tridentini," Il Concilio di Trento e la Riforma Tridentina: Atti del Convegno Storico Internazionale Trento, 1963 (Rome: Herder, 1965), 1:45-84; Celano, Notitie del Bello, 1:250-51. An invaluable account of this process is given by Abbess Fulvia Caracciolo in 1577 in her account of enclosure at S. Gregorio Armeno in Naples (ASN, Monasteri soppressi, S. Gregorio Armeno 3435, ff.121r-164r).

(48.) "Bonifatii VIII constitutionem, quae incipit Periculoso, renovans, sancta synodus universis episcopis sub obtestatione divini iudicii et interminatione maledictionis aeternae praecipit, ut in omnibus monasteriis sibi subiectis ordinaria, in aliis vero Sedis Apostolicae auctoritate clausuram sanctimonialium, ubi violata fuerit, diligenter restitui, et, ubi inviolata est, conservari maxime procurent, inobedientes atque contradictores per censuras ecclesiasticas aliasque poenas, quacumque sappenatione postposita, compescentes, invocatio etiam ad hoc, si opus fuerit, auxilio brachii saecularis ... Nemini autem sanctimonialium liceat, post professionem exire a monasterio, etiam ad breve tempus, quocumque praetextu, nisi ex aliqua legitima causa, ab episcopo approbanda, indultis quibuscumque et privilegiis non obstantibus." Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Sess. 25, Cap. V), 240. This ruling opened gaping uncertainties about the correct measures to be taken with the open monasteries where enclosure had never existed. The Council ruled that professed nuns, or "sanctimoniales" (itself an ambivalent term since it was not clear whether it included tertiaries) were not to be allowed out of convents, except for a legitimate cause and with episcopal approval. This was based on the mistaken assumption that nuns who took the three solemn vows necessarily abdicated their free will, even where the rule allowed nuns to leave their convent. In fact, this renunciation had not been demanded by the popes from Sixtus IV onwards, when the solemn vows were changed to simple vows and regular tertiaries had been recognized as true professed nuns. For a discussion of the increased rigidification of interpretation of Trent, see R. Creytens, "La Riforma dei monasteri femminili," 50-53, 60, 64, 65. On Periculoso, see E. Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 1298-1545. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law 5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997).

(49.) G. Boccadamo, "Una riforma impossibile? I papi e i primi tentativi di riforma dei monasteri femminili di Napoli nel '500," Campania Sacra 21 (1990): 96-122; Camillocci Solfaroli, "L'obbedienza femminile tra virtu domestiche e disciplina monastica," in Donna e Fede, ed. L. Scaraffia and G. Zarri (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1994), 269-84; R. Canosa, II velo e il cappuccio.

(50.) See C. Bruzelius, "Hearing is Believing: Clarissan Architecture, ca.1213-1340," Gesta 31:2 (1992): 83-91, and "Queen Sancia of Mallorca and the Convent Church of Sta Chiara in Naples," Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, XL (Bergamo: Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche, 1995), 69-100.

(51.) Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 69. For a discussion of these rankings in relation to the feudal and non-feudal nobilities, see Hills, Invisible City, 35-57.

(52.) M. Mazzucchelli, La monaca di Monza (suor Virginia Maria de Leyve) (Milan: TEA Storica nov., 1993), 28.

(53.) Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 54; ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Gregorio Armeno, 3451. Elsewhere in Italy as in Naples, dowries varied, despite attempts to establish standard sums. See G. Zarri, "'De Monialibus' (Secoli XVI-XVII-XVIII)," Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa, Anno XXXIII, no. 3 (1997): 688.

(54.) Russo, Monasteri femminili, 54 and 54, n. 112. The daughter of Giovanni Angelo Muscettola and Laura Caracciolo, Scolastica entered S. Giuseppe dei Ruff aged 14, with a dowry of 1,000 ducats "to be paid after her mother's death." ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4922, ff.15, 20-28.

(55.) ASN, Mon. Sop, S. Francesco delle Cappuccinelle, 4540, ff.92r, 100r, and 108r.

(56.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4922, f.18.

(57.) Ibid., f.18.

(58.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Gregorio Armeno, 3435, f.170r.

(59.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Gregorio Armeno, 3435, f.176r.

(60.) Tertiaries lived in convents, in communal households with other tertiaries, or with their families. See Creytens, "La Riforma," 1, 46-49.

(61.) G. Boccadamo, G. "Le bizzoche a Napoli tra '600 e '700," in Campania Sacra 22 (1991): 361.

(62.) Ibid., 369; Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 55-57.

(63.) When, for instance, sister Ippolita Sebastiano, daughter of Giovan Francesco, the Razionale of the Reale Camera della Summaria and Tommasina Candido, decided in 1622 to leave the convent of S. Francesco delle Cappuccinelle a Pontecorvo, where she and her sister had become nuns in September 1607, the convent repaid to her family only half of the annual income on her dowry. ASN, Mon. Sop, 4540, f.22r.

(64.) Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 54, and ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Monica, 4637, f.13r.

(65.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Monica, 4637, f.11r.

(66.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Monica, 4637, f.12v-13r.

(67.) Novices and young professed nuns were taught Christian doctrine, confession, and Communion; a teacher (maestra) listened to their recitations of the Rosary, divine office, and Mass, and ensured that they did not read profane books or read or write letters without approval. Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 65-67.

(68.) Russo, Monasteri Feraminili, 68.

(69.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4922, f.196.

(70.) This practice extended throughout the peninsula and to France and Spain.

(71.) Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 64.

(72.) Russo, Monasteri Femminili, 60.

(73.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Francesco delle Cappuccinelle, 4540, f.4r. Nevertheless at the Sapienza, dowries rose to 3,000 ducats by the 1630s.

(74.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Francesco dene Cappuccinelle, 4540, f.4r.

(75.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Francesco delle Cappuccinelle, 4540, f.4r.

(76.) F. Strazzullo, Edilizia e urbanistica a Napoli dal '500 al '700 (Naples: Arte Tipografica, 1995), 221.

(77.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Maria Donn'Albina, 3307, f.633r.

(78.) Ibid.

(79.) ASN, Mon Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruff, 4922, f.161.

(80.) ASN, Mon. Sop, S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4922, f.172.

(81.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4922, f.170.

(82.) One cannot simply dismiss the use of this language as "simply conventional." Conventions tell us about the society in which they circulate.

(83.) Vargas Macciucca, Dissertazione attorno alla Riforma degli Abusi introdotti ne' Munasterij delle Monache per le Doti e per le spese che vogliono dalle donzelle (Naples: Fiorentino, 1745), lxviii.

(84.) "la nobilta del sangue e ... la bonta e la santita della vita." C. De Lellis, Aggiunta alla Napoli Sacra di D. Cesare d'Engenio Caracciolo, Napolitano, ed. F. Aceto (Naples: Fiorentino, 1977), 1:122.

(85.) "non solo vi sono e vi sono state SSre. delle Illme. e nobilissime Piazze, seu Seggi di questa fedelissima Citta e vasto Regno, ma dalle Spagne l'Avalos, et altre, e dalla Francia le Valses, di Rega. stirpe e sangue Reale; si che questo Venerabile Monastero si conserva con quell'Ille. Decoro, e splendida magnificenza di nobilta che riceve dalla sua primiera e gloriosa Culla." ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Maria Donn'Albina, 3211, f.3.

(86.) "non solo era fondato ma fioriva in grand[issi]mo Santita e nobilta." ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Maria Donn'Albina, 3501, f.1r.

(87.) P. Regio and C. Torbizi, Vita di S. Patricia vergine Figlia dell'Imperator Costante e Protettrice della Citta, e Regno di Napoli, Descritta gia da Monsignor Paolo Regio ... e poi ... ampliata de Cleonte Torbizi, ad istanza delle molte Reveren. Monache del Monasterio di S. Patricia di Napoli (Naples: Franco Savio Corbelletti, 1643), 41-43.

(88.) C. Celano, Notizie del bello; C. D'Engenio Caracciolo, Napoli sacra ... ove oltre le vere orgini, e fundationi di tutte le chiese monasterij, cappelle, spedali, e d'altri luoghi sacri della citta di Napoli, e de' suoi borghi, si tratta di tutti i corpi, e reliquie de' santi e beati, che vi si trovano, ed. G. B. Chiarini (Naples: Ottavio Beltrano, 1624).

(89.) Quoted by C. Scarano, "La Chiesa e il monastero di S. Francesco dell'Osservanza," Napoli Nobilissima 25 (1986): fasc.1-11, 57.

(90.) Ibid., 58. These women were prominent patrons of the convent. Further research is needed to clarify their involvement.

(91.) On the complexity of issues determining choice of location and manner of noble burial in Naples, see M. A. Visceglia, "Corpo e sepoltura nei testamenti della nobilta napoletana (XVI-XVIII secolo)," Quaderni Storici 50:2 (1982): 583-614. The circumstances and motives in and for which lay men and women electing to be buried in female convent churches require further research, both in Naples and elsewhere.

(92.) Celano, Notizie, III, 801.

(93.) ASN, Mon. Sop., Donn'Albina, 3211, f.2.

(94.) "accio si veda come dissi che tutti i tre Monasteri erano di nobilta segnalissima," ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Maria Donn'Albina, 3211, f.6.

(95.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Gregorio Armeno, 3435, "Esemplare dene nobili memorie della Rda. Fulvia Caracciola, 1577," 146v-148r.

(96.) Simeon Metaphrastes, Vita di S. Gregorio Archivescovo Armenia, ed. Fr. F. Gravina, blanc Vitam cure miraculis s. Gregorij collectam ex Metaphraste, exemplari Longobardo, and relationibus Christianitatis Armeniae (Naples: n.p., 1630).

(97.) Metaphrastes, Vita, 190-91.

(98.) In 1520 the Seggio of Nido insisted that "four quarters" of any member's immediate ancestors must have been gentlemen. Vitale, "Modelli Culturali," 67.

(99.) In his late-fifteenth-century discussion of nobility, Giovanni Pontano refers specifically to "stragula gemmis intertexta" as an appropriate means to demonstrate "splendor." G. Pontano, "De splendore," in Opera omnia soluta oratione compposita (Venice: Aldi Andrea Iunio, 1518), 138r, quoted by Vitale, "Modelli culturali," 28-29, n. 1.

(100.) Metaphrastes, Vita, 191.

(101.) Ibid., 190-91.

(102.) G. Labrot, Collections of Paintings in Naples 1600-1780 (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1992), 6. The best account of palace building in baroque Naples remains G. Labrot, Palazzi Napoletani: Storie di nobili e cortegiani 1520-1750 (Naples: Electa, 1993). See also Baroni in citta. Residenze e comportamenti dell'aristocrazia napoletana 1530-1734 (Naples: Societa Editrice Napoletana, 1979), esp. 49; "Le comportement collectif," 45-71. On the significance of the Viceregal Court for Neapolitan urbanism, see C. De Seta, Napoli (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1995), 95-164; Napolifra Rinascimento e Illuminismo (Naples: Electa, 1997), 60-127; G. Galasso, Napoli capitale: identita politica e identita cittadina (Naples: Electa, 1998), 125-31; F. Strazzullo, Edilizia e urbanistica a Napoli dal'500 al '700 (Naples: Arte Tipografica, 1995) 3-30.

(103.) I am here concerned with the way in which convents (including their architecture) were presented as part of the aristocratic (dynastic) body constituting the city of Naples.

(104.) "situata in mezzo di molti altri monasteri di RRde. Monache, ... come altresi tra molti Palagi principali ed Edificij de Particolari, e da che ave avuto principio sin' a tempi correnti si e mantenuto, e si mantiene con ogni splendore, e decoro, per essere stato sempre abitato da Religiose di famiglie, e nobili, e molto Illustri, e Civili di questa Citta." ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Maria della Consolazione, 4672, f.2. An almost identical claim occurs a few pages later in the account by Cesare d'Ingenio Caracciolo, Ibid., f.12.

(105.) Cantone, "I Conservatorii dell'Imbrecciata di Gesu e Maria," 215. The Cappuccinelle, the Maddalena, and the Periclitanti were founded as conservatories. The Cappuccinelle had its origins in 1585 when Giovan Luca Giglio and Eleonora Scarpato "began by getting some girls to enter, gathering them throughout the city, exhorting them to take the aforementioned [monastic] habit, and to attend at set hours to say office and other prayers, in imitation of the Capuchin fathers." ASN, Mon. Sop, 4540, f.2r. The Maddalena, founded here in 1605, housed poor girls, and the Periclitanti, founded in 1674, was dedicated to "protecting the honour of those damsels who were increasingly ensnared by wolves." Celano refers to the girls of the Periclitanti as "the damsels who through poverty are at risk of losing their honesty." Celano, ed. Chiarini, 799.

(106.) See Hills, Invisible City, 120-39.

(107.) "apportare notabile pregiudizio" (Monasteri soppressi, S. Andrea, 4939, f.267), quoted by A. Colombo, "Sant'Andrea delle Dame," Napoli Nobilissima 13., fasc. IV, p. 3.

(108.) A. Colombo, "Sant'Andrea delle Dame," Napoli Nobilissima 13, fasc. IV, p. 4.

(109.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4919, f.33r.

(110.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4919, f.33r.

(111.) ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4949, ff.46r-445r.

(112.) "non era necessario, ma puramente voluntario, per magnificenza." ASN, Mon. Sop., S. Giuseppe dei Ruffi, 4919, f.46r.

(113.) "La Pianta e sito di detto antichissimo e nobilissimo monastero existe in forma quadrata, con semetria di finissima Architettura a la moderna ridotto, con magnificenza di bellissime stanze e correlative, e degne alla grandezza di tante nobilissime suore, spose di Giesu Christo" ASN, Mon. Sop., Donn'Albina, 3211, f.4.

(114.) On the practice of building in "blocks" or isole, see C. De Seta, Napoli (Roma-Bari: Laterza), 136-40; F. Strazzullo, Edilizia e Urbanistica a Napoli dal '500 al '700 (Naples: Arte Tipografica, 1999), 77-124. On aristocratic palace architecture at this date in Naples, see G. Labrot, Baroni in citta, esp. 48-50, and "Le Comportement collectif," 45-71.

(115.) For all its grandiosity the portal of Palazzo Maddaloni is not central, as a result of the piecemeal building of the palace. See G. Labrot, Palazzi Napoletani, 122-25; G. Cantone, Napoli Barocca e Cosimo Fanzago (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1990), 125-29.

(116.) The grandiose rusticated entrance does not simply signify "entrance," since in seventeenth-century Naples non-aulic entrances were unadorned. It marks the entrance as socially significant and noble and was the symbolic object of antinoble attack during revolts. See Labrot, Palazzi napoletani, 124, 125-27.

(117.) Tim Benton first drew my attention to the degree to which this facade resembles a palace. Palazzo Gravina was built for Ferdinando Orsini, duke of Gravina. The building was begun in 1513 by Gabriele D'Angelo and finished in 1549 by Giovanni Francesco de Palma (Mormanno). For Palazzo Gravina, see G. Ceci, "Il Palazzo Gravina," Napoli Nobilissima 6 (1897): 2-4, 24-31; U. Chierici, "Il Palazzo Gravina," Atti del I congresso nazionale di storia dell'architettura (1936) (Florence: n.p., 1938), 217-29; M. Rotili, L'arte del Cinquecento nel regno di Napoli (Naples: Societa Editrice Napoletana, 1972), 58-59; Labrot, Palazzi napoletani, 124, 128, 328, n. 86.

(118.) "the new street will be of the greatest convenience to the public and to traffic allowing the passage of goods from the quarter of the Marina del Vino to the quarter above, since there is no other street which provides such convenience, apart from Mezzocanone and the strada delli ferri vecchi." ASN, Mon. Sop., SS. Marcellino e Festo, 2882, printed document of ca.1720, n.p.

(119.) "nel Mon[aster]o di s. Marcellino vivono le donne del primo ordine di questa Citta, le quali per servir' a Dio, e publico bene, havendosi eletto menare la lor' vita in perpetua clausura, post'in non cale i diletti del mondo, e commodo delle proprie case, sono meritevoli di tutta la maggior' equita, ed attenzione, accio non si pentono del loro stato, e per l'innanzi non s'arrestino dal professarvi." ASN, Mon. Sop., SS. Marcellino e Festo, 2882, undated printed pamphlet, ca.1720, n.p.

(120.) The rents of 166 ducats and 6 carlini paid by the Benedictines to date for the disputed properties were returned to them. ASN, Mon. Sop., SS. Marcellino e Festo, 2882, n.p.

(121.) I am not suggesting that the decision was determined solely by the arguments advanced by either side. The Jesuits were probably successful because of their consolidated position with regime change after the War of the Spanish Succession, but the terms in which they and the nuns advanced their position are telling.

(122.) Likewise, an ecclesiastical treatise on the role of women by Agostino Valier, Bishop of Verona, describes cloistered virgins as playing an important role in reconstituting the discipline of their city, by furnishing through their well ordered respected convents a bulwark ("baluardo") against evil. De'Ricordi del cardinale Agostino Valiero lasciati alle Monache nella sua Visitazione fatta l'anno del santissimo Giubileo MDLXXV (Padua: n.p., 1744 [1575]), 22.

Helen Hills is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Manchester, U.K.
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