Boccaccio's Amazons and their legacy in Renaissance art: confronting the threat of powerful women.
The Renaissance reception of warrior women drawn from Greek and Roman antiquity was largely shaped by protohumanist writers. Prominent among these was Giovanni Boccaccio, who, as Warren Ginsberg notes, "adjusted the imperatives of the past to meet needs of the present." (2) Boccaccio interpreted Amazon lore in two texts which, although written in different literary genres, were extremely popular with Renaissance readers, painters, and patrons: the Teseida della nozze d'Emilia (ca.1340-41), a vernacular epic poem with close associations to late medieval cantare, and De mulieribus claris (begun ca.1360), a contribution in Latin to the distinguished classical exemplum tradition. I will show that Boccaccio offers two very different constructions of warrior women in these works: Amazons who, in the Teseida, repent their sin and folly and happily reassume conventional female roles, vs. Amazons in De mulieribus claris who never relinquish their masculine activities and autonomy. I will further argue that these contrasting representations nonetheless transmitted a consistent patriarchal ideology that was reinforced by fifteenth-century visual artists who tailored images based on his texts to best communicate their shared concerns to diverse Renaissance patrons. (3)
The Teseida relates the conquest of Thebes by Theseus, Duke of Athens, and the subsequent love triangle that develops between two royal Theban prisoners and the sister of Theseus's wife. Modern criticism, following on David Anderson's persuasive study, has recognized parallels to and restructurings of Statius's Thebaid in the text. (4) Robert Edwards notes, however, that while Statius's poem chronicling the tragedies of Thebes is an emblem of "rage encoded historically across generations," Boccaccio "fully inscribes a medieval aristocratic ideology in his classical world." (5) The opening books of the Teseida depict an episode that was not developed by Statius but which situates the text in a milieu governed by courtly principles and fueled by chivalric heroism and conventional standards of feminine identity.
In Book 1, Theseus decides to attack a nation of women who, having killed their menfolk, govern themselves and make a practice of expelling any interloping men from their territory and exacting tribute from Greek ships. Determined to "avenge these crimes" (1.13), Theseus raises an army and sails to Scythia to wage war on the Amazons. (6) Boccaccio introduces these warrior women as a tribe of "wild and ruthless" Scythians who murdered their husbands with "haughty proclamation ... that they would not be kept in subjection, but that they wanted to govern themselves" (1.6). This "foolish design" led to the election of Hippolyta as queen, since she was a "mistress of warcraft" (1.8). Learning of Theseus's plans, the Amazons prepare for war, and the Greeks are unprepared for the women's skill at arms: "I shall say nothing of the darts, arrows, and missiles with which the sky was darkened ... no battle was ever so cruel and so fierce, and no one [speaking of Theseus and his army] has ever suffered more in any other ... Even the bravest among them took cover now, so fearful were they of the women's arrows" (1.54, 56).
Theseus's army retreats to their ships, but he goads them into returning to the battlefield with a diatribe against the shame of being bested by women: "Better for you now to have suffered the pangs of death with honor than to retreat shamefully and allow girls to advance" (1.63). The tide begins to turn, and the women flee to their castle. Theseus attempts a variety of siege maneuvers, but the women are "equipped with such intrepidity" (1.93) that nothing avails until he hits on a plan to undermine the castle walls. At this point Hippolyta sends him a message appealing to his honor: "To make war on women and win a victory is more to the shame than to the glory of the victor" (1.104). Theseus replies that his army will readily annihilate the Amazons as "It does not shame our hearts ... because we intend to humble your pride" (1.110). In response to this Hippolyta makes an abrupt about-face regarding the legitimacy of the Amazon way of life. When she initially rallied her women for battle she assured them that "The high gods smile on what we did and will always respect us the more for it, while they scorn those other women who continue to submit out of cowardice ... you must be brave if you want to be free" (1.30, 35). Now she advocates surrender to the Duke's forces as "Venus is angry with us with just cause ... It will not be a disgrace for us to be conquered by such an excellent man, since every man realizes that we are women, and so we are" (1.117, 121). Further, when the two sides meet, Hippolyta agrees to marry Theseus, and "many other women happily married the Greek knights" promising to "never return to their folly ... [and to] make up for the time they had lost when there were no men in their kingdom" (1.135, 138).
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Paul F. Watson has shown that narratives deriving from the Teseida were popular with commissioners of Renaissance cassoni, or marriage chests. (7) Two mid-fifteenth-century Tuscan cassone paintings are likely to be representative of a much larger body of lost works depicting the confrontation between Theseus and the Amazons (Pl. 7 and Fig. 1). (8) In both panels the battle is portrayed as taking place on an area of land situated between a town secured by crenellated walls from whence the women have emerged and the anchored ships on which the men have arrived. This composition constructs a dialectic between the world of adventure and opportunity open to men and the confined domesticity that is the rightful realm of women. In the spirit of unfettered conquest, male soldiers charge into battle fully armed and armored. In spite of having the advantage of being forewarned as to the men's intentions and of fighting on their own turf, the women, many of whom are shown either fleeing towards the safety of the castle or being beaten back (background and right foreground, are plainly not prepared for the conflict. In fact, it must be clear to any viewer that they were doomed from the moment they chose to wear long, heavy, jewel-toned gowns into battle.
In Plate 7 the viewer's gaze is riveted by the spectacle of twisted, bloody, female corpses; not only do the male soldiers enter with relish upon the task of killing the women, they do not scruple at trampling upon their maimed bodies. In spite of the fact that there are fully twice as many women as men, and that only the women have horses, the women are being routed, as evidenced by the greater number of female dead, the treatment of the female casualties (sprawling and mutilated across the battlefield as opposed to discreetly intact on the periphery), and the massive retreat of women taking place in the background. In the central foreground of Figure 1, the men have the distinct advantage, in close combat between cavalry, of being armed with lances rather than bows and arrows; in the right foreground the women, one of whom throws her arm up in despair, make a pathetic attempt to flee from the men who are menacing them with lances and swords.
Ellen Callmann, Paola Tinagli and others have recognized the role of cassoni narratives as providing moral guidance to husbands and/or to their wives. (9) More recently Cristelle Baskins has presented compelling analyses of several cassone narratives which support her thesis that cassone scholarship is enriched by allowing for a multiplicity of readings which "take into account different interpretive communities." (10) In her seminal discussion of Amazonian imagery and Teseida narratives, she argues for "a range of possible readings and gender codings," which include Amazons "as models for filial transition from natal to conjugal families" as well as "the ability to leave behind a celibate life in favor of domesticity." Husbands "are instructed not only to resist feminine consumption but also to curb their own sumptuary display ... [and] undergo a policing of desire in the service of the state." (11) Baskins is extremely persuasive in asserting that the complexity of the Amazon literary tradition, as well as the varied audience for cassone painting, begs for multiple, simultaneously relevant interpretations. Once a painting has entered the consciousness of a viewer, the manner in which it is encoded will depend on education, experience, and a host of unidentifiable variables. Certain images, however, cannot help but be incorporated into the interpretational paradigm of all potential viewers of the Teseida panel: the men, who look like soldiers prepared for war, are winning a painfully one-sided battle against women who do not.
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The greatest compliment Renaissance humanism could bestow on a woman was to liken her to a man; Yael Even has convincingly argued that some portrayals of donne illustri "were desexualized and masculinized," reaffirming "the patriarchal belief that a female hero is not only an aberration but also a replication of a male hero." (12) Before the final armistice between Theseus and Hippolyta, Boccaccio apportions the masculine qualities of bravery and military prowess in fairly balanced measure between the Greeks and the Amazons. This period of relative equality, which continues for several months in the text, is not communicated in cassone narratives derived from the Teseida. I would argue that, as the audience for cassone narratives comprised a varying body of viewers (those who had read the Teseida, those who had not, and those who had passing familiarity with the story), it was deemed more important to unequivocally communicate the Amazons' failure than to faithfully convey Boccaccio's account of their initial ascendancy. Other deviations from the text support this imperative: the men on the boats are fighting rather than retreating, and those women not on horseback, far from being the fleet-footed warriors Boccaccio describes, appear as clumsy participants in a masquerade that has gone terribly wrong. Rather than comfortably arrayed in the confluence of feminine attire and armor common in Renaissance depictions of heroines famous for military success, most of the Amazons are protected only by a helmet, while a lucky few have armored sleeves and an occasional breastplate.
What is the significance of presenting the Amazons in these paintings as largely inept? Renaissance conduct manuals seeking to define decorous female behavior stressed the importance of leggiadria, which is characterized by "grace, modesty, gentleness, measure, and elegance in such a way that no movement, no action, shall be without moderation ... but ordered, composed, regulated, gracious." (13) Castiglione also insisted "a woman should in no way resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words, gestures and bearing." (14) Comportment recognized as masculine was termed gagliardo, and as warrior women would clearly require a certain measure of this, writers in the armata e bella tradition struggled, as Margaret Tomalin notes, "to portray a woman who is ... equal in strength to the men, and yet beautiful in the delicate manner of the period." (15) Similarly, painters seeking to convey a pleasing degree of assertive gagliardo in their female subjects faced the challenge of constructing images that would not compromise their feminine allure. Sometimes this took the form of a stance, gaze, or raiment that would not have been employed in an image in which modesty was a paramount consideration. (16) The awkward deportment of most of the cassone Amazons, in conjunction with a minimal use of armor, belies any legitimate claim to manly gagliardo while simultaneously negating feminine leggiadria. Thus, the artists have used the power of visual imagery to eliminate the suggestion that the warrior women had ever posed a substantive threat to male dominion.
If the portrayal of cassone Amazons does not reflect the pleasing appearance of Renaissance guerriere, neither does it conform to the literary or visual imagery of Amazons in ancient art. Although numerous arguments have been forwarded to fine-tune the significance of the Amazon at different periods in Greek antiquity, at the most fundamental level they always presented a threat to the natural ordering of society that could be eliminated only through violence. (17) Their appearance, therefore, was informed by the imperative of setting them apart from conventional women; Amazons in ancient Greece were often shown as muscular warriors wearing short tunics or, as Marina Warner observes, "close to the delirious undress" of the drunken orgiastic followers of Bacchus (Fig. 2). (18) This manner of depiction conveyed a renunciation of female domesticity and the decision to enter into male realms of activity; not only did Amazons reject the spindle, but they engaged in activities--riding horses, throwing spears, shooting bows and arrows--that required clothing in which one could move freely.
Echoing ideas of Amazonian otherness passed down from antiquity, Boccaccio uses physical appearance in the Teseida to reinforce the differences in attitude and social position the Amazons embrace when their estrangement from men comes to a close. The envoys Hippolyta sends to make peace are "dressed in costly robes, unarmed" (1.97). Once the queen surrenders, accepting "to what a pass the gods have brought us, and not unjustly," and Theseus takes her for his bride, the warrior women's redemption in returning to conventional womanhood is manifested by a regularizing of external appearance: "The ladies had altered their appearance as they placed their weapons on the ground and returned to the way they used to be: beautiful, charming, fresh, and graceful ... and the modesty which they had discarded on that terrible night when they killed their husbands now returned to their fresh faces when they saw the men....they put on again the jewels they had set aside" (1. 116, 124, 132-4).
In her discussion of Teseida cassoni, Baskins identifies a panel that she convincingly argues to be a pendant to Plate 7 and which depicts the conquered Amazons once again in possession of the leggiadria they lacked while on the battlefield; having removed their helmets they queue sedately in anticipation of returning to the role of respectable matron. However, these women do not appear to have undergone any fundamental transformation, as, from beginning to end, they have been encased in the modest, constricting garb of patrician women. In the Teseida, Theseus killed women who had, externally as well as internally, abandoned their prescribed gender identities. In marked contradistinction, the original viewers of cassoni saw armed men slaughtering women who looked like their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives--or themselves. In refusing ever to allow the Amazons to appear as recognizably "other," Renaissance artists better enabled spectators of a legendary battle that happened long ago and far away to better connect with the participants and thereby more readily to associate actions with consequences. One lesson is clear: You can take the girl out of the palazzo, but you can't take the palazzo out of the girl. The presence of a few women on horseback might suggest a further warning: even women who are somehow better equipped than most to compete with men will end up losing, and following their lead will end either in failure or destruction.
Twenty years after writing the Teseida, Boccaccio presented a different construction of Amazons in his De mulieribus claris, a biographical compilation that became popular throughout Europe and which drew primarily from ancient sources to serve as a vehicle for moralizing on the lives of notable women. Whereas the Teseida was written in the vernacular using a literary form that would appeal to a varied readership of both sexes, De mulieribus claris was written in Latin for highly educated men at a time late in the author's life when, as Ginsberg notes, he wrote "with the civic-mindedness of a Livy, replacing fictions that pandered to desire." (19) I believe that Boccaccio's fundamental ideology regarding the nature of women and their role in society remains consistent across the two works, but that he chose a new rhetorical strategy to communicate this ideology based upon the population he intended to reach. (20) While his approach to normalizing the problem of wayward women in the Teseida boils down to an assurance that even extraordinary women are, at bottom, only women, to the elite male readership of De mulieribus claris Boccaccio engages in stern discourse so as to warn against the very real capacity of women to usurp male authority. To this end, he retools his previous depiction of Amazons in order to render them more masculine, more virtuous, and hence more dangerous.
The Amazons Boccaccio chose to highlight in De mulieribus claris were not those who, like Hippolyta and her followers, marry and subordinate themselves to their male conquerors. On the contrary, of the five Amazons who are given their own biographies, two die fighting while the destinies of three are reported as unknown to the author. (21) Notably, Hippolyta is only mentioned in order to extol the valor of Queen Orithya, who, upon hearing that Theseus had abducted Hippolyta, "summoned reinforcements and dared to wage war against the whole of Greece." (22) Stephen Kolsky's reading of Orithya's biography (which Boccaccio presents in combination with that of Amazon Queen Antiope) focuses on Hippolyta and argues that Boccaccio emphasizes "the inadequacy of the women" and "a return to 'proper' gender relations in which men restore their primacy in combat." (23) This conclusion does not give due recognition to the fact that the account of the women who bow to male dominion is subsumed within the life stories of women who don't--and it is the latter who merit their own biographies and are singled out for praise. In De mulieribus claris Hippolyta is no longer a worthy foe who has seen the light but one whose carelessness necessitates the intervention of an Amazon more formidable and daring, and although Orithya is unable to liberate Hippolyta (in part, Boccaccio notes, because she was abandoned by her allies), this failure does not result in the loss of her kingdom, to which she returns and over which she continues to rule.
Hippolyta's devolution is an indicator that Boccaccio has reconceptualized the significance of Amazons in De mulieribus claris, a suggestion substantiated by his strikingly different account of the motivations of the founding Amazons. The women in his vernacular romance who "took up arms against love" (1.24) and "spilt the life blood of [their] men ... leaving them in the icy embrace of death as the stone cold victims of [their] spite" (I.7) are, in De mulieribus claris, innocent widows who, having had no hand in the deaths of their husbands, seek vengeance against the men who did. Ultimately these women decide to avoid men altogether as, "if they entered into relationship with foreign males, they would be slaves rather than wives." (24) In the Teseida the Amazons "sinned against [their] men" (1.29); in De mulieribus claris they want to "avenge their dead husbands," and kill countrymen who survived the enemy invasion only "to remove the appearance that a kinder fate had been reserved for those women whose spouses Fortune had saved from the Scythians' massacre." (25)
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Thus, in terms of virtuous exemplarity, there is little or no correspondence between the Amazons of Boccaccio's two texts. In the Teseida, Amazons rebel against dutiful wifely behavior, and their standing as virtuous females depends upon the recognition of this error and a willingness to return to the status quo; in De mulieribus claris, Amazons seek retribution for their husbands' deaths, are lauded for refusing to submit to inappropriate male attention, and commit mariticide (killing one's husband) only when such action is required to avoid discord among women whose goal is to maintain widowed chastity. The Amazons in the Teseida embrace a return to conjugal relations; in De mulieribus claris, rising above female concupiscence (believed to pose an ever-present threat to the honor and dynastic ambitions of Renaissance families), Amazons either remain virginal (a sexual status unrivaled in terms of Renaissance notions of female virtue) or take a purely pragmatic, procreational attitude towards sex. The weight carried by this decision in the overall assessment of Amazonian virtue cannot be overestimated; Boccaccio's concern for patriarchy extends to the protection of patrimony, and his most biting invectives are against widows who remarry. In the context of De mulieribus claris, therefore, the Amazons of the Teseida, who ultimately and happily remarry after having murdered their husbands, would necessarily be anathema.
Why, in De mulieribus claris, did Boccaccio abandon the origin myth he propounded in the Teseida? In reconstructing the circumstances which led the first Amazons to adopt lives independent of men, Boccaccio created women who share the strong moral fiber of male heroes and who represent, as a consequence, a serious challenge to doctrines of male superiority. The Teseida Amazons, whose behavior was actuated by inherent female inadequacies, were women who could be subdued: driven by an emotional outburst fueled by the vice of "haughtiness," Hippolyta and her followers, perpetrators of the cowardly murders of their sleeping spouses, lacked the moral underpinnings to maintain their independence and ultimately rejoiced in returning to subjugation and sexual relations. Women of high moral principles who have no interest in sex are another matter, as Boccaccio stresses in the concluding paragraph of the Amazon Penthesilia:
Some may marvel at the fact that there are women, however well armed, who dare to fight against men. But admiration will cease if we remember that practical experience can change natural dispositions. Through practice, Penthesilia and women like her became much more manly in arms than those born male who have been changed into women--or helmeted hares--by idleness and love of pleasure. (26)
Thus Boccaccio employs Amazons as goads to rouse men from their complacency and come to the realization that all some women require to undermine male prerogatives is a little practice.
Even as artists who drew upon the Teseida for cassone narratives used the power of visual imagery to communicate the fundamental inability of women to successfully challenge the authority of men, so the anonymous but presumably German illustrators of the earliest printed edition of De mulieribus claris (Johann Zainer, 1473) created woodcuts of Amazons which support Boccaccio's warning that women have proved themselves capable not only of self-governance but of acquiring the physical and psychological strengths necessary to protect their independence. (27) In spite of the wide dissemination of the Zainer Latin edition throughout Europe, scant attention has been paid these prints by modern scholars. As concern over issues of women and power transcended geopolitical affiliation, the evaluation of Zainer's prints alongside Italian cassone imagery opens up a potentially fruitful approach to examining the ongoing Pan-European debate over the nature and role of women. As Ann Marie Rasmussen notes, debate over gender in medieval German literature was "omnipresent ... ubiquitous," and it is possible that the flourishing "Battle for the Breeches" and "World Upside Down" traditions paved the way to depictions of powerful women in nonhumorous contexts. (28)
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Approximately three-quarters of the Zainer biographies are accompanied by a printed image, and the three Amazons illustrated in this edition are Marpesia, Lampedo, and Penthesilia. (29) Each of these women, like Orithya and Antiope, was an early Amazon queen. The lives of Marpesia and Lampedo are combined in one biography and the two women share an illustration (Fig. 3). The view of Amazons that is communicated by this print contrasts strongly with that of the cassone panels, as there is no attempt to visually compromise their masculinity through inventive hybrid clothing ensembles or evident lack of military prowess. Here the two Amazon queens, armed and astride galloping horses, are shown leading their band of warriors into battle. Although the text indicates that Marpesia was killed in battle, there are no dead or wounded Amazons in this picture; in fact, there is no indication that loss or failure has ever marred the confidence and competence that radiates from these women. Their bodies are entirely encased in armor, and the followers, fully helmeted, could be mistaken for men. The queens themselves wear crowns to indicate their rank, but from the neck down they too are indistinguishable from male soldiers. The fact that their long flowing hair is the only indicator that these are women is a visual wake-up call that perfectly encapsulates Boccaccio's warning: once these warriors put on their helmets, there will be no distinguishing between them and their male counterparts. (30)
Boccaccio's construction of the life of the final Amazon in De mulieribus claris follows the pattern he set with the first four. Penthesilia "scorned her great beauty and overcame the softness of her woman's body ... in matters of strength and skill she dared to show herself superior to all previous queens." (31) In addressing the life of Penthesilia, Kolsky argues that "the major incident of her biography is that she falls in love with Hector, thus forcing the reader's attention back on a more typical female mode of behaviour ... Penthesilia ... conforms more than the other Amazon queens to a more acceptable female role." (32) I dispute this reading. Although Boccaccio writes that Penthesilia, having heard of the Trojan hero's prowess, falls in love with him, her decision to aid him in battle is not prompted by a latent longing to return to a conventional role as his wife but rather by the imperative to keep the Amazon nation strong: "She wanted as her successor an illustrious child fathered by Hector, and with this end in view she fell readily upon the chance to help him against the Greeks ..." (33) Penthesilia's desire for a powerful successor denotes her intention of returning to her throne and continuing to foster female autonomy. Further, unlike Hippolyta and her followers in the Teseida, Penthesilia did not revert to physical feminine allurement to win male approval but "wished to please Hector with her skill in combat rather than by her beauty." (34) Finally, Boccaccio notes that in some ancient accounts Penthesilia arrives after Hector's death but nonetheless does battle until she is killed.
Once again, the De mulieribus claris woodcut that seeks to distill the significance of Penthesilia's biography includes nothing that suggests weakness (Fig. 4). In this print the Amazon is depicted as a masterful soldier on horseback in the process of goring her male opponent in the chest. She is clad from head to toe in armor; as even her face is covered, the only hint to her sex is the hair that flows down her back. If, as in cassone images of Hippolyta and her Amazons, the artist's goal had been to portend a desire to return to normative gender roles, Hector would surely have been included in the print. His exclusion is significant, as without him Penthesilia presents as an autonomous virago whose battle against the man she is slaying is not qualified as being waged for the benefit of another.
In comparing the De mulieribus claris woodcut of Penthesilia with a cassone painting depicting Petrarch's Triumph of Fame it once again becomes apparent that Amazonian imagery was tailored to its anticipated audience (Fig. 5). In this panel painted by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, Penthesilia, unlike the male warriors with whom she rides, wears no armor whatsoever. The inconspicuous bow she wears over her elegant and modest raiment is the only testimony to her life as a warrior. Her long freely flowing hair (contrasting markedly with the covered hair of the married Dido and Lucretia), in conjunction with her proximity to Hector, suggests she is being honored for her virginity and the willingness to sacrifice herself for the man she loves. The warrior queen has visually joined the ranks of her female viewers, shedding the trappings that might suggest the will or ability to challenge male authority and assuming the role of chaste exemplar.
A crucial consideration in the decoding of quattrocento Amazon imagery lies in the recognition of its rejection of the antique practice of depicting such women as recognizably "other" and instead incorporating them, visually, into mainstream patrician society. In order to confront the threat that contemporary incarnations of the ambitious female spirit might pose to patriarchal societies, cassone Amazons were encased in the external trappings of womanhood. Their portrayal as incompetent and ridiculous provides visual reinforcement of the Teseida's message that attempts by women to expand the prerogatives of their sex is justly punishable by death but subject to the corrective influence of marriage--a potent illustration of the patriarch's prerogative of wielding authority and a strict disciplinary hand over the female members of his household. The textual and visual portrayal in De mulieribus claris of Amazons as the female equivalents of male heroes sends a warning to the educated male elite that women, if allowed to get a foot in the door, present a viable threat to male authority. Power, in both instances, is considered to be a zero-sum game, and any advances on the part of women result in corresponding setbacks for men. Regardless of whether women are naturally limited in their abilities to function in a man's world or whether they have the capacity to acquire the tools needed to succeed in that world, the conclusion is the same: the power of women must be contained.
(1.) Scholarship relevant to the restricted lives of women in the Renaissance and the ideology which supported these restrictions is vast; see, for example, Ann Crabb, The Strozzi of Florence: Widowhood & Family Solidarity in the Renaissance (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2000); Merry E. Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993); and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia C. Cochrane (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985). For an excellent study of exemplarity in the Renaissance see Timothy Hampton, Writing from History: The Rhetoric of Exemplarity in Renaissance Literature (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990).
(2.) Warren Ginsberg, Chaucer's Italian Tradition (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2002), 184. For the Teseida's affiliations with the contare tradition see David Wallace, Chaucer and the Early Writings of Boccaccio (Dover, NH: D. S. Brewer Ltd., 1985), 141-50.
(3.) For recent critiques of the social and sexual significance of the Amazons in the Teseida, see, for example, Robert R. Edwards, Chaucer and Boccaccio: Antiquity and Modernity (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 17-43; and James H. McGregor, The Shades of Aeneas (Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1991), 46-50. This paper does not seek to situate Theseus's battle with the Amazons within the larger narrative of the Teseida; for a discussion of the leifmotif of obtaining women by force in the Teseida see Suzanne C. Hagedorn, Abandoned Women: Rewriting the Classics in Dante, Boccaccio, & Chaucer (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004), 82-84; for an analysis of the function of Amazonian rhetoric in the text see Eren Branch, "Rhetorical Structures and Strategies in Boccaccio's Teseida" in The Craft of Fiction: Essays in Medieval Poetics ed. Leigh A. Arrathoon (Rochester, MI: Solaris, 1984),143160 (153-4); see also Winthrop Wetherbee, "History and Romance in Boccaccio's Teseida," Studi sul Boccaccio 20 (1991-2): 173-84; and McGregor, Shades of Aeneas, 44-103.
(4.) David Anderson, Before the Knight's Tale: Imitation of Classical Epic in Boccaccio's "Teseida (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1988). See also Edwards, Chaucer and Boccaccio, 19-23.
(5.) Edwards, Ibid., 20, 30.
(6.) Giovanni Boccaccio, The Book of Theseus, trans. Bernadette Marie McCoy (New York: Medieval Text Assoc., 1974). For a review of ancient sources of Theseus's involvement with Amazons see Mandy Merck, "The City's Achievements: The Patriotic Amazonomachy and Ancient Athens" in Tearing the Veil: Essays on Femininity, ed. Susan Lipshitz (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 95-115 (esp. 101-06).
(7.) Paul F. Watson, "A Preliminary List of Subjects from Boccaccio in Italian Painting, 1400-1550," Studi sul Boccaccio 15 (1985-6): 14966, and "Apollonio di Giovanni and Ancient Athens," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37:1 (1979-80): 3-25.
(8.) I am indebted to Cristelle Baskins for her recognition of these panels as representing the battle of Theseus and the Amazons from the Teseida in her Cassone Painting, Humanism, and Gender in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), 26-49. The Indianapolis Museum of Art notes that Pl. 7 is a scene from Boccaccio and "pictures one of several legends which illustrate battles between the sexes, such as the abduction of the Amazon Antiope by Theseus, or the virtuous Camilla battling Aeneas." The Yale Univ. Art Gallery believes Fig. 1 to represent a battle between Greeks and Amazons before the walls of Troy, a reading difficult to support as 1) the Amazons are actually exiting from the city to engage in the battle, and 2) the scene only depicts men fighting against women, and the Amazons were but one of Troy's many allies. A reading of these images as deriving from the Teseida is consistent with both the setting and the antagonists in these two panels.
(9.) See, for example, Paolo Tignali, "Womanly Virtues in Quattrocento Florentine Marriage Furnishings" in Women in Italian Renaissance Culture and Society, ed. Letizia Panizza (Oxford, Legenda, Univ. of Oxford, 2000), and Women in Italian Renaissance Art (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1997); Ellen Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).
(10.) Baskins, Cassone Painting, 16.
(11.) Ibid., 49.
(12.) Yael Even, "Andrea Del Castagno's Eve: Female Heroes as Anomalies in Italian Renaissance Art," Woman's Art Journal 14:2 (Fall 1993-Winter 1994): 37-42 (37); see also her "Mantegna's Uffizi Judith: The Masculinization of the Female Hero," Konsthistorisk tidskrift 61 , 1 -2 (1 992): 8-20, and "The Heroine as Hero in Michelangelo's Art," Woman's Art Journal 11:1 (Spring/Summer 1990): 29-33. Constance Jordan considers this rhetoric to be a misogynistic "strategy of subversion"; see her Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), esp. 37, and "Boccaccio's In-Famous Women: Gender and Civic Virtue in Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris" in Ambiguous Realities: Women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Carole Levin and Jeanie Watson (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1987), 25-47. On the use and goals of this type of rhetoric see also, for example, Marta Ajmar, "Exemplary Women in Renaissance Italy: Ambivalent Models of Behaviour?" in Women in Italian Renaissance Culture and Society (Oxford: Legenda, Univ. of Oxford, 2000), 24464; Margaret L. King, Women of the Renaissance (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991), and "Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early Italian Renaissance" in Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. Patricia H. Labalme (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1980), 66-90; and Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), esp. 35-52.
(13.) Agnolo Firenzuola, Dialogo delle bellezze delle donne in Opera scelte, ed. Giuseppe Fatini (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1957), 509-10.
(14.) Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, ed. and trans. George Bull (London: Penguin, 1976), 211.
(15.) Margaret Tomalin, The Fortunes of the Warrior Heroine in Italian Literature (Ravenna: Longo Editore, 1982), 15-16.
(16.) See Margaret Franklin, "A Woman's Place: Visualizing the Feminine Ideal in the Courts and Communes of Renaissance Italy" in Gender and Debate from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, ed. Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 189-205; Rona Goffen, "Lotto's Lucretia," Renaissance Quarterly 52 (Autumn, 1999): 742-81; and Sharon Fermor, "Movement and Gender in Sixteenth-Century Painting" in The Body Imaged: The Human Form and Visual Culture Since the Renaissance, ed. Kathleen Adler and Marcia Pointon (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 129-45. On female beauty and decorum in the visual arts of the Renaissance see Francis Ames-Lewis and Mary Rogers, eds., Concepts of Beauty in Renaissance Art (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998); Paolo Berdini, "Women Under the Gaze: A Renaissance Genealogy," Art History 21 (December, 1998): 565-90; and Elizabeth Cropper, "The Beauty of Woman: Problems in the Rhetoric of Renaissance Portraiture" in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), 175-90.
(17.) For arguments as well as overviews of Amazon-as-other criticism see, for example, Andrew Stewart, "Imag(in)ing the Other: Amazons and Ethnicity in Fifth-Century Athens," Poetics Today 16 (Winter, 1995): 571-97; Josine Blok, The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on a Persistent Myth (Leiden: Brill Academic Publ., 1994); John Henderson, "Timeo Danaos: Amazons in Early Greek Art and Pottery" in Art and Text in Ancient Greek Culture, ed. S. Goldhill and Robin Osborne (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 85-137; and Ilse Kirk, "Images of Amazons: Marriage and Matriarchy" in Images of Women in Peace and War, ed. Sharon Macdonald et al. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1987), 27-39; and Merck, "Patriotic Amazonomachy."
(18.) Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (New York: Atheneum, 1985), 279. Warner discusses Amazon imagery throughout this work.
(19.) Ginsberg, Chaucer's Italian Tradition, 196.
(20.) See my Boccaccio's Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society (Aldershot, Engl.: Ashgate, 2006). Boccaccio's text has been variously interpreted by modern scholars: Constance Jordan, "Boccaccio's In-Famous Women," reads the work as blatantly misogynistic; Pamela Benson, The Invention of the Renaissance Woman (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1992), 9-31, perceives a nascent feminism within its biographies; and Stephen Kolsky, The Genealogy of Women: Studies in Boccaccio's "De mulieribus claris" (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), considers the text to reveal the author's conflicted attitude towards female heroism.
(21.) The five Amazons are Marpesia and Lampedo (Books 11 and 12), Orithya and Antiope (Books 19 and 20), and Penthesilia (Book 32). Marpesia and Penthesilia are killed in battle.
(22.) Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women, ed. and trans. Virginia Brown (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2001), 85.
(23.) Kolsky, Genealogy, 72.
(24.) Ibid., 53.
(25.) Ibid., 53.
(26.) Boccaccio, Famous Women, 131.
(27.) The following analysis is not meant to suggest that De mulieribus claris was never used as a source for paintings intended to be seen by women; indeed, I have argued that it was (see, in addition to previously cited works, my "Mantegna's Dido: Faithful Widow or Abandoned Lover?" Artibus et Historiae 41 (2000): 111-22. Most of the women praised in the text are paragons of conventional female virtue, which made the work an extremely convenient font of exemplars for Renaissance women. Further, since all heroines praised for masculine virtues had first to be models of female chastity, many could be visually adapted to further extra-textual agendas.
(28.) Ann Marie Rasmussen, "Thinking Through Gender in Late Medieval German Literature" in Gender and Debate from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, ed. Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 98. For "Battle for the Breeches" and "World Upside Down" prints see, for example, Christa Grossinger, Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art (Manchester: Univ. of Manchester Press, 1997), esp. 114-20. My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for the observation that Zainer's prints merit further study in "an existing context of containment by inversion."
(29.) For a listing and reproduction of all images included in Zainer's 1473 edition see Kristina Domanski, Lesarten des Ruhms: Johann Zainers Holzschnittillustrationen zu Giovanni Boccaccios "De mulieribus claris" (Cologne: Boehlau Verlag, 2007), 283-5.
(30.) Domanski's brief discussion of the Marpesia/Lampedo print (ibid., 209-10) focuses on the fact that the Amazons are not portrayed in a battle scene although they appear to be planning to engage in armed conflict. She interprets this as a disinclination to allow women to be depicted as competing directly with men. This argument is weakened in the subsequent biography of the Amazon Penthesilia, who is in fact shown killing her male opponent.
(31.) Boccaccio, Famous Women, 129. Here Boccaccio echoes a previous description of Penthesilia in his Amorosa Visione, trans. Robert Hollander, Timothy Hampton, and Margherita Frankel (Hanover, NH: Univ. Press of New England, 1986), 37: "How bold and fierce she seemed to me, in arms, an arrow in her hand ... there was no one there who did not marvel at her indeed sovereign and lofty comportment."
(32.) Kolsky, Genealogy, 211.
(33.) Boccaccio, Famous Women, 131.
(34.) Ibid., 131.
Margaret Franklin is Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art History at Wayne State University and author of Boccaccio's Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society (2006).
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|Title Annotation:||PORTRAITS, ISSUES AND INSIGHTS; Giovanni Boccaccio|
|Publication:||Woman's Art Journal|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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