Constructing Camilla as "other" in renaissance visual narratives.
Cristelle Baskins, in her seminal exploration into Camilla imagery, recognized the complications involved in accounting for Camilla's significance in exemplary terms and persuasively argues that the heterogeneous nature of the Renaissance audience for painted narratives of the Aeneid demands the potential for a multiplicity of readings (75-102). While Baskins analyzes Camilla's role primarily in terms of exogamy in Quattrocento Italy, I am interested in elucidating the social, political, and religious implications of her close association with Turnus, the Latin king whom Aeneas must defeat before he can assume his destined role as founder of Rome. I argue that, by emphasizing Camilla's affiliation with forces seen as antithetical to contemporary notions of civic stability and responsibility, artists constructed a visual corrective to the threat posed by women who challenge male suzerainty. (2) I further suggest that cassone narratives both diverge from written sources and converge iconographically to an extent sufficient to warrant their being read as independent entities in the Nachleben of the Aeneid. The panels under consideration were painted by artists associated with different workshops and clearly do not derive from a common model; nonetheless, united in the selective and syncretic interweaving of Virgil, his humanist commentators, and the imperative to protect the gendered infrastructure of Renaissance republics, these paintings all communicate the urgency of reining in female autonomy and obstructing female access to political power.
Camilla's adventures began as an infant when her father Metabus, King of the Volscians, was forced to flee from his kingdom with only a spear and his infant daughter. Chased to a river by an angry mob, Metabus lashed the baby to the spear, vowed to dedicate the child to the virgin goddess Diana in return for her protection, and hurled her across the river. The spear stuck firm. Metabus kept his word and raised Camilla in the wilderness, where she learned to hunt and fight under the tender eye of Diana, while cherishing "an endless love of her arms and of virginity" (Aeneid 11.768-9). (3) Blossoming into a warrior queen who exulted in battle and bloodshed, Camilla returned to rule the Volscians and eventually joined forces with Turnus, King of the Rutulians, and other indigenous Latins in an attempt to drive out Aeneas and his invading Trojan army. Although she is successful in killing a number of Aeneas' men, she is soon killed in the process of stripping a dead foe of his armor.
While Virgil identifies Camilla and her virginal attendants with the Amazons of Greek lore (11.865-74), Camilla differs from these archetypes in at least two important respects. First, whereas the original city of Amazons was founded by women who had thrown off the yoke of male dominance in an act of murderous rebellion against their husbands, Camilla was the unmarried, legitimate heir to her father's throne and army. (4) Second, and perhaps most significantly (because in both antiquity and the Renaissance the prerequisite for attribution of virtue in a female was either virginal purity or marital/widowed constancy), while the Amazons engaged in extra-marital sex for procreative purposes, Camilla's avowed virginity gave her a claim on heroism that the Amazons had flagrantly abjured. Her virginity also distanced her from another Amazonian desecration of the obligations of womanhood: the coldblooded infanticide of sons. Camilla, staunch virgin and acknowledged heir, was therefore qualified to align not only with women extolled for their resolute maintenance of sexual propriety, but with a smaller subset of chaste women who worked valiantly to safeguard familial interests and power.
In two critical respects, however, Camilla did parallel her Greek antecedents: she killed men, and she did so in battle--an arena which had, from time immemorial, served as a testing ground of masculine worth. Post-classical recognition of the threat Camilla's example posed to gendered civic engagement first emerged in Giovanni Boccaccio's proto-humanist De mulieribus claris (completed c. 1375), a widely venerated work consulted as authoritative throughout Quattrocento Italy. (5) In this compendium, which I have argued was designed to signal the dangers of male complacency to the expansion of female talent, intellect, and ambition into the public sphere, Boccaccio parsed the lives of notable women (drawn, primarily, from the legends and history of ancient Greece and Rome) for evidence of virtue and vice (Franklin, Boccaccio's Heroines). Although five Greek Amazons are discussed in De mulieribus claris, in his biography of Camilla Boccaccio never employs the imagery Virgil used to equate her with these warrior women; on the contrary, he distances Camilla from these viragos by condensing her conflict with the Trojans to a brief paragraph and lingering instead over a contrived analogy between her feral upbringing and the abstemious lifestyle appropriate to Renaissance maidens:
When they (women) imagine this mature and self-possessed young woman wearing a quiver and running freely through the open fields, forests, and the lairs of animals, constantly curbing wanton desire with its enticements, refusing the pleasures and luxury of elaborate food and drink, and steadfastly rejecting not only the embraces but even the conversation of young men of her own age--when they have imagined this, let them learn from her example the proper demeanor in their parents' home, in churches, and in theaters where many onlookers and the most severe judges of conduct assemble. Let them learn also not to listen to less than honorable persons, to keep silent, have a serious look in their eyes, be well-mannered, gesture modestly, and avoid idleness, feasting, excessive luxury, dancing, and consorting with young men. Young women should also realize that it is neither pious nor in keeping with a chaste life to desire everything that is pleasurable and to do everything that is allowed (Boccaccio 157-9).
Because Camilla was "especially concerned to maintain her virginity" and had not sought, to usurp legitimate male authority, Boccaccio was able to defang Virgil's bellatrix and bring her into the fold as an exemplary woman. (6) Throughout De mulieribus claris, he employs a similar strategy of elevating to prominence the conventional femininity of women whose abilities and accomplishments appear to place them on a par with exceptional men. (7) The framing of Camilla as a paragon of female chastity is known to have been employed to some extent by Quattrocento painters; one spalliera panel depicting donne illustri celebrated for their sexual propriety includes her portrait above an inscription proclaiming she was more famous for her virginity than for overcoming her feminine ways in battle. (8) Classical exemplars for this virtue were fairly plentiful, however, and most extant representations of Camilla embed her within the narrative context of the Aeneid; here, Camilla appears as a prominent destabilizing force in Aeneas' quest to civilize barbaric native tribes.
Aeneid imagery was a popular choice for the decorative program of Florentine cassoni, the marriage chests commissioned by patrician families for installation in the bedrooms of their newlywed sons and daughters. Renaissance scholarship now recognizes cassone narratives, drawn largely from classical legend and created by thriving workshops catering to an elite clientele eager to be associated with humanist learning, to be informed by the gendered dynamics of fifteenth-century family and civic life. (9) The panels shown in figures 1-4 are believed to be the surviving representatives of an extensive body of work that was lost or destroyed during the centuries when Quattrocento decorative arts were not highly prized. Each panel comprises many episodes which, while having taken place over the course of an extended period of time, are not compartmentalized but rather situated within loosely contiguous landscapes and cityscapes.
The scenes represented in a panel by the prominent Florentine cassone painter Apollonio di Giovanni (Fig. 1) can be roughly divided into three sections. On the left, Aeneas and his Trojans meet with Latinus, King of the Latins, while on the right, Aeneas and Latinus' daughter, Lavinia, are united in marriage. Camilla, who appears only once, is gored in the center background while in the center foreground Lavinia and her parents oversee Aeneas' execution of Turnus. In a second, unattributed panel (Fig. 2), Camilla is depicted three times--in the left background fighting with a bear; in the left foreground, where she is approaching a scene of war with her retinue; and in the right middle-ground, where she has progressed to the outer perimeter of the ferocious battle in which she will soon participate. Once again, in the very center of the panel, Lavinia and her parents observe the conflict from a position of safety. The final two Aeneid narratives considered here were painted by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni. Half of each panel is devoted to the warring Latins and Trojans, and in both works Camilla is portrayed entering the battle from the left. Additionally, each panel depicts a celebration of the hero's victory in the company of his newly-won bride; in figure 3, this involves wedding festivities (left), while in figure 4, he is carried in a triumphal chariot with Lavinia walking alongside him in procession. A further little cluster of scenes is included in the right background of figure 3, where Camilla is depicted cavorting with wild animals and then, apparently, fleeing from two men.
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Common to these paintings are scenes of battle with which Camilla is conspicuously associated and scenes that reference Aeneas union with Lavinia. These iconographical choices require explication not provided by Virgil's text. First, although fully half of the epic is devoted to description of the bloody Latin/Trojan conflict, Camilla's appearance is extremely limited and ultimately ineffectual (in a war that transpires over the course of Books 7-12, she appears only in the second half of Book 11). Why, then, does she figure so prominently in cassone narratives? Second, as the Aeneid closes with Aeneas' dramatic execution of Turnus (before reaping the promised rewards of victory), why do these panels either depict or explicitly allude to Aeneas marriage?
Jennifer Klein Morrison has pinpointed the literary source of Aeneas' marriage to Lavinia in one fifteenth-century humanist's response to Virgil (38-43). In 1428, Maffeo Vegio (known to be in contact with Florentine humanists from the 1430s) attempted to resolve the moral ambiguities inherent in Aeneas' rage-fueled slaying of the vanquished Turnus by throwing the Trojan hero an elaborate wedding in a 630-line hexameter Supplementum to the Aeneid known to modern readers as "Book XIII." Morrison links Vegio's text to the wedding scene in the Ecouen panel (Fig. 1) and notes the logical sequencing of events from battle to marriage. Craig Kallendorf argues that this textual addendum serves to unequivocally justify the uncharitable execution by interpreting Turnus' attempts to defend his rule and fiancee from the invading Trojans as unwarranted pandemonium incited by the demonic ravings of a lunatic ("Maffeo Vegio's Book" 51). In this popular "final chapter," appended to Virgil's poem in a large number of extant manuscripts and frequently included in publications of the Aeneid until the mid-sixteenth century, Aeneas shines as the unadulterated embodiment of virtue against "the sheer, insane effort ... the headstrong madness of Turnus, lashed to flame without just cause and seized by hate" (340-42). (10) Kallendorfnotes that Aeneas himself "embodies pietas, that particularly Roman virtue that embraces one's duties to God, country, and family ... serving as the ideal hero ... enduring as a monument to the values of order and civilization" ("Representing the Other" 397). He argues that because epideictic (praise and blame) rhetoric was practiced for purposes of literary criticism in late antiquity, it was embraced by humanist commentators and avidly applied to Virgil's text, which, during the Renaissance, was considered to be the finest representative of the finest literary genre ("Maffeo's Vegio's Book" 53). Jane Everson agrees that as the Aeneid is predominantly concerned with universal issues of politics and society--how to establish peace, rule with justice, defend the right" (62) and, therefore, frequently employs a didactic tone in defining moral codes of human behavior, one ideally suited to the humanist goal of mining classical literature for ideals to be propounded pedagogically. Kallendorf concludes that Vegio, following in the footsteps of Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Salutati, saw in the Aeneid what the critical system of his age allowed him to see: an epic poem in which virtue was praised and vice condemned (In Praise 127).
Iconographic decisions made by the designers of cassone narratives convey an interest in developing the visual equivalent of literary epideictic rhetoric. While post-colonial readers can sympathize with the plight of Turnus and the indigenous Latins, Italian humanists, desirous of promoting even the most tenuous claims to a Roman heritage, were motivated both to amplify the merits of Rome's legendary founder and to vilify those who stoodin his way. (11) Depictions of the war against the "vast madness" (Vegio, "Book XIII" 23) of Turnus, alongside the triumphant processions and ceremonies which followed in the aftermath, represent a visual articulation of the virtues Renaissance classicists associated with the Roman conquest of barbarian peoples.
In addition to the Supplementum, Vegio wrote three treatises representative of the predominant Quattrocento response to the Aeneid as a pedagogical vehicle for character-building. In De educatione liberorum et eorum daris moribus (1444), he advocates employing epideictic strategies for the teaching of moral rectitude. For the benefit of a readership who approached Virgil from this perspective, Vegio's treatise works to "praise virtue where Virgil had not done so clearly enough and to condemn vice where a reader might not see the condemnation" (Kallendorf, "Maffeo Vegio's Book" 53). In Defoelicitate et miseria (1445), a dialogue situated in Aeneas visit to the underworld, Vegio associates temporal virtue (acquired through literary study) and temporal vice with, respectively, eternal reward and punishment, while in De perseverantia religionis (1448) he supplements epideictic rhetoric with moral allegory in order to elevate Aeneas' achievement to a glorious triumph over the devil, as embodied by Turnus, as well as over earthly pleasures, represented by the Latins (Kallendorf, "Maffeo Vegio's Book" 48-50).
Vegio's writings suggest a comprehensive effort to identify and expound upon both the admirable and the contemptible in the Aeneid, and work in tandem to provide both ideological pounding and imagery for cassone narratives. It is therefore significant that Vegio never mentions Camilla. Perhaps he did not consider her to be a noteworthy component of Virgil's ethical scheme; possibly the perception of a thorny interweaving of virtue and vice in her character was seen to preclude her usefulness as an exemplar. There is a woman, however, whom both Virgil and Vegio viewed as significant to Aeneas' enterprise: Dido, the widowed Queen of Carthage, to whom an entire book of the Aeneid is dedicated and for the love of whom Aeneas was sorely tempted to forsake the adventuring which ultimately led to the founding of Rome. In Virgil's text, Dido, not Camilla, provides an alternative vision of sexual partnering and shared rulership to that which Aeneas ultimately chooses with the chaste, silent, and passive Lavinia (who makes only a brief appearance and never speaks a word throughout the epic). Vegio fully exploits the possibilities inherent in contrasting the appropriateness of these very different women for the ideal man when he writes that Aeneas, "endowed with every virtue," recognized the vice inherent in his "dalliance" with Dido (who, defenseless against "the allures of lust," committed suicide after finding herself abandoned) and chose instead to marry the virginal Lavinia in order to "transmit the destiny of the Trojan race" (Vegio, "Book XIII" 92-3). It is worth noting, therefore, that there are no existing Renaissance paintings in which Dido and Lavinia are juxtaposed; thus, while humanist enthusiasm for the dynastic significance of Aeneas' odyssey is conveyed in triumphal and nuptial cassone imagery, the use of Dido as a visual foil to drive this point home is not capitalized on. (12)
The absence of visual Dido and Lavinia pairings is noteworthy in light of the prominence of yet another humanist interested in the allegorical possibilities of the Aeneid. Cristoforo Landino, like Vegio, sought to disambiguate the moral significance of Aeneas' successful extrication from each pitfall he encountered. Landino lectured on Virgil at the University of Florence throughout the 1460s, and included in his Disputationes Camaldulenses of 1472 the most extensive treatment of the Aeneid written during the fifteenth century. Landino's analysis, which treats the first six books of Virgil's text, was frequently published in conjunction with the poem it critiqued. (13) While his commentary does not address the Trojans' war against the Latins, Dido does play a central role in his interpretation of Aeneas' journey as an allegory of the soul's quest for moral perfection. Landino sees the hero's eventual determination to break away from the becalmed complacency of his life with the Carthaginian queen as signaling his transition from adolescence to adulthood; his triumph over the lust, greed, and untoward political ambition represented by Dido is prerequisite to the gratification he will ultimately find in mature avenues of sexual and political fulfillment.
While Dido is never juxtaposed with Lavinia in painted narratives, the importance placed by literary humanists on her exemplary and allegorical significance is reflected in cassone paintings that showcase her interactions with the Trojans. This is significant to the interpretation of Camilla imagery in at least two respects. First, there is no imperative to read Camilla's prominence in cassone narratives as an endorsement of either her morals or her actions; if the abandonment of Dido is to be considered a virtuous act (which it must be if Aeneas' decisions are driven by his pietas), Dido is perforce an impediment to the realization of Aeneas divinely-ordained destiny. While some humanists objected to Virgil's besmirching of Dido's pre-Virgilian reputation as a constant widow, within the context of Aeneid narratives her import must derive from her relationship vis-a-vis Aeneas. (14) Similarly, Camilla cannot be assessed independently of her decision to war against the Trojans in narratives in which, as with Dido, her value to Aeneas' glory lies in the challenge she presents as an antagonist. Second, the visual juxtaposition of Camilla with Lavinia in cassone narratives represents the displacement of Dido from a humanist model which, designed as it was to convey the dangers and rewards of illicit and licit female power and sex, would have served the pedagogical purpose of providing newlyweds with a model for the perpetuation of virtue within established social structures.
Does Camilla's exclusion from humanist Virgilian commentary preclude a reading of her significance within exemplary and allegorical paradigms? Baskins considers humanist interpretations of Camilla's appearance on cassoni to be problematic because, while Lavinia and Camilla can be read as antithetical according to a number of variables germane to fifteenth century ideas of female decorum, "in the logic of Renaissance gender ideology ... (Camilla) can also serve as an example to contemporary brides" on account of her famed chastity (84). Further, the "humanist emphasis on the heroine's chastity disassociates Camilla from the narrative events of the Aeneid [where] she enacts valorous failure" (84). I agree that tributes to Camilla's chastity chafe with her portrayal as a warrior on cassoni, but suggest that she is not meant to be read as valorous in either her decision to remain virginal or in her decision to war against Aeneas.
Sexual propriety was never irrelevant in Renaissance assessment of female worth, and the sexual choices made by the women in the Aeneid are powerful determinants of their relevance to Aeneas: Queen Dido, a lonely widow, succumbs to the temptation of unwed intimacy which leads to her insanity and suicide; Camilla's dedicated virginity follows Diana's example of spurning the conventional path of marriage and domesticity in favor of developing "masculine" interests and autonomy; and Lavinia's virginity has been closely guarded in order that it might be relinquished to an honorable marriage. (15) All Renaissance readings of these women would be informed by this interpretive framework to ignore sexual status in the interest of promoting other qualities was not an option. It is therefore noteworthy that Camilla, like Lavinia, is never depicted in a cassone narrative sequence with Dido, an eventuality which could not help but convey Camilla's sexuality in a positive light. Had Camilla been incorporated into Aeneid narratives for the purpose of modeling female abstemiousness (a la Boccaccio), her effectiveness in this role would have been amplified through juxtaposition with Dido, a woman whom both Vegio and Landino considered a poster child of sexual immorality and pervasive intemperance. Instead, she is contrasted with Lavinia, an unassailable paragon whose virginity, mirroring that of the new bride examining her painted furnishings, is valued only because it will soon be lost. As parents of newlywed children, cassone patrons would have little interest in the unqualified endorsement of virginity, and the Camilla/Lavinia contrast creates an opportunity to incorporate
the virago's chastity, born of the rejection of traditional female duties, into a larger web of vice. (16) While this reading is absent from humanist literary discourse, it does partake of the humanist penchant for allegory and exemplarity, thereby providing a unique and uniquely relevant reading within an established and familiar paradigm.
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The unorthodox nature of Camilla's vow of abstinence from sexual activity is implicitly depicted in the Tours and Springfield panels (Figs. 2 and 3). In the former, Camilla is shown grappling with a bear before, presumably, taking on the pride of lions behind her. The image of a young girl in a tattered, revealing skirt does not communicate the portrait of domesticated reserve found in De mulieribus claris, but rather a brutish wildness unfettered by edifying restraint. The aberrance of Camilla's behavior is striking not only because it reveals a scorn for feminine decorum, but because it depicts an enthusiastic assault on those who enjoy naturally-endowed advantages. Unlike other celebrated exemplars, Camilla's virginity is entangled with a predilection for violent pursuits, and in this painting, her quarry shifts visually from bears and lions in the background towards male humans in the foreground. Associating Camilla's virginity with aggression works to disambiguate her character for a readership accustomed to the interpretive lenses of allegory and exemplarity; here, she accords closely with the unnerving wildness of the Amazons, who disdain women's work and whose mettle and martial skills approach an uncomfortable parity with those of men. Renaissance discomfort with women noted for acts of violence has been demonstrated by Yael Even, who traces the Florentine government's relocation of Donatello's Judith and Holofernes in 1504 to places of increasing obscurity. She cites Francesco di Lorenzo Filarete's argument that the sculpture should not be centrally displayed because "it is not fitting that the woman should kill the man" (130).
The necessity of defanging and domesticating women who threaten patriarchal structures is central to Boccaccio's Teseida (c. 1340) ("Book of Theseus"), a widely influential epic poem that begins with Theseus, Duke of Athens, attacking a tribe of Scythian Amazons. Everson likens Theseus to Aeneas, as both heroes launched wars of aggression "undertaken to restore good government, the well-being of the state, that is, as an act of pietas"; further, the Amazons are "presented as rebels against the divinely appointed order and the swiftness of their overthrow as evidence of the favor of the gods towards Theseus and his expedition" (227). A cassone panel now in Indianapolis (Fig. 5), in which Greek heroes vanquish Amazons in bloody combat and marry those who "happily" promise "never [to] return to their folly ... [and to] make up for the time they had lost when there were no men in their kingdom" (Boccaccio, Book of Theseus 1.135-8), is representative of Florentine cassone paintings deriving from the Teseida. (17) Half of the visual narrative is given over to the slaughter of the warrior women while the other half depicts those viragos who have agreed to relinquish their autonomy to marry the men who murdered their kinswomen and then to return complacently to domesticity under male governance. Camilla/Laviniajuxtapositions echo this life or death ultimatum and bring into high relief the contention that human security and progress hinge on female compliance with gender-driven hierarchies.
The iconographical link between Camilla and these totems of civilization gone pathologically awry extends beyond the contrasting of non-normative women who die violently and normative women who live to enjoy lavish wedding ceremonies. I have argued that a fifteenth-century means of confronting the notion that women are capable of successfully challenging men in masculine spheres of endeavor was to assert visually that fundamental female inadequacies would preclude this eventuality. (18) For example, contrary to Boccaccio's description of women who engaged in battle "so cruel and so fierce ... even the bravest among [Theseus's army] took cover" (Boccaccio, Book of Theseus 1.54-6), the Amazons portrayed in cassone narratives are largely unarmored and universally hampered by heavy, trailing, feminine garments. Not surprisingly, these ill-equipped women are slaughtered by male soldiers dressed for warfare, and their vulnerable bodies are strewn unceremoniously across the battlefield. Overemphasizing the femaleness of viragos by sending them into battle wearing flowing, brightly-colored gowns creates a visual paradox that renders their attempts to function on male territory appear both unseemly and unnatural. This strategy is perfectly suited to narrative imagery, as the contrast between the male and female response is immediately and unmistakably recognized. Cassone Amazon imagery manifests the impulse, recognized by Even in her study of Loggia dei Lanzi sculpture, to present "mythical feats as sexualized conquests wherein male protagonists subdue female adversaries ... [and] proclaim, on another level, man's longed-for control over woman" (127).
The disjuncture found between textual and painted imagery of Amazons is also notable in representations of Camilla. Virgil's description leaves no doubt but that she looks like a warrior and fights like a man, "like an Amazon, one breast laid bare for battle, Camilla with her quiver charges, wild" (Aeneid, 11.854-6). On foot and on horseback, she shoots arrows, throws lances, and wields a double-bladed battleaxe. On cassone panels, however, Camilla dons either elaborate gowns or lightly-armored dresses that signal a fundamental ineptitude for doing battle against male foes. The painter Giovanni di Ser Giovanni conspicuously contrasts the full-body armor worn by the men with Camilla's unvisored helmet and partially-armored, ankle-length gowns (Figs. 3 and 4). In the Ecouen and Tours panels, Camilla wears no armor at all (Figs. 1 and 2); in the latter, her unprotected body is gored by the lance of a soldier sheathed in armor from head to toe. This knight is not Virgil's assassin, who surprises Camilla in the act of despoiling a dead body, but a figure of heroic appearance who faces his pathetically unprepared foe head-on. Imagery that further belies the text's image of an intimidating virago is found in the background of the Springfield panel (Fig. 3), where Camilla is depicted three times--once as a young girl standing with wild animals (again, emblematic of the peculiar origins of her vow of virginity) and twice running away from men whose identities are unclear. As with the portrayal of her death in the Tours panel, her feminine apparel accentuates the awkwardness of her flight and artfully counters any pre-conceived notions of her capacity to engage with men on an equal footing.
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The contemporary practice of employing dress as a pointed signifier of gender identity reinforces a reading of Camilla's anomalous appearance as indicative of anomalous behavior. Among the examples of this phenomenon found in De mulieribus claris, a text deeply engaged with the delineation of gender roles, is the case of Hercules and Iole (Boccaccio, Famous Women 90-97). In the life of Iole, Hercules' gender is determined by his behavior and unequivocally expressed by his appearance; the woodcut accompanying the first printed version of this work depicts Hercules wearing a lion-skin, carrying a club, and grabbing women when he is gendered as male, but appearing clean-shaven in a gown, headdress, and lipstick after being cajoled into doing woman's work (Fig. 6). Paralleling Hercules' shame is the courage shown by the Wives of the Minyans, who "abandoned the clouds of sensuality" cloaking womankind in order that they might find "stratagems which normally they could not have discovered to liberate husbands awaiting execution (Boccaccio, Famous Women 127). Boccaccio makes clear that the exchange of clothing which allowed the Minyans to slink away dressed as women while allowing their wives to stay behind to die like men was more than a clever strategy--it was a visible manifestation of merit-based gender-reassignment. Similarly, the sartorial language used to distinguish Camilla from the men on the battlefield works to disallow her gendering as a male, thereby highlighting the incongruity of her presence.
Another iconographical decision that requires explication is the weighted emphasis in these cassone panels on the warrior queen's approach to, rather than engagement in, the war that rages before us. In only two of the four panels does she actually enter into the fighting, and in a total often representations only two depict her in battle--and in one of these, she has just been killed. Of the remaining eight portrayals, four show her leading soldiers towards the field of battle: her two appearances in the Tours panel trace her path to the periphery of the violent melee (Fig. 2, left foreground, right middle-ground), while in the Springfield panel she appears in the foreground about to make her doomed entrance into the fray. In the one painting where she is shown as a living warrior engaged in battle, she is also depicted a second time in anticipation of joining the fray (Fig. 4). The decision to portray Camilla primarily outside the conflict, made by different workshops employing different templates, reveals a prevailing interest in sidestepping acknowledgment of her martial prowess in favor of highlighting her injudicious decision to oppose Aeneas' efforts. In conjunction with her apparent physical vulnerability, these portraits of an autonomous leader guiding her people into a doomed endeavor designed to resist a divinely-appointed agent of enlightenment suggests the comprehensive, and even malignant, incapacity of women to participate in political endeavors.
Virgilian scholarship has long recognized the poet's intent to convey equivalency in the abilities and dispositions of Turnus and Camilla; their kindred natures are underscored in the identical wording of their deaths: uitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras ["With a moan, her life, resentful, fled to Shades below"; "with a moan, his life, resentful, fled to Shades below."] (11.831, 12.952). Among the scores of deaths described in the text, these words are reserved for these two antagonists; separated from her body, Camilla's anguished, indignant soul is indistinguishable from her male counterpart's. Although the Quattrocento literary response to the Aeneid either ignores the warrior queen or isolates her from political narrative in order to facilitate her association with virtuous femininity, visual narratives work to promote the conceptual alignment of her life with the "grand insanity" (Vegio, "Book XIII" 13) that Aeneas is duty-bound to correct. In the central scene depicted on the Ecouen panel (Fig. 1), this is dexterously accomplished by a strong diagonal anchored on one end by the goring of Camilla and the other by the imminent execution of Turnus. Aeneas stands between the two while Lavinia, from the safety of her home and flanked by her parents, watches her new future husband prepare to kill her former fiance. Because Camilla's death precedes that of Turnus, these scenes can be read from left to right like a written text; however, exploiting the power of the visual artist to communicate at once simultaneously and sequentially, the painter geometrically configures these four key characters to underscore the significance of their various relationships to the fates they will either suffer or enjoy. Not only does Aeneas stand as victor between the defeated allies, but the stable vertical of the Aeneas-Lavinia partnership bisects and destroys the unstable diagonal of chaos and sterility. The names of Lavinia and her parents are inscribed over their heads; together with Aeneas, they present a microcosm of the legitimate propagation of a productive society: an obedient daughter will become the obedient wife of a worthy man and, in time, the mother of worthy sons. This template for the perpetuation of human success requires the preclusion of female authority and autonomy, which--ominously linked, in Camilla, with female sterility--are cankers with the power to destroy a society as effectively from within as male belligerence can from without.
At the end of the day, the legitimacy of Aeneas' destruction of native tribal leaders in order to found a Trojan dynasty on Italian soil was incontestable because it represented the fulfillment of divine intentions for human society. Italian humanists fused pagan and Christian gods into a providential will that shone consistently over the fluctuating circumstances of human history, allowing Renaissance readers, as Kallendorf notes, to "approach the texts of antiquity as something ideal, embodying a timeless truth unbounded by the particulars of time, space, or individual experience" ("Philology" 137-8). Everson writes that the Aeneid is "a narrative of single-mindedness and divine providence working to an appointed end" (65) and that Aeneas' claim to veneration lay in his extraordinary readiness and capacity to comply with divine dictates.Vegio hammers this point home early in his Supplementum when Aeneas, "bestriding Turnus from above," gives the following speech:
What was this vast madness that ripened in your mind ... so that you futilely presumed to drive out of Italy, and of the dwellings that were their due, the Trojans who had journeyed here at the behest of the gods above and at the command of the Thunderer on high? Learn to honor Jove and to fulfill the dictates of the gods. Anger grips even mighty Jove and retribution stirs the gods who remember evil-doings--Take note, your last days will serve as warning to others in time to come that it is wrong in vain to scorn Jove's ordinance (25-34).
Latinus, King of the Latins, reiterates Aeneas' assessment of his destiny when he laments over Turnus' decision to wage war against him who "voyaged hither at the command of the Thunderer" (163).
The justice of eternal suffering in redress for temporal crime was one of the timeless truths relevant to Italians past and present, and Vegio turns to the Aeneid to seek guidance for Christians in his De perseverantia religionis: "These same writings also admit (what is a tenet of Christianity as well) that an underworld exists and places of horror where the souls of mortals are punished, when they have departed from this body, with variety of ghastly penalties as the sins of each demand" (Kallendorf, "Maffeo" 50). The price Turnus will pay for ignoring "heaven's omens" and attempting to thwart Aeneas righteous quest is, according to Vegio, consignment to Tartarus, a region of Hades where those who have committed the most heinous of crimes are subjected to never-ending torment ("Book XIII" 23). Surely, providence would not have spared Camilla--his key strategist, his strongest warrior, his kindred spirit--similar affliction.
The writings of Greek and Roman antiquity provided fifteenth-century readers with a wealth of material used to both shape and justify Renaissance power structures. Boccaccio, whose work was consulted extensively by fifteenth-century writers and painters, set an authoritative standard for enlisting the use of extraordinary women to promote, rather than subvert, contemporary social norms. Imagery of classical heroines, both visual and literary, was manipulated throughout the Renaissance in order to neutralize the precedent of such women to interfere with patriarchal privilege and prerogative. Passages such as the following, which today might be welcomed as harboring a proto-feminist subtext, rendered Camilla a problematic site for mapping out female exemplarity by men eager both to participate in the Renaissance uomini famosi/donne illustri cult and to ensure female compliance with male dictates:
And as Camilla passes, all the young pour out from field and house; the matrons crowd and marvel, staring, in astonishment at how proud royal purple veils Camilla's smooth shoulders, how a clasp of gold entwines her hair, at how she bears her Lycian quiver, her shepherd's pike of myrtle tipped with steel. (Aeneid 7.1066-72)
"Great-souled Aeneas" (Vegio, "Book XIII" 2), a man who achieved immortality for adhering to a course of duty that, in its essentials, remained unaltered in Quattrocento republics, was a paragon for Renaissance husbands, fathers, and sons. Lavinia, "her glistening eyes cast down" (31), submitted to the obligation, continuing unalleviated into the fifteenth century, for women to enter into marriages tailored to the multi-generational purposes of men. Together, they founded a dynasty and city that blossomed into an empire from which Renaissance Italians proudly claimed lineage. Camilla need not be excluded from this paradigm of readily-assimilated exemplarity; while the circumstances of patronage and viewership associated with cassone narratives support the potential for multiple interpretations, ample reason exists to include among them a reading which represents a new means of contributing to the humanist pursuit of dichotomizing the actors in Aeneas' epic journey. By showcasing Camilla as the principal player in the Latin defense, cassone painters exploited the possibility, unexplored by literary critics, of positioning her autonomy within a larger scheme of unbridled anarchy Choosing to side with a man recognized as the embodiment of "human lawlessness [which] in a bout of fury deranged the sanctity of rule and aroused the wrath of heaven" (Vegio, "Book XIII" 29), Camilla threatens the well-being of the innocent masses, who "All with one mind and with one voice yearn for you, you [Aeneas], the throng of fathers solemn in their wisdom, old men numb with age, joyous youth and anxious mothers, boys and chaste girls ... They glory that Turnus fell to your force" (25).
The incorporation of Camilla's virginity into a larger pattern of destabilization addressed the ephemeral nature of women whose refusal to consider the marital state rendered them largely irrelevant to the Greater Good. Camilla's construction as a woman whose autonomy and authority placed her in opposition to civilizing forces consigned her (and those who would support her) to the status of "other" and communicated the necessity of responding aggressively to breaching of accepted limits of female power.
Baskins, Cristelle L. Cassone Painting, Humanism, and Gender in Early Modern Italy. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998.
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Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Book of Theseus. Trans. Bernadette Marie McCoy. New York: Medieval Text Association, 1974.
--. Famous Women. Trans. Virginia Brown. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. Callmann, Ellen. Apollonio di Giovanni. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
Edwards, Robert R. Chaucer and Boccaccio: Antiquity and Modernity. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Even, Yael. "Andrea Del Castagno's Eve: Female Heroes as Anomalies in Italian Renaissance Art." Woman's Art Journal 14.2 (1993-4): 37-42.
--. "The Loggia dei Lanzi: A Showcase of Female Subjugation." Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History. Ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard. New York: HarperCollins, 1992: 127-37.
Everson, Jane E. The Italian Romance Epic in the Age of Humanism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
Fagiolo, Marcello. Virgilio nell'arte e nella cultura europea. Rome: De Luca Editore, 1981.
Franklin, Margaret. Boccaccio's Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.
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--."A Woman's Place: Visualizing the Feminine Ideal in the Courts and Communes of Renaissance Italy." 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.
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(1.) For treatment of the deeds and characters of many of these women in fourteenth-and fifteenth-century Italy, as well as a bibliography for the extensive scholarship relevant to the restricted lives of Renaissance women, see my Boccaccio's Heroines.
(2.) This study is not intended to encompass all Renaissance representations of Camilla, but rather to argue for a consistency of reading her significance across many workshop panels depicting the larger narrative of the Aeneid.
(3.) All translations are taken from Mandelbaum.
(4.) For Amazonian legends see, for example, Blok and Kirk.
(5.) See Franklin, Boccaccio's Heroines 9-13, for extant manuscripts and incunabula.
(6.) Boccaccio's strategy for using Greek Amazons to advance his thesis is very different; I suggest that their actions, being sexually inappropriate and underpinned by rebellion against male authority, were beyond shaping into exemplary models for cloistered Renaissance daughters.
(7.) See my Boccaccio's Heroines; also relevant are Roche's analysis of Ariosto's Marfisa and Freccero's argument for the use of "ideological containment, a process of female domestication" (28) in the querelle des femmes.
(8.) "Camilla virgo volscor regina in battaglia excessi el foeminil modo ma pur vincendo venus e cupido e vergine stando acquistai piu lodo." ("Camilla, virgin queen of the Volscians, exceeded the ways of women in battle but acquired more praise through vanquishing Venus and Cupid and remaining virginal" trans, by Franklin). For this painting and Quattrocento references intended to shift attention away from Camilla's skill in battle, see Baskins 74, 84-6; for the wider humanist practice of shifting the "focus of praise (of women) away from the engaged and civic," see Grafton and Jardine 29-57.
(9.) Baskins 210 (n. 5-7) delineates the varying attributions associated with these panels. Aeneid narratives appear to have been among the most requested of Apollonio di Giovanni, the largest producer of cassoni for Florentine patrician marriages. For foundational work on cassoni in general and Apollonio di Giovanni in particular, see Callmann and Gombrich.
(10.) See Mambelli for the publishing history of Vegio's Supplementum.
(11.) For a recent discussion of Aeneas as vir perfectus, see Wilson-Okamura 208-12; for evidence of sympathy towards the "other" in the Aeneid, see Lyne's Further Voices in Vergil's Aeneid and Kallendorf's Other Virgil.
(12.) This observation does not preclude the possibility that a pair of cassone might, within their many panels, have depicted both Dido and Lavinia. In this case, however, the task of associating the two would fall more heavily on the viewer and would require extracting the women from the immediate conceptual context imposed by the painter in each self-contained panel.
(13.) For Landino see Kallendorf's In Praise of Aeneas, 129-65, and "Cristoforo Landino's Aeneid." Landino's influence carried through into the literary and visual arts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; see Fagiolo, 161-71.
(14.) For the varying literary and visual treatments of Dido in the Renaissance, see my "Mantegna's Dido"; Kallendoff, "Boccaccio's Dido"; Baskins 50-74; and Morrison.
(15.) See Miller for a discussion of the premium placed on female sexual purity throughout the Renaissance.
(16.) Peek observes that Camilla's virginity "contradicts all that is sacred to dynastic romance: love, marriage, and legitimate offspring" (72).
(17.) See Edwards 17-43 for a critique of the social and sexual significance of the Amazons in the Teseida. Watson ("A Preliminary List") identified a body of cassone narratives deriving from the Teseida; see also Baskins 26-49.
(18.) See my "Confronting the Threat" and "A Woman's Place." This is but one avenue taken by Renaissance artists to neutralize the menace of female heroism; Even's "Andrea Del Castagno" demonstrates that the same goal can be achieved by distancing a heroine from her femaleness.
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|Publication:||Explorations in Renaissance Culture|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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