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Patronnes et mecenes en France a la Renaissance.

Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier and Eugenie Pascal, eds. Patronnes et mecenes en France a la Renaissance.

L'ecole du genre. "Nouvelles recherches" 2. Saint Etienne: Publications de l'Universite de Saint-Etienne, 2007. 682 pp. + 16 color pls. index. illus. tbls. bibl. [euro]27. ISBN: 978-2-86272-443-0.

In the introduction to Women Patrons and Maecenas in the French Renaissnce, Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier describes the topology of Renaissance society and artistic culture in terms of the many roles of women who were not only artists but also sponsors, silent partners, artistic collaborators, political defenders, donors, financiers, and muses of manuscripts and printed texts and of the visual arts. The editor points to both the rewarding outcome of collective interdisciplinary research on the place occupied by women, so long and consistently obliterated from art history, and of the many complicated roles that women played in artistic culture and production. But most importantly she emphasizes feminine agency in this era and that "the insertion of women in History is very much (too) often by their own volition" (42). All of the articles, six of them translated into French for this volume, make the case that women protectors and benefactors negotiated through structured modes of action and expression to exercise a guiding, influence as patrons and Maecenas.

Under the direction of Wilson-Chevalier and with the assistance of Eugenie Pascale, one of the contributors, the authors answer fundamental questions about the decisive contribution made by city women (many of them), courtly women in the provincial centers, religious women, women royals, and politicas in the production of art and culture in the French Renaissance. Who were these women, how were they educated, in what ways did they enter established traditions, how did they advocate new and modern ideas and generic forms, and what did they bequeath to family and patrimony? The ambitious and very successful collection of twenty-five articles examines the wide variety of ways women intellectuals and also themselves as artists shaped creativity and thought in the visual arts and writing in early modern France.

Whether well-known or lesser-known figures, from humanist princess Marguerite de Navarre to the collector of literary and visual religious iconography Antoinette de Bourbon and the legendary Catherine de Medici, about whom there are seven articles, these women occupied strictly gendered and hierarchical overlapping public and private spaces and were effective within contentious political and social dynamics. The first part of the edition treats in general women in letters and the history of the book in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Susan Broomhall traces how women helped shape manuscripts into printed text, Aurore Evain reveals queens and princesses as patrons of sixteenth-century theater, and Eugenie Pascal examines correspondence of princesses who argued for and promoted art and literary culture.

The second part of the book, approximately four-fifths of the volume, explains mainly the visual arts and elaborates in detail the power and insight that guided the production of paintings, architecture, murals, miniatures, coats of arms, church windows, gardens, funereal statuary, and precious jewelry of the era. In one such article, Michel Melot describes how the wealth and power of the abbesses of the Order of Fontevrault in the Anjou region established a tradition of artistic patronage in which the abbesses, daughters, of prominent aristocrats, brought dowries and family names that raised their religious order to high political, economic, and spiritual rank and status. After the religious wars in the 1450s, the abbesses in charge were able to transform in every detail the Abbey Fontevraud, a double monastery of women and men religious, to the ostentation of the Counter-Reformation in the 1630s. Comparable in length, expertise, and writing style, the articles in both parts share a dedication to interdisciplinarity aimed at understanding the complexity of French Renaissance women's involvement in the arts.

As to the technical apparatus, the color figures and plates assembled in the center are very good in color, quality, and resolution, especially in the smaller format necessary for a textual edition when compared to the larger format of art history books. The remaining 127 black-and-white plates are generally well-executed photographic images and facsimiles. Visually, the illustrations are as impressive as the interdisciplinary project itself. The forty-five-page bibliography includes rare books and manuscript texts, published primary and secondary sources, and catalogues and archival inventories from the period to our time. This edition is most welcome and invites future scholarship.


Pennsylvania State University
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Author:Clark-Evans, Christine
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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