Women and Art in Early Modern Europe: Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs.
The conclusion to Paola Tinagli's Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, Identity begins with a brief revisiting of Joan Kelly-Gadol's question; "Did women have a Renaissance?" Posed in 1977, the query had a seminal role in generating an interest in developing gender specific approaches to the analysis of visual culture. The intervening two decades has seen assumptions challenged, new ways of thinking about culture in context advanced, and the polemical reassessment of the era encouraged. The question, or more accurately the many debates and dialogues that have engaged scholars since Kelly-Gadol alerted scholars to the particular problems associated with women's history, has lost none of its relevance. As more and more attention has been focused on the role of gender in early modern Europe issues have become more complex, the examining strategies more subtle, and the arguments more nuanced. Tinagli's welcomed examination of the ways by which women were imaged during the Renaissance, together with the twelve essays collected and edited by Cynthia Lawrence for Women and Art in Early Modern Europe: Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs demonstrate the vitality and a coming-of-age of the discourse. In different ways, both books address Kelly-Gadol's query. In doing so each text contributes to our understanding of women's role in the production, sponsorship, and reception of works of art and architecture.
It is difficult to define a thing without some form of comparative reference to another thing. Since the time of Pythagoras, female/feminine and male/masculine have been defined in just such a comparative (or, more rightly, contraritive) relationship. As women continue to be integrated into all aspects of art history it is of critical importance that we do not lose sight of this strategy, for to do so would be to replace one skewed perspective with another. One of the many strengths of Tinagli's book is her attentiveness to this potential pitfall. Two of the four areas under consideration; portraiture and domestic decorative arts such as cassone and spalliere panels, support the book's subtitle, "Gender, Representation, Identity." Raphael's portrait of Maddalena Strozzi is illustrated next to and discussed in conjunction with its pendant, Raphael's portrait of Angelo Doni. Similarly, images adorning marriage chests are discussed as exempla virtutis as they relate to societal expectations for both husband and wife. Wherever feasible, Tinagli examines gendered, rather than strictly feminized, codes of behavior. Two of the areas considered by the author; "Female nudes in Renaissance art" and "The cult of female saints," are obviously resistant to a comparative methodology. But even here Tinagli does not fail to mention the reception of images like Fra Bartolomeo's nude Saint Sebastian which filled confessionals with guilt-ridden voyeuristic females! Throughout her text Tinagli enriches her own highly readable prose with contemporaneous critical commentary; Lorenzo the Magnificent's description of Simonetta Vespucci, Alberti's thoughts on morally edifying images, Dolce's celebration of Titian's artistic abilities, etc. To this is added information about the audience and the circumstances in which something was seen. In speaking about the tertiary orders, for example, she observes that "images were instrumental in spreading" the cult of Saint Catherine, "not only altarpieces, frescoed images, and private devotional paintings, but also prints, especially woodcuts, and small paintings on paper. They were hung in churches, but were also bought by the faithful to be kept at home." If I have any complaint about Tinagli's book it is that images of this kind - the less expensive printed pictures and broadsheets that represented both sacred and secular subjects and appealed to all levels of society - receive scant notice. This one criticism, however, deserves a caveat. Copious footnotes include references to topics noted only cursorily in the text. Tinagli's Women in Italian Renaissance Art fills a void in the history of art. In distinct contrast to other eras, particularly the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Renaissance has until now been without a comprehensive examination of gender, representation, and identity.
As the title makes clear, the collection of essays in Women and Art in Early Modern Europe, Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs focuses on a single aspect of women's involvement in the arts. This focused concentration, however, has a broad chronological span, covering roughly 1350-1750. Lawrence's introduction provides a lucid over-view of the issues that define the collection as a whole: shared iconographies, gendered misperceptions, shared motives, and the effects of conjugal relationships.
A majority of the contributors continue their examinations of individuals who have long interested them. Sheila ffolliott, for example, adds to her already impressive studies of Catherine de' Medici, while Clifford Brown continues his consideration of the ever-intriguing Isabella d'Este. Other essays are more synthetic. Marilyn Dunn's "Spiritual Philanthropists," for example, provides one of the most complete composite portraits of the post-Tridentine woman. While Dunn notes the beneficial effects of the material support provided by this group of women, of greater interest is her review of the type of institution benefiting from their largess and the patterns of patronage discernable among Rome's pious women. Among the studies in this volume, I found Alice Friedman's "Wife in the English Country House" particularly informative and well crafted. Her examination of the architectural projects sponsored by Bess of Hardwick and Lady Anne Clifford ventures into the intriguing territory of "taste."
Perhaps of necessity, contributors spend a lot of time identifying the patron under consideration, describing their specific geo-political milieu, and clarifying an array of familial relationships. In the case of Jeanne d'Evreaux, a lack of artifactual evidence, including structures, objects, and even inscriptions, resulted in Carla Lord having to assign art a decided and unfortunate secondary place. Inevitably a volume of this type raises important questions. Does the fact that the patron was female constitute a legitimate reason for distinguishing the various decorative and architectural projects discussed here? Would these female patrons (and their projects) be better served by not being segregated according to gender? One can argue the point in either direction. Perhaps naively, I would like to imagine that the integration of women into the discipline has progressed beyond this. On this point it should be noted that seven years separate the publication of this volume of studies from their presentation at a symposium held in 1990. This said, it cannot be argued that Cynthia Lawrence achieved her stated principal objective: "The primary goal of this collection of essays is to bring an intriguing and in some cases previously unconsidered group of female patrons . . . to the attention of a wider audience." As is the case with Tinagli's book, this volume does enhance our understanding of visual culture.
FREDRIKA H. JACOBS Virginia Commonwealth University
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|Author:||Jacobs, Fredrika H.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1999|
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