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Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence

Sharon T. Strocchia

Publication Year: 2009

The 15th century was a time of dramatic and decisive change for nuns and nunneries in Florence. In the course of that century, the city’s convents evolved from small, semiautonomous communities to large civic institutions. By 1552, roughly one in eight Florentine women lived in a religious community. Historian Sharon T. Strocchia analyzes this stunning growth of female monasticism, revealing the important roles these women and institutions played in the social, economic, and political history of Renaissance Florence. It became common practice during this time for unmarried women in elite society to enter convents. This unprecedented concentration of highly educated and well-connected women transformed convents into sites of great patronage and social and political influence. As their economic influence also grew, convents found new ways of supporting themselves; they established schools, produced manuscripts, and manufactured textiles. Strocchia has mined previously untapped archival materials to uncover how convents shaped one of the principal cities of Renaissance Europe. She demonstrates the importance of nuns and nunneries to the booming Florentine textile industry and shows the contributions that ordinary nuns made to Florentine life in their roles as scribes, stewards, artisans, teachers, and community leaders. In doing so, Strocchia argues that the ideals and institutions that defined Florence were influenced in great part by the city’s powerful female monastics. Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence shows for the first time how religious women effected broad historical change and helped write the grand narrative of medieval and Renaissance Europe. The book is a valuable text for students and scholars in early modern European history, religion, women’s studies, and economic history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page

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Tables, Graphs, and Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

The study of religious women in late medieval and early modern Europe has recently emerged as a vibrant field in its own right. Drawing on an abundance of riches, scholars have explored various forms of female spirituality and cultural production ranging from food practices to female-authored texts and music. Whether motivated by intensely felt spiritual convictions or profound distaste ...

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1. The Growth of Florentine Convents

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pp. 1-38

Around 1338, the Florentine chronicler Giovanni Villani estimated that his native city supported 500 nuns out of an urban population of roughly 100,000 to120,000, or 1 religious woman for every 220 inhabitants.1 Villani’s figures may be suspect, but they nevertheless capture an essential truth: nuns and nunneries were not a prominent feature in the urban landscape of late medieval Florence. ...

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2. Nuns, Neighbors, and Kinsmen

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pp. 39-71

Nuns and nunneries were bound up with the physical, social, and spiritual geography of Renaissance Florence in complex ways. Richard Trexler was among the first to argue that the dense concentration of nuns living around vulnerable spatial zones like walls and gateways bolstered divine protection of the city.1 A few convents—S. Pier Maggiore, S. Ambrogio, S. Anna—became destinations ...

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3. The Renaissance Convent Economy

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pp. 72-110

The Renaissance convent economy not only conditioned the nature of monastic experience but formed a pivot around which complex political and moral questions turned. Religious women in late medieval and Renaissance Europe defined their religiosity in part through their relation to money and property, which at times brought them into conflict with ecclesiastical authorities and contemporary ...

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4. Invisible Hands: Renaissance Nuns at Work

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pp. 111-151

One of the primary revenue streams supporting the mixed Renaissance convent economy was paid labor. Although scholars have long noted nuns’ engagement with economic activities such as handiwork, teaching, and property management, we lack a clear understanding of the prevalence and significance of work to female religious communities across medieval and early modern Europe.1 Sev-...

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5. Contesting the Boundaries of Enclosure

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pp. 152-190

For centuries, the literary figure of the wayward nun has dominated views of Renaissance convent life. Whether intended to titillate readers or condemn clerical hypocrisy, ribald stories of bawdy nuns and their daring lovers reflect a deep-seated fascination with what one scholar has called ‘‘eros in the convent.’’1 These imaginative tales depict Renaissance convents as sexual hothouses akin to broth-...

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pp. 191-196

Between the Black Death and the beginning of the Medici principate, convents were transformed from small, semiautonomous communities into large civic institutions serving family, church, and state. I have argued that fifteenth-century developments were pivotal to the ways this transformation played out. The first two chapters of my account emphasize the political uses to which convents were ...

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pp. 197-198

One of the joys of finishing a long project is having the opportunity to thank the individuals and institutions whose contributions were vital. This project was launched at the National Humanities Center under the sponsorship of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. I would like to thank the directors and library staff of the center for their invaluable ...


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pp. 199-238


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pp. 239-254


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pp. 255-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780801898624
E-ISBN-10: 0801898625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801892929
Print-ISBN-10: 0801892929

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 11 halftones, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 647917309
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Florence (Italy) -- Church history.
  • Monastic and religious life of women -- Italy -- Florence -- History -- 16th century.
  • Monastic and religious life of women -- Italy -- Florence -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
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