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Reviewed by:
  • Frauen in der Frühen Neuzeit: Lebensentwürfe in Kunst und Literatur
  • Sigrid Ruby
Anne-Marie Bonnet and Barbara Schellewald , eds. Frauen in der Frühen Neuzeit: Lebensentwürfe in Kunst und Literatur. Atlas: Bonner Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte new ser. 1. Köln and Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2004. vi + 264 pp. illus. €34.90. ISBN: 3–412–10304–7.

With the current volume the Institute of Art History at the University of Bonn inaugurates a new series of its house publications. The outcome of a symposium, the book brings together scholars working in the disciplines of Romance literature and art history. Its somewhat sweeping title, Women in Early Modern History: Designs for Living in Art and Literature suggests a focus on the relationships between visual or literary artifacts and women's history. However, not all of the ten articles included in the volume actually deal with that rather broad topic. The range of art and literary works discussed reaches from book illustrations in fifteenth-century south Germany to a treatise on the superiority of women published and censored in Italy in the 1620s.

The fine article by Silke Segler-Messner is, among other things, a good introduction to the main ideas that guided the perception and construction of female identity in early modern Europe, and in Renaissance Italy in particular. The author points out the destabilizing potential of the one-sex-model as regards traditional — that is, misogynist — gender discrimination. The anxiety to strengthen and control gender difference led to a kind of male treatise literature that overemphasized the perfection of man and worried about the correct instruction of women. However, more and more women of the Italian upper class were well educated, and some of them entered the gender dispute by way of their own writings. Segler-Messner's readings of texts by Lucrezia Marinella and Moderata Fonte demonstrate the intellectual power of these women, who conceived of female education and the critical spirit as vehicles for changing gender relations. [End Page 238]

A text by Moderata Fonte is the subject of Andrea Grewe's article. In Il merito delle donne, which was published posthumously in 1600 and is considered Fonte's most important work, seven women have come together to discuss the good and bad qualities of men. Grewe's analytical focus is on the use of laughter in the text, because, as the author points out, in the Renaissance laughing was a highly regulated form of behavior, whose norms were clearly gendered. In Fonte's exclusively female discourse, laughter signals release from male observation. It also demonstrates decency and discipline on behalf of the participating women, whose behavior perfectly complies with the male role model.

Bettina Uppenkamp's article relates literature, visual culture, and social history. The very last novella of Boccaccio's Decamerone tells the story of Griselda, a girl from a poor family background who has to stand a row of cruel tests before being accepted as the proper wife of Count Gualtieri. Uppenkamp compares the literary reception of the novella and its depiction on Italian fifteenth-century cassoni and spalliere. While Petrarca and other late medieval authors conceive the girl Griselda an exemplum of female virtues, the story's rendering on marriage chests is due to the wedding context, and does not lend itself to identification on the part of the bridal pair.

The two excellent contributions by Andreas Toennesmann and Ilaria Hoppe deal with the art patronage of women regents in France and Tuscan Italy, respectively. Both articles study architectural manifestations of female power, and both pay close attention to questions of space and spatial relations. Toennesmann's analyses of the Paris residences of Catherine of Medici (Tuileries), Mary of Medici (Palais du Luxembourg), and Anne of Austria (Val-de-Grâce) point out how the family traditions of these immigrant queens as well as genuinely French models were fused to bring about highly original architectural statements. These complied with the peculiar sociopolitical position of the woman regent in France and secured her memory. Hoppe's article deals with the Villa Poggio Imperiale near Florence, which Mary Magdalen of Austria had rebuilt and decorated during her regency of the...


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pp. 238-239
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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