Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissanceed. by E. Ann Matter and John Coakley (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 82, Number 4, October 1996
- pp. 694-695
- View Citation
- Additional Information
694BOOK REVIEWS understood Ui the broad context of religious, economic, and territorial expansion that has characterized European history from the tenth century to the present . Indeed,Urban points out Ui die final chapter, the problems that the German crusaders faced in the Baltic lands were slrnUar to those that Columbus and the Spanish were to face Ui the New World two centuries later. One unfortunate drawback of this new edition is that while there are more maps than in the original version,they are smaUer and more difficult to read. On the other hand, this edition has added fifteen plates Ulustrating castles and other aspects of the crusade. Although Urban has answered some of the criticisms of the first edition and has given more space to some issues not fully covered previously, this volume is not a complete revision of the earUer edition Ui die Ught of current research. Those interested Ui the Baltic crusades wUl stUl have to use Eric Christiansen's The Northern Crusades [London, 1980]. Furthermore, as the title of S. G. Rowell 's LithuaniaAscending (Cambridge, England, 1994) suggests, future research wiU emphasize the role of the indigenous peoples of the Baltic lands and wUl place less emphasis on the crusaders. James Muldoon Rutgers University, Camden Creative Women in Medieval andEarlyModern Italy:A Religious andArtistic Renaissance. Edited by E. Ann Matter andJohn Coakley. (PhUadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1994. Pp. xiv, 356. $36.95.) The fourteen essays gathered Ln this volume had theU origin in a conference of 1991. They are grouped into three sections: Ui the first they deal with "Women's ReUgious Expression" Ui the late Middle Ages; Ui the second they examine the same subject in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,while in the tlUrd theU focus shifts to "Women's Artistic Expression." AU address the fundamental issue of how to discover and understand the creativity of women in periods which offered them little, i£ any, public scope for its expression. The authors do not coUectively espouse a revisionist approach to die role of UitellectuaUy or artisticaUy gifted Italian women. Rather, the strength of the essays lies in theU often imaginative and subtle analysis as they examine how women were able to carve out areas in which to make distinctive cultural contributions . A useful introduction sets the main issues into a larger framework by reference to the debate between Rudolph BeU and Caroline Walker Bynum about the meaning of fasting for medieval women. Like these scholars who dealt with the same phenomenon but gave it different interpretations, the authors of the essays look at Italian women between 1300 and 1700 and see a variety ofmeanings Ui theU words, writings, musical activity, or plays. Because the reUgious BOOK REVIEWS695 sphere offered women the most opportunities for using their creativity, the majority of essays deals with aspects ofwomen's religious Uves. One of the general conclusions is diat late medieval ItaUan women were sociaUy less circumscribed than theU counterparts Ln the early modern period. Among the former were Catherine of Siena, who had community support, or women who exercised moral authority over male clerics, especiaUy theU biographers who were wiUing to express reverence and admiration for their subjects .Yet one ofthe problems, touched upon repeatedly Ui the essays, is that we often hear women's voices only through the words and works of male writers. One of the most interesting pieces in the volume not only attempts to decipher such works, but argues that sometimes the roles were reversed, and that women taught male reUgious by giving them a "sentimental education" in distinctively female forms of reUgiosity. The essays on the early modern period are rich and complex. They include one on noble women as patrons of Jesuit institutions, whose role was subsequently downplayed by the order, or one comparing would-be female saints with more successful women artists. This essay probes the difficult link between women's self-definition and the manner in which they were perceived by society. GeneraUy, women had more space for self-expression Ui monasteries . But an essay on the early Ursulines warns the reader to take account of other possibiUties open to women, like being "virgins at home," thus neither...