HTAV Annual Conference, 27 July 2012
VCE Study Design
Unit 4: Renaissance Italy
Area of study 1: Social life in Renaissance Italy
An investigation into the diverse social life that existed in the
urban centres of Venice or Florence. An examination of the
social structures of Venice or Florence as well as the social
map. A select investigation of one area of social life: family,
marriage, dowries, charity, social legislation and festivals.
Particular groups might include: family, guilds, Scuola and
confraternities, the poor as well as marginalised groups
including foreigners, prostitutes and homosexuals.
Centres and peripheries:
a contemporary preoccupation too...
Structure of today’s lecture
• What do we mean by ‘marginalised’?
• How might we begin to plot the marginalisation (or
otherwise) of some of these groups socially and spatially?
• How might asking questions about these groups change our
understanding of the Renaissance as a whole?
Some ways of thinking
“Some years ago I asked in an examination paper for schoolleavers,
‘Why were heretics persecuted in the thirteenth century?’
The question was very popular and the answer, with great
confidence and near unanimity, ‘because there were so many of
them.‟ – R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in
Western Europe, 950 – 1250. First published Basil Blackwell: Oxford,1987.
• Argues against the notion that difference is itself a
cause for persecution.
• Key point: Europe became a persecuting society, it was
not always so.
• The persecution (or marginalisation) of particular
groups is not a natural, inevitable or universal
condition. Rather, it is historically contingent.
The Other Renaissance
• Alterity a major theme in
theory: e.g. Michel
Foucault, Clifford Geertz,
Edward Said, Homi K.
Bhaba... and many others
Workshop of Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Alessandro
de’Medici, after 1553, Uffizi, Firenze.
• As a field, medieval
studies has tended to
Renaissance studies has
tended to be more
Centre Stage: The Piazza
A contested space
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Confirmation of the Rule,
(detail), 1483-85, Santa Trinità, Florence.
Giorgio Vasari, “Lorenzo de „Medici Accepting
Gifts from his Ambassadors,” Florence,
Palazzo Vecchio, c. 1555.
More spectacles of dominion...
Photo credit: croisbeauty at http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/113e26/
Who is missing?
Who is at the periphery?
Women: A Conspicuous Absence
“Women ... if they be chaste, [are]
locked up at home, as it were in
prison,” – Fynes Moryson, Scottish
traveller, 16 th c.
“All the young women (except the
ordinary common whores) are kept
within... Few women walk the streets
besides old bawds.” – Philip Skippon,
17 th c.
“I am not happy that you should stand
at windows, in order to see who passes
by...” - Archbishop Antoninus of
Public Women, Women in the Streets
• Constraints placed on patrician
women tied to their pivotal role in
the marriage strategies of elite
families. (See Christiane Klapisch-Zuber,
• Renaissance street a place of
• “I went alone for fun to see the
women who let themselves be
seen by anyone who wants... [
these women come to the doors
of their houses, where they stand
in public view at convenient
hours; and there you see them in
groups ... chatting and singing in
the street.” – Michel de Montaigne on
his visit to Florence’s prostitute’s quarter.
Two Venetian Ladies?
“To become the prey of so many, at
the risk of being despoiled,
robbed, killed, ... exposed to so
many other dangers of receiving
injuries and dreadful contagious
diseases, ... What riches, what
comforts, what delights can
possibly outweigh all this?
Believe me, of all the world’s
misfortunes, this is the worst.”
- Veronica Franco (1456-91) on
her life in prostitution
Botticini, Two Venetian Ladies, 1510.
• Michael Rocke’s major study of homosexuality and male
sociability in Florence: an under-recognised but integral
aspect of Renaissance society and culture.
• In Florence, 2 in 3 men incriminated by the age of 40.
• Important to note: “homosexual behaviour had little to
do with current notions of sexual orientation or identity,
but was organised around notions of gender and life
• Manliness identified solely with a dominant role in sex.
On Renaissance sexualities, see also: Guido Ruggiero,
Judith Brown, Alan Bray, Eve Sedgwick, John Boswell.
Both Marginalised and Integral
“[Sexual debauchery has] ruined the world, ...
corrupted men in lust, led women into indecency,
and boys into sodomy and filth, and made them
like prostitutes... Young lads have been made
into women. But that‟s not all: fathers are like
daughters, brothers like sisters. There‟s no
distinction between the sexes or anything else
anymore.” – Girolamo Savonarola, 1496.
Savonarola preaching. Compendio di
Dante, Inferno XV, Pisan manuscript, c.1345.
‣ How does thinking about marginalised
groups change our understanding of the
Renaissance as a whole?
Did women have a Renaissance?
Jacob Burckhardt, 1860:
• In the Renaissance, “man became a spiritual individual, and
recognized himself as such.” And furthermore, “…we must keep
before our minds the fact that women stood on a footing of
perfect equality with men. We must not suffer ourselves to be
misled by the sophistical and often malicious talk about the
assumed inferiority of the female sex, which we meet with now
and then… There was no question of ‘woman’s rights’ or female
emancipation, simply because the thing itself was a matter of
course. The educated woman, no less than the man, strove
naturally after a characteristic and complete individuality.”
Joan Kelly, 1977, ‘Did women have a Renaissance?’:
• The economic and political developments “that reorganized
society along modern lines and opened the possibilities for the
social and cultural expression for which the age is known…
affected women adversely, so much so that there was no
renaissance for women - at least not during the Renaissance.”
The debate 35 years on…
• Answer of course depends very much on how you
define the Renaissance: this is a key point. Asking
questions about gender forces us to qualify and
reconsider what we mean when we talk about “the
• 35 years later, new questions are being asked.
• Leads us to look for different kinds of sources.
• Leads us to ask new questions of old sources.
Agency within subjugation?
• “… in practice, a woman might (and these women all
did) find some competition among the several
authorities claiming her duty – her own family, her
husband, her king, her religion – as well as conflicts
between her own desire and obedience to all of these.
This sets up, as Karl Weintraub phrases it, a
destabilizing competition among compelling cultural
forms; when the patriarchs do not line up neatly in
support of each other, women must choose, and their
struggles to do so may serve as a catalyst for selfdefinition,
resistance, and writing.”
- Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, “Writing Women and Reading the
Renaissance.” Renaissance Quarterly 44, no. 4 (1991): 792 – 821.
• Marginalisation has a history that we can
study: it is not a timeless or universal given.
• Asking questions about marginalised groups
has big implications for the way we
understand the Renaissance as a whole.
Selected further reading
• J. K. Brackett, “The Florentine Onestà and the Control of Prostitution, 1403-1680,” The
Sixteenth Century Journal 24, no. 2 (1993): 273-300.
• J. Brown & R. Davis, eds, Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy, Longman, 1998.
• R. Crum & J. Paoletti, eds, Renaissance Florence: A Social History, Cambridge University
• N. Debby, “Visual Rhetoric: Images of Saracens in Florentine Churches,” Anuario de Estudios
Medievales 42, no. 1 (2012): 7-28.
• T. Earle & K. Lowe, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
• Y. Elet, “Seats of Power: The Outdoor Benches of Early Modern Florence,” Journal of the
Society of Architectural Historians 61, no. 4 (2002): 444-469.
• Michael Jacoff, The Horses of San Marco and the Quadriga of the Lord, Princeton University
• S. Milner, ed., At the Margins: Minority Groups in Premodern Italy, University of Minnesota
• R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe,
950 – 1250. First published Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1987.
• M. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence,
Oxford University Press, 1996.
• J. Woolfson, Palgrave Advances in Renaissance Historiography, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
What do you think?
• In what sense were ‘foreigners, prostitutes and
homosexuals’ a marginalised group?
• Are there others you would include in this
• How central are these or other marginalised
groups to your own telling of Renaissance
history? How could they become so?
In response to the questions and discussion after my lecture today, I hope you will find
the following resources of use in your teaching and own reading (websites with large
primary source collections are on the next slide):
• Cecilia Hewlett, Rural Communities in Renaissance Tuscany: Religious Identities and Local Loyalties, Brepols,
• Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, eds, Her Immaculate Hand: Selected Works by and about the Women
Humanists of Quattrocento Italy, Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, Binghamton N. Y., 1983.
• Mary Rogers and Paola Tinagli, eds, Women in Italy, 1350-1650: Ideals and Realities: A Sourcebook,
Manchester University Press, 2005. *An excellent collection of short, translated primary sources by and about women;
good for students.
• Nicholas Terpstra, Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
• Richard C. Trexler, Power and Dependence in Renaissance Florence, Pegasus Press, 1998. Comprises three short,
readable volumes: “ The Children of Renaissance Florence,” “The Women of Renaissance Florence,” “ The Workers of
Renaissance Florence.” (Apologies, it was Trexler, not Terpstra who wrote these little books.)
• Eurodocs: Online Sources for European History: http://eurodocs.lib.byu.edu
• Early Modern Resources. http://earlymodernweb.org/
• Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Full Text Sources: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook2.html
• The Jane Fortune Project on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici. http://www.medici.org/jane-fortune-research-programwomen-artists-age-medici
• Early Modern Women Online. http://www.ssemw.org/zieglerlnks.html
• Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Sex and Gender. Fordham Univeristy. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook1v.asp
• Other Women‟s Voices. Translations of Women‟s Writing before 1700. http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/
• Victoria and Albert Museum. This museum of art and design in London has very strong Italian Renaissance holdings, and its website is
dense with useful information. The „Collections‟ tab is a good place to start. http://www.vam.ac.uk/
• Web Gallery of Art, image collection, virtual museum. http://www.wga.hu/
• The Online Catasto is a World Wide Web searchable database of tax information for the city of Florence in 1427-29 (c. 10,000
records). It is based on David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Principal Investigators, Census and Property Survey of Florentine
Dominions in the Province of Tuscany, 1427-1480. http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/catasto/
• Online Gazetteer of Sixteenth Century Florence. „Zoomable‟ 1595 map of Florence with index of street names and objects – a
very helpful resource. http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/florentine_gazetteer/
• Early Modern Cartographic Resources on the World Wide Web, Rhonda Lemke Sanford, University of Colorado.
• The Medici Archive Project. Access to a searchable on-line database of data in the Medici Grand Ducal Archive. Large website
devoted to the later Renaissance period, it includes a section on Jewish history and information on the current exhibition, “Galileo, the
Medici, and the Age of Astronomy.” http://www.medici.org/
• Internet Jewish History Sourcebook, Fordham University. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/jewishsbook.asp#The Jewish
• Jewish Women‟s Archive: Jewish Women, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia. Some medieval and Renaissance entries.
• Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University Library Open Collections Program.
• The Metropolitan Musuem of Art. A wealth of resources, several of the curatorial departments listed here are of relevance to those
interested in Renaissance art, costume, textiles, domestic furnishings and more: