Plotting Social Hierarchies in the Renaissance - HTAV

Plotting Social Hierarchies in the Renaissance - HTAV

Plotting Social

Hierarchies in




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

about marginalisation

R.I. Moore

“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

contemporary cultural

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

embrace these

approaches, whereas

Renaissance studies has

tended to be more

resistant. Why?

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

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,

Stanley Chojnacki.)

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

Revelatione, Florence,1496

Dante, Inferno XV, Pisan manuscript, c.1345.

Decentering the


‣ 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.

Key points

• 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

Press, 2006.

• 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

Press, 1993.

• S. Milner, ed., At the Margins: Minority Groups in Premodern Italy, University of Minnesota

Press, 2005.

• 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:

• Early Modern Resources.

• Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Full Text Sources:

• The Jane Fortune Project on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici.

• Early Modern Women Online.

• Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Sex and Gender. Fordham Univeristy.

• Other Women‟s Voices. Translations of Women‟s Writing before 1700.

• 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.

• Web Gallery of Art, image collection, virtual museum.

• 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.

• Online Gazetteer of Sixteenth Century Florence. „Zoomable‟ 1595 map of Florence with index of street names and objects – a

very helpful resource.

• 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.”

• Internet Jewish History Sourcebook, Fordham University. Jewish

Middle Ages

• 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:

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