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Women and Art in Early Modern Europe (Spring 2009

Prof. Alexandra M. Korey, University of Georgia Studies Abroad Cortona, Italy

This is a space for UGA Cortona ARHI 4200/6200 "Women and Art" students to post weekly suggestions for exam questions.


After each week's class, please come to this wiki and add suggestions for questions that you think would be useful to pose on your midterm exam. The question should relate to the week's discussion, OR create links between previous discussions and this week's. Your questions can be formatted any way you want - a lead-in to an essay, a factual question about the reading, or even a multiple choice.

The purpose of this assigment is to get you thinking about the "big picture" each week.

I will draw the questions on your midterm from this wiki (but have the right to modify them somewhat). So, you're writing your own exam. Thus, there will be no nasty surprises.


How to edit:

  1. Click the "edit" link at the page section to which you wish to contribute.
  2. Please add your question under the correct weekly header.
  3. Please sign your name to your contribution. If you're not logged in, that's fine (you don't have to sign up). Use this format "(George C.): I think...".
  4. There is an asterix (*) symbol below each heading which makes a bullet. You can add your comment next to this symbol.
  5. Don't forget to save!

Week by week comments

Week 1:

Gender roles in modern and past visual culture (and reading by Kent after the fact)

  • (Brenna Crothers) Supposedly women are part of a generation that is now “empowered”. In most western cultures, women are considered to be equal citizens to men. However, has this new age “empowered” woman been represented in art? Has the way that women have been represented in art changed throughout the centuries? If so how has it changed, and has it strengthened or weakened the female image?
  • (Alex Goodman) Has the depiction of wealth and luxury found within the depictions of women changed from past to present? If so, How?
  • (Sean Brice) How did the many medical misinterpretations and misinformation of the day (i.e. wandering womb) and general apathy / lack of knowledge of the female psyche effect the representation of women in the visual arts? Why did this faulty knowledge persist throughout centuries despite medical advances and visual evidence?
  • (Andrew Webster) Although women in 15th century Italy had strict laws imposed on their public appearance and political rights, when they were honored, how were they and why?
  • (Kendra Hunt) What was the purpose of presenting a portrait of a woman or using women as allegorical figures during the 15th century? As a woman looking at those pictures at that time, how were they supposed to interpret them?
  • (Alex Covert) Kent uses a quote by Martin Luther, "Even if they bear themselves weary or bear themselves out...this is the purpose for which they exist." Describe specific types of visual images or explain certain traditions women were exposed to that reinforced this mind set.
  • (Blair Hartman) Two of the most frequently depicted women during the Renaissance were Eve and Mary, what are ways that each represents a commonly held view of women during the period?
  • (Carol Telesky) Discuss similarities and differences in the way women's roles, both family and non family are depicted in Renaissance art versus contemporary mass media.
  • (Jes Snow) According to Dale Kent, women in Renaissance Italy were viewed as subordinate to men and "weak, foolish, sensual, and not to be trusted," and that they "should be like used chamber pots: hidden away once a man had pissed in them." How is this negative view of women supported and/or refuted in art of the time?

Week 2:

Outer Beauty, Inner Virtue, and Neoplatonist ideals and readings by Tinagli, Cropper, and Firenzuola

  • (Rebecca Rastegar) As you read in the Tinagli article, women depicted did not engage in eye contact with the viewer. What does this tell you about the norms for women during the Quatroccento? In your essay, bring up numerous examples and explain how these images of women and the many things depicted in them form and reinforce this worldview.
  • (Blair Danger Hartman) As a primary text, Agnolo Firenzuola's "On the Beauty of Women" references the classical period in multiple ways, describe several of these as well as any obvious differences.
  • (Alex Goodman) In Cropper's article, "On Beautiful Women, Parmigianino, Petrarchismo, and the Vernacular Style", she shows how in Pietro Testa's 17th-century "notes on painting", Testa reads Firenzuola's 16th-century text (written 1542) by comparing women to vases. Are these vases successful in describing the features of a beautiful woman in the ENTIRE Italian Renaissance, OR is this comparison very specific to a particular moment in the visual arts? Use specific visual examples in your answer.
  • (Andrew Webster) Discuss gender roles in Piero della Francesca's double portrait of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro. What are elements that make this a typical and unusual portrait at the same time?
  • (Brenna Crothers) In the primary text "On the Beauty of Women" by Agnolo Firenzuola (written 1542), How is the dialog distributed between female and male roles? Were the roles within this text equal? Within the context of this time period would you consider the role that women were given within the dialog fairly major?
  • (Jes Snow)In Cropper's article and Firenzuola's discourse, female beauty was broken down into specific beautiful parts. Women, like clothing, were picked for their specific physical attributes and fit, and not their individuality. Is this accurate in terms of familial alliances, or necessity of an heir(or other?)? Are there pieces of art work that support or refute this?
  • (Sean Brice) In the primary text "On the Beauty of Women" by Agnolo Firenzuola, Celso Selvaggio states all of the following as the ingredients of ideal feminine beauty except:
A) well proportioned and arranged body parts
B) white bosom
C) rosy cheeks
D) body hair
E) black eyelashes
  • (AMK)Based on Celso's description of beauty and Petrarch's ideal of Laura, cite and discuss the appearance AND function of one or more Renaissance paintings of women that closely fit these ideals.
  • (Carol Telesky) What evidence exists in the art of the time that Firenzuola's ideal type of beauty influenced the behavior of real Florentine women?
  • (Kendra Hunt) In Paola Tinagli's article, what are the reasons why people invested time and money into portraiture and how did the depiction of men and women differ within these? What was the reason behind these differences?

Week 3:

Marriage, sex, and birth and readings by Musacchio and Alberti

  • (AMK) Just for fun - there's a little article on WETNURSING with citations from the Medici archive in the english newspaper in florence (The Florentine): link
  • Brenna Crothers) What were some of the factors during the Renaissance that encouraged women to have so many children? And how is this reflected in the material culture?
  • (Alex Goodman) When comparing the excerpt from The Family in Renaissance Florence to the other primary text,"On the Beauty of Women" by Firenzuola, which do you feel is more misogynistic and why?
  • (Blair Danger Hartman) In criticism of Musacchio's book, Faith Wallis argues, "birth was usually handled by a midwife but the doctor was not as much a stranger to the confinement chamber as Musacchio claims." Given what you know, is there adequate evidence to make this criticism? Explain your personal opinion?
  • (Andrew Webster) Explain how male artists may have been able to portray scenes of childbirth so acuratley, even though men had little access to the confinement chamber.
  • (Sean Brice) Of what importance/impact does the fact that Leon Battista Alberti's was himself a bastard child play in interpretation and appreciation of his instructional guide to "choosing a wife and conceiving an heir" in "The Family in Renaissance Florence"?
  • (Rebecca) Name three specific sources of evidence that Musacchio uses to inform us about Renaissance childbirth. (short answer question)
  • (AMK) Which of the following statements in relation to what alberti writes in his treatise "on family" is NOT TRUE:
(a) Procreation and gender roles has roots in our hunting and gathering culture
(b) men take mistresses because they are afraid of conjugal duties
(c) you should not expect your children to take care of you in your old age
(d) when taking a wife, do not give up beauty for parentage or parentage for a big dowry
  • (Carol Telesky) Contrast and compare the material culture described by Musacchio to encourage women to fulfill their maternal roles with similar material culture today. Given the reduction in the risks over time, what continuities do you observe?
  • (Jes Snow)Both Musacchio and Alberti talk about the place of a women as one where she is obligated to produce children and not much more; the woman is depicted as more object than individual. Is this an accurate view of women? (consider: Andrea del Verrochio' The Death of Francesca Pitti Tornabuoni and the art that women patroned)
  • (Kendra Hunt) What were the motivating factors behind the exchange of childbearing objects and how did the scenes depicted reinforce these ideas?
  • (Alex Covert) Within Musacchio's reading, compare the image on Bartolomeo di Fruosino's front of a wooden childbirth try with a confinement room scene (Fig. 1) to the altarpiece by Osservanza Master depicting The Birth of the Virgin (Fig.7; pg. 10). How do these two images create propagandistic messages for female viewers?

Week 4:

The further marginalized “other”: lesbians, witches, and the elderly (Trexler, Brown, Neave, Emison)

  • (Andrew Webster) Explain how the images of witches by Durer and Hans Grien can be considered humorous and misogynistic. In your answer, also discuss how some scholars conclude that these images are only documentative.
  • (Blair Danger Hartman) As a class we seemed fairly unified that the Dorinda Neave article was the lesser of the two articles on images of witchcraft. Find an example or two from the article and briefly describe why it is ineffective.
  • (Alex Goodman): In the article "Truth and Bizzarria in an Engraving of Lo Stregozzo" Emison discusses the function of the work as the depiction of the truth of witches' own descriptions of their nocturnal misdeeds, in relation to a contemporary trial in Miradola. Evaluate how she builds up this evidence, and discuss if you agree or disagree with her final conclusion.
  • (Rebecca) Which of the following Countries was the birthplace of "organized witchcraft", the home of esteemed inquisitors and prominent authors on witchcraft, and the country that appeared to harbor the most witches in Europe?
(a) France
(b) holland
(c) italy
(d) Germany
(e) switzerland
  • (Brenna Crothers) Even though the women of the Orbatello eventually lost their power and good reputation in renaissance society, how do you think they were able to maintain their power as long as they did?
  • (carol Telesky) In what ways did the inhabitants of the Orbatello subvert the technical rules of the asylum while still successfully maintinaing their communit? How did this manipulation of the rules contribute to their success?
  • (Kendra Hunt) Compare and contrast the iconography of witches in at least three different works of art and explain how they relate to the views of women at that time.
  • (Jes Snow) Widows, witches and lesbians were considered an "other" category in Renaissance Italy and therefore not well documented or depicted in art. From what we do have, how are these women viewed, and what, if any, impact did they have on society as a whole? Were they considered often, or only as an aside?
  • (Alex Covert)How do the displayed symbols of beauty within art compare or contrast the negative icons within images of witches. Do the images of beauty enhance a woman's status, while the portrayal of a witch degrades the feminine ideal? Or can it be argued that both imaginative concepts continued to keep women in their place?

Week 5:

Renaissance Women Patrons (Radke, King)

  • (Alex Goodman): How do the nuns of San Zaccaria illustrate the inner thoughts and desires of women and not just the superficial depiction normally shown?
  • (Rebecca) Based on our readings and known examples of female patronage of the visual arts, what prime factor(s) determine the woman's ability to commission art? In which conditions did she have greater freedom? In which conditions is she virtually invisible?
  • (From Jes Snow's handout, slightly altered by AMK): In art, through representation AND patronage, which population of women do you feel is more accurately depicted, or represented by the visual arts - married/marriageable women, or nuns/brides of Christ. Discuss BOTH sides of this equation, ie., not just patronage, but also pictures of those women.
  • (AMK) Compare the Orbatello of Florence to the Convent of San Zaccaria in Venice. How did women manipulate themselves into a position of power, and what were the visual consequences of this power?
  • (Blair Danger Hartman) According to Margaret King's introduction, married women had more power in the commissioning of art than did widows during the Renaissance. True or False?
  • (Brenna Crothers)Compare the power structures of the women who ran the Orbatello vs. The nuns of San Zaccaria? How did these women maintain and practice their power in a male dominated world?
  • (Carol Telesky) What evidence does Radke provide to support his claim that the nuns of San Zaccaria really owned the art in their church?
  • (Kendra Hunt) What was the social and economic standing of the nuns at San Zaccaria and how did that affect the way they lived and their patronage?
  • (Jes Snow)In Renaissance Italy did women acquire more power as individuals or as groups? (Elite women v. groups of non elite; amount and type of patronage)
  • (Alex Covert) Briefly explain how the use of specific saints within the altarpiece portrays a highly feminine artistic influence within its design.

Week 6:

Case study: Isabella d’este (readings by San Juan and de Vries)

  • (Kendra Hunt) Why did Isabella d'Este purposefully collect mythological paintings and how did that positively effect her identity as a court women.
  • (Jes Snow)How unique were Isabella d'Este and Catrina Sforza for their age?
  • (Alex Covert) The idea of the humanist movement was strongly present in the reading by Joyce de Vries. Did this social movement focusing on outer beauty and intelligence have a strong influence on Caterina Sforza? Did this ideology enhance her specific iconography within her medals?


Instructions -You must write TWO essays of approximately 1h20 each. Pick one question from each section. Please identify which question you’re answering with its number. -You must answer the question posed, so read it carefully. If you don’t address the issue at hand, it may be a good essay, but you can’t get full points for it.

-Writing: You must have a thesis that states what you’re going to prove (this may be close to a repetition of the question, but as an affirmation). Your thesis should help structure what comes next. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence and the content of that paragraph should be about one point you’re trying to make. Everything should relate back to the thesis.

-Open book: You may consult internet, notes, and course pack, but don’t waste your time! You may (and should at least once) quote from a text but don’t rely on quotes to make your point; work them into your essay and explain why you are using them.

-You must cite both specific readings and works of art in your answer. Please make it extra clear which work of art you are citing if this is very important to your argument, i.e. use a page reference or the complete title and artist, or a photo from the internet.

-Spell check before you hand it in. Spelling and grammar count.

The following questions have been chosen and edited for the midterm exam

FIRST ESSAY (Classes 1-4 – the depiction of women)

1) (Blair /AMK) Two of the most frequently depicted women during the Renaissance were Eve (the sinner) and Mary (the saint). The representation of Mary provides a positive example for women that is also reflected in images of lay women (i.e. non religious imagery). In what ways should women be like Mary? Cite specific instances of religious and domestic art and explain how these works functioned to impart specific values and ideals to female viewers.

2) (Jes) Widows, witches, and lesbians acted outside the defined social norms for females (we considered them as "others"). How often and how accurately do you think that these categories were documented either verbally or visually? What function(s) might these depictions have had for the culture that produced them?

3) (Kendra /Andrew) Compare and contrast the iconography of witches in at least two different works of art and explain how these images relate to the often misogynistic views of women in early modern Italy. (In order to do this, you must also refer to what you have learned in other readings not specifically related to witchcraft). Within this topic, consider the role of humor as effective communicator in these fantastical images (akin to the moments of comic relief in primary sources by Firenzuola and Alberti). Are humor and “fact” mutually exclusive in these images?

4) (Covert / Kendra) Looking at the images within the reading by Musacchio, such as the birth tray by Bartolommeo Fruosino (Fig 1) and the altarpiece by the Osservanza Master (Fig 7), explain the motivating factors behind the exchange of childbirth objects and the depiction of childbirth in religious contexts in relation to what you now know about the role(s) of women in this society.

5) *(Carol /AMK) So far, we’ve seen images of women produced by men, and read or heard about ideals of beauty expressed by men like Firenzuola, Alberti, and Petrarch. Is there any visual or verbal evidence that these ideals of beauty influenced the behavior of real women in early modern Italy? (Note that as we have not dealt comprehensibly with primary sources of this period, you may hypothesize as to where you might find this evidence.) Consider the problematic issue of “real versus ideal” in relation to the types of primary evidence available to us as modern scholars.

SECOND ESSAY (Classes 5-6 - the patronage question)

6) (Jes /Goodman/AMK): In art, through representation AND patronage, which population of women do you feel is more accurately depicted, or represented by, the visual arts - married/marriageable women, or nuns/brides of Christ. You might consider how well inner thoughts and values are depicted versus outer beauty and ideals. Discuss BOTH sides of this equation, i.e., not just patronage, but also pictures of those women.

7) (Kendra) The nuns at San Zaccaria had connections and wealth, which had a positive effect on their patronage. Discuss these factors in relation to other patronage case studies with which you are familiar in order to determine how “exceptional” these nuns might have been.

8) (AMK /Brenna) Compare the Orbatello of Florence to the Convent of San Zaccaria in Venice. How did women manipulate themselves into a position of power, and what were the visual consequences of this power in both cases?

9) (Rebecca) Based on our readings and known examples of female patronage of the visual arts, what factor(s) determine a woman's ability to commission art? In which conditions did she have greater freedom? In which conditions is she virtually invisible?

10) *(Jes/AMK) Based on what you now know about female patronage, were Isabella d'Este and Caterina Sforza really unique for this period? Address how the contexts within which we study these female patrons might influence us to conclude that they are “exceptions”, and discuss what contexts would help us see them as more similar to other patrons (male and female).

  • NB: the questions marked (*) are difficult theoretical “big picture” questions that give you an opportunity to write a more abstract essay. It is extra important in these cases to have a thesis and a clear point. I do not recommend that you attempt to tackle BOTH of these, so consider them mutually exclusive!

Week 8: Artemisia Gentileschi movie and discussion

Movie trailer (Valentina Cervi 1997):



There are numerous other fictional presentations of Artemisia's life (and a general fascination with her rape). For example:

1) Susan Vreeland's book Artemisia

  Amazon link:

2) this short film on youtube filmed in rome



Week 9: historical voice: readings by T.Cohen and F. Jacobs

The rest of the class:

Feel free to write comments on your final projects on female artists (and related reading) here for discussion.

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