2023 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, San Juan, Puerto Rico
IAS-Sponsored Session

Transgressing the Socially Controlled Body of Early Modern Italy I: Religion and the Body

Organizer: Rebecca Marie Howard, University of Memphis

Organizer: Caroline Koncz, Angelo State University

Chair: Claudia Lazzaro, Cornell University

Centuries beyond the early modern period, bodies continue to be controlled and held to certain socially fabricated and problematic expectations. Social and gendered standards placed on early modern persons (realized through the issuing of sumptuary legislation, conduct literature, and clerical/state legislation, to name only a few sources), are often the forces behind artistic depictions of period bodies. The papers in these panels thus seek to consider how social constructs impacted early modern artists’ renderings of figures, either from life, history, and/or fiction. Speaking to the theme of the socially constructed and controlled body in early modern Italy, papers will explore subjects such as transgressive and/or confirmative depictions of bodies; defining, performing, and/or blurring gender roles; transgressive dressing; cross-dressing; and the nude or the body undressed. Discussions of such policing of early modern bodies may reflect contemporary efforts that further attempt control over the bodies and lives of certain individuals.


Karin Flora, Ohio State University
Roman Goddess and Mary: Clashing Conceptions of the Feminine in Giulio Romano and Raphael’s ‘Ceres’

Giulio Romano’s Ceres, likely painted after a design by Raphael, portrays the eponymous Roman goddess in grisaille who is shown holding a golden cornucopia and wearing sheer garments that cling to her body and fall off her shoulders. The fictive stone figure is surrounded by variegated faux marbles adding to her luxuriousness. However, this image served as a cover for an image of the Virgin and Elizabeth looking fondly on Christ and John the Baptist. This paper investigates how these contrasting images functioned for their patron Cardinal Bibbiena, examining how early modern conceptions about marble conferred sacred virtues upon these female bodies, and how sacred and secular femininity were often conflated. The resulting tension in this image reveals the degree to which female bodies were implicated in complex and related networks of meaning, alluding to hidden treasure while evoking both divine mystery and sexual desire simultaneously.

Alysée Le Druillenec, Université Catholique de Louvain and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Carrying the Holy Child: A Depiction of Masculinity in the Christian Counter-Reformation?

In the seventeenth century, the abundance of images depicting Christ-carriers, saints, and the promotion of their gesture by theologians proves how crucial this body pattern was. There is no doubt that the prototype of this body composition is the Madonna. However, most of these carriers are men. This survey aims to demonstrate how the desire to have the ability to “contain” a child in a maternal matrix defines Catholic masculinity. Which “space” does Augustine seek in his body to “host” and “contain” God? Why do some saints carry the Christ in their “bosom?” What does it mean when it is written that, because Joseph is Mary’s spouse, it is to consider that he “carried the Christ in his flesh?” It is as if Karen Horney’s “womb envy” theory was anachronistically operative in Counter-Reformation Christianity. What was the spiritual impact of such ambivalent masculine figures in a patriarchal society?

Christine Zappella, University of Texas Health Sciences Center
Sexual Arousal as Identity-Hermeneutic in some Florentine Religious Spaces

The sins of sodomy and idolatry were both met with widespread outcry in cinquecento Florence and the penalties for committing either egregious act could be steep. This is notable because at the same time, important religious spaces—like cloisters, chapels, and even the altars of monastic churches—were decorated with sexual images that had the potential to promote both sins. Many of these spaces, furthermore, were used almost exclusively by men, who within them performed intense rites of affective devotion that forced potentially-erotic physical encounters amongst their own bodies, the bodies of peers, and the sexual images. Focusing on artistic case studies from the first half of the 1500s and considering evidence from both the sciences and the humanities, this paper explores the ways that, counterintuitively, such erotic encounters had the potential to explore and codify appropriate behavioral norms as well as orthodox individual and group identity among Florentine men.

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