Organizer: Judith Steinhoff, University of Houston
Virgin Martyr, Sage Doctor, Christ’s Bride: Regendering Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Although the portrayal of Trecento women was heavily gendered—often in a negative way—by the male gaze, some female saints managed to eschew this fate. Catherine of Alexandria was an exceptional young woman who lived in fourth-century Egypt but gained popular recognition and enhanced visibility in the later Middle Ages. In Trecento images of the saint, a book, signifying her wisdom over the pagan philosophers, became her standard attribute, together with the spiked wheel of her martyrdom. Her vision and mystic marriage were also compositions introduced during the Trecento. Focusing on specific visual portrayals of Saint Catherine as a sage and a bride of Christ, I will argue that the Dominicans were instrumental in the shaping of these images. As the Order of Preachers par excellence, they were keen to promote her on account of her erudition and reasoning with which she spoke in defense of the Christian faith.
Female Actors and Gendered Spaces Inside the Florentine Home between Trecento and Quattrocento
My paper summarizes the most important findings of my survey of 1,100 unpublished domestic inventories listed by the Magistrato dei Pupilli in the Archivio di Stato in Florence, covering the period of the Albizi oligarchic government of Florence, between 1384 and 1432.
This unprecedented wealth of information describes in detail the architectural spaces where women (both old and young members of the family, servants, and slaves) operated independently or as part of the household. Different aspects of their lifestyle emerged through their possessions, the location and iconography of works of art, the devotion of women’s books of prayer, the wealth of exotic items, the strategies of display, the tools used for their daily tasks not only in Florentine homes but also in countryside villas and residences scattered around Tuscany, providing an unprecedented chance to reveal the gendered spaces in the Tuscan house between Trecento and Quattrocento.
Giotto and the Oratrix, or What Maddalena Saw
Maddalena Scrovegni (c.1360-1429) lived and wrote in Padua for much of her life, making daily use of the chapel built there by her grandfather and decorated by Giotto. For cultural historians she constitutes a triple rarity: an articulate witness to Giotto’s frescos during the century they were commissioned; a female writer amongst the North Italian humanists of the late fourteenth century; and a woman who has left an unusually large historical footprint for someone of her era and class. We can read what she wrote, and what people wrote about her, and (crucially for this paper) we can see what she saw. This paper considers the frescoes of the Arena Chapel in conjunction with Maddalena’s epistolary output, suggesting that she found visual inspiration for her writing in Giotto’s frescoes, and that her writings can tell us some surprising things about her reception of Giotto’s work.