Early Modern Circle 2016

Juliet's balcony, Verona (Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)
Juliet's balcony, Verona
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

Papers for 2016

March 21 - Dr Diana Hiller (Independent Art Historian)

Mary Magdalene: A Gendered Construction in Conventual Crucifixion Frescoes in Early Modern Italy

It is generally recognised that, when painting for female religious, early modern Italian artists gendered images to the extent that they commonly depicted female figures - typically titular saints or convent founders - in positions of hierarchical importance. However, the gendering of frescoes in male and female convents occurred in ways fundamentally deeper than simply privileging such figures. Artists often altered the accepted iconography in religious works according to the gender of their convent viewers. As illustration, this paper focuses on the figure of Mary Magdalene in frescoes of Christ’s Crucifixion in male and female religious houses by four early modern painters: Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, Giovanni di Corraduccio, Benozzo Gozzoli and Andrea del Castagno. It is suggested that when these artists painted a Crucifixion fresco for a male convent the Magdalene was often subordinated and accorded the role of mourning bystander while the viewer’s emotional engagement was invited through other figures. In contrast, when the same artists painted Crucifixion frescoes for female religious viewers, it was the Magdalene who acted as the emotional entrée through which the women could engage with the pathos and agony of Christ’s Passion on the Cross.

April 11 - Dr Sasha Handley (University of Manchester)

Healthy Sleep in English Households c. 1650 - 1750

In the twenty-first century we are in the grip of a ‘sleep deprivation crisis’. This is at least the view of Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, who has measured the consequences of endemic sleep loss in relation to individual health and wellbeing. Governments and multinational corporations also recognise this ‘problem’ but choose to quantify it in a different way, estimating that billions of dollars, euros and pounds are being lost each year due to poor sleep quality. Those who seek a solution to this so-called crisis demand a change in attitudes and environmental approaches to sleep, and many of these commentators look back to the pre-industrial world to recover a world of sound sleep that now appears out of reach. In this paper, I uncover some of the reasons why early modern sleeping practices are now so heavily romanticised, by tracing some of the habitual routines, physical environments and cultural motivations that underpinned sleep’s daily practice within early modern English households from c. 1650 - c. 1750. At the paper’s core, is a very different set of cultural perceptions about the value of peaceful sleep, which was firmly grounded within early modern medical and religious culture. Sleep’s successful practice was placed at the centre of household life, rather than at its margins, because it was believed to hold the key to long-term physical and spiritual health.

May 16 - Dr Eleonora Rai (University of Milan)

The “Odor of Sanctity”: Veneration and Politics in Leonard Lessius’s Cause for Beatification (17th-20th Centuries)

After his death in 1623, the Flemish Jesuit Leonard Lessius (Lenaert Leys, 1554-1623) became the object of public veneration - never approved by the Roman Church - that aimed at promoting his beatification. The cult of this theologian, based on many supposed miraculous healings, increased in the seventeenth century but began to fade thereafter. The cult was revitalized in the nineteenth century, when some Flemish Jesuits began a “relic rush” in order to find Lessius’s remains with the hope of reopening the process of beatification; the cause was, however, definitively abandoned in the twentieth century. The records relating to Lessius’s cause shed light on the policy of sainthood adopted by the new Society of Jesus and its connection with that of the old Society. Also, the documentation exhibits feelings and emotions of many Jesuits involved in Lessius's cause for beatification, and of many Flemish devotees.

June 20 - Joint Session on Early Modern Italian Women Writers

Julie Robarts (The University of Melbourne)

Margherita Costa's Bella donna Persona in the Lettere amorose and the Manifesto of the Free Woman (Donna libera)

In her fictional Lettere amorose, Love letters, (Venice 1639) Roman virtuosa singer and author Margherita Costa (fl. 1626-1657) presents the correspondence of over one hundred male and female characters writing to attain or deflect the attention of prospective lovers. These scenarios of love and antipathy build on, and challenge, a century-long tradition of male-authored lettere amorose, presenting some female characters of unprecedented strength, including the authorial persona of the Bella donna, who was a fictionalised version of Costa herself.

Amy Sinclair (The University of Melbourne)

Authoring and Authorizing the Self: Equivocation and Dissimulation in Moderata Fonte’s Il Merito delle Donne (1600) and Lucrezia Marinella’s Essortationi alle Donne (1645)

An extensive body of scholarship explores literary dissimulation by early modern male writers as an exercise in prudential self-fashioning and as a defensive strategy. Less well researched is women’s engagement with the practice. In Moderata Fonte’s Il merito delle donne (1600) and Lucrezia Marinella’s Essortationi alle donne (1645), locating a categorical, univocal voice of the author is problematic. A multiplicity of contrary perspectives are juxtaposed with each author evading pinioning to a particular position. Both works challenge commonplace thought and authorities, though this voice of subversion is neither owned nor repudiated by the authors. For women writing in a way which destabilises dominant paradigms and authorities, concerns regarding prudential self-fashioning and defence against censure would arguably have been fundamental to the writing project. I propose that Fonte and Marinella employed literary dissimulation deliberately and strategically, in order to raise questions about contemporary attitudes towards women, whilst mitigating the risks of attracting denunciation or compromising their reputation as ‘respectable’ woman writers.

August 15 - Dr Matthew Champion (University of Cambridge)

The Emotional Resonances of Bells in Early Modern Northern Europe

In 1499 fire reduced the church of the Premonstratensian Abbey at Averbode, including its clock and bells, to ruins. The monastery’s reform-minded Abbot, Gerard van der Scaeft, employed bell-founders from ’s-Hertogenbosch to comb the ashes for salvage metal and clockmakers from Leuven and Turnhout carried out an ambitious programme of renewal. On the hour, the new clock played the Pentecost sequence Sancti spiritus adsit nobis gratia and, on the half hour, the Marian sequence Virginis Mariae laudes. The clock at Averbode is just one example of a number of musical bells that were installed across northern Europe from the fourteenth century. This paper will consider the resonances of these musical bells, charting a course through an emotional history of sound, time, materiality and devotion - from their first appearance in Rouen in 1321, to Averbode and texts composed about its bells by the famous humanist Desiderius Erasmus.

Matthew Champion is currently the Jeremy Haworth Research Fellow in History at St Catharine's College, Cambridge. In September 2016, he will take up a lectureship in Medieval History at Birkbeck, University of London. His current research centres on European temporalities from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.

September 19 - Dr Jenny Spinks (University of Manchester)

Northern European Books and Global Magic in the Sixteenth Century

Sixteenth-century European Christians collected and circulated many reports of magical rites, figures and objects from beyond Europe’s borders. Chronologically, these coincided with an increasing fear of the Devil and of witchcraft within Europe. This paper draws upon a range of printed travelogues, wonder books and demonological treatises to explore the powerful emotions depicted in and roused by reports of non-European diabolical magic. It asks why this material gained so much polemical traction within northern European print culture, and examines what it can tell us about domestic European anxieties during an era transformed by religious conflicts and global encounters.

October 17 - Professor Lino Pertile (Harvard University)

Religious Dissent and the Cult of Dante

Venue: Chisholm Theatre, Babel 305

Considers the role that some writers and intellectuals played in Italy, in the period between the Sack of Rome and the end of the Council of Trent, in the attempt to bring about Catholic reform. Discusses in particular the movement of intellectuals (Triphon Gabriele, Pietro Bembo, Bernardino Daniello, Vittore Soranzo) and ideas circulating around the Venetian Triphon Gabriele and his teaching of Dante and the Latin classics in the Veneto. Suggests that, while Petrarch consolidated and gave authority to the vernacular language, it was the cult of Dante that stirred people’s minds towards Catholic reform.

November 21 - Dr Dianne Hall (Victoria University)

Gender and Negotiating the Conclusion of Sieges in Early Modern Ireland