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Discuss the view that portraits of women painted in renaissance Italy define specific social and cultural ideal

Discuss the view that portraits of women painted in renaissance Italy define specific social and cultural ideal

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Caoimhín de Bhailís. Originally submitted for Creator and Subject: Themes in Portraiture at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. E. Krčma in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Caoimhín de Bhailís. Originally submitted for Creator and Subject: Themes in Portraiture at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. E. Krčma in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
History of ArtHA2009: Creator and Subject: Themes in PortraitureEssay1. Discuss the view that portraits of women painted inrenaissance Italy define specific social and culturalideals.
Word count: 2,062
 
Page 1The naming of the Renaissance as a rebirth for humanity through enquiry and art is a broad term and we view its progress from our position, in a modern, world centuriesremoved and much coloured by our understandings and demands of societalstandards. A period in time occurs and is measured by what proceeded and whatfollows. If, as outlined in this essay, the portrayal of women during the Renaissance isa reflection of their societal roles then we need to see what it was that the societydemanded and understand that this was in essence a patrician mercantile society witha place for all in a hierarchy defined by power.
1
It must also be remembered that weare dealing with a certain class of women, those who were thought suitable fo portrayal as identifiable individuals..The influence of literature in defining ,and changing, the roles and the ideal of renaissance women is highlighted by the works of Castiglione, specifically
TheCourtier 
,
2
and indeed the poetry of Petrarch and Dante
3
. Simons, in quoting Alberti,refers to the male requirement of virtue and good conduct as being of equal paritywith physical beauty
4
. The political and economic developments in Renaissance Italyand the position and expectations of women within that society are reflected in their artistic portrayals based on the growing humanist interpretations of society
5
. Thechaste and virtuous woman sought by Alberti is suggested by Petrarch in his sonnet155 and his distancing of woman from physical contact with “…Noli metangiere…”
6
. So, from the male viewers point of view what was required was a beautiful, chaste, virtuous and yet untouchable representation of a female who was inreality required to be touchable and fertile, because of the importance of continuing alineage
7
. In order to examine this further a selection of portraits from the period will
1
Bridenthal, R. & Koonz, C. eds.,
Becoming Visible: Women in European History,
Houghton Mifflin,1977. 140.
2
Ibid. 150.
3
Ibid., 153.
4
Broude, N. & Garrard, M.D. eds.,
The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History,
HarperCollins, 1992. 44.
5
Bridenthal /Koonz,
Becoming Visible
, 161.
6
Pearsall, D. ed.,
Chaucer to Spenser: An Anthology
, Blackwell, 1999.
7
Tinagli, P.,
Women in Italian Renaissance Art 
, Manchester, 1997. 47.
 
Page 2 be presented which demonstrate how these societal demands are delineated anddefined within the framework, both of the work and the time.
 Portrait of a Man and a Woman
,(Plate 1), by Fra Filippo Lippo shows, according toSimons, that a woman was a property, to remain hidden except for when required bymen for male purposes as a “visual display” for marriage, to ensure a good inter-familial lineage, or as a means of increasing the honour and reputation of the husbandthrough a display of wealth
8
. In Italy of the 1400s, a lady’s accoutrements were a wayof displaying status. Dignity and pride were signified by the luxuriousness of their attire
9
. However, Simons would see these displays as those of a “…man’s worldlywealth…” rather than those of the woman
10
. The woman is framed not just within the picture frame itself but within the architecture of the internal space. Outside isrepresented by property and by the observance of the male viewer; here we assumehusband as only he is permitted to encroach upon her private space. The heraldicensign identifies her with a lineage
11
of her husband’s while the embroidered motto onher left sleeve ‘Lealte(loyalty) asserts her “…wifely duty and virtue…”
12
. Animportant aspect of the profile portrait of the Renaissance woman is that of her gaze,or, her lack of engagement with the viewer. The female was not to “… look about her freely in public.”
13
and “… in the city she had to lower her eyes and fix them to theground.”
14
. The renaissance Florentine wife was very much restricted by rules andregulations which governed her behaviour. King provides a litany of instructivehandbooks of behaviour of the day which allows us to understand the essential natureof control and demands made upon the woman
15
. Of course, these conventions are being reflected in paintings such as
Plate 1
. The rules cannot be seen to be flouted inart as they may become flouted in life.
8
Broude & Garrard,
The Expanding Discourse
, 41-43.
9
Tinagli,
Women in Italian Renaissance Art 
. 51.
10
Broude & Garrard,
The Expanding Discourse
, 44.
11
Broude & Garrard,
The Expanding Discourse,
43.
12
Tinagli, P.,
Women in Italian Renaissance Art,
52.
13
King, C.,
Renaissance Women Patrons: Wives and Widows in Italy c.1300-1550
, Manchester, 1998.22.
14
 Ibid 
. 24.
15
Ibid. 20-25.

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