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Jeniffer A Harrison 1

October 13, 2008

Gender Analysis

As Christopher Fulton progresses through his writing, “The Boy Stripped Bare by His

Elders: Art and Adolescence in Renaissance Florence” he incorporates several forms of analysis

to support his central claim. He utilizes formal analysis, iconographic analysis, Socio-Historical

analysis, and Psychoanalysis approaches to art then leads the reader toward the gender analysis

of this article. He combines the above-mentioned analysis to provide validation for his gender

analysis and to demonstrate how art is utilized to persuade society.1

Overall, Fulton makes a strong case for “the boy stripped bear” in Florentine art during

the Renaissance. In each work of art, such as the Portrait of Francesco Sassetti and his Son

Teodor, Fulton addresses the formal aspect of the painting, introduces gender analysis, psycho-

historical information and includes psychoanalysis in regard to this painting. He begins his

analysis by stating “dignified man of affairs and his dreamy-eyed child”2 to address the reasons

why in Florentine society a father’s emotions are contradictory to their sons’. He additionally

discusses the gender gaps between fathers and sons and husbands and wives. After he has

delved into the psychoanalytical aspect of the father intimidating his son that there is a

realization that this is not an article pertaining to all Florentine families, but more directly to the

Mercantile elite of Florence.3

In the majority of the article, the additional works of art are all analyzed according to the

same general formula as stated above for the Portrait of Francesco Sassetti and his Son Teodor.

This provides a very well structured, articulated, and sound argument to answer his central claim

that “the artistic treatment of youth served as an instrument in the enforcement and reproduction

of patriarchal authority”. 4 That being said there are areas, which could be improved to provide a
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stronger line of reasoning for this paper. Several areas of the article include slight over-sites,

assumptions, and discounted specific material, which if attended to would make Fulton’s

argument more solidified.

To begin with, the most important question to be addressed throughout the article is

“which boys”? Is the article referring to all Florentine boys or just the Florentine Mercantile

elite? In either case it should be stated more clearly and expounded upon. Secondly, the author

states on page 32, “Once a boy began to show the capacity to distinguish between virtue and

vice, at around the age of seven, he left the care of his mother…for moral training and education

under his father’s supervision.”5 This sentence insinuates that the male children were stripped

bare of their mothers at the age of seven and insinuates they no longer saw each other. It also

implies that only the patriarch of the family was capable to train and educate the boys and only

the men knew how to teach them the differences between vice and virtue. What is unsaid, yet

still implied is that the mother was incapable of knowing and/or teaching her own child about

virtue and vice and that she had no say in raising her son from the age of seven. This also implies

that the fathers had no interaction with the child prior to the age of seven and now they are being

ripped from their mother’s arms to a father they apparently barely knew. This scenario seems

highly unlikely and is in need of further investigation. Lastly, how often did any Florentine

adolescent actually see the David by Donatello in the Medici palace or any of the other statues

and busts of this context? It is more likely that the adult Florentine males saw these and they

incorporated the fathers’ hopes and dreams for their sons rather than being a mirror for their

sons’ to reflect on the men they should become.

In Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity the focus of gender at first does not appear to be on the

male, but rather on one female, Mary mother of Jesus. Mary is the focal point of the painting
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and her larger than life size draws attention to her centrally placed figure. On the lower left hand

corner of the canvas there is a path, which scrolls up to the middle ground. The path leads the

viewers’ eyes past angels with mortals in the foreground, past Joseph who appears to be in a

dreamlike state with his head bowed down into his hands, past the Christ child and ends just

beside Mary. In the middle ground the female angels are given little attention to their details and

serve to point toward the Christ child as the shepherds and Wise-men bow in reverence. In the

top section are twelve angels holding hands circling in a golden light above the manger, in

particular, they seem to be circling Mary. This is likely a reference to the twelve stars that

generally serve as a crown to Mary, mother of Christ.

This focus on Mary would be appropriate for the type of painting Botticelli was rendering

in accordance to Savonarola’s preaching’s of redemption and the second coming of Christ. By

focusing all the attention toward Mary, Botticelli is focusing on a way to worship Christ through

her, as the only thing she is giving reverence to is the Christ child himself. Mary has her hands

folded as if in prayer and the Christ child is reaching toward Mary in response.

In regard to gender study, this focus on the female is a focus on the Virgin Mary, which

reinforces her position in the Catholic Church and as the mother of Christ. All the figures male

and female are subordinate and reverent to Mary who at first appearance seems to be the focal

point. She however is only bowed in reverence to one figure, Christ. The Mystic Nativity

ultimately reinforced the role of the male Christ Child through the figure of Mary. Botticelli

utilized both male and female roles to reinforce the importance of following Christian rituals and

hierarchy in Florence according to the teachings of Savonarola.

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1. Christopher Fulton, “The Boy Stripped Bare by His Elders: Art and Adolescence
in Renaissance Florence,” Art Journal 56, no. 2 (Summer, 1997): 31-40.

2. Fulton, The Boy Stripped Bare, 31.

3. Fulton, The Boy Stripped Bare, 31-40.

4. Fulton, The Boy Stripped Bare, 31.

5. Fulton, The Boy Stripped Bare, 32.

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Fulton, Christopher. “The Boy Stripped Bare by His Elders: Art and Adolescence
in Renaissance Florence,” Art Journal 56, no. 2 (Summer, 1997): 31-40., 25 August 2008.

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