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Rethinking Virgin Mary in Early Modern Italy

Which cultural impact did literary representations of the Virgin Mary have on the construction of women's identity?

Virgin Mary holding a small child.

Photo: Raffaello, Madonna Conestabile, 1504, Hermitage Museum, via Wikipedia Commons.

About the project

"Rethinking Mary in Early Modern Italy: Men's and Women's perspectives on the Virgin Mary (1450-1650)" explores the role of early modern literary representations of the Virgin Mary by men and women in the construction of early modern Italian women’s identity. Mary is the most important, controversial and ambivalent female symbol in Western culture. Since the Middle Ages, her literary and artistic representations have been connected to womanhood.

A corpus of literary works on the Virgin Mary written by Italian men and women between ca.1450 and 1650 will be identified and evaluated and will be included in a searchable bibliographical digital repertory.

While offering a first comprehensive study of the impact of the literary representation of the Virgin Mary in Italian culture, the project challenges the idea that the Virgin was only a passive and submissive role model for women. It’s considering how she was used by lay and religious women writers as a powerful model of womanhood and how she influenced women's self-representation.


The research aims to systematically analyse a corpus of overlooked Italian literary and devotional works on the Virgin Mary, with three main objectives:

  1. To explore the ambiguity of the Marian model as, on one side, a model of the chaste and submissive woman and, on the other side, a mighty model of womanhood.
  2. To focus on the women writers’ point of view on the Virgin, especially when she is presented not only as an object of devotion but also as an empowering role model.
  3. To compare how Mary is presented as a gender role model in devotional literature with those in which women were described and represented in the contemporary literature on the role of women in society.


From 01.09.2021 to 31.08.2023

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This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska Curie grant agreement 101031720.

Published Oct. 25, 2021 3:55 PM - Last modified Nov. 4, 2021 3:16 PM