More about the project

In the last two decades a strong focus within Renaissance studies has been on women’s contributions to the prolific cultural and intellectual production that characterizes early modern Europe. Some figures, such as Vittoria Colonna (1490–1547), and Tullia d’Aragona (1510–1556) have admittedly been assigned a central role in Renaissance literature. However, the emphasis has traditionally been on the mid-sixteenth century, with many scholars claiming that there was a significant decline of publishing women in Italy during the Counter-Reformation. This assertion has been powerfully rejected by contemporary scholars. More than 200 women published their writings in the sixteenth century; after a short decrease during the years just following the Council of Trent (1563), there was a considerable reescalation from the 1580s, with Italy boasting popular writers such as the internationally-acclaimed Isabella Andreini. The fifteenth century also testified a significant production of works written by women, including the humanists such as Isotta Nogarola and Laura Cereta, and spiritual writers such as Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Antonia Pulci. As emphasized by a wide range of scholars, it is now the common scholarly opinion that Italy played a unique role regarding publishing women from the late fourteenth century to 1700.

Birgitta of Sweden

Birgitta of Sweden (1303–1373) lived in Rome the last twenty-three years of her life. The same period represents the peak of her literary production. A central part of her extensive work, Revelaciones (Celestial Revelations) was penned in Italy, either by herself or by her scribes. By the end of the century Birgitta’s entire oeuvre was collected and revised for her canonization petition in 1378. Contemporaneously, the Latin manuscripts of Birgitta’s Revelaciones circulated widely in Italy. The manuscripts were copied, translated, and gathered in different compilations, and later printed in both Latin and Italian editions. Birgitta’s work comes at the starting point for women writers in early modern Italy. In the following generation, we find two towering female writers, Catherine of Siena and Christine de Pizan, both of whom Birgitta obviously influenced. But how did Birgitta’s work impact future generations of female humanists and intellectuals? What links might there be between Birgitta and Italian Renaissance women writers, from the early fifteenth century to the age of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626–1689)? These are the principal queries of this project.

Project idea and main hypothesis

The project intends to map networks of political, religious, and intellectual figures connected to the scriptoria, libraries, courts, and convents, as well as presenting comparative readings of female writers and intellectuals related to these networks. An overall hypothesis is that Birgitta’s legacy played a major role in the flourishing female literature of early modern Italy. While she was also widely studied and cited by male writers, the focus for this specific research project is to explore Birgitta’s legacy among female writers. There is no doubt that Birgitta may be regarded as a prototype for the following generations of female writers in Italy. Our suggestion is that the dynamics of social relationships between singular figures, families, and cluster groups of friends and acquaintances may supply us with invaluable information about how Birgitta’s texts circulated, how they were interpreted, and how Birgitta herself offered a model for female writers and intellectuals in the Italian Renaissance.

Published Jan. 19, 2018 11:16 AM - Last modified Jan. 22, 2018 11:37 PM