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A thesis submitted to the Department of Art
in conformity with the requirements for
the degree of Master of Arts
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
August, 2000
Copyright O Krystina Karen Stermole, 2000
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This thesis investigates fifteenth-century Italian imagery in which the normal hierarchical
relationship of the sexes--such that man controlled woman--is somehow inverted or reversed, a
phenomenon generally known as sex role reversal. This paper establishes the range of forms the
theme assumed and offers suggestions regarding the fumtions each of these may have
performed. It also contextualizes the theme by identifying underlying elements which may have
connected the vanous forms of sex role reversal imagery to one another and to other realms of
experience in the quattrocento cultural imagination. These elements include the imagery's
connection to the idea of the world tumed upside down and to quattrocento carnivalesque
festivity. Wherever possible, an attempt is made to reconsider the understanding and reception of
sex role reversal imagery by its contemporaries.
The first chapter outlines the subtleties of the quattrocento sexual hierarchy in order that
the imagery which depicts its inversion can be better understood. The three remaining chapters
divide the imagery and its discussion into three sections: the first deals with images incorporating
the "Power of Women" iconograjhy; the second investigates images derived from the medieval
tradition of courtly love; and the last focuses on depictions of the influence of classical
The completion of this thesis was made possible through the assistance of many people in
the supportive community which comprises the Department of Art at Queen's University,
including the faculty, graduate students, and library staff. In particular, however, 1 would like to
thank Volker Manuth for his interest and encouragement, and my supervisor, Cathleen Hoeniger,
for her patience, her enthusiasm and her forgiveness when this project grew beyond its initial
For helping me maintain a balance between work and pleasure, 1 must thank Andrea
Bubenik, Sarah McKerlich, Victoria Pollard, and Alix Sharma. As fellow students, they knew
when to coax me away from the computer and back into society. 1 hope that 1 have done the same
for them.
Finally, 1 would like to extend my deepest gratitude to David and Nadine Stermole. As
my parents, they raised me to believe in myself; as my teachers, they taught me to love learning,
wherever it may take place; and as my friends, they listened, laughed, or reassured, whenever
each seemed appropriate.
Table of Contents
Abstract ................................................................................................................................... i
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................. ii
Table of Contents ..................................................................................................................... IU
List of IIIustrations ............................................................................................................... iv
Introduction. ....................................................................................... ............................... .......
P. 1
Chapter 1:
Gender Roles and their Reversal in Fifteenth-Century Italy ..................................................... P. 6
Chapter II:
The "Power of Women" and Petrarch's Ti-ionj ................................................................... p. 22
Chapter III:
Quattrocento Courtly Love Imagery ................................................................................... p. 65
Chapter IV:
Pagan Goddesses in Quattrocento Art ..................................................................... p. 108
Conclusion ...................................... ... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 147
Appendix: Selected Italian Renaissance carnival songs ....................................................... P. 1
Bibliography ........................................................................................................................
P. 1
Illustrations ............................................................................................................ p. 173
Vita ................................................................................................................................. p. 249
List of Illustrations
1. Unknown Venetian (?), Il Mondo alla Riversa, printed broadsheet, Ca. 1560. Cabinet des
Estampes de la Bibliothque Nationale, Paris.
2. Pieter Bruegel, The Hay Chasing Afrer the Horse (proverb), engraving, 1568.
3. Workshop of Baccio Baldini, The Fight for the Hose, print, Ca. 1460-1464. Staatliche
Graphische Sammlung, Munich.
4. Unknown Florentine, Triumph of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Ca. 1450-1475. Galleria
Sabauda, Turin.
5. Rosello di Jacopo Franchi, The Festival of San Giovanni, tempera on panel, front of a mamage
chest, fifteenth century. Museo Nazionale, Florence.
6. Unknown Venetian, Triumph of Love, engraving, from the 1490 edition of the printed text of
Petrarch's Trionj.
7. Unknown Neapolitan, Triumph of Love, frontispiece to a codex of Petrarch's Trionfi, latter
half of the fifteenth century. Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, MS. Pal. 157, f. 1'.
8. Unknown Florentine, Triumph of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Florentine, ca. 1460.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
9. Follower of Pesellino, Triumphs of Love and Chastity, tempera on panel, front of a mariage
chest, mid-fifteenth century. Formerly in the collection of Major General Sir George Burns,
North Mymms Park, Hertfordshire.
10. Attributed to Marco del Buono, Triumph of Love, tempera on panel, side of a marriage chest,
fifteenth century. Pinacoteca, Siena.
1 1. Attributed to Apollonio di Giovanni, Triumph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionj, Ca. 1442. Biblioteca Laurenziana, Fiorence, MS. Pal. 72, f. 7.9.
12. Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni, Triumph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionj, after 1442. Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, MS. Strozz. 174, f. 19'.
13. Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni, Triumph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionj, second half of the fifteenth century. Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence, MS.
1129, f. 1".
14. Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni, Triumph of Fume, manuscript illumination in a codex
of Petrarch's Trionfi, after 1442. Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, MS. Strozz. 174, f. 12'.
15. Francesco d'Antonio del Chierico, Triumph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionfi originally made for Lorenzo de' Medici, last quarter of the fifteenth century.
Bibliothque Nationale, France, MS. italien 548, f. 10".
16. Workshop of the Master of the "Vitae Imperatorum," Triumph of Chastiq, manuscript
illumination in a codex of Petrarch's Trionfi. Biblioteca Vaticana, cod. Barb. lat. 3943.
17. Workshop of Neroccio de' Landi, Triumph of Chastity, tempera on panel, front of a marriage
chest, Ca. 1470-1480. Private collection.
18. Baccio Baldini, Tr i uyh of Love, print from a series of the Trionfi (al1 others in the series
were executed by the Master of the Vienna Passion) Ca. 1465-1485.
19. Unknown Paduan, Triumph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of Petrarch's
Trionfi, fifteenth century. Biblioteca Vaticana, Rome, cod. Urb. 681.
20. Phyllis and Aristotle, manuscript marginalium in a French psalter and hours, early fourteenth
century. Muse Diocsain, Arras, MS. 47, f. 74.
21. Attributed to Memmo di Filippuccio, Aristotle ridden by Phyllis, fresco from the cycle of
seduction stories in the tower room of the Palazzo del Podest, San Gimignano, Ca. 1305-13 15.
22. Unknown Florentine, Phyllis und Aristotle, print, mid-fifteenth century. Kunsthalle,
23. Taddeo di Bartolo, Mars, fresco in the vestibule of the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, early
fourteenth century.
24. Unknown Italian, Phyllis und Aristotle, bronze, sixteenth century. Louvre. Paris.
25. Francesco Marmitta, T.riu~@~ @Love, manilscript illumination in a copy of Petrarch's
Trio$, Ca. 1501- 1505. Landesbibliothek, Kassel.
25. Unknowii Fiorelitiiie, Virgil the Sorcvrer, engriving, fifteenth century.
27. Men defending u castle ugainst hares, manuscript marginalium in a copy of the Metz
Pontifical. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS. 298, f. 41.
28. Womun about to unseut a knight with her disru. in u,joust, manuscript marginalium in a copy
of the Lancelot du Lac, late thirteenth century. Yale University Library, New Haven, MS. fr. 95,
f. 239.
29. Huntress with dogspursuing a stag, manuscript marginalium in the "Tenison Psalter,"
thirteenth century. British Museum, London, Add. MS. 24686, f. 13V.
30. Unknown Tuscan, Womun strikes man with arrow, page from a model-book, late fourteenth
century. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Drawing II, f. 14\;.
3 1. Domenico di Bartolo, The Offering of the Hem, tempera on panel, lid of a coffer, Ca. 1438.
Formerly Schlossmuseum, Berlin.
32. Mun battling Eros and Munpresenting heart tu ludy, manuscript marginalia in a psalter.
Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. 6, vol. 2, f. 159".
33. Attnbuted to Baccio Baldini, Womun and captive's heart, print, Ca. 1465-1485. British
Museum. London.
34. Attributed to Baccio Baldini, Roundel with four love scenes und four animals within a border
offruit, pnnt, ca. 1465-1485. Cabinet Rothschild, Louvre, Pans.
35. Unknown Tuscan, Lady crowning m m with gurland, detail of a page from a model-book,
fourteenth century. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Drawing II, f. 14'.
36. Phyllis seducing Aristotle, manuscript marginalium in a codex of L'Histoire du Grual.
Bibliothque Nationale, Paris, MS. fr. 95, f. 254.
37. Attributed to Baccio Baldini, Young man crowned by a young womun, print, Ca. 1465-1485.
British Museum, London.
38. Attributed to Baccio Baldini, Young womun giving a wreath tu a young man, print, 1465-
1485. Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna.
39. Diagram of the remaining frescoes and sinopia in the Saladel Pismello, Gonzaga palace,
Mantua. (Taken from Joanna Woods-Marsden, The Gonzap ofMantua and Pisanello 's
Arthurian Frescoes, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1988.)
40. Pisanello, Tournument scene, fresco from an Arthurian cycle, Ca. 1447-1448, south-east wall
of the Suluclel Pisumllo, Gonzaga palace, Mantua.
41. Ottaviano Nelli (?), La Virilitd, detail of a fresco in the conidor of the Palazzo Tnnci, Foligno,
late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.
42. Benedetto Bembo, Presentation of the Sword, fresco, 1460- 1463, south lunette of the Carneru
PeregrinuAurea, Castel10 di Torrechiara, Torrechiara.
43. Benedetto Bembo, Crnwning with a Wreath, fresco, 1460-1463, West lunette of the Cumeru
Peregrina Aurea, Castel10 di Torrechiara, Torrechiara.
44. Shop of Giovanni di Marco, Garden of Love, tempera on panel, front panel of a mamage
chest, ca. 1430-1440. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
45. Follower of Jacopo di Cione, Garden of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Ca. 1370-1380.
Muse de la Chartreuse, Douai.
46. Unknown Tuscan, Garden of Lme, front of a maniage chest carved in reliefs and gilded, Ca.
1430-1440. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
47. Buffalmacco, detail of the Garden of Vanity from the Triumph of Death, fresco in the
Camposanto, Pisa, Ca. 1340.
48. Mariotto di Nardo, Momentfrom the Teseida, tempera on panel, birth tray, Ca. 1420.
Staatsgalene, Stuttgart.
49. Attributed to the Master of the Bargello Tondo, Susanna and the Elders, tempera on panel,
birth tray, ca. 1447. Serristori collection, Florence.
50. Follower of Masolino, Garden of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Ca. 1420-1440. The Art
Museum, Princeton University, Princeton.
51. Florentine close to Pesellino, Garden of love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Ca. 1450.
Fomerly in the collection of Martin LeRoy, Paris.
52. Follower of Jacopo di Cione, a chessboard painted on the reverse of a birth tray, tempera on
panel, Ca. 1370-1380. Muse de la Chartreuse, Douai.
53. The Prodigul Son, ivory casket, French, Ca. 1325- 1350. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
54. Spring, manuscript illumination in a Tacuinum Sanitatis, Ca. 13%- 1400. Biblioteca
Casanatense, Rome, MS. 4182, f. 55".
55. Roses, illumination in a TucuinumSmitatis, ca. 1390. Bibliothque Nationale, Paris, MS. lat.
Nouv. Acq. 1573, f. 53.
56. Young woman weaving a garland for a Young man, French ivory, fourteenth century.
Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.
57. Franco and Filippolo de Veris, detail of sinful behaviour from the Lust Judgnzent, fresco, S.
Maria dei Ghirli, Campione, Ca. 1400.
58. Unknown Lombard, May, fresco panel in a cycle of the months in the Torre delllAquila,
Castel10 del Buon Consiglio, Trento, beginning of the fifteenth century.
59. Planet Man and Zodiac Man, illustrations in a medical text. Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Cod.
lat. 5595, f. 51" and 56.
60. Workshop of Baccio Baldini, Young Lady Giving Young Man a Crown, print, Ca. 1465-
1485. Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna.
61. Sassetta, detail of Vainglory from St. Francis in Ecstasy. Villa 1 Tatti, Florence.
62. Ridolfo Guariento, Venus, fresco, detail of a cycle of the pagan gods in the choir of the
Eremitani, Padua, before 1378.
63. Giovanni Miretto and his workshop (?), detail of the depiction of Venus and her influence
from the frescoes in II Salone in the Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, first half of the fifteenth
64. Unknown Florentine, image of a naked, reclining woman on the inside lid of a marriage
chest, tempera on panel, Ca. 1465. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
65. Unknown Florentine, Triumph of Venus, tempera on panel, birth tray, ca. 1400. Louvre,
66. Baccio Baldini, Venus, print from the Pianeti series, Ca. 1464-1465. British Museum,
67. Unknown florentine, Venus, engraving copied from Baccio Baldini's series of the Piamri,
after 1465. British Museum, London.
68. Francesco del Cossa, April, fresco, Ca. 1460-1470, from the cycle of the rnonths in the Sala
dei Mesi, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
69. Detail of the depiction of Seprember, fresco, ca. 1460-1470, frorn the cycle of the rnonths in
the Sala dei Mesi, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
70. Franccsco del Cossa, detail of the palio from the lower register of April, fresco, Ca. 1460-
1470, from the cycle of the months in the Sah dei Mesi, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
71. Sandro Botticelli, Mars and Venus, tempera on panel, Ca. 1470- 1480. National Gallery,
72. Piero di Cosimo, Murs und Venus, oil on panel, Ca. 1500. Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
73. Follower of Domenico Veneziano, The myth of Acraeon, tempera on panel, birth tray, mid-
fifteenth century. Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown.
74. Unknown Florentine, Phyllis and Aristotle, Diana and Actaeon, and Solomon and his pagan
wife, front panel of a marriage chest sculpted in relief, Ca. 1430. Museo Stibbert, Florence.
75. Attnbuted to Jacopo del Sellaio, The downfall of Actaeon, tempera on panel, probably a panel
of a mamage chest, ca. 1480-1490. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
76. Francesco Parmipianino, Witch riding aphallus, engraving, ca. 1530. British Museum,
Defining male and female as distinct, if not diarnetncally opposed, genders has played an
important role in Western cultures from the time of the ancient Greeks. Traditionally, the
relationship between the sexes was hierarchical in nature: the stronger, wiser man controlled and
dominated the weaker, more foolish woman. However, in every society for which this gender
ranking was a cornerstone of social organization and stability, occasional inversions of the n o m
occurred in one form or another nonetheless. Inversions of the nom, as David Kunzle observes,
occur when "there are two parties, the one dominant, the other dominated, whose roles, in some
action typifying their relationship, are simply reversed."l Natalie Zemon Davis, a cultural
historian, has noted in her seminal essay "Women on Top" that:
in hierarchical and conflictive societies, which loved to reflect on the world tumed
upside down, the topos of the woman on top was one of the most enjoyed. Indeed,
sexual inversion--that is switches in sex roles--was a widespread form of cultural
play in literature. in art, and in festivity.2
With respect to cultural inversions in the visual arts, Michael Camille has noted that the
world of imagery was as stnctly hierarchicai in structure as life itself, so that inverting or
upending it was not only easy ,but tempting.3 As regards the study of sex role reversais in the
visual arts, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century northem European pnnts have received the most
scholarly attention, particularly printed broadsheets depicting the Wnrld Upside Down. A typical
example from the 1560s by an unknown artist (perhaps Venetian) displays topsy turvy
relationships ranging from "Fish in air, birds in sea," to a number of inversions of the sexes
including "Women make war" and "Husband spins, wife is armed" (fig. 1). The combination of
these diverse images in a single pnnt, al1 exemplifying the same theme, was meant to convey that
al1 the scenes illustrated equally nonsensical, unnatural circumstances. Another well known pnnt
1 Kunzle 1978, p. 42.
2 Davis 1975, p. 152.
3 Camillc 1998, p. 36.
by Pieter Bruegel dating to 1568 also addresses the issue of sex role reversal but from a
moralizing perspective. Bruegel's image parallels the impossible notion of the hay chasing after
the horse in the foreground with a woman pursuing a man in the background (fig. 2). The text
ringing the image was a well known proverb and translates as follows:
For the hay to go after the horse is perverted, mark this, you girls who offer
yourselves up sharnelessly. It is not proper for you to court the young men; but it is
proper for the horse to go after the hayP
Although the study of sex role reversais in visual art was well established by the 1970s,
Davis had cause to lament that scholars were ignoring "variations in sexual inversion from
country to country or between Protestants and Catholics . . . for the sake of describing a large
pattern over time."5 Studies such as Susan L. Smith's investigation of medieval European
"Power of Women" imagery can be criticized along these lines, though it is nonetheless
informative. Subsequently, many scholars have attempted to remedy the lack of geographic,
cultural and temporal specificity in sex role reversal research. Keith Moxey has examined the
theme in northem European print imagery during the Reformation.6 Christa Grossinger has
studied fifteenth-century English choir stalls which were frequently adorned with sex role
reversal imagery.7 With respect to imagery of sex role inversions in Italy, Anne Jacobson-Schutte
has examined the decoration of marriage chests and birth trays in Florence during the
quattrocento, and Sara Mathews Grieco has discussed Italian broadsheets produced during the
Jacobson-Schutte's brief essay is the only work which focuses specifically on italian sex
role reversal imagery of the fifteenth century. However, her paper does not present an exhaustive
4 Thc original tcxt rcads: "Dm t' hoij dcn pccrdc nac loopt is vcrkccrl wacrt ghcschicl, Mcrckt ghij dochlcrs dic
sclf acnsc~ckt stx? ombcschaemt: Dc jongmns to vrijcn tuwcr ccrcn nict, Macr al s t'pccrl t'hoij socclicndc uwcr
ccrcn bchcmt." Thc translation is hkcn from Kunzlc 1978, p. 69.
5 Davis 1975, p. 150.
6 Scc Moxcy 1989.
7 Scc Grfissingcr 1997b.
8 Scc Jacobsen-Schutte 1980 and Gricco 1997.
study of the theme because of its almost exclusive interest in Florentine birth trays and mamage
chests. The boundaries of Jacobson-Schutte's research preclude the discussion of a great deal of
imagery encountered in other forms and in different visual media -- imagery which also
contributed to the meaning and understanding of sex role reversals during the quattrocento.
Furthermore, her study neglects to discuss related imagery produced in the northem Italian
princedoms or elsewhere in central Italy.
In this study, 1 aim to build upon the foundation of Jacobson-Schutte's research with the
goal of establishing the range of forms in which sex role reversal imagery rnight appear, and the
purposes for which it rnight be employed in Italy during the fifteenth century. 1 have modelled my
study after the example of art historians like Moxey, Grossinger, and Jacobson-Schutte, so that
the works will be considered with an awareness of the artistic, patronal, and pictorial elements of
their individual contexts.
Given the proposed breadth of this project, a number of factors must be considered.
H. Diane Russell has advocated that scholars recognize the often significant cultural variations
which can exist within a geographical area bound primarily by a shared language and the effect
these differences had on artistic production? Therefore, in the context of this study of fifteenth-
century Italian art, 1 attempt to maintain an awareness of the differences between the social
structure and attitudes of the northern Italian princedoms and those of the republican communes
of central Italy and the importance of these to an understanding of the art produced in each
environment. However, given the complex nature of sex role reversal imagery, my sensitivity to
the context of each given work goes beyond a simple acknowledgment of regional differences.
As Susan L. Smith has noted, visually related examples of sex role reversal imagery often appear
in very different media and environments, each of which affects the content and message of a
given example.10 Consequently, my discussion of the various images is conducted on a case by
<)usscll 1990, p. 17.
1 0 Smith 1995, p. 152.
case basis, dealing first with each work individually and then discerning its connection to other
One of the greatest questions which anses from the study of sex role reversal imagery is
what did it communicate to its quattrocento audience? Did such topsy-turvy depictions of the
world evoke fear or laughter? The general response to both of these challenging questions is that
we cannot be sure. As mentioned above, the imagery's messages seem to have been dependent
upon the circurnstances of each given example. Sex role reversal imagery came in many forms,
each of which was developed for and put to its own use. In some instances, a male fear of female
domination is quite evident, while in others, the imagery seems to have been CO-opted for
purposes entirely removed from issues of gender relations. However, how these vanous images
were received must also have varied to some degree based on the particularities and biases of a
given viewer. Peter Burke has observed that images of role reversais of any kind "were
ambiguous, with different meanings for different people, and possibly ambivalent, with different
meanings for the same person."ll Smith has noted that it is essential to ask for whom a given
image of sex role reversal was intended in order to speculate on what the work may have been
intended to communicate.~2 The gender-based inversions of sex role reversal imagery, as Grieco
points out, necessitate a sensitivity to the potential disparities between its experience and
interpretation by male or female viewers.13
1 will argue, however, that ail instances of quattrocento sex role reversal imagery have one
thing in common to a greater or lesser degree: an association with the notion of the world turned
upside down. This unifying element connects the imagery with other instances of social inversion
1 1 Burkc 1978, p. 189.
12 Smith 1995, p. 24.
13 Grieco 1997, p. 70. In a study of cross-drcssing, a vcry pariicular Ionn of scx rolc rcvcrsal, in siutccntli-ccntuq.
Ihlian comcdic dramas for the siagc, Maggic GUnsbcrg notcs that thc composition of thc audience is vcry
important to an undcrstnding of how thc matcrial ki ng pcrformcd was ki ng rcccivcd: "audicncc rcccption of thc
playing out of gcndcr games would havc varicd at least to somc dcgrcc in rclation to thc gcndcr, clss, and agc of
its mcmbcrs." Sec Gnsberg 1997, pp. 49-50.
in quattrocento culture, particularly the carnivalesque celebrations which took place penodically at
prescribed times each year. Just like these festive times, sex role reversals were acceptable on the
grounds that they depicted a temporary insanity which would inevitably resolve itself in a return
to the "natural" order of things. Jacobson-Schutte has suggested this in connection with
Florentine deschi decorated with sex role reversa1 themes, but 1 believe the notion extends to a
host of other images in other media as well.
In this study, 1 have not tried to amass a complete catalogue of works which display sex
rote reversal, but rather to carefully investigate a smaller number of examples which are
representative of the imagery's various forms and natures.
1 have broken the text down into four chapters. The first of these attempts to establish an
understanding of the cultural environment which would have informed both the creation and
reception of sex role inversion imagery. The following three chapters investigate the imagery
itself, each dealing with a particular group of works which are thematically linked. Chapter two
examines depictions of the medieval series of famous lovers known as the "Power of Women."
This imagery appears most often in conjunction with the illustration of Petrarch's Trionfi. In
chapter three, 1 discuss works which depict sex role reversals derived from the medieval chivalric
tradition of courtly love. Finally, chapter four investigaies the depiciion of pagan goddesses as
women with the capabiiiiy of conlroliing men. This discussion focuses particulariy on images of
Venus in triumph.
Chapter 1
Gender Roles and their Reversa1 in Fifteenth-Century Italy
Un uomo, quando e uomo, fa la donna donna.
(A man, when he is a real man, makes a woman a woman.)
- Alessandra Strozzi, describing the proper workings of a mamage1
Le donne sono sante in chiesa, angele in istrada, diavole in casa,
civette alla finestra, e gaze alla porta.
(Women are saints in church, angels in the streets, devils in the house,
coquettes at the window, and gossips at the doonvay.)
- old Tuscan proverb about the changeable natures of women?
The idea that women were in need of discipline was a universally shared belief during the
quattrocento. Both sacred and secular authorities derided women for their inherent tendency
toward inappropriate or disorderly behaviour. In contrast with men, who epitomized rationality,
self-discipline and morality,3 philosophers and clergymen proclaimed that it was more difficult
for women to think rationally or exercise proper moral judgment because they were slaves to
instinct and animalistic pleasure.4 Physicians characterized woman's physical nature as cold and
moist, claiming it as the biological cause for her changeable, unstable nature3 Women were
considered the weaker sex to such a degree that one quattrocento writer, Giovanni Morelli,
counselled against passionate marital intercourse because it produced children who were "weak,
stunted andfemale."G A song Sung during times of camival and related civic festivities expresses
the male view of women concisely and with a rather wry sense of humour:
La donna vana e mobil per natura,
1 Thc original quotc and ils translation arc takcn from a lcttcr to Alcssandra's son citcd in Martincs 1974, p. 33.
2 Quotcd and translaicd i n Cainpbcll 1997, p. 177.
3 Trcslcr 1980, p. 367.
4 Maclcan 1980, p. 37.
5 Camillc 1998, p. 82.
6 Scc thc discussion of Giovanni Morclli's tcst i n Hcrliliy 1972, p. 134.
influence in society.11 The quattrocento patriarch was the agent of control who worked within the
domestic environment to minimize what Davis has called the female tendency to "disorder."1z
His success at this task was important for two reasons: first, because the appearance and
behaviour of a man's female dependents were the markers by which the public eye appraised the
morality of his family,l3 and secondly, because domestic governance was thought to ensure the
stability of the entire social order. 14
Due to the dangerous consequences of female disorderliness, young ladies were carefully
raised, controlled, and educated. Dunng the quattrocento, an unprecedented number of female
behavioural manuals joined the chorus of voices trying to ensure the restraint of the weaker
sex.15 Most of a young woman's relatively minimal education, in fact, seems to have dealt with
1 A classic esimplc of this is thc Church's long-standing diwpproval of scxual positions which involvcd lhc
fcmislc participant 'being physica'lly on toplargely 'because they iifforded the woman the active, controlling rolc
during intcrcoursc. Rcgarding this, sec boih Jamcs Brundagc, IAW, S'ex, urrd Cliristicln Society in Medicvd
Iir~rop, Chicago, 1987, p. 2%; and J.-L. Flandrin, "Ses in Marricd Lifc in thc Early Middlc Agcs," in CVrsrerrr
Sexi~(i/iiy: I'rcictice utid Precepi itr I'ust und IJresetit 7nies, cds. P. Arics and A. Bcjin, tr. A. Forstcr, Ncw York,
1985, p. 120. Anothcr cxamplc of how womcn wcrc dcnicd powcr lics in wills which dircct thc patrimony down
through thc malc linc. Cohn 196, p. 41. Judith C. Brown's investigation of the cconomic rcstrainis plxcd on
womcn through guild rccords, population suwcys and litcrary cvidcncc rcvcals that "bccausc thc subjcction of
womcn io mcn ws sccn as part oi' thc naturai ordcr, mcn probably rcscntcd cmpioymcnt situations that placcd
womcn in supcrior positions. This workcd to kccp women out of occupations in which thcrc werc distinct
workshop hicrarchics." Scc Brown 1986, p. 217.
12 For Davis's tei-iiiiiiology, sec Dvis 1978, pp. 147-155; 1or a discussion of thc importanec oi' thc patriarch as
thc forcc which kcpt womcn solio goverrio, scc Trcxlcr 1980, p. 29.
13 Scc Grossingcr 19Wa, p. 45, and Brown 1986, p. 215. San Bcmardino's writings, espcciallg thc l)e110 doritin
Iwricstu, tcach that womcn wcrc thc Imily's bations of Iith, honcsty and morility. Sec thc discussion of San
Bcmardino in Brown 1986, p. 216 (n. 30). Paola Tinagli has pointcd out that in the Rcnaissancc thcrc was no
distinction bctwccn privatc and public virtucs, thcy werc onc and the samc. Tinagli 1997, p. 25.
14Tinagli 1997, p. 21.
15 Treccnto and quattrocento manuals on family Mc, education, and society givc acute insight into the
rcgimcntcd, malc vision of socictal ordcr and woman's placc within it. Kclly 1984, p. 21. Many of thc Imtnotcs
which fdlow rcfcr to such texts w cvidcncc oc thc more gcnerilixcd statcments 1 makc in thc body of thc tcxt.
Social Anxiety During the Quattrocento
Although the regulation of female behaviour during the quattrocento was not at al1 a new
or unique initiative, the concem with maintaining the clarity of distinct, hierarchical gender roles
may have been especially great at that time. Guido Ruggiero has argued that the social
circumstances of the age seem to have resulted in attempts to establish "yet stricter gender
stereotypes and increased pressure to restnct and place women firmly in a disciplined
domesticated space."21 Quattrocento demographics and the consequences they had on the
workings of society support Ruggiero's claim.
Archiva1 research into census data has shown that urban marriage markets were extremely
unsettled during the fifteenth-century, especially in Tuscany. The largest problem seems to have
been that men were choosing to marry much later than women; a groom was likely to be about
ten years older than his bride.22This disparity between male and female spousal ages may have
resulted in conflict-ridden mamages in which the partners could not relate to one another, the
assumption being that young wives were led to seek inappropriate companionship and affection
20 Adrian Randolph h a discusscd quattroccnto womcn's "kinetics" in city lifc as "pcndular": womcn inovcd i n a
dircct path from church to home and back again. Only mass and public prcachings secmed to offer a rcason for
womcn to bc sccn in public. Randolph 1997, pp. 17-26. Maggic Gnsbcrg's study of carly sixtccnth-ccntury
Ihlian play rcvcals a lot about thc place of womcn in the urban cnvircmmcnt of thc day. Shc notcs that a
rcspcctablc, uppcr class femalc charactcr was hardly cver sccn on shgc in a play; i n Machiavclli's Cliriu, thc titlc
charactcr, a nubilc young lady of thc arislocracy, is ncvcr sccn al all. Gnsbcrg's study concludcs ihat: "With
fcmininity no1 mercly considercd as cmbodying sexualily itsclf, but also held responsiblc for malc scxual
niisdcmcanours, woman/fcmale sexualily hiid to bc kcpl out of public vicw." Gnsbcrg 1997, pp. 8-9 and 57.
Lcon Battisla Alberti's Dellrr I;tniylia kas thc patriarchal charactcr of Giannozzo advising the rcadcr that "it would
hardly win us rcspcct if our wik busicd hcrsclf among mcn in thc markctplacc, out in thc public cyc. It also
sccms somcwhat dcmcaning to me to remain shut up in the housc among womcn whcn 1 have manly things to do
among men." This quotc was takcn from Gnsbcrg 1997, p. 18. During thc quattroccnlo, womcn wcrc not cvcn
allowcd to accompany thcir family 10 attcnd thc funcrals of closc rclativcs; sec Brown 1986, p. 215.
2 1 Ruggicro 1 m a , p. 15.
22 Scc Hcrlihy 1972, p. 1 4 . Gcnc Brucker has trdcked thc archival documcnhtion of a quattroccnto lcgal trial
involving a young wife who had had an affair with another young man while niamed to a husband who was 12
ycars hcr scnior--shc was 17 and hcr husband was 29 al thc Lime of thcir mamagc. Bruckcr 1986, p. 6.
in people other than their aging husbands.23 The state of the mamage market also meant that
many men remained bachelors until their late thirties, occupying themselves with the seduction of
women their own age who were wed to older men, or experimenting with homosexuality.24
Finally, the mismatched ages of husbands and wives resulted in a marked increase in the number
of young widows left as the sole authorities in charge of the moral education of their children.2-i
Preachers and moralists of the time worried a great deal about the inability of unstable, flighty and
sometimes hysterical women to raise their children to be good citizens.26 They also expressed a
deep concem about the effeminization of male children raised exclusively by female guardians.27
The development and enforcement of certain civil laws during the quattrocento also seems
to reflect heightened concems about maintaining clear gender roles at the time.28 Some laws
23 Hcrlihy and Klapisch-Zubcr assert that "the great gap betwccn the agcs of husband and wic" was "the
fundamental characteristic of fiftecnth-ccntury Tuscan mamage." Florentine census data reveals that in the post-
plague years of 1351 to about 1400, men were manying in their carly twenties, but by the fiftccnth century bcgan
to gcl mamicd as lalc as thirty. By 1427, thc mamageablc agc for womcn cndcd al about 25, whilc mcn could
mas, as latc as 50, an age which was considcrcd to be that of an old man by contemporary standards. Hcrlihy and
Klapiscli-Zuber 1985, pp. 87 and 21 1. The idea tliat this kind or marriage was characterizcd by conllict or othcr
problcms has also becn assertcd with rcspecl to a similar phenomcnon in Rclermation Germany whcrc mcn wcrc
manying signiicantly younger womcn. Moxcy 1989, p. 125.
2.1 AL thc lime of lhc 1427 Florcntinc Cataslo, only onc quartcr of al1 mcn bctwccn thc agcs of 18 and 32 wcrc
ccrtainly mamcd. Wcrli'hy 1'969, p. 1348. Werlihy and 'Klapisch-Zubcrhavc noled'hat many quatiroccnlo storics
and dramas rcvolvc around the idca of a young man scheming to seducc a beautiful young lady mamcd to an old
man. Furthcrmorc, comments made in conlemporary texts, such as Lcon Battisl Alberti's DelluJiitniglic~ and
Alessandra Stro:/.i's lcttcrs Lo hcr sons, indicatc thal young men wcrc bchaving inappropriatcly. For a discussion
of this, sec Hcrlihy and Klapisch-Zubcr 1985, p. 223.
2s In Tuscany, 1 out ol'cvcry 4 adult womcn was a widow. Hcrlihy and Klapisch-Zubcr 1985, p. 217.
26 Scc Martincs 1Y4, p. 33; Hcrlihy 1960, p. 1344; and Hcrlihy 1972, pp. 148- 150.
27 Scc Mormando 1999, p. 135, whcrc thc author discusscs San Bernardino's sermons and thcir commcnts on
this phcnomcnon of 'ciTcminimiion'. San Bernardino blamcd parcnts, spccifically mothcrs, as thc ciusc of
scxicimitcs by dressing thcir boys up in Sancy, tight, rcvealing clothcs. putting braids in thcir hair, and putting
slits in thcir stockings. I n accusing the mothers of cmasculating their cliildrcn, Bernardino sltcd: "Doli, pazii,
inscnsal, chc parc chc tu i l min tu; lnto te parc chc stia bcne: 'Oh, cgli 2: i l bel gar/.onc!' Anchc: 'Egli C la bclla
Scminina!"' (Mormando trmslatcs this as follows: "Oh, silly, fcwlish woman, il appcars you makc your son Itxik
likc yoursclf, so that to you hc's quitc bccoming: 'Oh, isn't hc the handsomc lad!' and cvcn 'Isn't hc thc prctty
girl!"') Mormando 1999, pp. 133- 135 and 298 (n. 1 12).
28 Samucl Cohn's rcscarch on the difkrcnt cacs brought to court dunng thc trcccnto vcrsus thosc i n thc
quattrtxcnto rcvcals that thc cnlorccmcnt of laws and thc prosccution of offenders olTcr valuablc insight into shilis
in social conccrns and prcoccupations. Scc Cohn 1996, ~xwiirn. Lyndal Ropcr has conductcd a comparablc study
of law-making in Rcformation Gcrmany which yiclds insighls similar to thosc of Ilalian historians. Ropcr 1994,
p. 153.
addressed the issue of transvestism, a phenomenon which, as Judith Brown has noted, "stmck at
the very heart of European gender and power relations."29 In Italy, cross-dressing among women
seems to have been a problem with a very particular context. For example, in Venice, female
prostitutes had begun to don men's clothing in an effort to attract the growing number of
customers who were seeking male companionship.30 The city govemment, hoping to indirectly
stifle homosexual activity, responded to the situation by making cross-dressing a punishable
The quattrocento fear of homosexuality, which Michael Rocke has called "la grande
paura," was also addressed more directly by the preachers and law-makers of the day.3 1 San
Bernardino da Siena's sermons, for instance, expressed his great distress at the prevalence of
sodomy among the upper classes throughout Italy.32 These anxieties were evidently shared by
his audiences as special juridical bodies dealing exclusively with the punishment of homosexual
activity were established during the fifteenth century in large cities like Florence and Venice.33 In
seeking the cause of sodomitic behaviour, many church authorities declared that women were to
blame. San Bernardino claimed it was the shrewish or the overly painted (and, hence, smell y)
29 Brown 1989. p. 73. Brown also mcntions that in thc f'cw rccordcd instances of the arrcst and prosecution of'
lcsbian couples, the woman who usurpcd the male roic (cspccially whcn somc form of prosthetic phallus was
invci!rcd) rccrivc:! n more scrcrc punishmrnt than hci FartXi.
30 Brown 1989, p. 498 (n. 41).
3 1 Sec Michacl Rwkc, "Sdomitcs i n fiflccnth-ccntury Tuscany: Thc vicws of San Bcmardino of Sicna," i n he
I'rrrsirit ?/Sohiny: Male 1-loinosexrrali!y in I~eiraissnnce aiid I~rnli,qhreni~ieril lkropr, ed. K. Gcrard zl (11.. New
York, 1989, pp. 7-31 ; and Michacl Rockc, I;orbidrlEn I'rieridships: Hotno.sexriali!y arid Mde Ciillirre in
lZerrcri.s.s~rt~ce l;loret~ce, Ncw York, 1 9%.
32 Mormando 1999, pp. 1 10, 147, and passitn. San Bernardino was an incrcdibly inllucntial prcachcr who gavc
scrmons in almost cvcry corner of northcm and ccniral l ~ i y during his forty years of preaching. Mamando IW,
p. 219.
33 1 n Florcncc, a council callcd thc Umi o del1 'Orieslil was cstblishcd in 1403 to addrcss issucs of public
morility in thc city's history. I t was intcndcd to both discouragc homoscxual activity and cncouragc prostitution.
Trcxicr 1981, pp. 983-984. By 1432. the cily initialcd anoilicr juridical body called Lhc rf/Ji(:icili dellu tiolle whosc
purposc was to scck out and punisli homoscxuals. Cohn 1996, p. 30.
wife who led men to seek satisfaction with other men34 David Herlihy has commented that such
unsettled--and, at the time, unsettling--circumstances probably increased erotic tension and
resulted in urban centres having a reputation for "vice and sexual disorders."3j
Sex Role Reversa1 as a Theme
Despite al1 of the reasons to maintain sexual order and discipline during the quattrocento,
there were cultural instances of sex role reversal which were sanctioned by social authorities. In
fifteenth-century Italy, there were two times in a woman's life when society perceived her
importance to equal or even outweigh that of her male relatives: when she was making the
transition to wifehood, and when she was bearing a family heir. Given the demographic
pressures of a society that had been decimated by plague seven times between 1350 and 1430, a
woman's fertility and her ability to bear a child had become very significant.36 Consequently, a
mother's value was greatest during the lying-in penod when she was actively perpetuating the
family line, the important familial task that was uniquely hers.37 During this time, a wife was
probably allowed to make demands of her husband which she could not at other times in their
mamage.38 For similar reasons, a woman's transition from daughter to wife also became
significant because one could only beget legitimate heirs within the mamage bond. Therefore, the
time surrounding a marriage was also an opportunity to celebrate female power in anticipation of
a woman's future capacity as a motlier.
Aside from the sporadic sex role reversais during times of birth and mamage,
33 I n onc of his scrmons, San Bcniardino complains: "And you, you foolish womcn, don't you know that it's
bccausc of al1 of your painting and smcaring thal your husbands arc scdomitcs'? This ws, in facl, thc cxact cause
of the homoscxual sin for which the chanctcr of Jacopo Ruslicucci is punishcd in Dantc's Itrfcriio. Mormando
1999, p. 131.
35 Herli hy 1972, p. 14.
36 Thc occurrences of plague to which 1 am rcfcning wcrc rccordcd in Fiorcnce, but thcy did rcach most of
ncirthcm and ccntral Italy in dircrcnt ycars and with diffcrcnt intcnsity. Mormando 1999, p. 75.
37 For cxamplc, sec Davis 1975, p. 145; Musacchio 1999, possitri.
38 Jacobsen-Schuttc 1980, p. 485.
quattrocento society was regularly permitted to indulge in a freedom from the "naturai" order of
things during periods of carnivalesque revelry at prescribed times of the year. Across Europe, the
social calendar was marked with circus-like festivals. These afforded even the lower classes a
remarkable behavioural licence, always incorporating playful, satirical inversions of the
hierarchical order. Modem anthropologists explain such celebratory licence by arguing that in
societies whose stability anses from hierarchical structures, ihese same structures also create the
need for occasional moments of release from the established order. Such moments of release can
be likened to opening a sort of social "safety valve."sg
Mikhail Bakhtin has described carnivalesque festivity as "the suspension of al1
hierarchical rank, privileges, noms and prohibitions."4oThese celebrations took place across
Europe and afforded the opportunity for the lower classes to ridicule their social superiors and for
women and men to switch places and natures.41 Even the sumptuary laws regarding clothing
seem to have been suspended during these periods of celebration.42According to Peter Burke,
"carnival may be seen as a huge play in which the main streets and squares become stages, the
city became a theatre without walls and the inhabitants, the actors and spectators."43 This
performative orplay-acting guality of the festivity, as well as its temporary nature, are probably
what permitted a remarkable degree of behavioural licence.
Periods of carnivalesque festivity occurred a number of times a year. One of the largest
- <
Plcasc scc thc discussion of anthropological opinion in Davis 1975, p. 130.
40 Bakhtin 1969, p. 10.
41 Rcgarding thc liccncc for social crilicism, scc Burkc 1978, pp. 186-187, and Bakhtin 1969, pp. 5-6. Though
WC cnnol bc surc about ihc pnclicc of cross-drcssing dunng carnival across Italy, it is docurncntcd as taking placc
oncc a ycar in Vcnicc. In Spain, Fcbruary 5. thc day of St. Agatha, which fcll ncr thc cnd of thc carnival scason,
\vas sct asidc Ior a pariicular role rcvcrsal: womcn gave ordcrs and men wcrc to obcy. Thc associalcd fcstivity
sccrns to imply thiat thc saint's brutal lreatmcnt at the hiands of her male lorlurcrs descrved somc kind of rcparation
on hcr namc day. Burkc 1978, pp. 194 and 20 1. I n Frmcc during May, wivcs whosc husbands beat thcm could
iakc rcvcngc on thcir abuscr by forcing him 10 ndc an ass in public or dunking him likc a witch. Womcn's courts
wcrc convcncd to mctc out mock punishrncnis and worncn wcrc allowcd to rcvel, fcicst, and dancc without rcprisal
hum thcir husbands. Davis 1975, p. 141.
42 Clough 1900, p. 36 (n. 38).
43 Burkc 1978, p. 182.
and most significant--aside from the real Camival during January and February--0ccurred
sometime during the spring months of April, May and June, depending upon the city.44 Many of
them had begun as solemn processions to mark religious festival days, but their dates often
coincided with those of ancient pagan rites or rituals whose nature had never been entirely lost.4-i
By the quattrocento, such celebrations had regained the secular nature of their pagan
antecedents.46 For example, the main civic festival in Florence called the Festa di San Giovanni
was narned after the city's patron saint and led up to his feast day on June 24. However, the
festival was renowned for the secular pomp and circumstance of street celebrations and
processions of decorated floats. The cost and ostentation of these processions reached their height
during the last decades of the fifteenth century.47
The humourous entertainment at the Festa di San Giovanni involved performers of the
lower classes who would adopt the roles of other members of society, don their clothes and
wander through the streets singing satirical songs about the nature or profession of their chosen
personae.48 These songs were known as cuntic~rnuvciule~schi and their lyrics often addressed
volatile social issues in ways which would not have been tolerated at any ordinary time of year.49
With women as a frequent subject, many cunticurnusciuleschi allowed a rare public voicing of
44 In Vcnicc, thc carnival proccssion took place on the canais on barges notcd for their cornplicalcd spccial cffccts.
In Rornc, the proccssion involvcd thc rccreation ol' Roman lriumphs and classical allcgorics. In Florcncc, tlic
prtccssiorial iloats wcrc eithcr dcvolcd to allcgorics of virlucs or rcl'crenccs to vcmacular litcrdturc such as Dantc's
hiferrio or Pcrtrdrch's Trio~lji. Carandcntc 1963, p. 54. Many ciiics also cclcbralcd thc Calcndirnaggio, or Calcnds
(31' May, from around Aprii 39 10May 3. In Tuscany, this kslivai invoiucd spcciai xtivitics which tcxk piiicc no
othcr timc of ycai-, such as llircatious gamcs callcd triuggi or I)rir.s(~4li which wcrc cquivalcnl to English May
Garncs. Thc maypolc was known as an ~ l / b ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ f ~ ~ / i ~ : 1 l ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ t 1 ~ 1 whosc namc crnphasizcs thc festival's othcnvorldly
atrnosphcrc by linking il to thc imaginary land of Cxkaignc, thc labled country of plcnty and WC. Burkc 1978,
p. 1%.
45 An cxamplc is thc coincidence of the date of the civic pdio in F e r m with that of an ancicnt fcstival of winc
associalcd with Vcnus on thc 3 r d of Apnl. Shcrnck 1998, p. 35.
40 Scc Molinari 1961, p. 14, and Burkc 1978, p. 199.
47 Molinari 1961, p. 31.
48 Jacobsen-Schuttc 198). p. 483. Clough kas notcd that thc participation of the lowcr classcs i n public
cntcrtainmcnt was rarc; rnosl l'cstivc cxcasions such as jousls or toumarncnts wcrc rcsinctcd 10 thc participation of
rncrnbcrs of thc uppcr classcs. Clough 1990, p. 35.
49 Jacobsen-Schuttc 1980, p. 483.
their compiaints and difficulties. They tell the stones of wives who disparage their husbands, of
lonely and lascivious young widows anxious for Company, of loose ladies who have put their
mother's worldly advice into action, or of virginal daughters angry at being whisked off to
nunneries.50 In one Song entitled Canto di donne che si pai-ton di casaper disparate voices the
complaints of unhappily married young women in the first person. Its content reflects many of
the social problems surrounding mamage which were discussed earlier:
Per colpa sola de' manti nostri,
misere e sfortunate
di casa partiam per disperate.
Noi abbiamo i mariti nostn tutti
di noi forte gelosi,
avan e sopratutto vecchi e brutti
e perversi e ntrosi;
tanto che 'n casa mai
non sentiam se non guai,
grida e nmbrotti, e fuor d'ogni ragione
guardate corne fussimo in prigione.
E perb padri, e voi altri ch'avete
fanciulle a maritare,
rnonache prima, O in casa le tenete,
che le vogliate ,dare
a chi carico sia
d'anni, O di malattia:
lasciate andare e ricchezze e tesoro,
se '1 vostro onor bramate e I'util loro.
Dunque voi, donne, ch'avete gli sposi
amorevoli e begli,
giovani sopratutto e graziosi,
sappiatevi godegli
e con ardente zelo
rendete grazie al cielo
di tanto bene; or noi senza indugiare
50 For an csamplc of thcse. scc thc songs about widows (of whicli thcrc wcrc niany), nubilc nuns, and
"strcclrvalking women" on pp. 153-155 in lhc appendix to this paper.
and treated as a powerful force in quattrocento society.
Camival songs also make reference to the idea of women more actively taking the control
of their lives and surroundings, including their male counterparts. One particular Song distils the
essence of the camivalesque perception of sex role reversais by equating it with the concept of the
world gone mad:
Che gli asini oggidi si fan dottori,
E madonne diventan villane;
Le vacche non si mungon, ma li tori,
E la volpe maligna prende il cane...
Voglion le donne diventar mariti,
Cercan portar le brache, e dominare;
La povera virt quasi dispersa,
Perch ' 1 mondo va tutto alla riversa.56
The lyrics make it abundantly clear that the idea of sex role reversals, like wives wishing to "wear
the pants" or take over the roles of their husbands, is inextricably bound to the concept of the
world gone mad and emptied of virtue. Such inversions of the normal order could take place
because their temporal boundaries were firmly established (and enforced) as fleeting through the
scheduling of camivalesque festivities.
The same notion is reflected in the literature of the day. For example, in the Decmeron,
Boccaccio included stories of female cross-dressing such as that of Zinevra who wears men's
clothes to Save her life, and of Giletta who dons the disguise of a man to capture an unwilling
spouse.s7These breaches of nature, however, are aiways righted and each character sheds her
disguise and retums to her proper social place as a member of the lesser sex.-isThe idea of the
56This csccrpt was takcn from Jacobsen-Schuttc 1980, p. 484 (n. 46), which quritcs from A. Grmzini, itrli i
Iriorfl, ccrrri, rnascherote o carrti car~rt~scialeschi nrrdati per Firerize do1 tempo ciel Mngnifico Ime~rca de Mediri
jiio oll'nrrtro 1559, sccond cd., 3 v., Cosmopoli, 17-510, pp. 53 1-533. 1 havc roughl y translatcd it as Iollows:
"Nowadays thc asscs bccomc thc dtxbrs, 1 And madonns bccomc villains: 1 Thc cows do no1 milk, but rathcr
thc bulls, 1 And thc sly, cvil Iox capturcs the hound ... 1 Womcn wmt to bccomc thc husbands, 1 Sccking to wcar
thc pants, and dominalc; 1 In this way is poor virtuc dispcrscd, 1 Bccausc thc world is tumcd upsidc down."
57 Zincvra's talc is thc sccond on the ninth day, and Gilctta's story is the ninth on the third diy.
58 Monica Donaggio kas studicd transvcstitisrn in Boccaccio's vcrnacular works extcnsivcly. Shc sccs a clcar link
bctwccn thcsc storics of rolc-swapping with thc atmosphcrc and naturc of camivalcsquc cclcbration. Shc dom notc,
howcvcr, that thc insianccs of L'cmalc cross-drcssing arc trcatcd much morc scriously in thc tcxts than thosc of
malcs which morc oftcn than not is charictcriscd by a satincal humour. Scc Donaggio 1988, pp. 704-707.
woman trying to "wear the pants" also finds expression in the visual arts. A humorous fifteenth-
century print attributed to Baccio Baldini depicts a crowd of women battling over a single pair of
breeches (fig. 3). The image ridicules the female sex by alluding both to the idea that women
fought over the possession of men and to the female desire to dominale men once they have
caught them.
Considering Imagery of Sex Role Reversa1
The production and experience of sex role reversa1 imagery during the quattrocento was
probably influenced by the treatment of the same theme in the context of carnivalesque festivity,
thereby causing the imagery to inherit a comic, irrational, and abnormal nature. Anthropologists
have asserted that cultural play with the inversion of hierarchical relationships in art, festivity or
other contexts operated to reinforce the existent gender hierarchy in two ways: by displaying how
nonsensical its inversion would be, and by ailowing a release of accumulated social tension9
However, sex role reversa1 imagery would also have acquired another quality from its association
with the world of carnivalesque celebrations, stories and songs. Beyond offering a momentary
release from the normal order of things, ritualistic sex role inversions may also have possessed a
subversive element.60
It is generally recognised that a society's dominant ideology, no matter how pervasive,
can never be monolithic; alternatives are inevitably present. Natalic Zcmon Davis has suggested
that cultotal play witb scx rolc rcvcrsal was a sort of ideologically double-edged sword because it
simultaneously reinforced and undermined the status quo. She argues that, rather than only
keeping women in their place, the inversion of the usual power relations between the sexes in
festivity and art had the potential to broaden the world of behavioural possibility for women.61 If
59 Scc thc discussion i n Davis 1975, p. 130.
(30 Burkc 1978, p. 303.
6 1 Davis 1975, p. 131.
Davis's assessment is correct, then quattrocento sex role reversai imagery also worked to
deconstruct the hierarchy of gender that fathers and husbands believed fundamental to the proper
functioning of society.
Janet Wolff's use of the work of anthropologist Raymond Williams in the study of the
social production of art provides a theoretical framework in which to consider sex role reversa1
imagery. In summarising Williams's conclusions, Wolff states: "Alternative ideologies may be
either residual (formed in the past, but still active in the cultural process), or emergent (the
expression of new groups outside the dominant group); they may also be either oppositional
(challenging the dominant ideology), or alternative (CO-existing with it)."62 Considered within
Williams's scheme, fifteenth-century depictions of sex role reversa1 presented an ideology which
was paradoxically both in compliance with the dominant ideology and in direct opposition to it.
The fact that such ideologically ambiguous imagery would be permitted, let alone actively
chosen by patrons, is interesting given that quattrocento society seems to have been particularly
concerned with regulating women's behaviour and the rigidity of socially-constructed gender
roles. It becomes even more interesting when one considers that most imagery of sex role
reversa1 was commissioned for use within the home where women were confined and educated.
If, as Ruggiero has claimed, quattrocento fathers and husbands were desperately striving to create
a "disciplined domesticated space" in which to raise proper young women, why would they
commission permanent images of unruly, domineenng viragos instead of the equally common
depictions of virtuous, orderly ladies?
Diane Owen Hughes has suggested that fifteenth-century imagery created for the home
often displayed a disapproving representation of what was feared.63 Certainly in an age of
rational humanism, the forces women wielded to gain the upper hand had the capacity to invoke
fear. Female power was almost always rooted in their ability either to inspire dangerous forms of
62 scc Wolff 1981, p. 53.
63 Owcn Hughcs 1983, p. 1 1.
love or to exploit their own sexuality, both of which could be potent enough to ovenvhelm even
the strongest, wisest men in history.64
There can be little doubt that sex role reversa1 imagery is a complicated phenomenon to
discuss and characterise. The following chapters attempt to flesh out and discuss the imagery's
complexity by illuminating its various forms and natures in the context of the society which
produced it. The discussion also suggests how these ambiguous images may have functioned for
their audience.
Lovc \vas a problcmatic sourcc of fcmalc powcr bccausc many of its Ionns, likc carnal dcsirc or obsession,
wcrc trcalcd cithcr as lhc rcsult of a physical illncss or as thc conscqucncc of a sinful disposition. Rcgarding lovc-
sickncss, scc Caniillc 1998, p. 82.
2 1
Chagter II
The "Power of Women" and Petrarch's Tri onfi
In the introduction to her discussion of the "Power of Women" topos in medieval Europe,
Susan L. Smith sets some limits to her study: "1 have not considered Italian examples at all, on
the grounds that the theme was not common south of the Alps and when it was illustrated (in a
group of birth salvers, cassone paintings and manuscript illuminations) it was tied mainly to the
specific context of Petrarch's Trionfi."l This chapter aims to investigate what Smith has neglected
to study by focusing on sex role inversion imagery associated with Petrarch's collection of
poems entitled the Trionfi.
The "Power of Women"
From the time of the early Church fathers, the depiction of famous pairs of lovers in
which the woman brought about the moral or physical downfall of her male partner was one of
the most common forms of European sex role reversal imagery. The stones of these couples have
been grouped under the rubnc of the "Power of Women" in modern scholarsh'ip.'The lovers
included in this group were onginally drawn from the Bible, but as the centuries wore on, various
couples from antiquity and the romance tradition were gradually added. The "Power of
Women"topo.s has its origins in patristic texts where its lovers served as moral exemplu waming
against the inevitably negative consequences of succumbing to a woman's wiles and submitting
to her control.2 The most popular victims of the "Power of Women" included Samson, David,
Solomon, Virgil and Aristotle.
1 Russcll 1990, p. 6.
2 Scc Russcll IWO, p. 33, whcrc Bcrnardinc Biirncs appropriatcly charactcrizcs thc topos as a "ncgativc Lradition
of imagcs." In countrics north of thc Alps, ihc "Powcr of Womcn" scrics was known by diffcrcnt namcs such ils (lovc slavcs), Motitrertorheit (thc folly of mcn), and 1Veil>~rli.steri (thc tricks of wamcn).
During the Middle Ages, the "Power of Women" tales crept from moralising sermons
into the visual arts. Their depiction initially gained popularity as manuscript marginalia or
carvings appearing in the less conspicuous areas of the decoration of church interiors.3 In the
visual tradition which began to develop, the male victims belonging to the "Power of Women"
topos were usually depicted in the climax of their embarrassment. Aristotle was shown being
ridden like a horse by Phyllis, the courtesan who had seduced him. Virgil was most often
depicted in a basket dangling unrequited from his beloved's window where al1 of Rome
witnessed his embarassment. Samson is traditionally shown receiving the haircut that had
resulted from his misplaced trust in Delilah. Finally, Solomon usually appears foolishly
worshipping false idols with one or more of his pagan wives watching with approval.
In Western culture, there have generally been two kinds of didactic examples employed
by an educating power to encourage the intemalisation of a desired virtue by its pupils. The first
of these two forms involves the straightfonvard demonstration of appropriate behaviour, while
the second consists of showing what should not be done.3 As Ren Pigeaud has noted, patristic
writers, sermonising clergy, and visual artists often elected to teach through the example of
sinners because "the moralizing message was most effective when the instructive and the piquant
were combined."s The "piquant," however, especially in the case of the "Power of Women"
topos, involved inherent dangers when it became visualised in pictures. The development of
visual representations of "Power of Women" couples as moral exempla during the twelfth
century began to create cracks in the interpretive monopoly formerly held by the moralising texts
of the early Church.6 The success of the topos as a medium for moral education depended upon
- - - ---
3 Scc Camillc 1998, passim, rcgarding thc "marginal" naturc of thcsc sorts of imagcs. Susan L. Smith suggests
that the "Powcr of Women" couples were accorded space and popularity "on the margins of medieval art" in the
. .
scnsc that "thc tcrm 'margins' is borrowcd from the structure of the manuscript page, but ... is applicd likcwisc to
pcriphcral zoncs in thc Gothic church." Smith 1995, p. 16. The tcrm kas also been applicd 10 tlic visud
production ouisidc of the medieval church sphcrc intended for secular spaces.
4 Pigcaud 1987, p. 39.
5 Pigcaud 19g, p. 39.
6 Smith 195, p. 34.
the viewer perceiving the submission of the male protagonists to female influence or govemance
as unnatural and, therefore, undesirable. However, a potential for ambiguity arises from the fact
that visual imagery distilled the complete narrative of each "Power of Women" couple which had
a beginning, middle, and end to a single instant in time, that of the man's downfall at the hands of
his female lover. As a result, visual depictions of the topos present a single, static image of female
During the Middle Ages, the efficacy of "Power of Women" imagery as moral exemplu
was further reduced as the iconography gradually seeped from the sacred realm into the secular.
The iconography of the topos became equally, if not more, prominent in the decoration of
domestic objects like mirror cases and small chests as it had been in religious contexts. The
popular appeal of "Power of Women" imagery was intimately connected with the development of
the courtly love tradition which fervently approved of the notion of a man enslaved to a woman
through the exalted relationship of a knight in servitude to his lady love.7 The celebratory,
humourous treatment of the "Power of Women" iconography in the medieval secular arts was in
direct conflict with its moralizing religious origins: the topos was being CO-opted to destabilise or
challenge the social order it had initially been developed to reinforce.8 The expansion of the topos
into secular contexts caused it to acquire, as it were, an ambivalent significance by the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries.9
Although medieval "Power of Women" imagery could be employed in the service of very
different views of women and the appropriate or acceptable interaction of the sexes, later
representations developed a further complexity of interpretation. With particular reference to the
art produced during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries north of the Alps, H. Diane Russell has
noted that depictions of the topos acquire an abivalence so that "it is left to the viewer to draw his
7 1 will examine the idea of the conncction of sex rolc reversal imagery to thc courtly love tradition in dcpth in
chaptcr 3 of this paper.
8 Smith 1995, p. 43.
9 Sec Russcll 1990, p. 9.
own conclusions about the different interpretive possibilities that are implied without explicit
guidance from the work of art itself."io Smith helps to illuminate what enabled such imagery to
be so multivalent:
Pictures, like stories, need careful handling if they are Io be pressed into service as
[educational] examples -- arguably more so. Although many theologians advocated
the use of pictures as aids to religious instruction and to devotion, the use of some
pictures, at least, came with certain risks attached. Pictures are apprehended by the
sense of sight, and among al1 the senses, sight was thought to be the most susceptible
to error. 1 1
Although Italian "Power of Women" imagery appears almost exclusively in the context of
illustrations of Petrarch's Trionji, it appears that it, too, could have been interpreted in very
different ways.
Petrarch' s Trionfi
A. M. Hind has commented on the fact that, aside from the depiction of Biblical tales,
imagery stemming from Petrarch's Trionji offered the most employment to fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century artists and craftsmen in Italy.12 The collection of six poems which comprise the
Trionji were written between 1351 and Petrarch's death in 1374. Each poem is dedicated to the
description of the allegorical tnumph d one of the six forces of1i'fe:The text as a whole presents
the triumphs as a dream vision which Petrarch experiences while he sleeps, contemplating his
love for Laura.
The sequence of the Trionfi begins with the triumph of Love whose form and appearance
are modelled after the antique tnumphal procession. Following Love's triumph, the text describes
those of Chastily, Fame, Death, Time and Divinity. The ordering of the forces is integral to the
text's meaning as each successive tnumph is meant to be more powerful than the tast. Therefore,
the text indirectly identifies Love as the weakest force which is soon overcome by the greater
10 Russell 1990, p. 9.
1 1 Smith 1995, p. 103.
12 Hind 1970, p. 37.
power of the remaining five. The ultimate triumph of Divinity over al1 the others emphasises that
the poem was influenced by a strong Christian faith. It is interesting to note, however, that the
Triumph of Love, despite its fleeting supremacy, comprises one third of the entire Trionfi. It is in
the imagery associated with this triumph that artists often incorporated "Power of Women"
iconography .
Petrarch's description of the triumph of Love--personified as Cupid--is not at ail a scene
of virtuous or happy celebration. Jnstead it is a place of "ample ,gief and little joy."l3 It is
immediately apparent that only the unlucky accompany Love's triumphai curro for "round about
were mortals beyond count: 1 Some of them were but captives, some were slain, 1 And some were
wounded by his pungent arrows."l4 The despondency of Love's victims is so great that Petrarch
was utterly unable to recognize people once familiar to him because "their looks were so changed
by death or fierce captivity" by their tragic experience of Love.15 Although the procession winds
through the beautiful "land that Venus held so dear," it is a place which "Holds still so much of
its pagandom, 1 That to the bad 'tis sweet, Sour to the good."l6 The unpleasantness of Love's
triumph is soon superceded by the happy one of Chastity and her more merry followers.
However, the visual imagery inspired by Petrarch's Trionji does not exactly mirror the
description in Petrarch's text, especially that of the Triumph of Love. In a typical depiction of
Love's triumph on a birth tray by an anonymous artist now in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin (fig.
4)' the landscape is faithfully depicted as a lush rural landscape but Love's followers bear no
resemblance to the unhappy people Petrarch described. Instead they are a festive group of well-
dressed people seemingly pleased to take part in the revelry. The only visual evidence of
Petrarch's belief in the danger of love is the presence of two identifiable couples in the
13 Thc quote and a11 subsequent quotes from thc Triorflarc taken [rom E. H. Wilkins's translation. Scc Pctnrch
1962, p. 5.
14 Pctnrch 1%2, p. 6.
15 Pcirarch 1962, p. 6.
16 Petnrch 1963, p. 32.
foreground, examples drawn from the "Power of Women" topos: Phyllis astride Aristotle
appears to the left, while Samson being shom by Delilah is depicted to the right. However,
although these couples can be seen as exemplifying the tragic experience of love, their
representation is only half faithful to the text as Petrarch mentions Samson but not Aristotle.
Whereas the text's content and spirit did not provide a basis for consistency within the
imagery, there appears to have been an unwntten consensus about how to render this particlar
imagery in fifteenth-century Italy. The image discussed above is a fairly representative example as
depictions of the Triumph of Love almost always include exclusively male victims,l7 most often
chosen from among Samson, Aristotle, Virgil and Hercules. It is interesting that only four
examples appear consistently and that they are al1 male, especially given that Petrarch's
recounting of Love's triumph includes the description of many women as having fallen victim to
love's arrows.18The image's notable exclusion of female victims suggests that the image was not
a straightforward illustration of Petrarch's text. Instead, it seems to convey messages beyond
those explicitly outlined in the TrionJ. Certainly, the imagery seems to contradict Petrarch's text
by gendering the suffering caused by Love as a predominantly, if not exclusively, male
experience by casting women as Love's prime agents of destruction. This interpretation is further
supported by the particular men which the artist elected to depict since each of them was a
superior specimen of the male sex who exemplified one of the two essential virtues of the ideal
man: Aristotle and Virgil embodied the virtue of sapienlia, or knowledge, while Samson and
Hercules personified fortitudo, or strength. Seen in this light, the destructive power of love is
characterised as the particular power of women. 19 Given the imagery's presentation of love as a
17Thcre are a few instances where the main image is supplcmcntcd by additional visual clcmenls, somc of whicli
depict couples in which both the man and the woman have suffered, but never are these female figures
incorponted--let alone highlighted--in the main image. Sec figure 14 which is discusscd later in this chaptcr in
which roundels inserted into the decorative border contain images of couples in which both partncrs were
destroyed by love.
18 Among othcrs, the women mentioned includc Oenonc, Scyllaand Medea. For each citation in Petrarch's tcxt,
see Petrarch 1%2: Ior Oenone, p. 11; for Scylla, p. 19; and for Medea, p. 10.
19 Smith 1995, pp. 1-2.
female weapon, images of Love's triumph seem to have both reflected and reinforced a cultural
system of gendered behaviour and experience.
The translation and, to a degree, transformation, of the Trion. from text to image involved
a number of different factors. Besides the incorporation of the "Power of Women" iconography,
another important factor was the influence of quattrocento Italian cultural spectacles on the
imagery's appearance. Tracking the source and significance of this influence is essential to
achieving an understanding of how the event and atmosphere which the image depicts might have
been interpreted by contemporary viewers. The origins of visual details of the composition would
have assisted the audience in deciphering the image's intended--or possibly altemative--
messages. Many scholars have theorised that illustrations of Petrarch's Trionj? were affected by
the experience of staged triumphal processions which flourished in Italy during the fifteenth
century in public city festivals and celebrations.20
The 'Trinmphal' in Quattrocento Italy
As discussed in chapter one, urban culture of the quattrocento was peppered with
popular celebrations such as the Festa di San Giovanni in Florence or that of Corpus Christi in
Venice. Although these festivals had begun for religious purposes long before the fifteenth
century, quattrocento chronicles reveal that their nature and atmosphere had becsme far more
secular than sacred.21 These festivals revolved around processions of floats whose appearance
undenvent a marked increase in lavishness and ostentation dunng the fifteenth century. in direct
20 In particular, sec Ellcn Callman, "Tnumphal Entry in10 Naplcs of Alphonso 1," i n Apollo, n.s. 109, January
1W9, pp. 24-3 1. A good example of a direct correlation between the cxpencncc of the festivals and itq rcflcction
in visual art is a cassone panci by Roscllo di Jacopo Franchi which is now Sound in thc Musco Nazionalc in
Florence. It dcpicis the Florentine Festa di San Giovanni and gives us a good idea of what such celebrations mus1
have looked like (Sig. 5).
21 Konrad Eiscnbichlcr has notcd that quattrocento accounis of the Festa di San Giovanni suggest "a nthcr lcss
patriotic, less religious, and morc earthly, carclicc attitude towards the fcast." He Irther notes that in 1454
Archbishop Antoninus tricd to rcduce the secular ovcrtones of the San Giovanni celebrations by having the secular
parade occur on the 22nd of June, while the religious procession look place on the 23rd, thc evc of thc fcast day.
See Eisenbichler 1990, p. 369 and 376.
homage to classical fonns and tradition, both of which were rapidly gaining popularity at the
time, the Florentines began to include triumphal carnages, or -, in their festive processions.22
As early as the late fourteenth century, the antique term in its Italianized form of "trionfo" had
become commonly used in association with civic celebrations.23 Many of the large number of
camival songs which are still extant were called "trionfi" and some of them--such as a Song
entitled Trionfo d'Amore e Gelosiu--drew directly upon those penned by Petrarch, thereby
reinforcing the connection between the Trionji and the carnivalesque. In one song, the singers are
cast as lovers who describe an atmosphere much like that of Petrarch's first triumph, though
certainly with an added sense of rather wry humour and a melodramatic flair:
Oim! questo Cupido
ci distrugge ne1 suo foco:
e' ci fa sudar ne1 sido,
non trovih Pace in gnun loco,
n speranza pur un poco
d'allentar l'aspra catena.
Infelice quel che nasce
nelle forte del tiranno
che de' nostri cor si pasce
e ristoraci d'affanno!
O, felici que'che vanno
,liberi .da .ta1 ,catena!N
In another Song entitled Trionfodella Pudiciziu, or "Triumph of Chastity," the lyncs begin with
the words of those stung by Love's arrows who beseech their lord to assist in converting chaste
maidens to the ways of love. It begins with the following address:
Tu ha tanti uomini vinti,
22 Whiic thc cducatcd, cspccialiy thosc in thc Lurcntian circle of thc iate fiftccnth ccntury, wcrc content to rcad
or hcar ancicnt dramatic works, they lovcd to cnact and watch one of the most visually speciacular antique
cntcrtainmcnts: the triumphal procession. Molinari 1961, p. 30.
23 The Florentine citizen and chroniclcr Gregorio Dati wrote in his Sloria di Firerize one year that the Fcsta di
San Giovanni was best described as "una cosa trionfale." Fitzgerald 1986, p. 93.
24 The song is titled Carizonadei htriarnorati and is takcn from Singleton 1936, pp. 155-156. It is rcproduccd in
full on pp. 156-157 in the appendix 10 this paper. 1 have roughly translated the excerpt to read: "Alas! this Cupid
1 dcstroys us in his Sire: 1 and he makes us sweat in the (?) 1 not finding peace in any placc, 1 nor evcn a littlc
h o p 1 of lmscning the rough shackles. II Unlucky is hc who is bom 1 under the force of the tyrinl 1 who fccds
himself with our hearts 1 and replaces them with anxiety! 1 O, lucky are those who go ireel from such shacklcs!"
di gran pregio e di gran farna;
e 'n piu parte n' dipinti
che ciascun men ti chiama . . 3
By the mid-fifteenth century, staged spettacoli and trionj, especially those wntten by Petrarch,
had not only become a regular part of festival processions, but had also come to be exploited by
important individuals as a means of self-glonfication.26 Literature reflected the fascination with
the triumphal, as well, as fifteenth-century authors exploited the theme's popularity in their own
works about the Roman triumph.27
The populanty of publicly staged tnumphs led to a wide range of triumphal imagery, for
which Piero di Cosimo de' Medici himself is known to have had a preference.28 Furthemore, the
influence of the Medici in evolving trends in patronage must have extended to tnumphal imagery.
Two forzieri depicting the specific subject of the Petrarchan Trionj and a desco hpart o
commissioned by Piero for the occasion of Lorenzo's birth depicting the Triumph of Fame
25 Thc Song is taken [rom Singleton 1936, pp. 63-64. and is reproduced in full on pp. 159-160 in the appendix
to this paper. 1 have roughly translated it as follows: "You have defeated many men, I of great honour and great
fame; I and in most cases it has becn shown 1 that everyone calls for mercy (from you) ..."
26 Callmann has noled that Petrdrch's Trionji only began to bc illustrated in manuscripts during the fiftcenth
century. Callmann States: "il is my contention that when these illustrations were finally introduced, this happcncd
because the scenes had become familiar through spettacoli, not because the book was read more frequently." Sec
Callmann 1979, p. 39. Regarding the use of the triumphal procession for self-glorification, extant records and
documents show that public triumphal processions were staged. among others. in honour of Pope Eugene IV in
1434 io celebrate his victory over Colonna, and of Alfonso 1 of Aragon upon his entry in10 Naples in 1443, and
of Borso d'Este into Reggio in Emilia in 1453, and of Federigo da Montefeltro's retum to Florence after his
defeat of Volterra in 1473. For more specific details, see Callmann 1974, p. 45 (n. 33). Such staged events
exalting the greatness of a contemporary public figure shared the purposes of commissioned cquestrian portraits.
Thc lattcr is exemplified by Paolo Uccello's frescoed Sir John Hawkwood in Santa Maria Novclla, Florcncc.
27 The humanist books written about the Roman lnumph during the quattrocento include: Flavio Biondo's Hotnn
iiirinplians, 1459; Giovanni Marcanova's De digtiitatibirs Rotnutiorirrt~, /ri~r~nplioqirac et rebrrs hellicis from the
middle of the century; and the third chapter of Fui o degli Uberii's Dittarnondo entitled 'Del mondo e dell'ordine
del tnonfo in Rorna.' Callman 1974, p. 45 (n. 33).
28 A well-known inshncc is the doublc portrait of Fedcrigo da Monicfcltro, Dukc of Urbino, and his wifc
Batlista Sfcirl by Piero della Francesca which b a r cmlhcir reverse an imagc of each riding on a simple lriumphai
cmage. Intcrestingly, although Battista's team of horses are, in fact, unicorns (there to invoke the chaste virtue of
the patron's wife), the kast s are reined in and controlled by a tiny Cupid. For more on this, sec Thomas Martonc.
"Piero della Francesca's Triumphs of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino," Petrarcli's 'riirtnplis: AIIegory and
Spectacle, University of Toronto Italian Studies, v. 4, eds. K. Eisenbichler and A. A. lannucci, Toronto, 1990,
pp. 21 1-232. For a more in-depth discussion of the artistic preferences of the Medici during thc first half of thc
quattrocento, sec L. Gnocchi, "Le preferenze artistiche di Piero di Cosimo de' Medici," Artibi*~ et Hislorine, 18,
19%. pp. 41-78.
appear in the farnily inventory.29
The popularity of the "triumphal" in literature, visual arts, and cultural festivity had likely
begun with Dante's Divinu Commedia, which may have supplied the impetus for staging
Renaissance triumphal processions.3o It is certain, however, that this latter trend was amplified by
the success of Petrarch's Trionfi which directly compares the Triumph of Love to the form of a
Roman triumphal procession3 1
By comparing recorded accounts of Renaissance festive processions wj th
contemporaneous triumphal imagery, Ellen Callmann has noted an important causal connection
between the witnessing of staged triumphal entertainment and the development of artistic
conventions for depicting triumphal imagery.32 Callmann's argument is supported by the fact that
curri reenacting antique triumphs like that of Caesar also appear depicted on Florentine cassoni
panels.33 Although the artists producing quattrocento Petrarchan Trionfi imagery must have
borrowed from the antique triumphal carriages which carried the pagan gods in medieval
manuscript illuminations, they seem to have modelled their depictions after fifteenth-century
processional vehicles more specifically.34
Due to its association with and prominence in civic celebrations, the notion of the
29 Carandcntc 1963, p. 58.
30 Carandcntc 1963, p. 53.
3 1 In rcfcrcncc to the cffcct of thc 'liiorr/i on quattrocento processions, scc Fitzgerald 1986, p. 9,. 3 Pctrtrch's tcst
makcs thc link bctwcen Lovc's triumph and thc antique proccssion in a descriptive passage: "A leadcr, conqucring
and supremc, 1 saw, 1 Such as triumphal chariots uscd to bcar 1 To glonous honour on the Capital." Sec Pctrarch
1963, p. 5.
32 Callmann discusscs historical accounls of thc quattrocento rccrcation of an antiquc proccssion for thc triumphal
cntry of Alfonso 1 into Naplcs on 26 Fcbnuy, 1443. She then comparcs thesc writtcn documents with a pair of
cmorre pancls which dcpict the cvcnt dating to about 1452. The dcscnptions and depictions sccm vcry close. For
reproductions of the panels, scc Callman 1979, p. 25, pls. 2 and 3.
33 For crample, onc carnie panel formerly in the Chamberlin collection depicts the Trirorrph of Jrdiirs Caescrr.
For a reproduction of this work, sec Callmann 1974, pl. 205.
34 This is cvident in the casc of Love's atm, in a manuscript or 1472 which drew upon the appeartncc of a
Triumph of Lovc carriagc which twk part in an cqucstrian pandc put on in honour of Galcazzo Maria Sform's
visil 10 Florcncc in 1459. Scc Rubin and Wright 1999, p. 132. Callmann discusscs the diffcrcnccs i n thc
appcannce of antique mrri and the quattrwcnto replacemcnts. Littlc cllort seems to have bccn madc to rccrcate thc
two-whccled chariots of antiquity during the Ifteenth century. Sce Callmann 1Y9, p. 27-28.
3 1
triumphal procession acquired a number of layers of significance dunng the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries. Cesare Molinari has suggested that by making the triumphal procession a
public form connected with festive, and often carnivalesque, celebrations, an antique tradition
with elite origins was redefined as Renaissance popular culture35 Molinan's idea has important
consequences for the interpretation of triumphal imagery. if the procession was closely linked to
the realm of popular culture, the imagery which resembled it--including depictions of Petarch's
Trionfi--may have inherited and, therefore, been similarly contextuaiized by--these connections.
As discussed in the previous chapter, civic festivals were times of ostentatious spectacle
and behavioural license. The procession which occurred during the Festa di San Giovanni
included a large number of modest carri which camed groups of actors pretending to be citizens
with shared professions or social identities. These groups sang boisterous songs called canti
carnaSchialeschi to the crowd. Some of these songs, as Anne Jacobson-Schutte has noted,
comically play upon the notion of the power inversion of the sexes36This combination of the
"triumphal" with the topos of sex role inversion in times of civic festivity may have been alluded
to in visual depictions of the Triumph of Love. Certainly recent research by Konrad Eisenbichler
points out that the Trionfo d'Amore was often staged in quattrocento festival processions.
Eisenbichler notes that Florentine records of the Feast of San Giovanni indicate that its festivities
included games, dances and parades which were held under the mle of a Lord of Love37 His
research even leads him to make a reversed association by suggesting that Petrarch's description
of a triumphal figure of Cupid on top of a processional float in the Trionfi may, in fact, have been
an effort at "enhancing a figure already present in the Florentine festal psyche" rather than directly
referring to classical sources.38 Eisenbichler makes an important point in noting that al1
quattrocento public spectacles, including reenactments of the Triumph of Love, held more than
35 Molinari 1961, p. 30).
36 Jacobson-Schuttc 1980, p. 484. Scc the song citcd on p. 18 i n chaptcr onc for an cxamplc of such lyrics.
37 Eiscnbichlcr 1990, p. 371.
38 Eisenbichler 1990, p. 370.
3 2
one level of meaning for their observers.39 Given the complex significance of the public
performance of Love's triumph, its depiction in the visual arts may have operated similarly. To
help elucidate these multiple layers of meaning, a better understanding of the origins of depictions
of the Trionfo d'Amore is essential.40
The close relationship between quattrocento camivalesque processions and the depiction
of the Trionj is especially apparent on rectangular cassone fronts where one triumphal c m
follows the next (for example, fig. 9). The urban quality of festival processions also seems to be
alluded to in certain depictions of the Triurnph of Love in which elements of buildings are
introduced (for example, figs. 8 and 13) suggesting that the painted parade is about to process
through the streets of a city. Even the high quality of the finery wom by the crowds shown
accompanying Love's triumph suggests that the revellers were in breach of strict sumptuary laws,
regulations which seem to have been forgiven only during times of public camivalesque
Despite strong connections to the social world of carnivalesque festivity which had begun
centuries before the quattrocento, there was no fourteenth-century tradition of depictions of
Petrarch's Trionfi. Although archivai research has uncovered a few instances in which patrons
may have specified the details of commissions involving the depiction of the Petrarchan
Trionj,42 artists were most often left to their own devices and inventions.43 A significant
39 Eisenbichler 1990, pp. 376-377.
-?O Much of ihc rcscarch inio thc iconogriphy of Trioriji imagcry bas focuscd on thc Triumph of Fame; sec Dianc
Shorr, "Some noies on the iconography of Pelrarch's Trirtrnph of Furne," Art Birlletiri, 20, 1938, pp. 100-107; sec
also, Sari Chamcy, "Artistic rcprcscntations of Pctnrch's Triicinphics fiinae," Pelrarch '.Y Triirmplis: Allegory nnd
Spectacle, University of Toronto Iblian Studies, vol. 4, eds. K. Eisenbichler and A. A. Iannucci, Toronto, 1990.
pp. 223-233.
41 Clough 1990. p. 36 (n. 38).
42 One well-documented and often cited example is Piero dc' Medici's commission of a desco to commcmoraie
the imminent birth of his child, Lorenzo. The artisl, Matteo de' Pasti, wrole io Piero io ask his patron's
preference rcgarding what animais to depid pulling Fame's triumphal c m ; the choices werc horses or elephants.
See Carandente 1%3, p. 56. Matteo's question is an interesting one given that Petrarch's texi does no1 even
indicaie that Fame rode in a mm, lei aione what kind of animais mighi be pulling il; see the opening section of
the riianph of Furne in Petrarch 1963, pp. 73-4.
43 Carandenic 1963, p. 64.
challenge to reconstmcting the development of Trionfi imagery is that each of the triumphs seems
to have developed relatively separate from the others by drawing on different sources.44 The
other major complication is that many of the examples of Trionj imagery are difficult to date, a
circumstance which prevents the assertion of any secure chronological relationship among the
various images. Recent research does, however, provide some crucial information about the
workshop environment in which most Trionj imagery was produced, especially that which
adomed deschi, cassoni, and manuscripts.
The Workshop Origins of Trionfi Imagery
The Florentine workshop operated by Apollonia di Giovanni and Marco del Buono is of
particular importance to the study of depictions of the Trionj. It was one of the largest in
quattrocento Florence and specialised in the creation of imagery whose content or appearance
recalled the antique, including the Trionfi.45 Thanks to an extant ledger, Ellen Callmann has been
able to identify and discuss the objects which emerged from Apollonio's workshop in
considerabledetai1.46The ledger has also helped to elucidate the workshop's modus operandi .
Through the use of various compositional and stylistic templates generated by the workshop's
most skilled artist, the workshop ensured that production was quick, of reasonably high quality,
and relatively standardized. The use of templates accounts for the similarity of workshop
44 For examplc, the Tnumph of Famc scems to havc had quitc dircct visual sourccs in fourtccnth-ccnlury
depictions of a sacred iconography known as the Triottfo della Gloria which was no1 as applicable or uscful to the
dcpiction of the othcr triumphs. Scc Shorr, note 40 abovc.
45 Apollonio's workshop depicted stories or scenes from a large number of humanist texts ranging from Virgil to
Pctrarch. Callmann belicves that Apollonio's workshop specialised in and was integral to the development of
TriotjJi imagery; sce Callmann 1974, pp. 50 and 13.
46 Scc Callmann 1974 in gcneral, but for specifics of the manuscnpts, see pp. 35-37.
imagery, including that of the Trionfo d'Amore, across different media,47 and also explains why
Tnumph of Love imagery frequently incorporates "Power of Women" iconography even though
Petrarch's text does not necessitate it.
Despite the use of templates and models, however, there was still a remarkable variety in
the details of depictions of the Trionfo d'Amore. Callmann has noted that instead of exact copies
of a particular depiction of the Triumph of Love, Apollonio's workshop produced a number of
slightly different variations on the sarne essential composition.48 What seem to be only small
deviations in composition from image to image may have resulted in concomitant differences in
the imagery 's possible readings, especially when one considers that depictions of the Trionfi
appear in a wide range of artistic media.
In the interests of investigating depictions of Petrarch's Triumph of Love which include
"Power of Women" iconography from a number of different perspectives, the discussion below
appears in four parts. The first two parts address the issue of the different meanings the imagery
may have had as a consequence of the artistic medium in which it appears by focusing
respectively on painted household objects and manuscript illuminations. The final sections of the
discussion present case studies of two of the most frequently depicted "Power of Women"
viragos, Phyllis and Judith. When considered collectively, the sum of the four sections will, it is
hoped, reflect and maintain a scholarly sensitivity to the complexity of both the imagery and its
47 The scholarly discussion about why therc is relative consistency among depictions of the Trior@ d'Awore is
divided. Carandente has pointed out that Werner Weisbach believes that the depiction of the subject was mediated
merely by the expenencc of quattrocento triumphal processions. On the other hand, d'hsling and Mlintz have
suggested that the illustration of Petrarch's tex1 was mediated by an unknown exegetc. Carandente 1963, p. 46.
Lut. Malkc has argued that there was probably a lost fresco cycle in Florence which served as the original
composition after which workshop artists modcllcd thcir own work. Malke 19'7, p. 258. A definitive answer will
probably ncver be Sound.
48 See Cailmann 1974, p. 11. Jacqueline Musacchio h a reinforcul this obscrvation in hcr discussion of hvo
deschi depicting Petrarch's Triumph of Love one from thc Victoria and Alberl Museum and another l'rom thc
National Gallcry, London, which share a rcmarkablc amount of similarity in composition and style including the
depiction of the "Power of Women" figures, thc landscape with the cities in the background, and the generi
layout of the composition, although it is palenlly obvious that each is by a different hand. Musacchio 1999, p.
Deschi and Cassoni Illustrations of the Triumph of Love
Deschidaparto, or birth trays, are one of the visual media in which Trionfi imagery is
commonly found. They are normally between 50 and 60 centimeters in diameter, made of wood,
decorated with imagery in egg tempera on both sides, and framed with separate painted or gilt
mouldings. The earliest deschi date to the last quarter of the fourteenth century and the latest to
the early sixteenth century.49
Quattrocento inventories indicate that deschi were far more numerous than the small
number which have s u ~ i v e d might suggest.50 It is diffkult to Say how often deschi would have
been seen. Aside from the lying-in period when deschi functioned as trays used to bring food and
sweets to the new mother, they may also have been hung on the wall as decorative pictures after
they had performed this initial function, thus significantly expanding the time and contexts in
which their imagery could have had meaning and impact3 1
The commission of birth trays was a predominantiy Florentine phenomenon and deschi
were almost exclusively produced in workshops.52The workshop origin of deschi meant that the
evolving stylistic imperatives of quattrocento painting theory, such as linear perspective, were not
of primary importance to their decoration;s3 rather, their pictorial content and visual appeal seem
39 See Fitzgeraid 1986, p. 10, and Musacchio 1999, pp. 64-5. Three of the major studies of deschi to this point
including those by Paul Schubring, Mary Fitzgerald, and, most recently, Jacqueline Musacchio. Whiie
Schubring's work wris a 'oasic, pioncering study whose primary aim was to caraloguc ail cxisting deschi and
cmsorii, in more rcccnt years Fitxgcrald and Musacchio havc initiated serious eforts towards illuminating the
possiblc purposc and mcaning of thcsc objccts. Scc Schubring 1923, Fitzgerald 1986, and Musacchio 1999.
50 Fitzgerald 1 %, pp. 7-8.
51 The 1492 inventory of the Medici palace indicates that Lorenzo de' Medici had a salver which had becn
commissioncd for the occasion of his birih by his ithcr, Piero, hanging on his own bedroorn wail upon his
death. See Fitzgerald 19156, p. 5. If this was general practice, many people would have secn deschi imagery as
bedrooms in Florentine houses werc often used 10 entertain guests. As Musiicchio suggests, despite the bricf
pcriod of time in which lhc trdys fuifillcd their "officiai" function, the carved mouldings framing the outside edge
which protected the painted sides from being ki ng abrdded by contact with oiher surfaces suggest the trays were
meant to last, likely for display. Musacchio 1999, p. 66.
52 Fit7.gerald 1986, p. 140.
53 Carandente 1963, p. 51.
to have been most critical to their success.
The subject matter chosen for the decoration of birth trays seems to have been largely
selected by the workshop artists themselves on the grounds of its general public appeal or
populanty, thus catering to the market's preferences,54 rather than to the gender of the child.55
Musacchio has outlined four major areas of desco imagery: contemporary literary themes,
mythological or classical narratives, confinement scenes, and religious stories.56 lmagery
referring to Petrarch's Trionj (from which the Trionfo d'Amore was the most popular by far)
falls into the first category and enjoyed populanty from the mid-fifteenth century onwards.57
The desco in the Galleria Sabauda which was discussed earlier is a typical example of the
simpler desco depictions of the Triumph of Love. It was executed by an unknown Florentine and
dates between 1450 and 1475 (fig. 4). The birth tray portrays Cupid as the god of Love riding on
a triumphal carro. He aims his arrow at one of the many contented people, exquisitely dressed in
the finest and most ostentatious clothing of the day. They accompany the god of Love on their
procession through an attractive countryside dotted by rocks and stands of fruit trees. In the
foreground, Phyllis is shown riding Aristotle to the left. On the right, Samson is depicted being
shorn in Delilah's arms.
As the only two recognisable figures in the composition, Aristotle and Samson must have
been carefully selected from among the wide range of possible representatives associated with the
"Power of Women" topos. As mentioned earlier, Aristotle and Samson as a pair were often used
54 Scc the introduction to Lcvcnson el al. 1973 as well as Musacchio 1999, p. 68.
55Thc litcraiurc idcntifics lwo inslanccs i n which a cIem)'s subjcct was rccordcd in a worbhop lcdgcr as having
been specifically requested: the first was Piero de' Medici's coiiimissioi~ of a clrsco oii the i~casion of Iiis son
Lorenzo's immincnt birth to bc dccoratcd with an imagc of Pctrarch's 'Triumph of Famc'; thc sccond cxamplc is
that of Giovanni di Amcrigo Bcnci who commissioned a tray dcpicting Solomon and Sheba. Thcse two occasions
seem unusual and are treated as such in the litcraturc. Furthemore, rccent rescarch suggcsts that the subjccts
depictcd on deschi werc not sclcctcd by the buyer, but rather purchascd ready-made from the shop beforc a birth
occurred, thereby climinating thc child's sex as a delcrmining factor in the selcction of subjeci matter. Scc
Musacchio 1999, p. 68 and the discussion on p. 73.
56 Musacchio 1999, p. 66.
57 See Fitzgerald 1986, pp. 84 and 100; Fitzgerald devotes her fifth chapter 10 the focused sludy of ten deschi
among which Petrarch's Triotlji fonn the common subject mattcr. Shc datcs thcm to ca. 149-1475
to depict the power of women's wiles to overcome men famous for their possession of the
essential male virtues of strength and wisdom. Such a historical significance was likely in the
artist's mind. If the mere reco,pisability of the figures was the artist's greatest aim, Samson could
have been shown with his column and Aristotle in scholar's robes with a book, an approach of
which a few isolated examples exist (see fig. 6)3Given the available choices, the fact that
Florentine artists elected to depict the male victims of Love in the particular moment of their
downfall at their lovers' han& is si,gificant. The only allusion to the narratives behind the
experiences of Samson and Aristotle was in the depiction of the climaxes of their stones.
Significantly, such a pictorial choice results in the visual immortalization of sly women
dominating some of the greatest men of history.
The importance of contemporary conceptions of the distinctness of gender roles is
suggested by a number of details in the image. As mentioned earlier, only male victims of Love
regularly appear in depictions of Love's triumph.59 Furthemore, the consistent depiction of the
male victims as bearded, a traditional marker of manliness, seems to be an effort to underscore
theirparticular masculinity.60 Such details seem to gender Love's triumph as a distinctly female
victory. Equating the triumph of Love with that of lascivious women would have immediately
signified that Cupid's arrows incited carnal love rather than pure or saintly love, and would also
explain the suitability of referring to episodes as lewd as the seductions of Aristotle and Samson.
58 In the last decadc of the fifteenth century. what appears to be a distinctly Venetian trend arose in which Love's
sufferers in depictions of the Triumph of Love were made recogniirable by their traditional chancter attributes
alone rather than ki ng shown at a woman's mercy. Often, Samson is shown carrying his column rathcr than
receiving a haircut rom Delilah, which is the case in an engraving by an unknown Vcnetian dating to 1490. This
engraving was imitated soon after by a diferent pnntmaker who publishcd another senes of Trioriji illustrdtions in
Vcnice in 1492-1493. These two Venetian examples are the only oncs 1 have round which choose to include
Samson without Delilah within the depiction of the Triumph of Love.
59 A Neapolitan manuscnpt illustration of the IHiitnph of Love, though it does not include depictions of any
"Power of Women" couples, still underscores the fact that Love sought to enslave men more particularly. Hcre,
the illustrator had shown the m of Love virtually bearing down on a number of men--and only men--who are
fleeing unsuccessfully rom the onslaught of arrows unleashed by the god (fig. 7).
60 Rcgarding the equation of having a beard with ki ng masculine and virile, sec Camille 1998, p. 16, whcrc the
author diseusses that Adam is often shown in medieval art with a beard to emphasize his manliness.
The unique postures and beards of Samson and Aristotle immediately distinguish them
from the general crowd attending Love's tnumph, indicating that they belong to a distant past
rather than contemporary life. In contrast, the appearances of Phyllis and Delilah are not
historicised; in fact, their fifteenth-century dress and coiffures give them a close kinship with the
Florentine ladies who pepper the crowd around Love's carro. This difference in the treatment of
the seductresses and their victims is characteristic of other depictions of the Triumph of Love.
Since a contemporary viewer would have immediately recognised the clothing wom by Phyllis
and Delilah as similar to his or her own, the portrayal of the seductresses as quattrocento ladies
must have been a calculated artistic choice. By updating their appearances, the artist seems to have
depicted Florentine women in their places. For a male viewer, the visual similarities between the
seductresses and the women of his own day may have brought to mind the women in his life
such as his wife, daughter or neighbour, thereby adding an element of pictorial warning about the
duplicitous nature and potent power of the women in one's own backyard.
Viewing the image from another perspective, if "Power of Women" couples inserted in
depictions of Love's triumph were to be seen as behavioural exempla, they also had the capacity
to be interpreted entirely differently. It seems very likely that a female viewer would have felt an
easy and amiable kinship with Phyllis and Delilah because of their shared appearance and dress.
Seen in this way, the imagery would have offered examples of female empowerment which
displayed woman's ability to exploit her sexuality in order to gain control over a man.
Speculation about the disparate experience of audiences of different sexes when they were
confronted with a single image of Petrarch's Trionfo d 'Amore emphasises that "Power of
Women" iconography could convey a multiplicity of meanings.
Although the basic characteristics--the lush scenery, beautiful crowd, Cupid in triumph--
remain the same from image to image, some desco imagery of the Triumph of Love displays a
greater complexity in its incorporation of "Power of Women" iconography. An example is a birth
tray by an unknown Florentine from around 1460 which is now found in the Victoria and Albert
Museum (fig. 8). Here again, the landscape is a veritable locus amoenus in which a well-dressed
crowd of men and women wander alongside Love's triumphal cart. A number of the details in the
Victoria and Albert Museum ciesco are similar to those in the desco in the Galleria Sabauda. The
image shows al1 four men with long beards to underscore their masculinity. Furthermore, their
female companions look like quattrocento women. Samson and Delilah appear in the lower right
corner of the composition with Aristotle bearing Phyllis on the left. However, two other
characters make an appearance in this image as well: behind the crowd to the left, Virgil appears
suspended in a basket from a tower gazing down at his female companion while Hercules,
holding a spindle and dressed in women's clothing, follows in the chariot's wake accompanied
by Omphale, who is wielding his club.
As legend had it, Virgil's moment of mortification at the hands of a woman resulted from
trusting the emperor's daughter who had agreed to a midnight tryst. He was to reach her bedroom
by means of a basket lowered from her window but, much to his chagrin, she reneged on her
promise and left him foolishly dangling mid-way up the wall until morning when al1 of Rome
witnessed his folly.61 In a similarly embarrassing tale, Hercules was said to have found himself
smitten by the queen of Lydia named Omphale. He was so enamoured of her, in fact, that he
conceded to her wish that he trade his club for her spindle so he might unburden her of her
"women's work."
What is not appmnt about the story irom its dcpiction on the birth tray is that Virgil did, in the end, gct his
revengc. By using his sorcery to cxtinguish al1 of the fires in Rome except one: thiit between the legs of the
woman who had undone him. As a result, she herself was embarassed in turn as every Roman had to come to
relight their torches from her fiery ioins. For a history and evolution of the tale across Europe, see Comparetti
1966, pp. 325-341. The story was depicted in its entirety by an anonymous engraver. In the pnnt of Virgil tlie
Sorcerer, Virgil in the basket appears al left and the emperor's daughter dispcnsing llames at nght (hg. 26). The
pnnt bears two inscriptions. On the upper left: "ESSENDO LAMATINA 1 CHIARO G[I]ORNO 1 ILPOSE INT 1
ERRA CONS 1 UO GRANDE SCHORNO." On the upper right abovc the emperor's daughter: "VERE CHEPOI
IllitstratedBarrscl~ 1978ff.. v. 24, Commcntary, Part 1, cat. no. 2402.W, and the other version of the print's
subjcct, cat. no. 3402.039. It seems pertinent to ask why depictions of Virgil's embarrassment--which resolves
itsclf by the man proving himself more clever than the wornan--would not have bcen more common than subjccts
like that of Phyllis and Aristotle in which Phyllis remains victonous over the philosopher.
The plight of Hercules is particularly interesting as it points in a more overt way at the sex
role reversals which take place between al1 of the "Power of Women" couples and because he had
a particular importance in the context of Italian culture where he was considered one of the
prototypical heroic malefigures.62 In the end, Hercules's embarrassment is explicit in his
effeminisation (read, emasculation) as he is depicted clutching Omphale's spindle and, often, as
in the Victoria and Albert desco, clothed in her dress.63 Although listening to Omphale was not
Hercules's only foolish mistake in his interaction with women, it is the one most often depicted in
quattrocento art.64 The choice of Omphale as the woman who most embarrassed Hercules
probably resulted from the dramatic, effeminising particulars of that specific tale. For example,
giving Hercules a spindle was an especially powerful statement because it traditionally served as
the attribute of an upright woman. "Women's work" like spinning wool was intended to keep
women busy and productive, leaving them no time for mischief or lascivious thoughts.65
Therefore, seeing Hercules, a paragon of male strength, holding a spindle while wearing a
woman's dress must have been a particularly uncomfortable inversion of the cornfortable status
The literalisation of Hercules's downfall in the imagery deserves a moment of attention as
it is particularly powerful in its employment of cross-dressing, a phenornenon with its own
contexts and connotations in quattrocento Italy. In the context of Italian Renaissance drama,
62 Regarding the italian trcatmcnt of Hercules, see Smith 1995, pp. 196-19'.
63 Monica Donaggio's study of thc usc of cross-drcssing in Boccaccio's opere rni~ori in volgare hq Icd hcr to
suggest that a quattrocento mind would have perceived cross-dressing by men such as Hcrculcs as predominantly
humourous; shc suggcsts that it was that pcrpctratcd by fcmalcs which would havc givcn causc for conccm. Scc
Donaggio 1988, p. 308 and pnssirn. Howevcr, due to the social circumstnccs of thc day and thc indications that
the effcminisation of men was alanning some prominent individuals (sec furthcr notc 37 on p. 11 in chaptcr onc
of this paper), Donaggio's assessment seems inappropriate.
64 An cxample of one of the othcr lovers who gave Hercules troublc is Deiancira and the story of the buming
shirt. For morc about Hercules's othcr unfortunate love affairs, sce Smith 1995, p. 250 (n. 30).
65 It is interesting to note hcre that in northem European imagcry of the latc fiftccnth and early sixtcenth
centuries, dcpictions of unruly women oftcn take the form of wives beating thcir husbands with the instruments
which wcre emblcmatic of uprighl, busy womcn such as spindles or washing beedlcs. For an esample of this sort
of imagc, though it is an carlier, medieval work, sec figurc 28.
Maggie Gnsberg argues that "cross-dressing cames at its heart a critique of the fixity of
boundaries."66 Florentine and Venetian lawmaking regarding cross-dressing indicates that
Gnsberg's characterisation extends to the phenornenon's appearance outside of drama. Dress
was seen as one of the primary ways to distinguish both sex and class, the two most essential
classifications which helped maintain and regulate basic societal structure.67 The only kind of
socially sanctioned cross-dressing was directly associated with carnivalesque civic festivals--the
only times that dress codes were suspended. In fact, during processions ballad-singers even
wandered the streets dressed as women singing about the female life and its troubles.68 It seems
more than likely that a contemporary viewer would have made the connection of Hercules's
appearance and carnival, especially given the visual context of a triumphal procession in which it
Seen from a different perspective, however, the depiction of Hercules may have struck a
particularly sensitive chord in the Florentine rnind. Quattrocento Florence was plagued by the
nagging worry of what some perceived as a gradua1 effeminisation of the city's male youth, a
problem denounced by preachers like San Bernardino of Siena as a result of too much motherly
influence in the many homes left to the care of young widows.69Coincidentally, Hercules
appears on the Florentine city seal as a civic emblem. His depiction as a cross-dresser with a
spindle would have been a powerful inversion of manly virtue. Ultimately, however, the effect of
Hercules in a dress in depictions of the Trionfo d'Amore is difficult to pin down with any
A question that still remains to be investigated is why Trio@ imagery found such popular
66 Gnsberg 1997, p. 53.
67 For cxarnple, in Florcnce and Fcrrara laws wcrc i n placc to outline the dress allowed for prostitutcs vcrsus that
allo\ved for respectable women so lhat these two groups would not be confused; sec Shcmek 1998, pp. 28-9. In
Vcnicc, thcrc wcre laws regarding women dressing as men, a common practice employed by fcmalc prostitutcs to
stcal malc clicnts away from thc secmingly morc popular male prostitutes; sce Brown 1989, p. 498 (n. 41).
68 Jacobson-Schuttc 1981, p. 483.
69 Scc note 27 on p. 11 of this cssay, and Hcrlihy and Klapisch-Zubcr 1985, p. 137. In Tuscany, 1 out of cvery 4
adult women was a widow. Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber 1985, p. 217.
appeal as decorative subjects for birth trays and how this contextualisation affected its experience
by viewers. In partial response to this, Musacchio makes an important point in emphasising the
serious difficulties facing aspiring parents in fifteenth-century Italy:
Childbirth in Renaissance Italy was surrounded by objects and rituais designed to
keep it under control. This control was necessary, if somewhat illusory, given the
tragic rnortality rates in this post-plague society. As a result, anything that could
provide women with a certain amount of protection and mediation--whether real or
imagined--was clearly desirable. With such an advantage a woman could consider
herself less susceptible to the machinations of nature and society; she could regulate
her reproductive power .... The conternporary belief in.. .the mediating force of
specific objects and rituals promised a greater personal control over pregnancy and
birth than was medicaily possible at that tirne.70
It is unsurprising that imagery depicting women as strong and'capable may have been
selected to bolster sagging spirits and injecta sense of virility and energy into a new mother's
post-partum thoughts. Musacchio notes that many of the objects associated with birth and
motherhood "addressed the materna1 imagination," helping to mediate between ideal childbirth
and its reality. Objects like amulets and herbal remedies were also believed to have magical
powers which eased a pregnant woman's womes.71 This suggested that images of female
domination on birth objects like deschi may have perfomed a talismanic function. However,
since deschi were pro'bably used long after a new mother's lying-in period as decorative display
objects, it seems unlikely that their imagery would have been chosen shortsightedly with a mind
only to the first stage of their use. The quattrocento interest in considering the long-term impact of
an image is evident, likewise, in the careful selection of cmsone imagery.72
Cassoni were commissioned in pairs on the occasion of a mamage for the bride and
groom. Although it is often difficult to identify original pairs of chests'73 the problem of cassoni
70 Musacchio 1999, p. 125.
7 1 Musacchio 1999, p. 125.
72 For a number of different studies, scc Schubring 1923, pnssiin; J. Pope-Henncssy and K. Christianscn,
"Sccular painting in fi ftccnth-ccntury Tuscany: cmoire pancls," in The Metropolitnir Muserm oJ Art B/illetiii, 38,
Suinmcr 1980, pp. 12-55; Witthoft 1982, pp. 43-59; and Baskins 1991, pp. 329-344.
73 Pairing the chests with certainty is difficult as, i n many cascs. only onc chest of a pair has survivcd, or that
cificn ccrtain subjects depicted are difficult to match.
pairs painted with material from Petrarch's Trionj is more easily solved. Conventionally, each of
the chests would display three of the six triumphs so that the entire series was depicted by the
pair, or the Triumph of Love would be represented on one cassone while the Triumph of Chastiy
appeared on the other.71
The first important difference between the depiction of theTrionj on cassoni from that on
deschi is that whereas the former contextualise the Triumph of Love through the portrayal of
other triumphs, the latter display Love's triumph in isolation. For example, one of a pair of
cassoni by a follower of Pesellino displays the Triumph of Love, includes Phyllis and Aristotle
and Hercules and Omphale, on the left and the Triumph of Ch t i t y on the right (fig. 9).75 The
elongated, rectanplar shape of the pictorial surface of cassone fronts probably encouraged the
emphasis of the processional aspect of the Trionj. The visual result is an image that closely
imitates the staged triumphal spectacles which would have paraded through the streets of
Florence during civic celebrations. This seems appropriate given that the chests themselves were
put on display in the public procession which conveyed the bnde to the groom's house.
However, cussoni could also incorporate "Power of Women" iconography in depictions
of the Trionfi, as well. One example of a cassone which incorporates "Power of Women" figures
in the rendering of the Trionj d'Amore is now found in the Pinacoteca in Siena (fig. 10). On the
cassone panel, Phyllis and Anstotle appear in the left foreground with Hercules and Omphale
beside them. Virgil is suspended from the back of the curro. Al1 around the central group of
figures, men are falling down wounded by arrows presumably loosed by the Cupid atop the
carro. The fact that these partnerless victims are exclusively men suggests once more that Love--
and the women who wield it as their weapon--seek only male victims. A much earlier chest by an
74 A typical example of this compositional system for the cassorii illustdons of thc Triorifi is exemplificd by a
pair of chests attributed to Pesellino which are now in the Gardner Museum, Boston. Countenntuitively, on the
first chest, which dcpicts the first three triumphs of Love, Chastity and Death, Love's procession is accordcd
almost two thirds of the pictorial space whik Chastity and Dcath are made to squeeze into the rcmaining arca.
75 Interestingly, the composition of the image suggests that Love's tnumph occurs ajer that of Chastity, rathcr
than the other way around.
unknown Sienese dating to the 1430s is devoted to the depiction of select couples from the
"Power of Women" series outside the context of an illustration of the Trion,. The chest is
sculpted in reliefs and consists of three panels. The first depicts Phyllis astride Aristotle; the
second displays Diana and Actaeon on either side of a fountain, and the finai panel shows
Solomon worshipping an id01 with his pagan wife nearby (fig. 74).76The purpose of such
imagery on the cassone is made clear by the text which frames the panel: "SENZA HONESTA
EST. SENZA AMOR NON FIDUCIA ..." The message was probably intended for the edification of
both sexes, but focuses on the problems or virtues of women by indicating that female beauty
stems from honesty and that female deception negates a woman's worth.
The investigation of cassoni and deschi indicates the quattrocento interest in maintaining a
proper relationship between the sexes within the marriage bond. However, further insight into the
incorporation of "Power of Women" iconography in depictions of Petrarch's Trionfz can be
gained by investigating the manuscript illuminations which began to appear during the fifteenth
century in codices containing Petrarch's text.
Manuscript Illuminations of the Trionfi
Although Petrarch's Trionj? was in circulation during the fourteenth century, a visual
tradition in its illustration did not develop until the quattrocento. In the early illustrated
manuscripts of the Trion>, the images did not slaborak bryond the content or contradict the spirit
of the text itself. Two of the earliest, if not the first, date to 144277 and appear to have emerged
from the same workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni.78 Each has six illustrations which depict
76 Thc inclusion of Diana and Actaeon is unusual, but pcrhaps not surprising. The importance of this pancl of thc
chest is discussed at greater length on p. 142 in chapter four of this essay.
77 See the discussion in Callmann 1974, p. 12.
78Thc two manuscripts referred to are Pal. 72 in the Bibliolcca Laurenziana in Florence, and Urb. lat 63 in thc
Biblioieca Vaticana in Rome. Callmann argues that thcse carly manuscript illustrations of thc Trio@ werc likcly
by Apollonia's own hand and invcniion; sec Callmann 1974, p. 35.
only the personification of the triumphant forces. Thus, the codex in the BibliotecaLaurenziana
(Pal. 72) shows only Cupid on his cmo drawn by a pair of horses through a schematically-
rendered landscape in its image of Love's triumph (fig. 11).
In illustrating the Trion., manuscript illuminators soon drew on--and even elaborated
beyond-the text's remarkable detail so that their work came to resemble the desco imagery
discussed above. The familiar cast of characters--Samson, Hercules, Virgil and Aristotle--rnake
appearances in this body of imagery, as well. The portraya1 of the Triumph ofLove in a
manuscript of the Trion. now located in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence (ms. Strozz.
174) includes al1 four of these "Power of Women" victims accompanying Love's cmo through a
pastoral landscape (fig. 12).79 Seen clockwise from upper right are Virgil in the basket, Samson
losing his locks, the mounted Aristotle, and Hercules in a dress with spindle in hand. Here,
Hercules's foolishness is evident not only in his feminine dress, but also in Omphale's
possession of his manly attribute, the club. Also, as was customary, these famous characters are
further distinguished from the general crowd by their bearded faces and distinctive, histoncised
clothing while their partners appear in elegant, quattrocento attire. The only exception to this mle
is Hercules who is dressed in the contemporary garb of his seductress. Al1 of these characteristics
evoke the same qualities as the desco imagery discussed earlier.
A particularly noteworthy aspect of the illuminations in the Laurenziana manuscript is that
two of the historical figures shown embarassed in the Triumph of Love also appear among the
respected worthies accompanying Fame's tnumph (fig. 14). In this latter illumination, Samson
and Hercules appearflanking Fame's cum, this time in possession of their respective attributes
of manly fortitudo, the column and the club. The fact that they are portrayed twice in this
manuscript means that an individual perusing its pages would encounter depictions of Samson
and Hercules as examples of both admirable deeds and love-struck folly. The meaning of the
79 A similar dcpiction of the Triimpli of Love which incorporates thc samc four malc victims appcars in another
manuscnpt of the TriortJ i n thc Bibliotcca Riccardiana, Florcncc, MS. 1 129, f. 1''. Scc figure 13.
figures' repeated appearance was probably greatly affected by the fact that the manuscript
presents Petrarch's poems in an unconventional order.
In this codex, as in a few others,80 the Triumph of Fame strangely appears as the first of
the six, thus usurping the traditional place of the Triumph of Love.81 This reordenng, coupled
with the recurrence of figures in more than one illumination, links the images to one another in a
visual narrative distinct from that of the text in which Fame is meant to perservere well beyond
the fleeting ravages of Love. The reader first encounters Hercules and Samson depicted in
Fame's tnumph as men of action to be admired and emulated. They then reappear in the
illumination of Love's triurnph which appears later in the manuscript, this time as the pitiable,
ruined victims of female duplicity. Given that Petrarch's text describes the triumphs as a
continuous procession, these reordered images would probably have been understood in terms of
the temporal sequence in which the codex presented them. By interpreting the images in this
fashion, the pictorial use and re-use of Samson and Hercules powerfully emphasizes their fall
from greatness and virtue to shame and disgrace. As church-going parishioners, contemporary
viewers would have recognised the similarity between the parallel narrative conveyed in the
illuminations and the moralising "Power of Women" aempla used by the Church. In this case,
the portrayal of the Trionfo dPAmore is contextualised in such a way that the dangers of Love--
and women--are clearly emphasised even though the message conveyed differently than in
Petrarch's poetry. It is impossible to know, however, if the manuscript's illuminations were ever
intended to have, let alone achieved, any success as moralising imagery. The viewer7s freedom to
interpret the images as he--or she--wished is particularly strong in the case of the Laurenziana
manuscript because its illuminations would have been experienced privately by the individual.
80 Cdlmann dixusses two such texts--the Laurenziana manuscript (MS. Stroz. 174) and a codex of the Triorlfi
in the Biblioteca Vaticana, Rome, MS. Urb. lat. W. Both arc believed to have come from Apollonia di
Giovanni's workshop. Callmann 1974, cat. nos. 1 1 and 12.
81 The codex, in fact, prcfaccs Petrarch's works with a serics of seven full-page portraits of famous men, or
rrotnitri fntnosi. For more information on Ihc manuscript and reproductions of the portraits, sec Callmann 1974, p.
58, cat. no. 12, and pls. 69-75.
What is especially interesting to note about this codex is that the two famous men chosen for
inclusion are both exemplars of forfitudo. The normal balance of representatives of strength and
wisdom seems to have been abandoned. Unfortunately, little explanation for this can be found
since the patron of the manuscript is unknown. What is suggested, however, is that the imagery
illustrating the Trionfi may have been flexible enough to be made to cater to a particular patron's
Increasingly sophisticated, ornate illuminations of Petrarch's Trionfi began to appear in
the numerous manuscripts commissioned during the last quarter of the fifteenth century. One
such codex, now located in the National Gallery at London was commissioned by Lorenzo the
Magnificent himself from one of his favourite illuminators, Francesca d'Antonio del Chierico.82
Unlike the previous manuscript, Lorenzo's presents the Triumphs in their original order, leaving
aside any interpetive issues raised by altered pictorial sequences. Within the full-page illustration
of the Triumph of Love (fig. 15)' the verdant landscape and animated crowd are complemented
by only two pairs of famous lovers: the ubiquitous Samson and Delilah in the lower left, and
Phyllis and Aristotle in the lower right. The old man walking between the couples with his hands
seemingly bound may be Jupiter or Adam.83
Although the illumination's draughtsmanship and stylistic sensitivity-as evident in the
careful attention to atmospheric and linear perspectives--would have been considered of higher
quality than earlier illustrations, they were appropriate to the refined taste of the patron. The
image's sophistication is heightened by the artist's addition of an ornate border which consists of
a number of small roundels nestled within a frame of foliage dotted with songbirds. This border
rings both the main illumination and the facing page of text and each roundel contains a miniature
scene. A few of the roundels depict Lorenzo's persona1 or family devices like the laure1 tree.
82 For a more in-depth consideration of the manuscript and its conlcxt, see Rubin and Wright 1999, pp. 130-133.
83 In Petrach's account of ihc Triurnph of Lovc, hc rncntions that: "burdcned with innurnerablc bonds, / Bcforc
the chariot goes Jupiter." See Petrarch 1963, p. 11.
Others display unusual scenes like that of a young woman praying at an altar to a statue of Cupid
with the tiny words "Tibi Cupido" wntten above. The remaining roundels contain illustrations of
farnous lovers. The familiar Hercules and Omphale make an appearance in the roundels in the
upper left corner of the border which surrounds the first page of text. However, some couples not
usually depicted in illustrations of the Trionfo d'Amore also make an appearance, including Paolo
and Francesca (of the Inferno's fifth canto), Pyramus and Thisbe, and Danae and Jupiter.81 In al1
three of these pairs, the woman suffers Love's tragic consequences. Francesca is sent to hell as
punishment, Danae is tricked into losing her virginity, and Thisbe comrnits suicide. Their
inclusion constitutes a significant diversion from the convention of displaying only male victims.
However, although depictions of female sufferers are present, they are not at al1 the artist's or
viewer's focus as they are excluded from the main image which displays only Aristotle and
Samson. Since the manuscript's patron was the leamed Lorenzo de' Medici, the roundels, rather
than infiuencing the message of the illumination as a whole, were probably most important as a
means of making the image more omate and displaying the patron's familiarity with a wide range
of contemporary and antique literature.
While Lorenzo's manuscript affords a place to women sufferers in depictions of Love's
triumph, there was another woman often included in the medieval "Power of Women" series who
was allowed to appear in Trionfi imagery: the Old Testament figure of Judith. What is interesting
is that, in Trionj? imagery, she is held up as a positive role mode1 of chastity, depiste the fact that
she was often denounced as a vicious virago in other circumstances. A discussion of her
portrayal points to how thin the iine between virtuous heroine and dangerous siren could be.
The Case of Judith
Petrarch makes mention of "the Hebrew Judith, wise and chaste and strong" in his
81 Two of thcse couples are mentioned in Petrarch's pocm. For mention of Thisbc, see Petrarch 1962, p. 20, and
for Francesca (as one of "the main of Rimini"), see Petrarch 1962, p. 23.
description of the crowd accompanying the Triumph of Chastity,85 the triumph in whose
illustration she also often appears. Judith's place among the virtuous, however, was not always a
matter of course. From the patristic period through the Renaissance, the Church and its clergy had
difficulty determining its opinion of the wiiful, wily Jewess. As a result of her indeterminate
status, Judith was altemately held up as an exemplar of womanly virtue or the epitome of female
duplicity. During the Middle Ages she was often included among the viragos who comprised the
"Power of Women" series. Although Judith's murder of Holofernes was an act that rescued her
people from enslavement, the course of action she chose necessitated the seduction--and
subsequent murder--of a man by flaunting her sexuality. Holofemes's decapitation at Judith's
hand represents a particularly extreme power inversion of the sexes by showcasing the ability of
a woman to not only embarrass her lover, but to utterly destroy him.
On occasion, the dislike of Judith's power was so great that Holofemes was often added
to the throng of great men destroyed by women's wiles in medieval depictions of the "Power of
Women," despite the fact that he was traditionally associated with the devil.86 Elena Ciletti argues
that in cases such as these, "male solidarity prevails [even j over moral categories .... Once a sexual
dimension is acknowledged for the female character her identity as a legitimate, active heroine is
simply not possible."87
In the Italian Trionfi imagery, however, Judith is allowed to don a two-dimensional
identity of pure, chaste virtue in her occasional appearance in the crowd accompanying the
Triumph oflhasrity. Often she is seen with her victim's head dangling from her hand as in an
illustration in an early copy of a Trionfi manuscript from the workshop of the Master of the
85 Scc Pctrarch 1962, p. 45.
86 Ccrlinly, Holofcmcs's plcc among thc crowd of pathctic figurcs who havc trustcd in lovc t m much is
grantcd him by Pctrarch who, in descnbing the crowd, commcnts: "Thcre too is Holofcmcs, ovcrcomc I In spitc
of swords and lanccs, by thc words I And the chccks of a widow, and by lovc and slccp." Scc Pctrarch 1963, p.
87 Sec Cilctti's discussion in Cilctti 1991, p. 52. In addition, Bernardine Bamcs ha made a rclatcd obscn&m
in noting thal womcn bclonging to thc tradition of thc noblc Ninc Worthics would somctimcs bc included in thc
"Powcr of Womcn" group as wcll. Russcll 190, p. 33.
"Vitae Imperatorum" where she is accompanied by Virginia being stabbed by her father (fig. 16).
Sometimes she is shown walking among other recognizable women like Lucretia or the vestal
Tuccia as on a cassone front from the shop of Neroccio de' Landi which dates to the 1470s (fig.
17). Here, Judith still brandishes the sword she used to murder Holofemes, a sharp contrast with
Lucretia who is shown using a comparable weapon on herself in an effort to preserve her
Although Judith is included in portrayals of the followers of Chastity, she is shown
having already achieved Holofemes's demise. Ciletti has noted that the thought of a woman
killing a man must have been remarkably disturbing to the ltalian Renaissance mind, a situation
which may explain the very small number of Italian Renaissance depictions of Holofemes's
actual decapitation.89 Perhaps Judith's depiction in the Triumph of Chastity should be understood
as a containment, rather than a flaunting of the heroine's power. It is possible that her acceptance
as a pillar of virtue, particularly in the Florentine environment, may have had to do with her
prominent place in patrician commissions of chi c propaganda.90 Unfortunately, a thorough
investigation of this issue falls beyond the scope of this paper.
The Case of Phyllis and Aristotle
Thus far, this chapter has considered al1 of the "Power of Women" couples depicted in
portrayals of the Trionfo d'Amore as equal in meaning or significance. However, it is importafit
io note thai iii the Florentine contexi, Phyllis and Arisioile are depicied more frequenily ihan any
others. Furthemore, in a number of illustrations of the Trionfo dilinore, Phyllis and Aristotle
88 1 suggcst that Judith is shown with a sword simply to distinguish hcr from Salomc with the hcad of John thc
Baptist who ccrtinly n,ould no1 belong in thc honounble company associated with Chastity's triumph.
89 Cilctti 1991, p. 68.
90 Thc placc of Judith in civic commissions in Fiorcncc has long bccn of intcrcst to arl historians. For rcccnt
scholarship on thc most notablc cxamplc of Donatello's sculpture of Jrrdith m d Holofrrtres, scc Yacl Evcn, "Thc
Loggia dei Lanzi: A showcsc of fcmale subjugation," in Worrrnrr's Art Joiininl, 13, SpnnglSummcr 1991, pp.
10-14; Christinc Sperling, "Donatello's bronze Dnvid and the demands ol' Mcdici politics," in The Brrrlitrgioti
Mqniitw, 134, April 1993, pp. 318-324; and Matthcw Cooper, "Political mcssagcs in thc Mcdici Palacc gardcn,"
in Joirrtiolo/(;ardrrr Hisiory, 13, OclobcrlDcccmbcr 1993. pp. 355-768.
5 1
are the only couple illustrated even though they are not mentioned in Petrarch's text, a fact which
suggests that the couple must have particularly captured the essence of the dangers of Love and
women as Florentines perceived them (for example, see figs. 18 and 19). The couple also
occasionally appeared in the visual arts outside the context of the Trionj.
Smith has noted that the pairs of figures chosen to represent the "Power of Women"
series are selected for particular reasons, thereby becoming one of the important keys to revealing
the meaning and function of the topos in a given context.9 1 Furthermore, "Power of Women"
couples depicted in the visual arts developed differently nuanced meanings depending upon the
culture and context in which they were encountered. Smith argues that the image of the mounted
Aristotle, in particular, was "employed rhetorically, in the service of shifting arguments."92 Given
the special treatment of Phyllis and Aristotle in the art of quattrocento Florence, Smith's
comments raise the question of how this favoured couple acquired such special meaning, and
what that meaning might have been, in a quattrocento context. The case study below investigates
Smith's ideas by attempting to elucidate the possible meaning of the Phyllis and Aristotle pair in
fifteenth-century Florence.
Although the story of Phyllis and Aristotle existed in many different variations over time,
its structure drew on a classic form so that the essentials of the tale always remained constant. At
the time of the story's setting, Aristotle is advisor to a great ruler who is having difficulty
focussing on matters of state because he is overly distracted by one of his concubines. The court
attendants, becoming concerned, ask Aristotle to advise their ruler about the dangers of placing
his lust for a woman before his sovereign duty. Aristotle's philosophy has its desired effect and
the ruler ceases spending time with his concubine. She, however, (whose name changes with the
time and place of the story's telling) is filled with rage after losing control of her royal lover, and
concocts a plan to exact her revenge on the philosopher. With suggestive glances and honeyed
words, she seduces Aristotle himself. Later, overwhelmed by a desperate lust, Aristotle foolishly
agrees to fulfil one of the concubine's wishes in exchange for her favour: she wants to play an
erotic game in which she is the rider and the philosopher, her mount. Most versions of the tale
conclude with the ruler witnessing Aristotle's utter humiliation as he cavorts on al1 fours Iike an
animal with his seductress seated on his back.
The story's point--that even the wisest of men can ignore his own good advice when
pitted against a woman's wiles--is conveyed powerfully. Phyllis riding Aristotle represents the
inversion of a number of fundamental relationships: female subdues male, youth overcomes age,
and folly conquers wisdom.93 But beyond even these, the relationship between the philosopher
and the courtesan embodies another form of role reversal. As women were traditionally perceived
to be more irrational and, therefore, more animalistic than men, the image of Phyllis astride
Aristotle illustrates man made into beast, his position of control usurped by a seductive siren.9-i
The man-to-animal transition inherent in the couple's inversion was often emphasised by
depicting Aristotle bridled with a horse's bit and Phyllis wearing spurs and brandishing a whip.
A closer look at the history of the story of this famous pair of lovers reveals that there were even
further layers of meaning in their depiction during the fifteenth century.
The story of Phyllis and Aristotle seems to have appeared almost simultaneously in
sacred and secular texts, although with rather different purpose. In the thirteenth-century
collection of religious exemplu compiled and recorded by the French clergyman Jacques de Vitry
entitled the Sermones feriales et comtnmes (ca. 1228-#), Aristotle's expenence is held up as a
warning that even the wisest of men can succumb to a woman's evil wiles. Once imported into
the secular tradition of courtly love, however, Smith notes that the story was no longer about "a
man's moral condition or the fate of his soul," but became instead both poignant and comic,
93 Kunzlc 1978, p. 49; it should bc notcd that thc simultancous invcrsion of cach of thcsc rclationships rcsults in
the cquation or conncction of the wcakcr elcments of cach pairing: thus, women, youth, and Iolly becomc
intcrconncctcd, just as do the normally stronger cliaractcnsiics of inalc, malunly, and wisdom.
94 Russell 1990, p. 8.
dealing with Aristotle's "emotional experience as a lover at the mercy of the woman he loves."gj
One of the earliest versions of Aristotle's seduction to emerge from the courtly love tradition, the
Lai d'Aristote (ca. 1200-1240), came from the pen of a northern French author named Henri
d'Andeli.96 In Italy, the story later was briefly referred to in Brunetto Latini's Li Livres du Treso
of 1266, and is fully recounted in Giovanni Sercambi's De falsitatemulieris of the late fourteenth
However, medieval depictions of the mounted Aristotle were almost never associated
with aparticular text.98 Smith has pointed out that visual models were important to the
development of medieval imagery and so depictions of "Power of Women" couples were likely
based on other images rather than inspired by written sources. Furthermore, even if an artist were
working from a particular text, he probably would not have assumed his audience's familiarity
with itY With respect to the circumstances during the quattrocento, although depictions of
Phyllis and Aristotle were most often incorporated in illustrations of Petrarch's text, its influence
by the poem's content is highly doubtful for two reasons. First of all, the poem fails to explicitly
mention the couple. Secondly, as seen in the discussion above, artists were not always faithful to
the tenor or message of Petrarch's text.
The debut of Phyllis and Aristotle in visual media occurred some time after their
appearance in wntten works. At first, it most often took the form of manuscript rnarginalia (fig.
20), but gradually began to appear on choir stalls, capitals and in other peripheral decorative
95 Smith 1995. p. 45.
'36 Scc Hutchison 1966, p. 75.
97 I n I,i /.ivres, Biunctto mcntions Adam, David, Soloinoti, Sainson and Aristotlc as brought low by wonicn.
For morc on this, scc Comparctti 1966, p. p. 328 (n. 7). I n Scrwmbi's bwk, thc story is slightly difl'crcnt: hcrc,
Alcxandcr's quccn is Orsina, Aristotlc is thc king's physician, and thc philosopher is scduccd by lhc quccn's
niaid, Viola. For morc information rcgarding thc story, scc Joachim Storost, "Zur Aristotclcs-Sagc im
Mittclaltcr," Moiir~rnerttr~rtt Bnrrtbergetise: F' est g~~kJi r Derledikt KrqP, cd. G. Eis ct al. Munich, Koscl-Vcrlag,
1955, pp. 298-348.
98 Smith 1995, p. 108.
99 Smith 1995, p. 110.
zones of church interiors.10o In actuality, the iconography of the mounted Aristotle represented a
new variation on the age-old cultural play on the horse-and-rider relationship (in this case, its
inversion) which had long been employed to express power relations, especially in a moral
context.lo1 The reversa1 was further emphasised by the fact that when the topos was applied to
humans, it normally placed a woman in the horse's role as a sort of taming of the shrew.102
During the Middle Ages, many techniques were developed to "appropriately"
contextualise the mounted Aristotle. Most often, the motif was placed within visual programs
among more straightfonvardly interpreted imagery in order to ensure its reception as a cntical
statement on Aristotle's defeat, rather than a celebration of Phyllis's victory.103 In the case of
quattrocento depictions of Phyllis and Aristotle, however, there is a marked absence of such overt
Given the preference for Aristotle as Love's most prominent victim in illustrations of the
Triumph of Love, an important question arises: Why was Aristotle, a real person, cast as the wise
man in this fictional tale? Certainly, his identification with the embarrassed philosopher was not
essential to the success of the story; even in Italy, a story of the of the same substance and
- - -
100 For an cxtcnsivc discussion of the widc rangc of locations in which the Phyllis and Aristotlc motif appcarcd
throughout Europe, sec Pietro Marsilli, "Rccption et diffusion iconognphiquc du contc dc 'Aristote et Phillis' cn
Europc dcpuis lc Moyen gc," in Amoirr. Mnringe et Trnrrsgres.siorr.s air Moyen ge: Actes di1 Colloqrtc cies 24.
25, 26, cl 27 tnflrs 1983, 1984, pp. 739-269. The articlc includcs a mip which shows thc appcaricc of thc motil
in art across Europc and ofcrs a wdoguc of cxamplcs which, though not cxhaustivc, providcs a g(xd idca of thc
various oms and mcdia in which the motif could txcur.
101 Smith IW5. p. 1 13; a h , sec Kunzlc IY78, p. 49, wherc the author discusscs olher instances of horsc-and-
ridcr inversions on sixtccnth- and scvcntccnth ccntury broadshccts such as chc imagc of an ass riding a man.
102 At thc church of SI. Lawrence in Ludlow, England, Ior cxamplc, a carvcd miscricord dcpicts thc bus1 ol' a
woman in a horncd hcaddrcss (a satirical attributc in and of itsclr) with a bridlc bit in hcr mouth which was
intcndcd to indicatc the need to tme or rein in the fcmininc tcndcncy to gossip and run wild; sec Grassinger
19974 p. 99.
103 Smith notes that in manuscripts, Phyllis astridc Aristotlc appcars in thc company of othcr visual motifs
which addrcsscd thc issuc of"thc rightll and wrongul ordcring of spirit and flcsh, mind and body, rcason and
passion." At Rouen cathcdril, thc sculptcd imagc of the mountcd Aristotlc is paircd on a capital with thc imagc of
Samson wrcstling thc lion, thus pitting thc two imagcs as oppositcs: thc omcr dcpicts thc man bccomc animal,
and thc animalistic wo mi becomc mastcr, whilc the iiittcr dcpicts the propcr rclationship of man conlmlling
bcast. Scc Smith 1995, pp. 113 and 146.
structure existed but with a different cast of characters.10AThe medieval tradition of Aristotle's
particular, and very popular, inclusion in the story of the foolish philosopher may have been a
product of anti-Aristotelian sentiment in the scholastic circles which had initiated at the University
of Paris where, incidentally, Henri d'Andeli had penned the lighthearted yet satirical Lai
d'Aristote. losThis scholarly environment also produced some of the first manuscripts to be
decorated with visual and verbal marginalia that challenged or subverted the authority of the text.
Among the earliest of these codices were thirteenth-century translations of the Latin text of
Aristotle's Physics produced for scholars at Oxford which were tattooed with glosses and
additions which made fun of the text's author.106
Although the various means of poking fun at Aristotle through literature and art were
initially developed dunng the Middle Ages, the meaning of the critical visual forms, like the
mounted Aristotle, changed subtly depending upon the context in which they were employed.
The depiction of Aristotle and Phyllis during the fifteenth-century in Italy could not have meant
exactly the same thing as an image of the same from another time and place. In fifteenth-century
Italy, unlike in thirteenth-century France, Anstotle's writings were rarely cnticised within the
scholarly community. The meaning of the mounted Aristotle for a quattrocento viewer was
affected by the understanding of the philosopher's works in his or her day and age.
Although Aristotle had been considered the source of wisdom, knowledge and
philosophy across Europe throughout the Middle Ages, 107 Italian scholars of the fifteenth
103 Sabadino dcgli Aricnti's PorrefIme, wrillcn i n 1478, sharcs al1 of thc narrative structure and cvcnls of thc
Phyllis and Aristotlc talc. Its main charactcr, howcvcr, is a fictional scholar who kvas the indcnturcd scnfnt of
Franccsco Novclla, Lord of Padua. I t was vcry popular, and many cditions of il wcrc printcd bctwccn 1483 and
1540 in Bologna and Verona. Sabadino was a Bolognesc sccrctary and notary to Count Andrca Bcntivoglio. For
morc information rcgarding thc story, scc Joachim Storost, "Zur Aristotcles-Sage im Miitclaltcr," Morinrnerr!trn~
Untnlwrgerise: I;eslgai~/iir Iletretlikl Kr($, cd. G. Eis ct al. Munich, Kosel-Verlag, 1955, pp. 798-348.
105 Smith 1995, p. 69.
106 Camillc 1992, p. 72.
107 Schmitt 1983, p. 67.
century were the first to consider his works in a rather unique way. 108 Charles Schmitt has noted
that '&the special relation of humanistic techniques and ideals to Aristotelian studies which became
characteristic of most of Europe in the sixteenth century was peculiar to Italy in the
quattrocento."l09 The enthusiastic patronage of new translations of Aristotle's eihical works
increased throughout Italy as the century progressed.110 In terms of the particular reception of
Anstotelian philosophy in Florence, Eugenio Garin has observed that thoughts about how the
city should be organised and administrated, as well as the perception of what town life should be
like, seems to have been "Aristotelian" even before the city's humanist philosophers began to
explicitly recognise it as such.111
Scholasticism and humanism represented the two philosophical contexts in which
Anstotelian texts were studied and discussed during the fifteenth-century in Italy. Scholasticism
was most prominent in university circles and concentrated on Aristotle's notions of logic and
natural philosophy. The humanist approach to the study of Aristotle was characteristic of the
leamed upper class which was more concemed with the philosopher's expositions on morality.
Adherents to the humanist approach added Aristotelian moral philosophy to the study programme
of the upper classes known as the studiahumunitutis which had already included grammar,
rhetoric, poetry and history.112
Garin has suggested that Aristotelian ethics flourished in quattrocento ltaly partly
because, within its philosophy, worldly, powerful men could distinguish a prototype of the ideal
108 Aristotlc was frcqucntly paircd with Ciccro as thc two basic pillars of knowlcdgc: Aristotlc was thc sourcc of
moml instruction whilc Ciccro was mastcr of rhctoric; sec Garin 1961, p. 60.
109 Schmitt 1983, p. 1 S.
1 10 Such trnslations wcrc commissioncd by Fcdcrigo da Montcfcltro, Alfonso of Aragon, and many mcmbcrs of
thc Mcdici circlc. Garin 1961, p. 69.
1 1 1 Garin points out that Aristotlc is mcntioncd as a corncrstonc of philosophical thought as carly as Brunctto
Latini's 1.i 1.ivre.s (111 Treso, whilc by thc carly filiccnth ccntury, Donato Acciaiuoli, an influcntial quattrciccnto
Florcntinc scholar of Aristotlc's moral works, found an csscntial conncction bctwccn thc importance of thc notion
ofjusticc to socicty and thc promincncc of tht pnnciplc in Aristotlc's work. Garin 1961, pp. 60 and 68.
1 12 Schmitt 1983, p. 15. This is rcflcctcd in the hct that Aristotle is dcpictcd in the Chapel of the Pa1w.m
Pubblico in Sicna among othcr grcat figurcs [rom history.
man which mirrored their own aspirations.] 13 It is unsurprising, then, that men like Leonardo
Bmni, Ermolao Barbaro, and Ange10 Poliziano would have chosen to involve themselves
intimately in the study of Aristotle's work.1l-i From among these scholars, Bruni was the one to
play the essential role in the promotion of the humanistic study of Aristotle. His exclusive, life-
long interest in Aristotle's moral works is exemplified by his most popular translation of the
Oeconomics from medieval Latin into refined, accessible Latin.lls Bruni's translation of the
Oeconomics was exceedingly popular for more than sixty years from the time of its initial
publication in 1420.1 16The realisation significant to this discussion is that the term "economics"
referred to affairs of the family and that the third part of Aristotle's Oeconomics dealt particularly
with the relationship between husband and wife.117 Josef Soudek's study of al1 extant copies of
Bruni's translation has revealed that it was frequently grouped with a collection of other texts
whose shared character and subject matter, when considered as a whole, constituted a
"humanistic anthology of writings conceming family life."llg
During the fifteenth century, Italian humanist scholarship hailed Aristotle as the ultimate
authority on how to foster a healthy Society and be a good citizen while his most popular works
in translation described the ideal workings of the family and the proper relationship between man
and wife. Significantly, the humanists who appraised Aristotle this way were often the patrons
who commissioned the manuscripts and deschi which incorporated depictions of the philosopher
1 1.7 Gann 1961, p. 67.
! 14 Schmitt 1933, p. 15.
1 15 Schmitt 1983, pp. 67 and 71.
1 16 Thcrc wcrc a rcrnarkablc numbcr of copics in circulation during his timc which rcllcct thc work's popularity.
Soiidck 1976, p. 179.
117Soudck 1976, p. 141.
1 18 In onc manuscript which Soudek diseusses, Bruni's trinslalion ws groupcd witli "an ortion of unknown
authorship upon thc occasion of thc tvcdding of an unidcntificd Dukc of Milan, and an ontion by Guarino at a
similtir occasion"; s Soudck statcs, "Thc orations dclivcrcd at wcddings arc dcdicatcd to deliberalions of thc 'art
of matnmony', a scicncc, Guanno points out towards thc cnd of Iiis oration, which is comparable to agricultural
'husbandry' or thc military craft of navigation. I n othcr words, thc two oritions on matnmony belong to a
litcriturc on a morc spccialinxi subjcct maltcr, thcn known as thc rrsr~xoric~, within thc largcr ficld of cconomics."
Thus, thc Lhrcc tcxts in this particulr csimple fcmn a "kind of humanistic anthology of wntings conccrning
family lifc." Scc Soudck 1'976, p. 141.
being ridden by Phyllis.119 This comection between philosophy and patronage suggests what
may have come to mind when an educated fiteenth-century Italian, after putting down his copy
of Aristotle's Oeconornics, began to peruse a copy of Petrarch's Trionji which likely displayed
Anstotle in his most embarrassing moment within the illustration of the Triumph of Love. For a
philosopher who literally wrote the book on how to be a responsible, mode1 citizen and who
claimed expert knowledge of socially appropriate male-female relationships, his capitulation to a
woman's wiles would have been a remarkably powerful, layered inversion. It is impossible to
know, however, if this inversion was seen in a humorous or ominous way.
The notion that imagery of the mounted Aristotle had particularly strong civic resonances
seems more credible when one considers the motif's appearance on the walls of the communal
palace of San Gimignano. The frescoes seem to have been executed by Memmo di Filippuccio
between 1305 and 13 15. C. Jean Campbell has done extensive research into what the San
Gimignanese Phyllis and Anstotle may have meant to its viewers at the time of its execution
during the early fourteenth century (fig. 21). The painted couple appear among other frescoed
stories of men seduced and fooled by women and were located in the private tower room of the
communal judge, orpodcit.12o Campbell speculates that these images were probably meant to
encourage fairness and mercy in the judge's rulings by acting as a regular reminder of human
folly and error.121 She concludes that the imagery is a visual manifestation of a vibrant poetic
culture that was politically engaged.122 The same may be true of the later, quattrocento depictions
1 19 Callmann's rcscarch into Apollonia di Giovanni, whosc workshop, as mcntioncd carlicr, prtxiuccd a number
of cirsclri and manuscripts which dcpict Phyllis and Aristotlc, has rcvcalcd that many of his commissions camc
from thc bcst amilics in humanist circlcs in Florcncc, including Lconardo Bruni. Manuscripts of thc fi i onfi ncrc
produccd for Fcdcngo da Montcfcltro of Urbino (Bibliotcca Apostolica Vaticana, Romc, MS. Urb. lat. 683) and a
mcmber of the dclla Stul family (Bibliotcca Riccardiana, Florcncc, MS. 1 179.) Callmann 1974, p. 33 and 57-58.
120 Thcsc siorics includc what Campbcll bclicvcs to bc a Baihhousc romance and a story about a Prodigai Son
(no1 thc Biblical talc). Scc Campbcll 1997, chaptcr 3. Thc San Gimignano dcpiction of Phyllis and Aristotlc is
slightly diffcrcnt than lhosc of lhc quatlroccnlo bccausc il appcars in two sccncs. Thc first shows Phyllis trying to
lurc Aristollc away (rom a book hc is rcading whilc thc sccond sccnc dcpicts thc momcnl of hcr triumph on
Aristotlc's back.
121 Campbcll 1997, p. 184.
122 Campbcll 1997, pnssiin.
of the same theme.123 Furthemore, the use of Hercules may have had particular resonances i n
the context of Florence where he appeared on the city's seal. 12.4
As mentioned earlier, the image of the mounted Aristotle may also have involved a sense
of humor. This quality seems particularly evident in a mid-fifteenth century print by an unknown
artist, one of the few quattrocento instances in which "Power of Women" iconography appears
outside the context of illustrations of the Trionfz (fig. 22). Little is known about the work and the
only extant version was printed when the plate was wom-down and scratched. The image bears a
marked resemblance in its small size and rectangular shape to the tarot cards being produced at
the same time. The artist has depicted Phyllis and Aristotle in a virtual pictorial void with only
their clothes and a schematic rendering of a lawn providing any sense of time or place. This
simplicity distils the couple's significance to its timeless essentials as an image of sex role
In the print, Phyllis brandishes a rod rather than her habitua1 whip. This change seems to
alter the image's significance. The whip she is often shown using, a variation on a cat-O-nine-
tails, appears in other images as a disciplinary tool used on animals, as in the depiction of Mars
urging his team of horses across the sky in the frescoed vestibule of the Palazzo Pubblico in
Siena by Taddeo di Bartolo (fig. 23). 125 Such a whip could even be used as an instrument of
punishment for humans as in a fresco from the Oratorio di Mochirolo at Milan in which St.
Arnbrose flogs religious heretics. Conversely, the attribute of the rod is that of a teacher, as in the
depiction of Saint Augustine's teacher in Benozzo Gozzoli's frescoes of the life of the saint i n
Sant'Agostino is San Gimignano. The rod may also allude to Aristotle's state of sexual arousal
123 At this p i n t il is intcrcsting to notc that whcn Albrcchl Drcr was commissioncd to dcsign thc dccorativc
programme for thc Nurcmbcrg town hall, hc includcd dcpictions of ccrtain "Powcr of Womcn" couplcs in thc
dcsign, placing thcm in roundcls within thc spandrcls of thc window archcs. Although what arc bclicvcd to bc thc
prcparatory driwings wcrc ncvcr cxccutcd, thcy indicatc thc appropriatcncss of thc "Powcr of Womcn" iconography
in a public vcnuc of a plitical naturc. Drcr's drawing is now in the Picrpont Morgan Libmry at Ncw York.
12.4 Smith 1995, p. 196.
125 For ii rcprcduction of this dctail, scc Sczncc 1953, p. 129, lg. 42.
since the word for "rad"-"virga9'--had erotic connotations during the Middle Ages.l26Therefore,
whereas the depiction of Phyllis with attributes like a whip, the reins of a bridle, and spurs
emphasised Aristotle's transformation into an irrational beast, the attribute of the rod plays
amusingly on the notion that Phyllis, being wiser than Aristotle in the ways of love, usurps the
role of teacher, her lessons being those of love rather than geometry or ethics.
The humorous nature of the Phyllis and Aristotle print is unsurprising given Patricia
Emison's comment that prints were a medium in which Italian artists could indulge thejr
audience's penchant for lighthearted entertainrnent.127 The low rank of pnnts on the hierarchy of
artistic media brought a greaterfreedom to printmakers in allowing more latitude in their selection
of satirical subject matter which might have been considered less suitable for a more respected
artistic medium.128 Emison has also pointed out that "the history of early prints contributes not
only to the history of humour and of private life, but also of subjectivity."l2~ She argues that
prints were probably based on paintings more often than texts specifically because they were not
intended to approximate textual authority.130 Emison's comment offers a way of understanding
how the medium of printmaking may have influenced the experience of the pair's image. Her
emphasis of the subjectivity of prints not only underscores the difficulty of pinning down the
meaning of their depiction because of its inherent subjectivity, but it also brings this chapter's
discussion full circle in its acknowledgment that "Power of Women" imagery could have been
interpreted from different perspectives and on different levels during the fifteenth century. in
short, a quattrocento depiction of Phyllis and Aristotle--or of most other "Power of Women"
couples--seems to have been a multivalent image whose changing significance depended upon the
126 Campbcll 1998, p. 245-246 (n. 43).
1 27 Emison 1995, p. 6.
1 % Talbot 1986, p. 191.
129 Emison 1995, p. 15; Charlcs Talbot notcs, "As thc papcr itself convcycd no scnsc of pcrmancncc, so wcre thc
images pnntcd upcin i t oficn trcatcd with passing rcgard. Thc survival of prinls rom thc fiiiecnih and sistccnih
ccnturics indicatcs, as might bc cspcctcd, that ordinary woodcuts of thc sorl that would appcar on popular
broadshcets wcrc niost l i kel y to bc ilirown out." TalboL 1986, p. 195
130 Emison 1995, pp. 6-7.
6 1
context or medium in which it was encountered.
The development of depictions of Phyllis and Anstotle after the fifteenth century provides
an interesting footnote to this discussion of the couple's changeable significance in art. Whereas
during the quattrocento depictions of the pair generally portrayed Phyllis as a young lady of the
upper classes dressed in fine clothinp, some early cinquecento rendenngs in northem Europe and
Italy seem to cast her as a prostitute. 131 Italian examples include a bronze casting by an unknown
artist of the sixteenth century (fig. 24) and a print by the Master of 1515.132 Phyllis's
resemblance to a prostitute in these later depictions is perhaps not surprising given that she was
often cast as a courtesan in the legend of her seduction of Anstotle. However, this pictonal shift
may point to another parallel change in the imagery's meaning since it coincides with certain
social developments in Italian cities. Although prostitution had been openly encouraged in many
Italian cities during the quattrocento as a means of combatting homosexual activity, it had become
a serious problem by the early decades of the cinquecento.133 Such social circumstances may
have led artists to appropnate the Phyllis and Anstotle tale as a medium of social cnticism in a
new way, indirectly reflecting a shift from social concem with the behaviour of upper class
women to concem about the more obviously unruly urban prostitutes.
Although "Powcr of Women" imagery in Italian art of the fifteenih ceniury appeared
13 1 Charlcs Zika has notcd thc association of Phyllis with a prostitutc in sixtccntli-ccntury northcrn Europcan
imagcry, although he cites hcr dcpiction in clothing likc tlamboyant outits and hats in ccrkiin works as his
cvidcncc. Scc Zika 1995, p. 179. it is inicrcsting io notc that Aristotlc and Phyllis wcrc occasionally dcpicicd as
mcnibcrs of the lower class which, oncc again, convcys a vcry diffcrcnt satincal skitement than the couple had
prcviously. An cxamplc of this is a choir skill carving in the collcgiatc church al Hcx)gstractcn which wcrc
sculptcd by Albrccht Gclmers bctwecn 153 1 and 1%. This altcrnatc idcntity suggesis the llcxibility of the motif
132 Rcgarding thc Mastcr of 1515 and his depiction of crotic dominating kmalc nudcs, onc of whom is Phyllis,
scc Emison 1995, pussirn.
133 With respect to thc situation in Florcncc, both the government and the patrician class werc frustmtcd with thc
city's prostitutcs who wcrc tcm numcrous tu control casily and who did not want to rernain in thc city quartcr sct
asidc Ior them; scc Trcxlcr 1981, p. 1003 and pussitn. Rcgarding a similar situation in Fcrrdra, sec Shcmck IWX.
pp. 33-34.
predominantly in depictions of Petrarch's Trionji, it did not have a static meaning. It seems to
have offered the means to a variety of ends ranging from comforting a new mother's nerves to
putting women and men in their proper places. However, the topos seems to have been malleable
enough to have functioned on various levels beyond those which were intended by patron or
artist. The couples associated with the topos which Italian artists chose to represent more
frequently or in particular situations seem to have been carefully selected to comment upon
particular aspects of the society which produced them. In the context of the unsettled social
circumstances of urban Italian centres, the "Power of Women" topos seems to have offered a
suitable means of commenting on prevalent social trends and fears. Therefore, it appears that
quattrocento uses of "Power of Women" iconography represent another complex chapter in the
development of the topos which Smith has described as follows:
The history of the "Power of Women" topos is not one of logical development, one stage
superceding the next, but a sequence of instantiations based on the repetition of certain
elements and variation of others, with each occasion of its usage opening up new
possibilities for yet further variation, but without closing off the availabiiity of its
The ambiguity of quattrocento depictions of the "Power of Women" couples extended to
every level of their interpretation. Modem scholars cannot be sure if a given image was intended
to be satirically funny or ominously serious, nor be certain about how they would have actually
been received by their viewers. Furthemore, although portrayals of the "Power of Women"
topos probably did, as anthropologists suggest, help to reinforce the social nom, i t seems
unlikely that they did not also function as dangerously enduring images with the capacity to
inspire female fantasies of male domination, especially when encountered on birth trays and
marriage chests. However, what seems certain is that the "Power of Women" iconography had
significant ties to the camivalesque atmosphere of civic celebrations due to its predominance i n
the illustration of the triumphal processions modelled after them in Petrarch's Trionfi.
134 Smith 1995, p. 186.
To conclude, it is interesting to note that uniquely Italian contextualizations of "Power of
Women" iconography may have lessened by the end of the fifteenth century. Although imagery
derived from Petrarch's Trionfi had initially been an exclusively Italian phenornenon, its greatest
popularity dunng the sixteenih ceniury lay not in Italy, but north of the Alps.13-i With the
flounshing of printmaking across Europe at that time, the illustration of, or reference to the
Trionfi became more homogeneous due to the exchange of prints across cultural boundanes. 136
Furthemore, by the sixteenth century, the inclusion of "Power of Women" iconography seems to
have largely disappeared from manuscript illuminations of the Trionfi (see fig. 25)137 and from
print media directed towards the upper classes.l38
135 d'Essling and Mnlz 1902, p. 183. Musacchio has notcd that in a 1579 invcntory of Mcdici possessions,
Picro dc' Medici's birth try which dcpicts the 'rirnrrph of 1:arne was idcntificd by thc catlogucrs as 1i hunting
sccnc. This misidcntiSication indicatcs thal thc 'riotiji imagcry had lost a grcat dcal of populanty, probably
bccausc Pctrarch's works hod gonc out of stylc by tht timc. Scc Muscchio 1998, p. 79.
136 On this subject, scc Levenson et al. 1973, p. W.
137 Mamitta rclcgatcd thc idcntifiablc lovcrs to the roundcls ncstlcd within thc Sraming clcmcnts, only onc 01'
which dcpicts a "Powcr of Womcn" couplc--Hcrculcs and Omphalc appcar in thc uppcr lcft corner.
138 Gricco 1997, p. 72.
Chapter III
Quattrocento Courtly Love Imagery
Although the "Power of Women" figures incorporated into depictions of Petrarch's
Trion$ may be the most overt examples of sex role reversals in quattrocento art, other forms did
exist. One such form had developed from the aristocratie tradition of courtly love, an integral part
of the social ideais of medieval chivalry.1 Its imagery exemplified that a woman, aside from the
lasciviousness or trickery employed by "Power of Women" figures, could also gain the upper
hand over the male object of her desire by invoking the forces of love and romance to keep him in
"astate of amorous servitude."2
Medieval Chivalry, Courtly Love and Quattrocento Italy
During the fifteenth century, the Italian passion for recovering the ideas and forms of
antique culture did not eliminate interest in more recent history, especially the age of chivalric
knights-errant3 As Aldo Scaglione notes, the republican communes and seignorial courts of the
quattrocento display a "continuity between medieval chivalsy and Renaissance civic service."4
The chivalric code had continued to play a role in shaping political and military decisions
throughoiit the century.5 Furthemore, most European aristocracies or upper classes of the period
remained "eager to found chivalric orders; toumaments and jousts were more the fashion than
1 Although scholars havc iakcn issuc with the tcrm "courtly lovc" and qucstion i f what ii purports to rcprcscnt
cvcr rcally cvisted during the Middlc Agcs, such spcculation is irrclcvant to this discussion. My intcrcst hcrc lics
in what fiftcciith-ccntury Italians pcrccivcd thc tradition of courily lovc to bc.
2 Smith 1995, p. 2.
-7 I n fact, as Cccil Clough has notcd, "thc chivalric clcmcnts wcrc actually secn as part OC thc inhcriiancc of
Antiquity, just as was Christianity. The rcvivcd intcrcst in thc classical world of twclfth-ccntury scholars was
largcly rcsponsiblc Ior this vicw." Clough 1990, p. 38.
4 Scaglionc 1991, p. 218.
5 To prcscnt only two cxamplcs: Philip thc G d , Dukc of Burgundy, challcngcd thc Duke of Glouccslcr in
conncction with a disputc about Holland in 1425, and Jcan Ic Bon ncarly los1 his kingsliip duc to dccisioiis tic
madc bascd on thc chivalric codc. Scc Huizinga 1957, pp. 3W201.
ever before; the romances were rewritten, and the cuit of courtly love re-established."6 Even by
the dawn of the sixteenth century, members of the social elite were still pursuing aspects of the
chivalric ideal.7
While it may seem unsurprising that chivalnc culture persisted in the northem Italian
princedoms,g many scholars have doubted its survival in the Tuscan republics due to what they
perceived as irreconcilable differences between the political and social structures of the commune
and those of the medieval chivalric world. Recent scholarship, however, has acknowledged and
endeavored to explain the survival of chivalry in urban centres like Florence. C. Jean Campbell
has argued that, for quattrocento Tuscans, '"the court' was something more than a political
organization. It was also an imaginative construct, a poetic fiction, which identified itself in
relation to, but did not share an absolute identity with, the political entity we cal1 the court."', It
was within this "imaginative construct" that aspects of medieval chivalry found new life and
purpose. In fact, The pursuit of chivalric ideals seems to have persisted in Italy even when it had
begun to decline in France and Germany.10 Inventories of quattrocento libraries reflect a strong
preference for French romances, especially in the northern ltalian courts of Lombardy and the
Veneto.11 Furthemore, the staging of lavish public jousts and tournaments inspired by knightly
combat remained commonplace in larger centres in both northern and central ltaly throughout the
6 Huizinga 1957, p. 1 W.
7 Huixinga 1957, p. 19'7; scc also Clough 1990, p. 38.
8 Thc north lialian pnnccdoms somctimcs cvcn rctaincd fcudal rtrodris op~rnrirli, making i t cntircly unsurprising
Ihat chivairic idcals iiiiglii coriiinuc io bc p~irsucd i n certain aspccts. in Fcmrii, or cxampic, i l sccms thai thc
"rcvival of chivaliy was madc possiblc by the ncw climatc of rcfcudaliation which was part of thc succcssful Esic
policy, consciously pursucd ... as an instrument of social and political control" whcrcin prcfcrcncc and social
~idvanccmcnt were indicatcd by grdnts of land givcn to men closcly involved with the Este govcmmcnt; scc
Scaglionc 1991, pp. 365-766. SCC also Scaglionc 1991, p. 413 (n. 64) which dirccts thc intcrcstcd rcdcr to
Trcvor Dcan's Inrld orrd I'ower in lare Medievo1I;errnrn: Me Rrrle of the Ii.sre, 1350-1450 (Cainbridgc,
Cambridgc University Press, 1988).
9 Campbell 1997, p. 20.
1 O Scaglionc 199 1, p. 264.
1 1 Frcnch romance texts faroutnumbcrcd the sum of Italian works in the collcctions. Sec Woods-Marsden 1988,
p. 33. Frcnch was also thc dominant litcrary languagc of northcrn Italy; in thc Vcncto they cvcn crcatcd a hybnd
languagc known today as Franco-Vcncto, an llaiian dialect peppered with French vocabulary. Many surviving
ltalian Srcscocs display inscriptions in French rathcr than Italian; see Woods-Marsdcn 1988, p. 21.
quattrocento, especially during times of festivity.12 Many camival songs have knightly feats or
love and its pursuit as their subject. For example, one cantocamascialesche consists of a sort of
dialogue between honourable knights and the evil Turks they have vanquished.13 One song,
wntten in homage to the almond, the first fruit of spnng-the ideal time for courtly romance--
makes it obvious that the tradition of courtly love powerfully lived on in what Konrad
Eisenbichler has termed "the festive psyche":
Chi ha I'animo gentile,
d'amore sguita Io stile.
E' si dice che I'amore
agli amanti gran diletto:
e ped questo signore
s' d'amor fatto suggetto,
e per6 porta ne1 petto
questo segno peregrino,
che Io colse ne1 giardino
d'una dama signorile.14
Medievai chivalnc culture also survived in fifteenth-century visual art. During the Middle
Ages, the feudal hierarchy and its chivalric ideals were often turned upside down in the creation
of humorous manuscript marginalia, as in an image of the role reversa1 of man and animal
wherein men are depicted defending a castle against besieging rabbits (fig. 27). Many other
marginalia played with the role reversa1 of man and woman. For example, illuminators drew upon
the language of knightly chivalry in creating the satirical image of a joust in which a woman is
about to unseat a mounted knight (fig. 38). In a fufihrr comic twist, the lady knight is s h o w
12 I n 1469, thc Mcdici hcld a jousting toumamcnl i n which thc young Lorcn7.o participatcd as cntcrbinmcnt kir
visiiing dignitarics. Events like the Medici joust were lavish flirs which rcquircd thc scrviccs of rcnowncd
arlists to crcatc a visual uthenticity. Vci~occliio dcsigncd thc pcnnani carricd by Lorcnm, whilc othcr l'cstivitics
of a similar nalurc cnlisicd thc scrviccs of artisb such as Lconardo da Vinci who was hircd in thc 140s and '90s
to dcsign ostcntatious jousts and colourful lcnls and costumcs. Scc Clough 1990, p. 30 and p. 45.
13 Thc song is cntitlcd C(~rrzorrn de' iirclri e Cuvdieri and appcars in Singlcton 1936, pp. 81 -82.
14 This exccrpt was takcn (rom a song cntitlcd Corizotin delln Motidorln which appcars in Singlcton 1936, pp. 55-
56. 1 havc translatcd il to rcad: "Whocvcr has a noblc soul, 1 Canics on thc manncr ol' lovc. II And if onc says that
lovc 1 is a grcat dcliglit io lovcrs: 1 thcn such a gcntlcman 1 bccamc thc subjcct of lovc, 1 and camcs in his brcast 1
this rarc mark, I that hc pluckcd from thc gardcn 1 of a rcfincd lady."
using not a lance, but a distaff, a stock symbol normally associated with proper female behaviour
and discipline. Philippe Verdier has noted that the topsy-turvy notion of women as the
dominating sex in marginalia was particularly common in scenes involving falconry or chess
playing, both of which will bs discussed later in this chapter.15
The courtly love tradition inspired a great deal of sex role reversal imagery because the
idea of a heterosexual relationship in which the woman played the controlling role was an integral
part of the cultural construct of the medieval knight. For quattrocento society, the literary legacy
of chivalric figures like Lancelot suggested that the true knight errant could only be great if he had
a lady love to whom he could pledge himseif in arnorous servitude. Although such a lady did not
necessarily initiate the courtly love affair, she came to possess much of the power and importance
in the relationship once it was established. She not only decided whether or not to accept the offer
of an affair, but also, in accepting a lover, she experienced a significant social elevation from her
new role as the source of inspiration for her lover's deeds. Interestingly, the story of Phyllis's
calculated manipulation of Aristotle, often seen as a moral waming, was metamorphosed into "a
celebration of the power of courtly love," as in Henri d'Andeli's Lai d'Aristote. 16
As imagery inspired by courtly love developed, it acquired a characteristic visual language
and iconography, many elements of which were visual literalisations of metaphors employed in
courtly love literature. One of the most prominent of these metaphors equated the experience of
hunting game with the seduction of a lover. Andreas Capellanus's De Amore, a popular twelfth-
century treatise on love, explains that the word "amor" was derived from the verb "amo",
meaning "to catch orbe caught." Therefore, as Michael Camille explains, the lover becomes "both
the hunter and the hunted, both master and slave to his own desire."l7The female object of desire
in the amorous hunt is also cast, therefore, as both huntress and prey. Courtly love imagery often
15 Verdier 1975, p. 139.
16 Smith 1995, p. 72.
17 As discusscd i n Camillc 1998, p. 12.
reflected this empowerrnent of women. Female agency in the world of courtiy love is evident in a
medieval marginalium which shows a woman with numerous dogs who are in pursuit of a stag
which was a cornrnonly reco,gised metaphor for the hunted male lover (fig. 29). A late medieval
model-book sketch offers a more straightfonvard example in displaying a young woman in
sexual pursuit of a partner as she fires an arrow at her male target (fig. 30). 18
The Depiction of Fifteenth-Century Courtly Lovers
During the quattrocento, artists produced a considerable body of work whose inspiration
lay in the tradition of courtly love, much of which depicted the inverted relationship of a man in
humble submission to the control of his lady love. Such imagery frequently appeared on objects
intended for use by a woman such as trinket boxes and mirror cases. A painted coffer lid by
Domenico di Bart010 entitled The Offering of the Hem and dating to around 1438 displays a
young man with downcast eyes and a hand to his breast standing humbly before a woman in a
flowery meadow (fig. 3 1).19 Both figures are expensively dressed as appropriate to the coffer's
richly gilded sides and handles. The young man is shown in the act of offering his heart to the
woman before him. Despite her aloof, rigid stance, the lady's approval is evident in the hand she
extends to accept the heart.
The moment depicted on the coffer's lid affords the woman the position of control. With
the man al her mercy, the lady is empowered to decide if the love deciared wili be accepted. The
sex roie reversai embodied in the image is especiaily emphasised in the body language of the
figures. Although it was a woman who was taught to keep her eyes downcast in the presence of
men, it is the male lover who does not meet the gaze of his partner.20
The pictonal medallions on the coffer's sides add further layers of meaning to the image
18The model-book pagc is by an unknown Tuscan artist and is locatcd in thc Pierpont Morgan Libmry, Ncw
York, Drawing 11, fol. 14~.
19 The coffer was fomcrly in the Schlossmuseum, Berlin.
20 Rcgarding thc carcful rcstfiction of thc fcrnalc gazc, scc notc 18 on p. 9 in chaptcr one of this cssay.
on the lid as a courtly love exchange. One medallion depicts a lion capturing a stag, an image
which, as mentioned earlier, draws upon the iconographie tradition of the hunted hart as a
metaphor for the love-struck male. The stag's capture suggests the sequence of events which
likely led to the situation depicted on the lid, a connection which is clarified in a medieval
manuscript illumination displaying the offering of the heart found in a codex in the Bodleian
Library (fig. 32). Through the illuminator's use of continuous narrative, a young man appears
twice: first, on the right, struggling with Cupid and aftenvards, on the left, offering his hem--
now wounded by love's arrow--to a lady. Here it is clear that the young man's offer of his heart
to the lady is a direct result of having lost a struggle with the powerful force of the god of Love.
The sentiment embodied in the heart's exchange on the coffer lid also seems to share the
spirit of a carnival Song later written by Lorenzo the Maguificent about a young man's search for
the heart he has lost. The young lover eventually finds it in the hands of a beautiful lady and
redises his amorous enslavement. He does not feel distress at the lady's act of theft, but instead
worships her saying: "To thee, O Love, let thanks be given; 1 for 1 have found my heart at last."21
Another carnival Song by an unknown author entitled Camonudel Core, or "Song of the heart,"
declares without equivocation: "Chi si fa servo d'amore, gli convien donare '1 core" (One who
becomes the servant of love, must give it his heart).22
A woman's acquisition of a man's heart, however, did not need to be facilitated by a
romantic go-between like Cupid, as a quattrocento print depicting an aggressive pursuit of male
affection quickly proves (fig. 33). Dating to the latter half of the fifteenth century, the print shows
the dramatic image of a young woman extracting a young man's heart from his open chest while
he is helplessly tied to a tree. It is unclear whether Love or the young lady is responsible for the
youth's capture and imprisonment, but it is evident that it is the latter who, in her freedom,
2 1 In Italian, the lines rad: "Ringnzio sie tu, Arnorc, 1 Ch'io l'ho purc al fin trovato." Thcy arc takcn frorn a
pocm which is citcd in Bowrd 1960, p. 335, and appears as poern 11, lines 3-4 in Lorenzo's Scritli Scelli as edited
by E. Bigi.
22 Thc Song frorn which thc cxccrpt was takcn appears in Singleton 1936, pp. 67-68. The translation is rny own.
possesses control of the situation. She is also awarded the more prestigious placement in the
composition in her appearance on the heraldic right, a place which pictorial tradition normally
afforded the male.23
As the development of printed images and the increase in the demand for secular imageq
coincided, workshop printmakers often borrowed themes and compositions from the late
medievai decorative arts and manuscript marginalia,24 including motifs associated with courtly
love. This wedding of pictorial content and artistic medium produced prints like that discussed
above which belong to a group of twenty-four known as the "Otto Prints." The prints were
grouped together for a number of reasons. First of dl , many of them are believed to be by a
Florentine printmaker named Baccio Baldini or members of bis workshop. Secondly, their "Fine
Manner" style seems to date them to the same period between 1465 and 1485. Finally, the prints
share a great deal in common. Most of them display secular themes dealing with love and are
circular in shape because they were meant to be pasted inside the toilet boxes or small chests that
young ladies received as gifts during their engagement25 The name of the group of prints stems
from the fact that impressions of most of the plates at one time belonged to a collection amassed
by Ernst Peter Otto in the eighteenth century.26
One amorous pnnt from the Otto group, also attnbuted to Baccio Baldini, is particularly
interesting because of its compositionai and iconographic complexity (fig. 34). The round pnnt
has a central circle containing the empty outiines of two coats of arms which is nnged by two
concentric fields of imagery. The outer ring is filled by a garland wrapped with a banner bearing a
23 Grossingcr 1997, p. 59. Michacl Camille notes that in images of Adam and Evc, Evc is normally dcpictcd to
Adam's lefl on the henldic right. The inversion of this tradition in images of scx rolc reversa1 kas preccdcnt in the
Middlc Agcs in thc cxamplc of a pursc dccontcd with a pair of courtly lovcrs; thc woman appcars on thc heraldic
nghl. Sec Camillc 1998, pp. 14-18. Such an arrangement of the figures is oflcn the case in quattrocento prints of
amorous couples.
24 Russcll 1990, p. 21.
25 The spaccs lcft empty in cach of the prints for coals of arms indictc the scrics's popularity as cach platc could
havc been repnnted on many occasions, cach timc adding in thc appropriate anns or devices of the patron and his
lady with pen and ink. See Levcnson et al. 1973, p. xvi, and Hind 1970, p. 86.
26 Sec Hind 1970, p. 85, and TlieIllrrslrntedBartsclr 1978ff., v. 24, Commenlary, Pari 1, pp. 1-7-29
7 1
motto about love: "AMOR VVOL FEPE], E DOVE FEPE] NoNN, AMORE NON PVO. " ~~ The
inner ring incorporates four roundels depicting a hare, a stag, a dog, and perhaps a donkey which
separate four narrative scenes. The bottom scene shows a woman, her skirts and nbbons
whipping violently in the air, aggressively wrestling a man to the ground in order to extract his
heart from his exposed chest. The scenes to the left and right depict, respectively, a fool with a
naked woman and a nude woman with a man in a bathtub. The topmost scene shows a young
man bound naked to a tree.28
The three scenes of lovers in the pnnt present images of women actively "seducing" men.
The women seem guaranteed to succeed in their amorous hunt, either through lascivious
seduction or straiphfonvard apgression. The bottom scene of female violence is closely related to
the pnnt discussed earlier which depicts a woman wrenching a heart from a man's chest (see fig.
33) and must have been playful in nature given the physical impossibility of such an event. In the
scenes of the bathtub and the fool, the aggressiveness of the women is evident in their nudity
which, in this case, acts as an indicator of their lascivious and deceptive natures. Their goal is
clearly the seduction of their male companions. The satirical nature of the print's imagey is
confirmed through the inclusion of a fool as one of the women's victims. The incorporation of
the fool stems from a Northem European tradition which perceived him as the embodiment of
human ignorance and irrationality.29 The fool was especially renowned for his poor judgment in
encounters with the opposite sex because "he is ruled by his passions in sexual matters."so His
presence in the pnnt impacts upon the surrounding imagery, implying that the men in the other
27 Thc scroll's tcxt translates: "Love rcquires faith, and whcre thcrc is no faith, Iovc is powcrlcss." Sec The
IllrrstrntedAartscli 1978ff., v. 24, Commentary, Part 1. p. 140, cal. no. 2403.021: the inscription appears in two
nthcr Otto Prints, as well.
2gThe scroll Iluttering around the naked young man bound to a tree at the top of the pnnt rcads: "DVM FATA
SINV[N]T" -- "while the fatcs permit". Scc Tlw IllristraledBartscli 1978ff., v. 24, Commcntary, Part 1, p. 140,
cal. no. 2403.02 1 .
29 In the Norlhem European trddition, cspccially ater the publishing of Sebastian Brant's Narrenscluflin 1494, a
fml was uscd to show woman's truc, scductivc naturc and dissuade othcr mcn from playing the fool in becoming
hcr prey. Scc Pigcaud 1987, p. 47.
30 Grossinger 1997, p. 108.
scenes should be seen as irrational victims of female seduction due to the grouping and, therefore,
implicit equation of their situations with that of the fool. In conjunction with such a reading of the
print, the last scene of a youth bound to a tree seems to suggest that young men can never escape
the chahs of love. The image seems to cleverly reverse or invert the notion of the bound Cupid
which is emblematic of chastity, thereby representing the triumph of concupiscence. The roundels
also contribute references to the courtly love atmosphere of the print. The image of the stag
rnetaphorically reminds the viewer of the arnorous pursuit and capture of men by women. The
roundel depicting the dog could symbolise fidelity in love, but it seems more likely that it alludes
to female lust and sexuality.
Another popular courtly love motif which was often used in quattrocento art was the
exchange of a garland between two lovers. A late medieval artist's model-book by an unknown
Tuscan which is now found in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York employs the motif in
displaying a lady crowning the man kneeling before her with a wreath or garland (fig. 35). The
woman's domination of the love relationship is evident in the connotations of the young man's
humble posture, which the artist borrowed from the medieval traditions of a knight swearing
fealty to his sovereign or a vassal declaring loyalty to his lord. Although, as Joan Kelly has
noted, the literature of courtly love "metaphorically extended the social relation of vassalage to the
love relationship,"3 1 depictions of lovers literalised the metaphor in concrete visual terms. The
motif also recalls a fictional form of love popular in the south of France called "fin'amors" in
which the lady was referred to as "mi dons," or "my lord," by her male pursuer. In becoming the
"iord," the lady was allowed to adopt "the position of a powerful man in the feudal hierarchy" to
which her lover becomes subject.32 But it is the "talismanic" nature of the garland which signais
the amorous nature of the model-book scene as its bestowal symbolised the woman's willingness
31 Kelly 1984, pp. 2-23.
32 Camillc 1998, p. 12.
to accepta romantic liaison with the man to whom she offers it.33 The garland's meaning, despite
its lack of a direct literary precedent, is evident in a medieval illumination of Aristotle's seduction
in which Phyllis attempts to lure the philosopher from his studies (fig. 3 6 ) 3 Here, the artist has
given Phyllis a circular wreath in her left hand to indicate her lascivious intent to wield her
ferninine wiles.
The garland's symbolism was understood in the fifteenth century. It is referred to in
Poliziano's poetic record of the 1469 Medici joust where the young Lorenzo is said to have
requested a garland from his mistress to Wear throughout the tournament as a sign of her
affection.35 One of the Otto Prints depicts a young, well-dressed couple enacting the exchange of
the wreath (fig. 37). The man humbly genuflects before the young woman, his arms crossed over
his chest in a reverential, respectful gesture while she places a garland on his head. The pairing is
approved by the radiant Sun which hangs in the sky above the lovers.
In another Otto print depicting a similar garland exchange (fig. 38), the young couple's
union is evidently expedited by a flying Cupid who has just shot an arrow at the young man with
a falcon on his wrist. The two lovers appear to either side of an empty space left for the later
inclusion of patronal coats of arms. At the bottom of the image, a dog lies tamed and muzzled.
Aside from the garland, the young man's falcon also indicates the image's amorous nature as a
symbol of male sexual desire. In the courtly love tradition, the hunting and trapping of a lover
was often likened to the careful luring of a falcon to the glove with a morsel of meat, an analogy
which, in Michael Camille's words, made the bird and its use in the hunt "the pre-eminent
symbolic system for articulating relationships between men and women."36 Small furry dogs
were often employed as the female equivalent of the falcon. Therefore, the dog's muzzled state in
33 Coervcr 1997, p. 208.
34 As Robcrta Favis notcs, no dircct literary sourcc for the inception of the garland as a courtly lovc motif has
been uncovered as yet. Sce Favis 1974, p. 94.
35 Coervcr 1997, p. 208.
36 Camille 1998, p. 98.
the foreground may suggest either that the woman's sexual energy or impulse will be tamed by
her union with her companion or that the pair will be faithful to one another. The former
explication seems more likely given that the woman accepts the man as a lover although she
herself seems to have escaped Love's arrows. This suggests it was she who had made the
initiating efforts to ensure the couple's liaison by eniisting Cupid's assistance in her cause.
At first consideration, it seems entirely logical that a male suitor might flatter a young lady
with gifts like the Otto Prints which allude to her supposed power over him. However, a young
woman's opinion about who she wished to marry was irrelevant so efforts to flatter her would
never be a factor in a young man's success in obtaining her hand. Uniike in the Middle Ages
when knights supposedly employed the methods of courtly love to win a lady's extramarital
favour, in fifteenth-century Florence, parents ensured their children7s exclusive cornmitment to an
appropriate, lifelong spouse.37 Therefore, courtly love imagery in the republican commune was
no longer evidence of the pursuit of 'tme love' liaisons outside the marriage bond; it had
metamorphosed into a means of e ~obl i ng or romanticizing arranged marriages.38
Given that the Otto Prints did not function as strategic flattery, another reason for why
they employ courtly love imagery involving sex role reversais should be considered. The imagery
of such prints was probably most important as a means of emphasising--or establishing--the
nobility of the upper class patrons who gave and received it, a suggestion which is supported by
research into the nature and purpose of other quattrocento displays of chivalric culture. For
example, chivalric jousts and tournaments were fashionable in fifteenth-century Florence
primarily because they facilitated the public honouring and spotlighting of the nobility rather than
because they provided battle training39 As Cecil Clough notes, "chivalry became integrated into
Magnificence and.. . jousts and tournaments became mere imagery of that right, essentially
37 Kclly 1984, p. 40.
38 Kcll y 1984, p. 40.
39 Clough 1990, p. 35.
devoid of chivalric ideals."40 Toumarnents were important because their staging differentiated
between the nobility and the commoners; those people afforded comfortable seating to watch or
allowed to participate were exclusively members of the upper class.41 Clough points out that the
constant desire to transform what were primarily socioeconomic distinctions into differences of
aristocratic class was characteristic of upper-class Florentines. Although the feudal nobility of the
twelfth century had long since ceased to exist by the Laurentian golden age of the fifteenth
century, the patriciate continued to assert their descent from noble lines: "They al1 saw themselves
as the descendants of the knightly class of the twelfth century, even if in actuality they were
Given the patriciate's goals in visual display, the Otto Prints would probably have been
most important as a class status symbol. The prints provided another means of emphasising one's
possession of the aristocratic honour and prestige invested in visual displays of chivalric ritual,
specifically in those of courtly love. It is not surprising that the first development of courtly love
in twelfth-century lyric poetry had served a similar purpose. In wnting such poetry, the poet,
playing the part of the empassioned lover, was essentiaily giving "voice to aspirations of the
courtly class."~3 It was his ability to feel and express love which afforded the poet membership in
a social echelon far above his own because of the inherently ennobling properties of "tme love.'
Therefore, taking their place in the quattrocento social economy of chivalry and courtly love, the
Otto Prints were probably purchased only by patrons of the highest social strata.
The elite nature of the pnnts is also evident in the spaces left empty for the insertion of
family coats of arms. If the prints were to function as evidence of a patron's high social standing,
their purchase had to be restncted to the appropriate clientele which could have been difficult
given that the medium was inexpensive to produce. The necessity of including the family devices
40 Clough 1990, p. 47. Scc also, Molinari 1%1, p. 15.
4 1 Clough 1990, p. 35.
42 Clough 1990, pp. 34-35.
43 Scc introduction by G. Economou and J. M. Ferrante to Economou 1975, p. 5.
of the patron and his fiance in the compositions of the prints must have effectively lirnited their
purchase to buyers of significant social standing.41 The upper echelons of society displayed their
coats of arms or family devices as often as they could as an indication of their social rank.45
Beyond the use of coats of arms, the Otto Pnnts show other marks of "a would-be aristocratie
class," including the fine quality of the figures' clothing and the embroidery of French love
mottoes on some of the garments.46 Just like quattrocento Florentine jousts and toumaments, the
sex role reversal imagery of courtship gifts like the Otto Prints had become a superficial indicator
of social status, rather than imagery whose pnmary interest was its display of an inverted
relationship between the sexes.
Beyond al1 of this, however, another important point needs to be made. Associating
images of courtly lovers in Florentine prints with other references to chivalric activities during the
quattrocento in Tuscany, such as the restaging of medieval toumarnents, also points to the links
which may have existed between the imagery and camivalesque festivities. Toumarnents and
jousts were an important part of the celebration of both public and pnvate festivals. Often such
entertainment included mock sieges of makeshift castles in public pi me where they could be
viewed by all.47 Sometimes the sieges were of the Castle of Love, a motif often reproduced in
medieval visual art as well as certain Renaissance prints from north of the Alps. Therefore,
depictions of courtly sex role reversai in the Otto Prints were probably also associated with the
lighthearted, festive atmosphere of public celebrations. In a way, it could be said that they afford
the opportunity for a sort of role-playing in which the patron of the print plays the courtly
gentleman pictured within them in the same way that the singers of the festival songs cited earlier
took on the role of ardent lovers or gallant knights.
44 In many ways, this sets the Otto Pnnts apart from other print traditions which are often cstollcd in thc
literature as cheap, accessible works of art which could be purchased by thc lowcr classes as well as more wealthy
patrons. For a discussion of prints as affordablc, sec Russell 1990, p. 71.
45 The Ill~rsfrated Uartsch l98ff. , v. 24, Commcniary, Part 1, p. 128.
46 The Illirsrrared Barrsclr 1978ff.. v. 74, Commenlary, Part 1, p. 127.
47 Burke 1978, p. 185.
Courtly love motifs like those of a man offering his heart or a woman awarding a wreath
perfonn a similar function when they appear in the imagery of northem Italian courts as a means
of validating spurious condottiere claims to noble rank. The rise of north Italian despots had
resulted from the lack of a king or head of state to protect the interests of a proper nobility which,
as a consequence, had ceased to exist.4gThe far from aristocratic condottieri who came forth to
assume leadership of the northem territories sought to bolster their claim to power by fabricating
and then legitimizing their descent from the nobility of the past. Consequently, many condottieri-
princes displayed a commitment to the chivalric code of behaviour in both their actions49 and
their artistic Scaglione states that "just as knighthood and courtliness were
intimately interrelated in the Middle Ages, so was the Renaissance courtier the direct descendant
of the medieval knight."5 1 The populanty of names drawn from romance literature at fifteenth-
century northern Italian courts, such as Isotta, Ginevra, Lancilotto, and Galeotto, reflects a
continued interest in chivalric culture, especially as it was described in the French romances.52
Although few examples survive today, the northem princes seem to have enjoyed not
only reading the prose romances, but commissioning depictions of them as well, especially of
Arthurian tales. Castle inventories, while they did not catalogue fresco cycles and their subject
matter, often included the names of the rooms. These names are believed to have arisen from the
decorative prograrns adoming the walls of the chambers mentioned.53 One of the more common
48 Clough 1990, p. 38.
43 Franccsco Gonaga, in thc same spirit as many othcr European mlers of the time, offered to "delivcr Italy from
Ccsarc Borgia by fighting thc latter [one-on-onc] with sword and poniard": see Huizinga 1957, p. 201. The
sunival, if not flounshing, of chivalric idcds t s a product of early humanistic schools which cducatcd thc
courts' youths in places like Manlua and Fcrnrd. These schools rcmaincd akin to thosc of thc Middlc Agcs which
trained young knights and the sons of princes; sec Kelly 1984, p. 320.
50 In Urbino, the environment facilitated the combination of humanism and chivalry. Federigo da Monlcfcltro,
while a humanist patron of many works of art, nonctheless had himself depicted at the foot of thc Virgin and
Child dressed in complcle knight's armour by Piero della Francesca, his court paintcr. Thc work dates to about
1475 and is now louted in the Brera Gallery.
51 Scaglionc 1991, p. -30.
52 Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 26; Tor the silualion al the Esle court specifically, see d' Ancona 1954, p. 9.
53 Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 28.
chivalric room names in the inventories is the CameruLanzaloti, a fact which supgests a
profusion of rooms frescoed with the story of Lancelot and Guinevere.54 One of the few extant
fresco cycles based on the medieval romances survives only in fragments on the walls of the Sala
Pisanello in the Ducal Palace at Mantua.55 Named d e r its arljst, the room was intended to be
frescoed with an Arthurian tale but was only ever half completed. Lodovico Gonzaga had
commissioned the cycle in the 1440s to decorate the large, important hall used to welcome puests
and host significant social functions.56
Joanna Woods-Marsden's study of the Pisanello cycle reveals much about the work and
its purposes despite the lack of remaining pictorial evidence. The cycle depicts an episode in the
life of Bohort, an Arthurian knight and cousin to Lancelot, in which he comptes in a tournament
held by King Brangoire. Of the thirteen knights who perform well. Bohort proves the best. The
king's daughter, suddenly overwhelmed by Bohort's knightly skill and manly virtues, tries to
seduce him, but is unsuccessful. The princess's magician-nurse, however, devises a successful
plan to tnck Bohori into bedding the princess. Later realising what has happened, Bohort leaves
the castle and continues on his quest for the grail. The princess later gives birth to a boy who will
eventually be known as the legendary Swan Knight, "the procreator of an illustrious race."57
Most of what remains of the fresco cycle depicts the knights in combat (fig. 40) and a
festive gallery full of watching noblemen and women, d l of which, given the room's function, is
appropriately entertaining. The subject matter of the Gonzaga frescoes, however, was carefully
manipulated toward specifically Gonzaga ends. Whereas on the north-east and north-west walls,
54 Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 135.
55 What remains of thc frcsctxs is partly finishcd fresco and partly sirropie. Much of thc frcscocs wcrc lost duc to
renovations to thc room over lime. See fig. 39 for a diagram of what survives and wherc it is locatcd on thc walls.
56 Woods-Marsdcn 1988, p. 127.
57 Thc child's futurc identity according to quattrocento Iialian belief is important in and of itsell', for the Swan
Knight was thc anccstor of thc anstocratic family of Lodovico's wifc, the Hohenzollern. What is significant about
al1 of this is that Lodovico was thc only Italian rulcr to havc bcen grantcd mcmbcrship to the Schwancnordcn, a
chivalric order founded on the legend of the Swan Knight. This likely played a rolc in his decision to dcpict
Bohort's story in particular. Scc Woods-Marsdcn 1988, pp. 54-66.
the knights are identified by painted French inscriptions, on the south-east wall their only
identifying marks are the heraldic devices and colours of the Gonzaga family. In essence, the
Gonzaga take the knights' places and, in becoming chivalric stand-ins, usurp their Arthunan
glory. Therefore, the frescoes endow Lodovico and his family with the prestige and success of
valorous knights like Bohort and his me n 3 Given the popularity of the literary source of the
frescoes,59 Woods-Marsden argues that visitors to the palace at Mantua would have had "no
difficulty in interpreting Lodovico's decision to use Arthurian iconography as a vehicle through
which to project an image of himself as a fearless wamor."60
Although Woods-Marsden's analysis of the possible political and social purposes of the
Sala Pisanello's decoration is somewhat more complex than outlined above,6 1 it is her belief that
the fresco cycle also devoted a section of the south-west wall to three scenes of Bohort and the
princess which proves important to this discussion.62 The scenes would have involved the
depiction of Bohort's seduction by the deceitful princess and her nurse. Nothing survives of
these proposed scenes, not even sinopie, and while too much speculation about what they might
have depicted threatens good scholarship, it is nonetheless important to consider reasons for why
such images may have been included in the first place.
Since scenes of an erotic nature had proven acceptable decoration for a greeting and
banquet hall at court, the proposed scenes of Bohort and the princess would hardly have been
58 Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 69.
59 Thc prosc Lancelot's popularity was such that it went through 7 cditions in thc latc quattrocento and carly
cinquecento; see Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 26.
60 Woods-Marsdcn 1988, p. 69.
61 For more details about thc frcsco cycle's intcnded purpose, see Woods-Marsdcn 1988, especially pp. 65,71,
and 139-14.
62 For a morc in-depth account of Woods-Marsden's suggestion thai thc lovc sccncs must havc bccn prcscnt, sec
Woods-Marsden 1988, pp. 133- 135.
exceptional.63 Woods-Marsden's attempt to explain the possible inclusion of erotic seduction
scenes in the Sala Pisanello suggests that
although Stones in which women take the initiative occur in such books of the
period as Boccaccio's Decameron, our tale [of Bohort and the pnncess] has ail the
ingredients of a male fantasy of femaie sexual initiative. Such fantasies must have
had exciting connotations for a culture in which women were subordinate and were
expected to defer to male a~t hor i t y. ~~
This analysis, however, provides only part of the answer. The images of Bohort's
seduction by and relations with the princess could have had a greater si,@icance, one more
closely related to the function of the rest of the cycle's imagery. If considered in the context of the
cycle's greater purpose as a calculated depiction of the Gonzaga as medieval heroes, the seduction
scenes could have signified more than the end of the story as it is told in legend: they could also
have helped to provide a weil-rounded characterisation of the Gonzaga as true knights-errant of
old. The inclusion of Bohort's seduction by the princess may have been intended to underscore
that the Mantuan d e r Bohort was intended to represent was in the prime of his life. At the time,
a coincidence of military and sexual prowess was believed to characterise the peak of a man's
life. Although little discussed in scholarly literature, the possible purposes behind and advantages
of emphasising one's masculine vinlity within the context of a rejuvenation of chivalk ideals at
quattrocento courts ment investigation.
A man's years in his mid- to late thirties had long been considered the peak of life in
which one accomplished great deeds, particularly because Christ was thought to have perished at
the age of 33. Dante had claimed that a man's life reached its apogee at 35.65There is evidence,
however, that this manly prime of life had other indicators and associations. An early fifteenth-
63 What immediately comes to mind are hvo fourteenth-century cycles. The first is in the Communal Palace al
San Gimignano and depicts a number of explicit seduction scenes in the Podest's quarters; see Campbell 1997,
pnssira. The second will be discussed later in this chapter; see Watson 1979, pp. 43-49. In the early fifteenth
century, one of the best known examples is the depiction of frolicking old people made young again by the
Founiain of Youth at La Manta in Piedmont attributcd to Jacquiero.
64 Woods-Marsden 1988, p. 133.
65 Herlihy 1969, p. 1339.
8 1
century frescoed corridor in the Palazzo Trinci at Foligno depicts the stages in the life of a man.
The cycle is comprised of a series of male figures, each representing a different phase in the
process of man's maturation. The origins of the cycle's content in French chivalric or courtly
culture is evident in the old-French text scrolls which identify the figures.66 The scrolls also
include the numerical age at which a growing man was associated with each stage of life.67 A
man's fortieth year is represented by a dark-haired, bearded man in fine courtly clothes. His scroll
identifies him as "la Vinlit," the only title which represents both a physical charactenstic
(manliness) and a phase of life (manhood) (fig. 41). As the figure's title suggests, the age around
forty constituted the prime of a man's life in a sexual or procreative sense. The figure which
follows 'la Vinlit' as the next stage of life is an older man with grey hair, seated at a desk
reading a book who represents the reflective, scholarly period of a man's life. This aged man is
no longer the sexually attractive or potent creature he had been at the age of forty. The frescoes
emphasise that man's time of virility was short and coincided with his years of active
In light of quattrocento perspectives on the coincidence of certain ages with certain
abilities, the possibility of the depiction of the pnncess's desperate seduction of Bohort at Mantua
develops a significance which is complementary to that of the rest of the cycle's imagery. At the
time of the work's commission and execution around 1447, Lodovico Gonzaga had only recently
inhented the Marquisate of Mantua and was in his mid- to late thirties.68 Given his new status as
patriarch and political leader, his artistic commissions were likely made with the interest of
showing him as the ideal person for both jobs. Consequently, one might suggest that the
frescoes' emphasis of Bohort's acumen both in battle and in bed suggests the presence of similar,
complementary strengths in the Gonzaga d e r he was meant to represent. To be more specific,
66 Salmi 1919, p. 157.
67 For a morc dctailcd account, plcasc rcfer to Salmi 1919, pp. 153-159.
68 For the frcscocs' dating, sec Woods-Marsdcn 1988, p. ssiii; for Lodovico's agc at thc tirnc, sce Woods-
Marsdcn 1988, pp. 72-3.
the imagery of the female sexual pursuit and control of a man in the SalaPisanello may have
served primarily as a means of indicating that the male object of desire was in his zenith.
Furthemore, the knowledge that Bohort7s encounter with the princess caused him to father a
remarkable son--the Swan Knight--who would, in turn, beget a long line of powerful and
accomplished men, would have reflected positively both on Lodovico as a sire and on his issue.
Seen in this way, the commission of the Arthurian frescoes for the Saladel Pisanello represented
an effort to assure both Lodovico7s family and guests that he was well-suited to the diverse tasks
of governing a realm and perpetuating a family dynasty.
One of the few other northern Italian chivalric fresco commissions to survive makes use
of the language of courtly love in a different and more tangible way than the Pisanello cycle. In
the latter half of the fifteenth century, a lesser noble, Pier Maria Rossi of Parma, cornmissioned
the decoration of the CameraPeregrinaAurea, or "Golden Room of the Pilgrim," in his castle at
Torrechiara. On the ceiling vaults, a woman in the garb of a pilgrim is depicted four times
joumeying to four different castles, al1 of which are recognisable as belonging to Rossi. Scholars
have uncovered the identity of the painted pilgrim notas that of Rossi's wife, Antonia Torelli, but
as that of his mistress, Bianca Pellegrhi.
Below the ceiling vaults, the Camera's side wall lunettes are also frescoed. Each lunette
features a different image of Rossi and Bianca, though in these, the latter has shed her pilgnm's
dress for the finest clothing. Taken in sequence, the four wall lunettes in the CameraPeregrina
Aurea relate what Chad Coerver has called "a narrative of amorous vassalage."@ The form of the
lovers' interactions are entirely denved from the courtly love tradition and display motifs familiar
from various Otto Prints. The lunette on the east wall shows the lovers standing on either side of
Cupid who aims an arrow at each. In the south lunette, Rossi is shown in full amour. He
genuflects before Bianca and presents her with his sword, pomme1 first (fig. 42). The western
69 Coerver 1997, p. 204.
lunette depicts Bianca placing a wreath or circlet on the kneeling Rossi's head (fig. 43). Finally,
in the north lunette, the lovers are shown happy and triumphant. Imagery of putti playing music
and frolicking in verdant landscapes dotted with distant castles surround each depiction of the
The pictorial distribution of power in the Torrechiara frescoes obviously favours the lady
over her lover. As in the Otto Prints discussed earlier, Rossi's kneeling posture before his
standing mistress in the south lunette mimics the feudal rites of vassalage, thereby placing Bianca
in a position of power. The motif of Rossi offering of his sword to his lady conveys a similar
message by introduce an element not seen before in this discussion. This motif was borrowed
from the medieval rite of initiation into manhood involving a display of respect for a higher
power which is frequently described in the most popular Italian translation of Arthurian legend,
La Tavola Ritonda (ca. 1325-50).70 Therefore, Coerver argues that the condo~ere's offer of his
sword to Bianca "initiates an amorous relationship in which the woman assumes the role of
superior."71 The acceptance of the sword's offering takes place in the next lunette in the narrative
sequence where Bianca crowns Rossi with a garland, an action which emphasises her control of
the relationship once again.
The purpose behind Rossi's commission of the Torrechiara cycle involved more than a
simple celebration of tme love. The frescoed imagery also connects Rossi's adulterous
relationship to his military success as the glorification of Bianca is set within a pictorial landscape
which depicts, with topographical accuracy, the lands and castles that Rossi had acquired shortly
before the cycle's commission. The frescoed landscape both echoed and immortalised the real one
seen through the castello's windows which constituted Rossi's domain, thereby enhancing a
visitor's awareness of his accomplishments.72 Therefore, through the frescoes, as Coewer states,
70 Coervcr 1997, p. 205.
7 1 Cocrvcr 1997, p. 207.
72 Woods-Mmdcn 1985, p. 557. A similar display of lands as a symbol of power and status occurs i n Picro
della Francesca's portraits of Fedcrigo Goniraga and his wifc, Battista Sfona.
"the expansion of the pnncipality [or Rossi's military success] is bound inextncably to the
aristocratie practice of adultery."73 The statement conveyed by the frescoes that "tme love"
provided Rossi's inspiration to military success sewed to ennoble him by likening him to the
medieval knight-errant in much the same way that the chivalric Otto Prints announced a
Florentine patron's noble nature.
Bianca's importance, however, was even greater than her ability to inspire Rossi's martial
success. She also bore Rossi children which he chose to make legitimate. He awarded her and
their two sons a substantial part of the inheritance nghtfully due sons borne by his legal wife. The
transfer of property to illegitimate offspnng afforded Rossi a measure of freedom from the
restrictive politics of maniage and military alliances within which he was obliged to operate.
Emphasizing such freedom through the public glorification of his mistress in a fresco programme
constituted a powerful declaration of autonomy.74
Woods-Marsden's discussion of the significance of the frescoes is incomplete as she
focuses only on what the frescoes indicate about Rossi. She States that the cycle gives "pictonal
legitimation both to his [Rossi's] longstanding liaison with a married woman and to his claim to
his small principality in the 'Parmense."'75 Coewer comes much closer to a full recognition of
the cultural insight offered by the cycle's glorification of Bianca. In his opinion, the frescoes are
evidence of a kind of social exchange; Bianca offers her reproductive and inspirational capacities
in return for the fame and security she receives as Rossi's mistress.76
When considered in relation to Heien Ettlinger's research into princeiy systems of
73 Cocrvcr 1997, p. 200.
74 Rossi wa not thc only northcrn prince to commission such a propagandistic glorification of his mistress.
Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini's romance with Isotta degllAtti resulted in his commission of nine portrait
mcdals bearing her likeness, the entwining of their hcraldic insignia on the faade of thc Tcmpio Malatestiano at
Rimini, and a book of poetry entitled the Liber Isottaeirs which celebrates Isotta's greatness and tells the story of
the couple's adulterous relationship; see both Coerver 1997, p. 216, and Ettlinger 1994, p. 775. Rossi also
commissioncd numerous portrait medals of Bianca and received poetry recording the greatness of his relationship
with her from his court p e t Gerardo Rustici of Piacenza; sec Woods-Marsden 1985, p. 555.
75 Woods-Marsden 1985, p. 554.
76 Cocwer 1B7, p. 200.
concubinage, the sex role reversal imagery of the Torrechiara frescoes adds to the range of roles
available to upper class women during the fifteenth century. Ettlinger has revealed that
extramarital liaisons were not only acceptable but common in northem Italian courts, whereas
they were enirely ill-favoured in republics like Florence or Venice. The Torrechiara frescoes
offer supporting evidence for Ettlinger's argument that "the structures and definitions of what
constituted socially acceptable behaviour for women in fifteenth-century Italy were neither rigid
nor unifom."77 Despite the altemate reality displayed in the Torrechiara frescoes, both lovers
respectably fulfilled society's expectations of them. Rossi continued to be a proper husband to his
wife, Antonia Torelli, keeping her appropriately sotto governo. Meanwhile, Bianca performed her
duty as a devoted wife to her husband, Melchiore d'Arluno of Milan. However, Rossi and
Bianca's involvement with one another in a mistress-lord relationship also allowed them to
simultaneously play d e s which fell outside the social nom such that Rossi became a knight
errant in amorous servitude to his honourable lady love Bianca. Such an analysis is supported by
a later fresco cycle commissioned by Rossi for his Castel10 di Roccabianca which again featured
Bianca who, by this time, had undergone an important change in status: she had become Rossi's
wife after the deaths of their respective spouses. In the Roccabianca cycle, Bianca is no longer
cast as the controlling lady-love, but instead as the long-suffering Griselda of Boccaccio's
Decurneron, a role often held up as the ideal mode1 of wifely devotion and servitude.78 Once she
became Rossi's wife, Bianca could no longer be depicted possessing control of their relationship
because she had taken on a conventional social role with a very different, more restricted
Thus, in both central and northem Italy, imagery denved from the tradition of courtly love
facilitated the emphasis of and aspiration to noble status. However, the northem princes also
adapted courtly love imagery to serve interests that did not exist for the Tuscan communes and
77 Ettlingcr 1994, p. 777.
78 Cocrvcr 1997, p. 221.
which reflected a very different social reality.
The Garden of Love
Beyond the postures and props employed by pairs of lovers in the Otto Prints or in
frescoes in the Italian courts of the north, there were still other ways a quattrocento artist could
evoke the world of courtly love. The most si,&ficant and common was the creation of a pictorial
landscape or environment known as the Garden of Love which served as an ideal place for the
pursuit of courtly love.
In its purest form, a coincidence of five iconographie elements identify a pictorial
environment as a Garden of Love: a flower-strewn lawn, a fountain, a copse of trees, the strain of
music or birdsong, and the presence of young men and women.79The link between such a
landscape, the courtly love imagery discussed above, and the licentious atmosphere of carnival
revelry is especiaily apparent in a quattrocento cantocurnuscialeschi sung during Maytime
celebrations. The Song is an homage to a fictional character named Signor di Cavallina:80
Ogni dama pellegrina
che ne1 core sente d'amore,
lieta venga a fare onore
al signor di Cavallina.
Gli venuto quel bel mese
che rallegra tutt' i cori
e rivesta ogni paese
d'erbe, fmtte, fronde e fiori:
maggio pieno di dolci odori
pe' giardini e pe' boschetti,
dove canton gli uccelletti
notte e di, sera e mattina.
Vuolsi fare festa di maggio,
perch gli degno d'onore:
non loco si selvaggio
che non sia pien di splendore;
escon de7 boschetti fore
79 Watson 1979, p. 75.
80 The name of this cliaiwter could lx one of two ihings as 'avallina' could mcan 'young Illy' whilc 'corrcre la
cavallina' means 'to sow one's wild oats.' Therefore, it is possible that the title may have had a double meaning.
gli animali alla foresta;
per amore facendo festa,
l'un con l'altro s'avvicina.8i
The imagery of the Song seems to have visual parallels in painting of the day, such as the
image on a cassone front produced in the shop of Giovanni di Marco which is now found in the
Y ale University Art Gallery (fig. 44). In this image, the fountain, trees, birds and fiowering lawn
serve as a setting for the activities of three young women weaving garlands to the right of the
fountain, and the crowning of young men by their female partners with similar garlands on the
panel's extreme right. On the left, two musicians accompany three dancers, two young men and a
single woman.
Depictions of the Garden of Love appeared most often on commissions for domestic
objects including cassoni and deschi daparto, visual media s h e d with depictions of the Trionfo
d'Amore discussed in the previous chapter. Furthemore, much like the Petrarchan Trionji,
Garden of Love imagery had its roots in a number of sources, particularly certain literary
traditions. Raimond Van Marle was the first to define the concept in 1932 in the Iconographie de
l'Art Profane32 Compared to its study in Northern European imagery, the Garden of Love's
development in Italy received little attention until Paul Watson's 1979 study.
One of the earliest images of the Garden of Love as a secular image is found on a
Florentine descodaparto by an unknown Florentine artist now in Douai (fig. 45). The birth tray
dates from the late fourteenth century and exemplifies the Garden of Love iconographie type
through its depiction of a fountain-like structure in a flowery meadow, a single tree, rather than a
81 The cxcerpt was taken from a Song titlcd Catizotia del Sigiior di Cavallitia in Singleton 1936, pp. 78-79. IL is
rcproduced in full on pp. 160-161 in the appendix to this paper. I have roughly tnnslated it to read: "Evcry roving
lady 1 who fecls love in her heart, 1 comes merry to pay homage 1 to the Signor di Cavallina. I l To him camc that
biutiful month 1 that gladdens every hcart 1 and clothcs every land again 1 with gms, fruit, foliage and flowers: 1
May full of sweet odours 1 in gardens and in grovcs, 1 wherc the littlc birds sing 1 night and day, evcning and
moming. I l One nceds to celebrate May, 1 because it is worhy of honour: 1 no place is so wild 1 that could be so
full of splendour; 1 from thc (?) groves 1 the animals of the forest emerge; 1 making merry for love, 1 the one
[lover] draws closer to the other."
82 See Van Marle 1971, pp. 426-440.
grove, and the interaction of figures of the opposite sex. The partial importance of the object as
ostentatious decoration is evident in the gold ground behind the tree, the balanced rhythms of the
figures, and the rich costumes which were much more lavish than sumptuary laws would have
permitted in the real streets of Florence. The aristocratie pretensions of the image are further
evident in the presence of a dwarf which, while not comrnon to the Florentine merchant
household for which the desco was likely commissioned, was an essential fixture at medieval and
Renaissance courts.83
The Douai Garden of Love is also nfe with sexually charged syrnbolism. It is evidently a
place where pleasure is pursued and indulging the senses is of the utmost concem. In the garden,
music fills the air and is accompanied by the pleasures of touching while dancing. Dancing was
also a cornmon metaphor for love-making at the time. The dwarf, whose over-sized belt Watson
claims is a parody of his virilityP4 cames a hunting fdcon in a sirnilar reference to the male libido
as seen in the Otto Prints. The furry little dog excitedly eyeing the dancers signals that female lust
is also present in the garden.
In an attempt to discern the orgins and development of the Garden of Love as a theme,
Watson posits that the garden's visual ty,pe results from a confluence of forrnerly disparate
streams of influence, the most important of which include literary tradition, symbolic gardens
(both sacred and profane), and medieval erotic visual art.85 His discussion focuses on the
particular importance of the literary sources. Since, as Roberta Favis has remarked, "the garden
topos is such a universal one,"86 the outline below of the Garden of Love's literary influences
83 The dwarf was a commonplace at noble courts throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance; sec
Woods-Marsden 19% pp. 130-133. The Gonzaga interest in dwarves as a noble pcrson's companion or as court
entertainment is immortalized in the Carriera degli Spnsi wherc Barbara of Brandenburg is accompanicd by a
84 Watson 1979, p. 68.
85 Watson 1979, p. 6 1.
86 Favis 1974, p. 46. In prcface to her own study of northcm European examples of the Garden of Love, Fivis
comrnenis that "the atiempt to go beyond ...[ a] rather broad definition of streams of influence would be fruitless." 1
agrce with her assessment and have kept my own discussion brief.
will be brief.
As early as classical times gardens semed as settings for written narratives. By the
Middle Ages, authors had embraced the garden as an ailegorical setting for amorous stories, like
Deduit's garden in the R o m de la Rose, a tradition carried on by fourteenth-century Italian
vernacular authors like Bmnetto Latini, Petrarch and Boccaccio.87 Visual artists and craftsmen
undoubtedly drew on these literary precedents, borrowing descriptions of both their gardens and
the activities that took place there. However, as with depictions of the Trionfo d'Amore discussed
in the previous chapter, the text-to-image translations were not always purely derivative. The
Garden of Love's appearance in art was also infiuenced by a sense of playful eroticism which
had long flourished in the craft tradition, independent of textual sources.88 The synthesis of such
literary and visual traditions resulted in the iconographically identifiable formula descnbed above
in which the Garden of Love, in Watson's words, represents "an image of the nature of love,
implying what love is, how it anses, how it progresses, and where it leads."89
As Aldo Scaglione notes, the enclosed garden came to be regarded "as a symbolic place
of refuge from the morality of the church" because it offered "an occasion for escape from the
closed life of the walled city or the fortress-like house."go While the escape was for both men and
women, it is the latter group who were tmly imprisoned in Florentine palmi, with what was
believed to be good reason. Letting women out of their domestic enclosure into the comparative
freedom of the garden was not too far removed from releasing animals from their cages. Such
beliefs caused garden settings to become a commonly used element in the visual language of
courtly love imagery which often afforded women a certain degree of agency. An example of this
connection is the combination of the Garden of Love and the amorous hunt in a simple visual
narrative on a cassone panel by an unknown Florentine artist which is now in the Victoria and
87 Sec Walson 1979, chaptcr 2, passim.
88 Watson 1979, p. 34.
89 Watson 1W9, p. 72.
90 Scaglione 1963, p. 64.
Albert Museum (fig. 46). The visual narrative is told in two stages. The first takes place in the
two areas which flank the main image by displaying a young huntress with drawn bow and her
male prey separately. The centrai area of the panel displays the couple united in a Garden of Love,
thereby indicating the ssiiccess d the lady's pursuit91 While Watson states that in depictions of
the Garden of Love, "who the people are and what they do is almost as important as where they
act,"92 the identity and behaviour of the figures in the garden, in fact, provide essential insight
into the meaning of such a pictorial landscape for the quattrocento viewer. By focusing more on
what the Garden of Love enables as a setting for the interaction of the sexes, it becomes apparent
that it is an ideological and pictorial space in which the power of women to control and influence
men is magnified. More specifically, one rnight cal1 to mind the Boccaccian tale from Day Seven
of the Decameron in which Lydia seduces her husband's loyal courtier, Pyrrhus. Employing
deceit and trickery, Lydia manages to convince her husband that a tree in their garden is
enchanted so that, while up arnong its branches, he thinks that he is not actually witnessing her
making love to Pyrrhus on the grass below.93
The garden as a place of female dominance and control, however, did come under
criticism, indicating the perceived danger of imagery which celebrated such an environment. The
notion of the Garden of Vanity emerged from the religious perspective that gardens were dens of
91 This subject is depicted on a number of c<issoni. For anoihcr intcrcsting cxamplc, sec a mamagc chest in ihe
Museo Bardini, Florence, by an unknown Florentine. On this chest, the woman shoots the man with her arrow in
thc first pancl and is then s how with him knecling berore her in a courliy iove cxchang in which shc crowns
him with a garland. The progression from a hunt to a crowning clearly indictes thc woman's agcncy and succcss.
92 Watson 1979, p. 75.
33 For an Engiish trmlation of the story, scc Winwar 1955, pp. 4 3 2 4 . Thc scventh story of the scvcnth day
in the Decamron also presents the garden as a territory manipulaid by womcn. As thc story goes, Egano of
Bologna's beautiful wifc, Beatnce, concocs a plan which will facilitate a night of passion with Egano's favourite
servant, Ludovico. Shc told hcr husband that Ludovico had tried to convince her to havc an affair wilh him
behind Egano's back and that they had made plans to meet in the garden lhat night. Egano is encoumgcd to dress
in his wifc's clothing and go to the garden in her stead so that hc might expose the deceitfulncss of his scrvant.
Howcvcr, while Egano is in the garden, Ludovico is with Bcatrice in the bedroom. Latcr on, Beatricc tells
Ludovico to go down to the garden and beat Egano, who he is supposcd to think is Beatrice hcrself, in ordcr to
prctend as though his proposition of the lady had k e n a test of her loyalty. Aftcr ki ng soundly beaicn by
Ludovico, Egano crawls back to bed belicving his wifc to be the most honounble and his servant the most loyal.
9 1
lust and, therefore, of sin. Buffaimacco depicted the theme in the fourteenth century within the
Triumph of Death in the Carnposanto in Pisa (fig. 47).94 In this allegorical garden, the
personification of Death as a hag with a scythe in the sky above makes it apparent that lustful
glances, playing with dogs and falcons, md listening to music--al1 of which are activities
characteristic of the Garden of Love--will inevitably lead to lewd behaviour and, hence, to
damnation. The same sentiment could be conveyed outside the Church environment, as in a
fourteenth-century fresco cycle in a bedroom of the Paiazzo Davanzati in Florence. The cycle
depicts an Italian version of the Chatelaine de Vergi, a story in which a Duchess's lust for and
seduction of her husband's favourite courtier leads to the lovers' brutal deaths at the hands of the
betrayed Duke. A beautiful garden filled with trees and fountains serves as the setting for the
tragic tale's didactic message. The Davanzati frescoes, however, explicitly emphasise the notion
that gardens empower women most particularly, especially in sinful pursuits, while
simultaneously weakening men's resistance to feminine wiles. The latter is especially evident in a
desco image depicting a moment from the Boccaccio's Teseida by Matiotto di Nardo (fig. 48). In
this case, the Garden serves as a setting for the unintended, but equally dangerous, influence
women were capable of having on the opposite sex in such a place. The main characters of the
story, Arcite and Palemone, appear in the window of the building on the left, imprisoned by
Duke Theseus. The scene depicted shows the prisoners gazing on Ernilia who is relaxing next to
the fountain in the garden outside their window. Both men faIl hopelessly in love at the mere
sight of her and spend the story's remainder vying against one another for her hand. Although
Emilia was not aggressively seeking to ensnare the two men, her beauty was powerful enough in
itself to cause the irrationality of their subsequent behaviour. Her overpowering attractiveness is
made explicit to the viewer by the space she occupies: a garden consisting of a flowered lawn
enclosed by trees and a wall which harbours a fountain.
94 A similar image from a little later can be found in the Spanish Chapel in Santa Mana Novella, Florence, by
Andrea Bonaiuli.
Another desco depicting the story of Susanna and the Elders incorporates a garden which
bears the same iconographie markers of the Garden of Love, but constitutes a far more obviously
critical comment on the dangers of its environment (fig. 49). The desco rnay have been executed
by the Master of the Bargello Tondo and is currently found in the Semston collection in
Florence. Here, the garden is shown enclosed and shunted off to the background. From one
perspective, the empty, enclosed garden could hearken back to the sacred tradition of associating
Mary's virginity with the hortus conclusus, thereby acting as an emblem of Susanna's virtue.95
However, the garden is perhaps better perceived as a symbol of the seductive powers of women
that such a place had come to imply in the cultural imagination; it is in that garden, after all, that
the elders, overcome by her beauty and sexuality, are dnven to pursue Susanna and begin the
sequence of events which leads to their deaths. By showing the garden ernpty, its traditional
function in empowenng its female inhabitants, like Susanna, is neutralised. This manipulation of
the Garden of Love iconography allows the artist to criticise the celebratory nature of the courtly
love tradition with which such a garden was associated. Cristelle Baskins's work on cassone
fronts indicates that early quattrocento depictions of Susanna's tale emphasise Susanna as the
virtuous heroine of the story, while later versions focus on the virtues of Daniel as Susanna's
rescuer and on the judgment and punishment of the elders.96 Her research supports the
interpretation of the garden's symbolism as cntical because in the Susanna birth tray, the elders
and Daniel are clearly given greater compositional prominence than the female protagonist.
The garden, therefore, is not a place of masculine reason, but one governed by
irrationality and instinct, both considered trademarks of the female sex. This idea has a long
history given that the Fall of Man took place in a paradisal garden partly due to the foolisliness of
a woman. As a result of associating gardens with sinfulness, they often serve as the setting for
95 The metaphors and imagery involving the Virgin and an encloscd garden which dcvclopcd during the Middlc
Ages arose from the identification of Mary as the bride described in the Cartticle of Cnrrticles. For a discussion of
this, scc Favis 1974, pp. 37-38.
96Baskins 1991, p. 337-340.
embracing him and suggestively plucking at his beit, activities which brinp to mind Bruegel's
pnnt depicting the hay chasing after the horse, but this time lacking the moralizing text.loo
Women are also the victors in this image since the men outnumber them, an inequality common to
most depictions of the theme, which indicates that when everyone has coupled off, it is one of the
men who will be unfortunate enough to have no partner.io1
Another desco, this one attributed to a follower of Masolino and found in the Princeton
University Art Museum, depicts the same type of scene (fig. 50). The fashionably dressed
Company consists of five young ladies, six young men, and a male harpist, and again the men
outnumber the more fortunate ladies. In this Garden of Love, music wafts through a landscape
compnsed of delicate trees, a beautiful fountain, and a flowered lawn accompanying dancing and
embraces. Here, however, only female lust is emphasised as the especially fnsky dog in the lower
nght corner is not balanced out by the presence of a falcon.
In other images, animais serve to characterise the Garden of Love as a realm of female
domination. On a desco painted by a Florentine close to Pesellino, the figures are sheltered under
a bower of grape vines rather than trees, perhaps alluding to wine's aid in amorous pursuits, and
are accompanied by an exotic pair of chained leopards (fig. 51). 102 A chained leopard also
appears in one of the roundels on the side of Domenico di Bartolo's coffer bearing a scroll
inscribed with the motto "Un amor puro vol fe" (A pure love requires faith.) The presence of
such leopards in courtly love images, may be explained by the fact that a leopard tamed by a lady
was a metaphor for a lover caught in the chains of love by woman.lO-3 This perhaps also explains
the appearance of a similar leopard in the farnous model-book by Giovannini de Grassi, a
100 For a discussion of Bnicgcl's print, plcasc scc p. 2 in thc introduction to this cssay.
1 0 1 Watson 1979, p. 70.
102 Thc desco i s bclicvcd to havc bccn csccutcd by an artist closc to Pcscllino; i t \vas forincrly in thc ollcction
of Mariin LcRoy, Paris.
103 Watson citcs a numbcr of litcrary sourccs ihat mcntion Icopards, onc of which is a romance by Gianotto
Calogrosso of around 1446 in which the nietaplior of a chaincd lcopard as a man caught in lovc by a womari
appcars a numbcr of timcs. For a morc cxtcndcd discussion, scc Watson 1979, p. 67.
member of the Visconti court.
Jacqueline Musacchio has argued that the meaning of the Garden of Love deschi is 'clear'
in claiming that the theme "alludes to courtly ideals, implying both harmony and fecundity." 104 In
a similar appraisal of the same images, Roberta Favis States that "the notion that marital
fruitfulness is being evoked seems self-evident."lo5 However, although these suggestions seem
logical, a closer look at the images reveals little evidence of fecundity aside from green foliage.
Traditional indicators of procreative power such as hares, rabbits, or fruit-laden trees are not
present; in their stead, the artists have incorporated iconography with erotic overtones such as
trees laden with aphrodisiacal pine cones (particularly in the Douai salver)lo6 or details such as
the dagger worn by the harpist in the Princeton salver, or the falcons, dogs and dancing which
appear in both the Douai and Princeton deschi. In the suggestive, amorous landscape of the
Garden of Love, the frequent result of sexual relations--the begetting of children--seems
completely ignored in favour of celebrating the pleasures of flirting and physical contact. This
more erotic interpretation aiso seems relevant to the imagery which often accompanied the Garden
of Love on the backs of deschi.
One of the more common images depicted on the back of deschi was that of a chess board
large enough to be played upon. 107 60th the Douai Garden of Love and the desco depicting a
moment from the Teseida bear chessboards on their reverse (fig. 52). Io* The decoration of desco
backs with chessboards seems a logical development as playing on the boards could afford a
pleasurable diversion during a mother's lying-in period. However, in quattrocento Ital y, the
104 Musacchio 1999, p. 67.
10s Favis 1974, p. 103. Morc than anything, Favis's conclusion about thc Fiorcntinc birth tray imgcs (if thc
Ga~dcn of Love falls conveniently into linc with hcr asscssmcnt of thc northern print known as thc Irirge Gnrderr
o f Inve by thc Mastcr of thc Lovc Gardcns, which shc proposcs is a glorification of mamagc; scc Favis 1974,
p. 143.
106 Watson idcntificd thc trcc as a pinc in Watson 1979, p. 65.
107 Scc thc discussion in Fitzgerald 1986, p. 47.
108 Anothcr rlrsco bcars a chcssboard pattcrn on its back as wcll, but its obvcrsc dcpicts a birthing sccnc now i n
thc Fogg Art Muscum, Cambridgc (MA). This suggcsts thc gamc's gcncral association with thc supcnority of
womcn at thc lime of an hcir's birth nlhcr than cxclusivcly with thc iconognphy of thc Garden of Lovc.
game's nature and history had caused it to acquire specific connotations which make it an ideal
accompaniment to the erotic licence of the Garden of Love.
Chess has always been a game of calculated strategy and, consequently, had been
traditionally gendered as a male activity. When played between two men, chess was a game about
power and politics. However, since, as Patricia Simons points out, "the symbolism of a
competitive battle of wits and assertion of mastery could lend itself to gender politics" more
specifically, chess was often employed as a metaphor for the nature ofheterosexual amorous
interaction. 109 A fourteenth-century French ivory illustrating the story of a prodigal son clearly
indicates the game's sexual connotations and potentiai consequences (fig. 53).110 To the left. the
young man and a woman sit at a chessboard playing. To the right, the young man is shown
running away from the woman who has presumably taken advantage of him because she is
wielding a washing beetle which she is comically and humiliatingly applying to his rump.
Once a femaie player was introduced, chess was transformed from a battleground of
reason to what Simons has called "a destabilized game of chance and passion."~ll The game's
structure and later development continued to reflect and reinforce critical stereotypes of
women, 1 12 especia1,y after the Queen's piece was awarded the movement originally beloqging to
the pieces of the Bishops during the last quarter of the quattrocento making her the most powerul
piece on the board. The Queen's change of status led to derogatory--and interchangeable--names
for the game as a whole including "woman's chess" or "mad chess."~ 13 Because of its dangerous
associations, the game was frequently criticised by the Church as an activity associated with bad
109 Simons 1903, p. 65.
1 10 Thc ivoy is Itxatcd in thc Louvrc, Pans. For somc charming imagcs ofcouplcs playing chcss in mcdicval
manuscript marginalia, sec Randall 1966, Sigs. 102 and 104. In the lattcr imagc, thc couplc sccms to be playing
thcir gamc in a gardcn sctting.
1 1 1 Simons 1993, p. 60.
1 12 A popular chcss manual of 1458 cxplains that thc movcmcnt of thc only Scmalc piccc on thc board--thc
Quccn--1iad to bc rcstrictcd to diagonals duc to thc wcll known hct of cvcry woman's rapaciousncss, grccd, and
inability to act rationall y. Simons 1993, p. 60.
113 Simons 1993, p. 60.
As a consequence of its associations, chess makes a number of appearances in early
Renaissance visual culture. For example, the garne plays an important role in the Davanzati fresco
cycle discussed earlier. In the depiction of Guglielmo's seduction, the courtier is shown playing a
game of chess with the Duchess. The chess match, as the pivota1 moment in which the Duchess
gains control of Guglielmo, helps foreshadow the madness and chaos in which their affair ends.
The chessboards on deschi, therefore, must have drawn on the tradition of chess as a
game of dalliance whose interna1 rules and social use often granted women the upper hand. The
pairing of chess boards with Garden of Love imagery suggests that the latter possessed a less
innocent and more provocative quality than rnight at first seem evident to the modem eye; what at
first seems a natural state of affairs in the desco Gardens of Love is, in fact, as irrational and
insane as "mad chess." 115 The insight offered by the association of chess boards and Garden of
Love imagery retums the discussion to the notion of sex role reversals in art being related to the
satiricai irrationality of the inversions of social hierarchies, sexual or otherwise, that took place
during the carnivalesque revelry of civic festivals. Certainly, the behaviour of women in the
Garden of Love seems identical to that of young Florentine ladies in a carnival Song called the
Canzonedelle Cicale, or "Song of the Cicada." The Song consists of a dialogue between the
naughty young ladies and the noisy, gossipy cicadas. The girls complain that the cicadas reveal al1
of their secret, illicit love affairs, a complaint to which the cicadas respond that the young ladies
should take greater pains to avoid detection. In charactensing the advice of the cicadas, Bowra
notes that "the choice offered to the girls is not between love and virtue, but between discretion
1 14 Savonarola had chcssboards thrown on his Bonfircs of the Vanitics in thc 1st fcw ycars of thc fiftcciith
ccntury because hc bclicvcd thcm to bc inhcrcntly immoral objects; sec Simons 1993, p. 62 (11.41).
1 1s Howevcr, this mulual contcxtualimtion may have bccn short-livcd. I f deschi wcrc hung on thc walls of
Florcntinc bcdrooms aftcr thcy had bccn uscd for thcir initial purposc, thc chcssboard would bc hiddcn against thc
wall whilc thc primary imagcry on thc tray's obvcrsc would rcmain visible. Thcrcforc, pcrhaps the cfesco
chessboards werc signilcant only during a birth salver's use as a funciional objcct. Such a circumstancc would
underscore the importance of the tirne surrounding a Imily birth as one during which thc celebration of fcmalc
strcngth was allowcd, il' not condoncd.
and indiscretion."ll6 This lighthearted song--as well as the others referred to in this chapter--
describes a reality akin to that of the Garden of Love imagery, a connection which would not
have gone unnoticed by quattrocento society. Deeper investigation reveals that the camivalesque
quality of the Garden of Love imagery belongs to a host of related images as well.
There is a remarkable consistency among the landscapes employed in quattrocento
depictions of courtly love activities involving sex role reversais which al1 seem to be derived from
the Garden of Love type. Even the works discussed in the first section of thjs chapter exemplify
the connection between women exerting control over their male companions and the Garden of
Love landscape. Domenico di Bartolo's coffer lid sets his lovers in a simple, but identifiable
landscape of a flower-strewn lawn, as do the Otto Prints. In the fresco cycle at Torrechiara, the
amorous narrative of Pier Maria Rossi and his mistress is set against the backdrop of a natural
environment of trees, fountains and frolicking putti playing music. However, it is interesting to
note that these amorous landscapes, as the only pictorial realms which are consistently shown to
be dominated by women, do not convey a feeling of permanence. If quattrocento viewers had
ever considered an image of the Garden of Love as possibly reflecting a place which could exist
in the real world, they would immediately recognise an obvious de,piction of s,pring. As Camille
has noted, "if the garden was the space of love, springtime was its time."ll7
It had long been literary convention to connect female agency with springtime. The
antique paradises known as the locus atnoenus and, later on, the realm of Venus on the island of
Cythera, constituted the first in a long tradition of verdant landscapes whicli served as a backdrop
to (if not an encouragement of) love's pursuit. Venus herself had always been believed to preside
1 16 Thc song is discusscd in Bowra 1960, p. 347.
1 17 Camillc 1998, p. 78.
over spring-time months, most often over April or May.118 Therefore, it was logical to associate
spnng with the place which best fostered female freedom and, in the quattrocento visual arts, this
place was the Garden of Love. As the allegorical, amorous landscapes related to the Garden of
Love have trees which remain etemaliy green and flowers that never cease to bloom, quattrocento
artists often called upon such visual imagery when they needed to depict spnngtime. In northem
Europe, the Garden of Love was regularly chosen as the ideal image of spring in calendar
illustrations.1 19
Although the calendar tradition was less prominent in Italy, garden-like environments
often appear in health manuals as images emblematic of spring which closely resemble calendar
illustrations of April or May. 120 These manuals, known as TacuinaSunitatis, discuss the healing
potentials of organic materials like fruits, vegetables, herbs and other plants. In one Tacuinuin, a
short text describing the season of spring is accompanied by an image of heterosexual couples
gathenng flowers in a rose arbour (fig. 54).121 Beyond merely documenting springtime activity
in a medical text, the grouping of figures of both sexes, as well as the fact that they are collecting
the quintessential flower of love, make it evident that the picture also alludes to pictorial traditions
of love and the s,paces in which it is pursued.122
1 18 In a fiftccnth-ccntury song which dcals with thc goddcss, Naldo Naldi writcs: "Pcr Vcncrcm tolus quoniam
rcnovatur et orbis, 1 Arboribus frondcs proiliuntque suis. 1 Laekquc divcrso variantur prata colorc; 1 Floribus a
multis picta rclucct humus." (Through Venus the wholc world is renewed, and the leavcs of thc lrccs bcgin to
sprout. And ihc hippy meadows arc painied in divcrsc colours; and ihc earth spiirkles with a multitude of
Ilowcrs.) Thc translation is Gombrich's; scc Gombrich 1978, p. 206 (n. 30). The conneclion of Venus with
landscapes which preceeded the developmeni of thc italian Grdcn of Love is discussed in the following chaptcr.
1 19 Scc Favis 1974, p. 95, whcrc the author citcs a numbcr of rclatcd cxarnplcs and illustrations; iwo of thc
cxamplcs include thc scene of April in the Trs Hicites Heures of thc Duc de Berry which includes a grdcn and
thc Chcstcr Bcatty Hom which prescnt a Gardcn of Lovc in conncction with thc month of May.
120 Echt 1950, p. 38.
121 Tlic 7Bcrri11rrrn is Sound in thc Casanatcnsc, Romc, Ms. 4182, and datcs to thc last dccadc of thc Trcccnto.
cirit~o describcd tmth plants and conditions of nature (like the four scasons), unlike hcrbals which Socuscd only
on the Iormcr and employed isolated, highly naturilistic illustritions of thc plants to aid in thcir recognition. In
Qci~ir~o, illustrators dcpicted the plants discusscd in simplc sccncs which gavc insight into thcir usc as a kind of
supplcmenlary information. Piichi 1950, p. 33.
122 Sincc classical timcs, the rosc had bcen thc flowcr of Vcnus, goddcss of lovc. Medicval literalurc had
continucd to evolvc the flower's connotations, especially in the inllucntiai talc of thc Roman de In Rose, whcrc
the object of desire is a rosc growing in Deduit's garden.
Similar allusions are made, though with a palpable sense of humour, in another
illustration from a different Tacuinum Sanitatis which pairs the image of a man and a woman in
front of a rose bush on a grassy lawn with a standard text discussing the healing virtues of the
rose (fig. 53.1 23 This image seems to refiect Otto Pacht's description of illustrations in later
Tacuina which act as "a rnirror of customs and occupations associated with the respective
plants"l2-r even more directly. The garden-like appearance of the image's setting suggests that the
pictorial environment is a place of feminine power. The text claims that the flower alleviates
swelling of the brain, an affliction from which the male figure above it may be suffering.125 What
appears to be a leash around his neck suggests he has been captured in amorous enslavement to
the young woman seated on his left.126 Offering him the roses from her lap, this young woman
also seems to be suggesting a more intimate encounter (perhaps the true curative agent?). Such an
interpretation of the lady's lap of roses seems plausible given a fourteenth-century French ivory
in the Berlin Museum which shows a young lady weaving a garland from the fiowers in her lap
for the young man seated next to her (fig. 56). Knowing the garland's significance, the young
lady's activity is a prelude to relations with her male companion. The roses, therefore, allude to a
kind of "deflowering." This explains why a carnival Song sung by lusty men makes reference to
accessing a lady's rose garden as a valuable reward:
Chi non avvesi danari,
no' ce ne torremo cose;
donne, noi non si ho avari,
quand0 siate gaziose:
123 Thcrc arc four 'rrcrtiiir~m Snriitrrtis manuscnpts still in cxistcncc from thc last dccadc of of thc Iourtccnlh
ccntury, al1 of which were produccd in closely rclated workshops: Casanatcnse, Romc, MS. 4183; Bibliolhquc
Nationale, Paris, MS. I A ~ . Noiiv. Acq. 1673; Bibliothque de I'Universii, LiEgc, MS. 1041; and National
Libriry, Vicnna, MS. Scries Nova 2644.
124 Piicht 1950, p. 34.
125 The tcxt regarding the nature and healing properties of roses is virtually identical in al1 four manuscripts. In
thc Paris text il rads: "Nrrtrire: (According to Johannes), cold in the Irst degree, dry in the third. Optirnrrtn: Thc
frcsh oncs rom Suri and Persia. UseJirlrress: Good Ior inllamed brins. lhngers: Thcy can cause headachcs in
certain pcople. Neirrrcrlizorioti ojtlle Ilnrigers: With camphor." See Arano 1976, pl. XXXII.
12GTakcn rom an as yct unpublished papcr givcn at thc Canadian Confercncc of Mcdieval Art Historians at
Qucen's Universily in March 7oN) by Catlileen Hoeniger wilh lhc titlc, "ltalian rmts l'or thc risc of naturdlism in
the North."
a no' basta delle rose
di que' vostn giardinetti.l'-'
The lewdness of the Tacuinum illustration is also indicated by its close resemblance to a
detail of a depiction of the Last Judgment by Franco and Filippolo de Vens at Campione in the
church of S. Mana del Ghirli of around 1400 (fig. 57). The pairing of a male and female figure in
the fresco as exemplars of sinful, lusty behaviour, as well as the similarity of their dress,
especially the chah and the feathered cap, indicate that such people can be up to no good. 128
The punning charm of the Tacuinum image, which does a great deal more than merely
depict the text's medicinal advice, seems to suggest that imagery of sex role inversion could be
primarily meant as light-hearted entertainment in certain contexts. However, this interpretation is
tempered by the thought that the text describing the healing properties of the rose suggests that
the scene depicted in the accompanying image is not only the result of an illness in need of
treatment, but is also meant to be cured by the administration of the proper medicinal agent.
Perhaps, on one Ievel, the image could have been interpreted as a humourous depiction of the
world gone awry as a consequence of human illness rather than a purely romantic or humorous
inversion of the relationship between the sexes.
The Garden of Love as an image of spring also appears in fresco cycles like that in the
Torre del1 'Aquila of the Castello del Buon Consiglio at Trento which dates to the early decades of
the fifteenth century. The cycle consists of twelve panels, each dedicated to a different month of
the year.129The panel devoted to May displays a garden in which coiirtly love activities are under
127 The cxccipt is kaken from an uniitlcd song in Singleton 1936, p. 9. i havc roughly translated il as follows:
"From thosc who have no money, 1 WC will stcal nothing; / ladies, we arc not greedy, 1 when you are gracious: 1
Ior us, thc roscs from your 1 gardcns will suffice."
128Toesca has notcd that thc malc figurc danccs "diabolically"; thc salirical quality of the imagc is also cvidcnt
in the unplwant goitcr which mars the neck of thc musician who accompanics thc couplc's dancing. Toesca
1966, p. 153.
129 For a discussion and dcscnption of thc cyclc as a wholc with a particular ocus on thc dress of the Sigurcs and
ils rclationship to rcal dress at the turn of thc ccntury, sce Gino Fogolan, "Il ciclo dei mcsi nclla Tom dell'
Aquila a Trcnto c la pittura di costumc veronesc del pnncipio del quattrcicento," in Scritti d'Arte di Gino
I:ogolari, cd. U. Hoepli, Milan, 1946, pp. 29-38.
way, some of which reflect the supremacy of women at that time of year (fig. 58).130 The garden
is comprised of grassy lawns and ruming water and is girded by rose bushes. The figures are al1
paired off into couples and engage in suitabiy festive activity. In the lower right foreground, a
young lady crowns a young man with a garland while another couple found in the center of the
image has been identified as representing a young man making a declaration of love to the lady
before him.131 The crown this latter figure wears seems to be a direct reference to a springtime
practice of declaring a King and Queen of Love in the festive, carnivalesque celebrations of May,
lending the frescoed imagery a tangible, familiar quality despite Pietro Toesca's claim that the
image depicts an entirely fictional imaginary realm.132 In a sense, details like the crowns make it
clear that the powers of love and the women who invoke it are particular to, and fostered by, a
specific time of year. Therefore, the viewer is confronted with an image of festive abnormality
rather than everyday reality. A similar association of the Garden of Love with the months of
spring appears in the fresco cycle Borso d'Este commissioned for the Sala dei Mesi in the
Palazzo Schifanoia. However, due to the character of the Schifanoia garden as a place of Venus
more particularly, this cycle will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapter. 133
In short, the connection of the Garden of Love and its related landscapes with spring or a
particular month of the year limited the potential for female control of men by confining it within
specific temporal boundaries, a circumstance which branded female power as impermanent or
fleeting. At Trento, for example, the depiction of May, in the context of the images of the eleven
other orderly, productive months, suggests that the social order can only be overcome by female
influence for a short time each year, thus allowing life to proceed in a "normal" fashion for the
130 I t is occzionally unclcar which month this particular frcsco pancl rcprcscnts. Van Mark 1971, p. 470-471.
and Toesca 1966, pl. 397, both idcntify the panel discusscd abovc as thai rcprcsenting June. Howcver, in Favis
1974, p. 95, and Pacht 19-51, pl. 13a, thc panel is idcntificd as dcpicting May. Rcgardlcss of whosc identification
is corrcct, thc pancl obviously dcpicts a springtimc month duc to thc prcdominance of Ilowcrs.
13 1 Scc Van Mark 1971, pp. 470-471, for a discussion of thc composition of thc couplc's interaction ki ng
closely rclatcd 10 a drawing by Pisanello which is known to dcpict a young man dcclxing his lovc Ior a lady.
132 Twsca 1966. p. 196.
133 For thc discussion of' thc S'da dei Mesi in thc Palwzo Schifanoia, plcasc scc pp. 13 1-139 of Lhis cssay.
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remaining months. Garden of Love imagery and the Tacuina illustrations also associate female
agency with particuiar times and circumstances such as gardens and theirflowers in the spring.
Therefore. although these images immortalise women controlling men, they also allude to the fact
that such a state of affairs is exclusively a product of the chaos of spring, a chaos which was both
natural and social in nature. As the Tacuina explain, inappropriate behaviour in women during
spring should not be surprising given that "spring harms humid bodies because it causes
corruption in them." 134
The natural aspect of the chaos of springtime stemmed from the wild fecundity and sense
of rebirth which characterised the months of April, May and June, al1 of which were traditionally
associated with the generative powers of women. To ally imagery of female power with the peak
of nature's fertility cycle was logical given that female fecundity was subject to a monthly cycle
itself. The implicit equation of fertility and female power is evident in the fact that only post-
menstrual and pre-menopausal women are ever pictured as dominating forces in quattrocento
imagery; the very young and the very old cannot find a place in the spaces of the Garden of
Love.l35Therefore, in the same way that Garden of Love imagery was appropriate for the
decoration of deschi commissioned to mark the birth of an heir and the family's survival, it also
proved suitable for the depiction of spring or the springtime months.
The social element of spring-time chaos was manifest in the carnivalesque festivities of
civic celebrations. In particular, many cities celebrated the Calendimaggio, or Calends of May,
from around April29 to May 3 as a feast of love and flowers. In Tuscany, this festival involved
134 This csccrpt is takcn h m thc tcst urliicli accompaiiics tlic illustratioii OS S ~ I ~ ~ I I X > iti tlic Viciiria niantisciip(
(Ms. Scrics Nova 7644, S. 55''). Thc full tcxt rcads: ' ' N( ~t m: Warni aiid m(xieratc1y huinid in tlic sccoiid dcgrcc.
Oprimira: 1 ts middle penod. U.sefi11ric.w: 1 t is universdl y gwd Tor al1 animais, and Sor the products that
gcrniinatc hom thc carth. Ihgers: I t hanns humid bodics bccausc it causcs corruption in thcin. Nrirrrdi,-ciriorr cg
rherlrrngers: By purifying tlic body. Good humors arc gcncratcd during it. It is particularly suitablc Ior thc ccdd or
dry or mtderatc teinpcramcnts, 1Qr young pcoplc and olhcrs, in tcmpcratc regions and in almost al1 othcrs." Scc
Araiio 1976, p. 144.
135 Watson bncfly mcntions thc exclusion of the old and thc young Srom the Gardcn of Love in noticing two
figures--an old wornan and a young girl--in tlic loggi~iri 10 the sidc of ilic gardcn in tlic birth tray Iormcrly in thc
ccillcction of Martin LcRoy (hg. 51).
special activities which took place no other time of year, especially fiirtatious games called maggi
or bruscelli, the Italian equivalent to English May Games, which afforded young women a
socially sanctioned means of indicating the young men they particularly favoured. 136The festival
was known at the time for a remarkable licentiousness. One Florentine tradition allowed the
young men to mn about the streets tossing oranges to their sweethearts and catch flowers
dropped by young women from the windows and balconies of the city'spah-zi.137This licenced
flirtation during springtime months offered a bief but intense respite from the deportment which
was normally considered acceptable at most other times of year. I t seems that depictions of the
Garden of Love and related forms of imagery allude to these penods of happy festivity and
behavioural licence by referring both to the time dunng which they occurred and the activities
which marked their celebration. The appearance of such imagery on deschi and cassoni is
particularly interesting as it unites the spirit of public celebrations of spring and the fertility of that
season with the important times of mamage and birth.
Quattrocento courtly love imagery involving sex role inversions took two main forms:
depictions of isolated pairs of lovers, and images of the Garden of Love. Each of these could
function in different ways depending upon the environment for which they were intended. For
both the upper classes of the Tuscan communes and the pnncely aristocracy of the northern
ltalian courts, co~irtly love irnagery of sex role inversion was considered ernblernatic of the
prestige and nobility of the chivalric world. As a consequence, patrons commissioned such
imagery to acquire or emphasise a personal association with a glorious, honourable history.
However, while the Tuscans seem to have enlisted courtly love imagery as postured, empty
imitations of the past, the condottieri of the northern provinces sometimes employed i t to celebrate
136 Burkc 1978, p. 194.
137 Lcvi d'A ncona 1983, p. 40.
the social reality and importance of their adulterous relationships.
Unlike depictions of pairs of lovers, imagery of the Garden of Love and its related
landscapes seemed to function similarly in both northem and central Italy. With respect to the
quattrocento development of the Garden of Love, both critical and celebratory traditions arose. By
representing the quintessential space of love and, indirectly, the time for love, the garden
landscape limited love's scope. Just as love was the main tool which a lady of the courtly love
tradition employed to gain control of a man, so was the garden her place of greatest power.
It is difficult to say with any certainty what the impact of courtly love imagery of female
supremacy on a quattrocento viewer might have been. At that time, the source of such imagery,
the medieval French romances, were reputed to have a very potent affect on their readers, as
exemplified by the inappropriate behaviour of Paolo and Francesca from Dante's Inferno.
Woods-Marsden has argued that the imagery inspired by the romance tradition probably
functioned in much the same way, which would suggest that an image of courtly love could have
had a dangerous influence on the behaviour of its female viewers in particular. It is known that
Agnese Visconti Gonzaga had conducted an adulterous affair with a man of a lower social
stralum in her Cumerul,unsulati which was presumably frescoed with the story of Lancelot and
Guinevere. Such a state of affairs was not appreciated, let alone taken lightly, and the affair ended
with Agnese's beheading. 138 Although this is an extreme example of the possible effects of
courtly love imagery, it speaks to its potential for influence. It also suggests a possible reason for
why Garden of Love imagery in particular did not survive past the last quarter of the fifteenth
Watson comments that the Garden of Love seems to disappearfrom Italian imagery by
the end of the quattrocento, but says little by way of explanation. In the latter half of the fifteenth
century, deschi and cussoni, which had often depicted the Garden of Love, becarne dominated
138 Scc Wwds-Marsdcn 1988, pp. 135 and 739 (n. 66).
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very different stones and subject matter. Literary sources such as Boccaccio's narratives had
begun to go out of fashion in the second half of the century.139 The stories which earned greater
favour later in the century tended to be moralising and virtuous rather than entertaining. For
example, the Continence of Scipio proved popular because it exemplified the male ability to
exercise sexual restraint. These new stories demanded a change of scenery; places of civic virtue
like classically inspired architectural spaces, public piazzas or crowds, began to replace the
private, licentious spaces of the Garden of Love. 140
This shift in subject matter may simply reflect a straightfonvard change in taste. However,
it seems more likely that it was driven by deeper concerns given the noticeable movement
towards an emphasis on moral behaviour in domestic imagery. Although portrayals of the
Garden of Love and its related landscapes offered aesthetic appeal and a pro-female content
which seemed appropnate to the objects it adorned, it may also have possessed other, potentially
dangerous, layers of meaning which made it a less appropnate choice for the decoration of
domestic spaces. Recalling the discussion of the social circumstances and tensions during the
fifteenth century in chapter one, it is possible that Garden of Love imagery may have presented
same of Tuscan society's worst fears in a concrete visual form. Certainly for young women, both
married and single, the depiction of young ladies who looked much like themselves in a
landscape that empowered them to initiate and control amorous encoiinters with the opposite sex
woiild provide the spark for dangerous fantasy. Much like the story of Lancelot had spurred
Paolo and Francesca to indulge in the sin of lust in Dante's Inferno, sol too, must these images
have ignited the imagination, especially that of women.
139 Scc Filzgcrald 1986, p. 7.
1 4 ) Rcgarding thc dcvclopiiicn~ of classially-iiispiicd backgrouiids, scc Tinagli 1997, p. 47.
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Chapter IV
Pagan Goddesses in Quattrocento Art
Aside from the use of courtly love imagery and the "Power of Women" iconography
during the fifteenth century, there was another substantial tradition from which imagery of sex
role inversion emerged at the time. Of al1 the women who could be cast in a dominant role, the
goddesses of antiquity were some of the most powerful. Even during the quattrocento, these
female deities of old were believed to exert a sometimes ovenvhelming influence over everything
and everyone in the earthly realm. As a consequence, goddesses like Venus and Diana frequently
appeared in the visual culture of quattrocento Italy as powerful forces affecting the behaviour of
The Classical Gods in the Fifteenth Century
In The Survival of the Pagan Gods, Jean Seznec clearly shows how the classical deities
survived from antiquity through to the Renaissance. As he points out, though the gods did not
retain theil original antique form over the centuries, the key to.their suwival wastheir early
association and identification with the stars and planets.1 Seven of the more prominent gods were
considered personifications of the planets, the heavenly bodies which exerted the greatest
influence on the earthly sphere. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the pseudoscience of
predicting astral influence was inextricable from the more empincal study of the movements of
the stars through astronorny. With the canonisation of astronomy as one of the seven liberal arts
in the sixth century, everything associated with it, including the classical gods and the astrological
study of their influence, was ensured a place in European culture through the quattrocento and
1 Scc Sczncc 1953, p. 47. For Sczncc's cxplanation of how thc conncction of thc gods and thc stars t wk placc,
sec pp. 37-42.
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The unique character of each deity, and the influence exerted by its planetary namesake,
was defined by a particular combination of the sarne four elements which comprised the rest of
the universe--earth, air, fire and water--and the associated four qualities of heat, cold, humidity
and aridity.3 Therefore, while Mars was hot and dry, Saturn was cool and dry, and so on. Taken
either individually or in certain combinations, the planets' characters comprised a heavenly
spectmm of human nature which reflected--and could induce--every possible earthly
manifestation of human psychological and physical behaviour.
The belief in astrological influence was so ingrained in the popular imagination by the
time the early Christian church was established, that its elimination by the newer faith would have
been impossible. Instead the Church gradually assimilated the pagan beliefs into its own
doctrines.4 Astrology quickly entrenched itself in the secular academic world of Europe, as well,
and by the fifteenth century it was an integral part of many programs of study, including that of
medicine.5 Renaissance medical textbooks consistently emphasised the influence of the zodiacal
signs over different parts of the body through illustrations of the "Zodiacal Man"; sometimes an
image showing the dominion of the planets over particular interna1 organs was also included (fig.
59).6 Horoscopes and astrological timing were thus of equal importance to the scheduling of a
medical procedure or treatment for a patient as they were for the planning of a wedding.7 By the
fourteenth century in Itaiy, astroiogers were consulted by high-ranking members of the Church
and public govemment, as well as the condottieri rulers of the northern princedoms, before any
2 Regarding thc canonisation of as!:onomy, scc Bobcr 1948, p. 6.
3 Mormando 1999, p. 98.
4 Scncc 1953, pp. 42-46.
"ormando 1999, p. 98.
6 Scc Bobcr 1948, pp. 2-3; thcsc arc oftcn dnwings of figurcs whosc limbs and body parts arc conncctcd to an
astrological symbol to show thc causal rclationships. Pisccs rulcs ovcr thc fcct, Arics ovcr thc hcad, ctc. Thc
systcm ws Hcllcnistic in origin and appcars in tcxts ranging from astrological to philosophical to tlicological
works und cncyclopcdias. Rcgarding thc illustrdtions of plancliiry influciicc, scc Bobci- 1948, p. 15.
7 With rcspcct to thc timing of mcdical proccdurcs, sec Bobcr 1948, p. 12. With rcgard io the planning of
wcddiiigs and othcr iinportaiii occasions, sec Levi d' Aiicona 1983, p. 28.
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major decisions were made.8 Even fifteenth-century humanists believed in the potency of
astrological influence. It was only in the last decades of the century that Italian detractors like Pico
della Mirandola and Savonarola began to denounce astrology as nonsense and, even then, such a
critical stance remained unpopular.9
Given the continued belief in a certain degree of astrological determinism during the
Renaissance, quattrocento imagery of the classical gods can hardly be dismissed as a borrowing
of meaningless but entertaining figures from a heretical pagan cosmology. In fact, such imagery
had contemporary significance for its original audience. As humanist interest in the antique
blossomed, classical deities began to appear with greater frequency in both literature and the
visual arts. The classical gods truly began to infiltrate both sacred and secular imagery during the
fourteenth century in Florence, Padua, Siena and Venice as a result of the powerful rejuvenation
of astrology at that time.10 By the latter half of the fifteenth century, images of these ancient gods
had become commonplace, including those of female deities like Venus and Diana.
The Characterization of Venus during the Quattrocento
Venus was one of the gods most often referred to in both literary and figurative media.
References to Venus--whether verbal or visual--also happen to be some of the most difficult to
interpret due to the complex mythographic history of the goddess. While most of the characters of
the pagan gods remained constant and predictable, Venus's identity was complex and
multifaceted. The only constant was that she was always somehow associated with the idea of
8 Sezncc 1953, p. 52.
9 Garin 1983, pp. 81-83. Whilc Pico dclla Mirandola argucd against thc Dclicf i n strcilogy, his dcath at thc cxact
time and on thc cxact date prcdicted by astrologcrs suggestcd to many that thc humanist \vas in crror; scc Sczncc
1953, pp. 59-61.
10 Sczncc 1953, p. 177 (n. 16). Sczncc givcs a number of cxamplcs of thc gods' infiltration of thc visual arts. I n
Florcncc thcy appcar both in bas relicfs on the Campanile of Sla. Maria dcl Fiore and in decorativc roundcls on
the backs of thc thrones of the personfications of thc arts which appcar in the Cappella degli Spagnuoli by Andrca
da Fircnzc. I n Padua thc gods wcrc includcd among the grisaillcd figures by Guariento in the choir of thc
Ercmitani. In Sicna, Taddco di Bartolo includcd four pagan gods on thc vault lcading into thc chape1 of the
Palam) Pubblico. hstly, in Vcnicc thc gods arc carvcd in gothic capitals on the outsidc of thc Dogc's paiacc. Scc
Scincc 1953, p. 70.
"love." Love, however, was a concept which manifested itself in a number of different, often
opposing forms, each of which Venus could be called upon to represent. As a consequence,
Venus had accrued a number of distinct and conflicting identities. During the quattrocento, she
could be perceived as a beneficent influence overseeing innocent memment and pleasure, as a
figure who encouraged the generative activity of maritally sanctioned procreation, as a force
which elevated the soul and fostered inner self-knowledge, as a romantic agent encouraging and
aiding in the pursuit of tme love, or as a lascivious figure blinding reason with lust, to name just a
few. Naturally, some of these venereal personalities womed fifteenth-century Christian moralists
more than others. The factor which distinguished one incarnation of Venus from the next was the
kind of love with which each was associated.
Robert Hollander's study of Venus in medieval and classical mythography identifies three
fundamental kinds of love, each presided over by a distinct personality of Venus: the first is a
perfect, intellectual love which elevates the soul; the second, a positive sexual love which results
in procreation or conjugal fidelity; the last, a negative sexual love whose goal is the pleasure of
physical gratification.11 Although three kinds of love can result from Venus's influence,
Hollander notes that "the basic literary tradition tends to polarize rather than triangulate the
aspects of Venus1' so that each writer creates a "double Venus" from among the three essential
forms of love.12 The presence of two opposing or contrary forms of the goddess mutually
clarified and reinforced their respective identities and differences.
An examination of a range of mythographic works reveals two basic formulations of the
double Venus current in the fifteentli century. The first tradition polarizes Venus's possible
identities on moral grounds. She becomes two figures, each representing a kind of earthly love,
one, positive and procreative, the other, lust-driven and sinful.13 The second tradition divides
1 1 Hollander 1977, p. 159 (n.44).
12 Hollandcr 1977, p. 159 (n.44).
13 Econoniou 1975, pp. 17- 19.
Venus in terms of the celestial versus the earthly and considers both incamations as beneficial.
One of these Venuses represents only the acceptable, positive aspects of earthly love, while the
other engenders a more desirable, higher form of intellectual or spiritual love.
During the quattrocento, the first of these traditions of Venus was common in popular
vemacular poetry and literature by authors like Boccaccio, while the second found new life in the
Neoplatonic works of philosophers like Marsilio Ficino. Although the Neoplatonic treatment of
Venus constituted the fresher, humanistic approach to understanding her during the latter half of
the fifteenth century, it did not replace or eradicate the moralizing formulation of the Middle
Ages. Consequently, the two traditions coexisted in the cultural imagination. Due to the
importance of each to the fifteenth-century perception of Venus, each of these traditions needs to
be examined more closely.
Within the body of popular vernacular literature, Venus figured particularly often in the
works of Boccaccio. In fact, Boccaccio had had an important role in establishing Venus's
character(s) for the quattrocento as his epic work, the Genealogia Deorum Gentilium, constituted
the chief link between the medieval and Renaissance understandings of pagan mythology.13 The
Genealogiu represented an attempt to connect the classical gods geneaiogically and recount their
stories.15 It had been written in the latter half of the trecento for the King of Cyprus but remained
popular until well into the sixteenth century. 16
In Boccaccio's attempt to map the gods' relationships to one another, he sometimes
assumes the existence of more than one god by the same name to avoid inconsistencies. In the
case of Venus, the Genealogia distinguishes three separate goddesses within the gods' family
13Evcn bcforc printing, manuscripts of the Geneaiogia multiplicd rapidly. Thc work was translatcd into Italian,
French and Spanish. Comclia Coulter has describcd the Genealogia as "the central storehouse from which cducated
men drew their knowlcdgc of thc gods." Sce Coulter 19-3, pp. 327 and 340.
15 Sezncc 1953, p. 220. In its final Som, the Getie~zlogin was compriscd of 15 books and over 500 folio pagcs.
To writc the work, Boccaccio compiled an incredible numbcr of medieval manuscripl copics of ancien1 sources;
scc Coulter 1923, pp. 3 17- 18.
I6There wcre scvcn ediiions of the work publishcd betwcen 1472 and 1532, reiccting the text's populiuity and
wide circulation; scc Sczncc 1953, p. 734.
tree, though only two are more specifically described.17 They represent two forms of earthly,
physical love.18 The first Venus is seen more as a planetary figure who inspires marital love and
conjugal chastity in the service of nature. In contrast, the other Venus incites sinful lasciviousness
and lust; it is this second, morally reprehensible goddess who is mother to Cupid.19
Boccaccio's opere mimri in volgare espouse a double Venus comprised of morally
opposed forms of earthly love much like the one described in the Genealogia. For example,
Boccaccio's gloss to the Teseidu refers to the two aspects of Venus as the "Venus bono" who
incites proper, marital love and the dangerous "Venus malo" who promotes extramarital
concupiscence.2o In Boccaccio's works, Venus appears to characters either in epiphany or in a
dream; sometimes she is merely referred to or discussed. However, regardless of the form and
nature of her role in these fictional works, she is always present and her influence is always
reflected in some way in the lives and actions of the characters.
Although Boccaccio's philosophy of Venus seems clear and secure, a closer look reveals
that his formulation is not as black and white as at first thought. Earl G. Schreiber has noted that
Boccaccio also challenges Venus's divisibility in his Genealogia by insisting that it is incorrect
"to speak of double loves or two Cupids, for there is but one love having a diversity of
manifestations."21 Schreiber has observed that the discussion of Venus in Boccaccio's works
often indicates that, unlike earlier commentators, he is unable to establish a clear differentiation
1 7 Cou1 tcr 1 m, p. 337.
1% Scc Ekonomou 1975, p. 20. Also, it should bc notcd that thc Btxcaccian Vcnuscs should ncvcr bc intcrprctcd
as Caritas vcrsus Cupiditas: thcsc wcrc classical conccptions of thc goddcss with which trcccnto authors do not
appcar to havc bccn familiar; scc Economou 1975, p. 20. It was Ficino who would latcr espousc a version of thc
Plalonic conception of thc dual Vcnus which will bc discussed latcr in the papcr.
19 Hollandcr 1977, pp. 158-9 (n. 44).
20 Eonomou 1975, p. 20. Boccaccio's discussion of thc two Vcnuscs is as follows: "La qualc Vcncrc doppiii,
pcrcih chc l'una si pub c dcc intcnderc pcr ciascuno oncsto c Iicito disiderio, si comc disidcrxc d'avcrc moglic
pcr avcrc Igliuoli, c simili a qucsto; c di qucsta Vcncrc non si parla qui. Lri scconda Vcncrc quella per la qualc
o p i lascivia disiderata, c chc volgarmcntc 5 chiamata dca d'amorc; e di qucsta discgna qui I'autorc i l tcmpio c
I'altrc cosc circustanti as csso, comc ne1 tcsto apparc." As quotcd in Hollandcr 1977, p. 60.
21 Schreibcr 1975, p. 524.
between her two incarnations because they share the same iconographie attributes.22 Hollander
has argued that Boccaccio's ambiguity and lack of distinction between the good and bad
incarnations of Venus may even have been strategic at times.23
What one can be sure of, however, is that ambiguous identity of Venus in Boccaccio's
fiction produced what modem readers perceive as a parallel ambiguity in the moral treatment of
her in the works. Although literary scholars agree that Boccaccio's vemacular literature focuses
on the issues surrounding carnal love, they are not in consensus about whether his works were
intended to take a clear moral stance on the subject, and, if they were, which stance it might have
been. Some maintain that his vemacular fiction celebrates the passions of courtly love while
others argue that his works constitute "an ironic attack upon the religion of love."24 Naturally,
such ambiguity in the written tradition, if, in fact, it ever existed for the contemporary reader,
could have had consequences for the interpretation of visual representations of Venus; it is
possible that artists could devise ambiguity in their depictions of Venus as a similar pictorial
strategy. However, for literary and artistic works created in the latter half of the fifteenth century,
such ambiguity may also have been due to the influence of the newly rejuvenated Neoplatonic
characterization of Venus.
Marsilio Ficino was the major proponent of the renewed interest in Platonic thought.
Ficino's investigation of Platonic thought is manifest in a number of philosophical treatises which
exemplify the second approach to Venus outlined earlier. They include his commentary on
Plato's Syinposium on Love and the Liber de Vita, or "Book of Life." In the latter work, Ficino
discusses the astrological influence of the planetary gods. Although Ficino never explicitly
divides Venus into two figures, he does present two distinct aspects of the goddess's influence,
22 Schreiber 1975, p. 522.
23 For thc dcvclopmcnt of this notion, scc Hollandcr 1977, p. 1 16 (n. IO]), and for its discussion in this cssay,
WC pp. 125- 130.
24 Scc Hollandcr 1977, pp. 3-5, for a discussion of thc statc of litcrary studics of Boccaccio's operr tnirrori as
thcy wcrc whcn he wrotc his book.
I l 4
both of which he brands beneficial.25 The superior, celestial aspect of Venus represents a higher
spiritual or intellectual love while the lesser, but still acceptable, earthly side of Venus fosters a
procreative, carnal love. According to Neoplatonic theory, Venus was nota force to be feared or
maligned as neither of her two selves was morally undesirable. Thus, Ficino can comfortably
assert that anything which feels either of Venus's influences "always delights and profits" as she
bathes the earth with "wonderful and health-giving charm."26
However, what seems like a clear philosophy was muddied nonetheless by the "reality"
of astrological concerns; Venus's potential to have less welcome effects is also evident in
Ficino's text.27 For example, in describing the metaphorical "monsters" which block the path to
tmth and wisdom, Ficino notes that the worst and most powerful is "fed by Venus and Priapus":
The first monster is sexual intercourse, especialiy if it proceeds even a little beyond
one's strength; for indeed it suddenly drains the spirits, especially the more subtle
ones, it weakens the brain, and it ruins the stomach and the heart -- no evil can be
worse for one's intelligence.^^
Ficino7s characterisation of Venus also mentions that the amor she incites can be as irrational and
dangerous as the rnelancholia brought on by Saturn and that such influence is sometimes beyond
human control.29
Despite al1 of Venus's diverse and complex facets--from encouraging moral danger to
assisting in spiritual enlightenment, or from her treatment in early Renaissance vernacular
literature to her exemplification in Neoplatonic treatises-she could still be simplified into a mere
harbinger of festivity and pleasure. Lorenzo de' Medici--to whose circle Ficino belonged--wrote
2s Hollandcr 1977, p. 159 (11.44).
26 Lincs 12-13, Book 1, chaptcr i of the I.ihcr de Vitn; sec Ficino 1989, pp. 108-9.
27 For a discussion of thc inconsistcncy of Vcnus's charactcr in Ficino's wntings, scc Paul Oskar Kristcllcr, i e
l'hilosoplry of Morsilio Firirro, Glouccstcr, Pctcr Smith, 1964, p. 358.
28 Lincs 13-16 of Book 1, chapter vii of the Liber e Vila: "Pnrnurn quidcrn rnonstrurn cst Vcncrcus coitus,
pracscrtirn si vcl paulurn vircs cxccsscrit; subito narnquc cxhaunt spiritus pracscrtirn subtiliorcs, ccrcbrurnquc
dcbilitat, labcfacht stornachum atquc prdccordia." Scc Ficino 1989, pp. 122-1 33.
29 Ciavolclla 1992, p. 175. In onc passagc, Ficino mcntions that peoplc are pronc to thc burning dangcr of lust
for any of thrcc rasons which lie bcyond human control: if Vcnus and Lco both appcar in thcir horoscope; if i t is
a morncnt whcn Vcnus and thc Moon arc rnutually aspectcd; or if the pcrson is simply of Vcnus's cornplcxion.
Scc Ciavolella 1993, p. 173.
a camival song which lightheartedly approves of her influence. Although the Song is about al1
seven planetary gods, it concludes with a celebration of Venus above the others. Lorenzo's lyrics
encourage listeners to follow Venus and pay her homage claiming only that her influence is
enjoyable and diverting.30
Given al1 of the possible identities Venus could take on, the interpretation of any
particular visual representation of Venus becomes, by definition, quite complex. How can one be
sure of which Venus is being presented and with what purpose? Schreiber offers a response
which gives an important perspective on the complicated, often arnbiguous mythographic
traditions surrounding Venus:
The modem reader encountering the tradition of Venus for the first tirne may well
perceive a plethora of contradictory interpretations. These explanations, however,
ought not to be seen as mutually exclusive but as the operation of Venus in
different realms of human experience that are themselves often contradictory and
Though Schreiber's comment originally pertained to literature, its insight can nonetheless be
applied to the visual arts. He suggests that efforts to extricate a single identity of a given Venus
figure from among the tangled web of characteristics is a probiematic and perhaps, at times, a
misguided exercise. According to Schreiber, the "identity" of an early Renaissance literary Venus
is always contextually specific, and he thereby advises scholars to exercise caution in perceiving a
given example as either overly complex or overly simple32 Such a perspective seems directly
opposed to the general trend in modem scholarship regarding late quattrocento depictions of
Venus in art which has focused on identifying individual depictions as the exclusive embodiment
30 Bowa 1960, p. 34%
3 1 Schrci ber 1975, p. 522.
32 Schrcibcr's arliclc on thc mythographic traditions of Vcnus cnds with thc following warning: "Thc Icamcd
rcadcr may bc tcmptcd Io burden the poctic appcanncc of a mythological figure with cvcry possible connotation,
thus rcducing its function to obvious and incontestable gcnerali7ations. Thc novice, in contrast, may hy to
csiablish an arbitnry one-to-one corrcspondcncc between one or morc allegorical expositions of thc figure and i b
poctic manifestation, thus rcducing the poem simply to another derivative commentary. Both approachcs neglcct
thc forcc of poctic crcation that adapts classical Igurc and its attendant tradition to ncw and oftcn startling uscs,
which in turn force the reader to modify his expectations of the convention and wliich indccd modify and estcnd
thc lolalily of the convention ilsclf." See Schreiber 1975, p. 535.
of a single venereal incarnation. Although in certain cases this kind of analysis can be valid,
Schreiber's words wam that it may not always be the most appropriate.33
In discussing the art historical attempt to precisely 'identify' pictorial Venuses in
quattrocento art, it is also important to recall Schreiber's comment that the 'iconographic
attributes' of the various incarnations of the goddess are not distinct, but shared. Consequently,
many of her attributes can be interpreted in a number of different ways. The arnbiguity of
venereal attributes is most evident in her frequent nudity. Venus could appear very differently
from work to work; nudity was not necessary to her identification.34 In fact, the pagan gods did
not begin to regain their antique appearances until much later in the fifteenth century35Therefore,
an artist's decision to depict Venus nude was not born from a desire to be faithful to her classical
form. During the Middle Ages, Venus's nudity was the aspect of her appearance which gamered
the most moral criticism.3c Certainly, the Bible presented nudity as an indication of either poverty
33 Studies which aim to identify a pictorial Venus as a spccific and exclusive incarnation of the goddess arc
particularly characteristic of modern scholars interested in the impact of Neoplatonist philosophy. Whcn a group
of scholars interested in late-fiftecnth-century Neoplatonism began to cxaminc depictions of Venus, thcy oftcn
chose to Sind a duality in the art which paralleled that present in the textuai tradition. This led to the pairing of
paintings as pendants. Much of thc discussion rcvolves around the works of two artists, Sandro Botticelli and
Titian, on'ly the 'first of whidh'falls within She tempora 'boundarics of this paper. Botticelli's mythdogies, as they
are often called, have sparked some of the most heated debate. Gombnch asserted that thc Primuveru prescntcd ihc
natural Vcnus whilc the Birrk of Vetrrds depicted the celeslial Venus; see Gombnch 1950, pp. 37-64. Panofsky's
discussion of Titian's depictions of Venus is similarly dialectic in nature, but seems to identify examples of the
Iwo carthly Venuscs, rather than the Platonic double Venus. He divides thc works into those "which glorify thc
goddess as a divinity of animal beauty and sensual love" and those which "idealize her as a divinity of
matrimonial happiness." Sec Panofsky 1972, p. 160. In contrast, the name scholars have givcn to Titian's Sncred
citrdi'rujurie Luve allucics to thc Ncopiatonic phiiosophy within whicn thcy intcrprct it. In Titian's painting, two
sccmingly oppositc Vcnuscs arc prcscnt: thc nudc onc is bclieved to rcprcsent celcstiai love whilc thc cloihcd one
cmbcxiics Vetiris genetrix. Scc Panofsky 1972, p. 151. Nol al1 scholars agrcc with Panofsky and Gombnch,
howcvcr. Pierre Francastel addresses the issue of interpreting the 13itruiverrr and argues thrit the Vcnus Sigurc is s
conllation of thc goddess's plcasure-secking and muilal incarnations. Scc P. Fmncastcl, "Ln fEtc mythologique au
quattrocento: Expression littraire ct visualization plastique," in Revice d'Ls~lIc:~iqrre, 5, 1952, pp. 376-410.
Panofsky's response to this possibility appears in his later volume, Henaissatlce widHetuiscetices; sce Rnfosky
1960, p. 195.
34 A coffcr from the same period as thc Tririttipli of Vetrru. birth tmy prcscnts Vcnus aloft in thc air with fcmalc
attendants in the ground below her. This Venus, howcvcr, is dressed in the finest early-quattrocento clothing,
including an claboratc hcaddrcss. For a rcproduction of this birth tny, scc Watson 1979, pl. 68.
35 Sczncc 1953, pp. 184 and 324.
36 Schreiber 1975, p. 530.
or shamelessness, as did Roman literature.37 However, during the fifteenth century, it seems that
the perception of nudity undenvent a significant change becoming a symbol of truth, simplicity,
and sincerity.38 Therefore, the virtuous Venus--or the morally reprehensible one--could appear
either clothed or nude.39 Boccaccio seems to be unclear on the issue. Although the Genealogia
states that when Venus appears without her girdle, she is the licentious incarnation, in the opere
minori in volgare, Venus almost always appears partly nude and partly draped in purple cloth
without her ceston, regardless of whether she is encouraging marital union or inciting extramarital
lust.40 Regardless of such indeterminate, shifting iconography, art historians often assume--
perhaps too quickly--that a fully clothed depiction of Venus is representative of the positive,
earthly incarnation who oversees marital relations.41
Another regularly depicted and equally ambiguous attribute of Venus is a landscape
which mirnics the antique realm over which the goddess reigned supreme on the island of
Cyprus. The origins of the venereal paradise lie in Roman epithalamic poetry, whereas the
landscape of the realm of Venus forms the backdrop for marriage stories.42 By the Middle Ages,
37 Panofsky 1973, p. 155.
38 .Panofsky .links .the .ides ,of .nudity as a sign ,of ,pur@ and ,goodness .to .L. B. A~lberti'.s~dcscnption ,oi'.the .figure
of Truth in the painting of Caliirnnv by Apelles which he provides in the De Pictirra. Alberti mistranslatcs thc
Grcck ekphrasis of Apelles's work and describes Truth, rather than Repentance, as 'pudica', or bashful. According
to Panofsky, this is whcrc the idea of what we now know as the 'naked tmth' arose; see Panofsky 1973, p. 159.
The accepted interpretation of Titian's Sacred and Profane Iiwe offers an example of how this translates into
painting as the nude figure is thought to represent the higher, grcatcr powcr thiin thc clothcd figurc; scc IJanofsky
1972, p. 153.
39 By the sixieenth centuy the codification of nudity as a symboi of grerilness or sinceriiy was compictc. in
Ccsarc Ripa's lcorwl~gia, a collcction of iconographie fonns, the author uses the understanding ol' nudity to
cs~blish an opposition betwcen the symbols for "Etemal Bliss"--a naked female I'igurc--and "Transicnt BlissV--a
clothcd Semale igure.
4) With rcgard to the (hal ogi a' s discussion of Venus's ccston, see Hollandcr 1977, pp. 158-9 (n. 44). For
rckrences to hcr consistent description in II Illocolo, La Comrdia delle Ninje l~orenrine, the 'lescida, and thc
Elegin di Madonna Fiamrnettu, please see Hollandcr 1977, p. 206 (n. 7 1). The only exception to the appearance
dcscnbed above occurs in the Caccia diUiana where Venus appears entirely nude.
41 Examplcs arc said to appear in two of Botticelli's works: the Mars and Venus and the Primavera. Also, one of
the classic examples is Panofsky's interpretation of itian's Sacred and Profane Love. Sec Panofsky 1973, p. 151.
42 The first work to codify the venereal locrrs amoenus is often said to be Claudian's dcscnption of thc realm of
Venus on Cypms in thc Epitllalarnirun de Nuptiis Honorii Augristus. For more on this, pleasc see Favis 1974,
pp. 11-46, which discusses the subject and provides an extensive bibliography to assis1 furthcr investigation.
however, the dominion of Venus was aiso seen as the ideal setting for the pursuit of extra-marital
courtly love since it was one of the primary sources from which the medieval Garden of Love
developed.43 Therefore, both honourable and extra-marital love stories could transpire in Venus's
persona1 locus amoenus. In Petrarch's Trionji the realm of Venus is a place of impisonment for
those unwise enough to faIl in love, whereas in Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
it is the place in which Polifilo's pursuit of Polia--though fraught with obstacles--ends in happy
The lack of static meaning for venereal iconography warns against making assumptions
about the nature of a given Venus figure from her appearance alone. Instead, such iconographic
clues must always be considered afresh within the specific pictorial context of the work in which
they appear. Ernst Gombrich, in his farnous essay on Botticelli's mythologies, notes that "the
question as to what Venus signified 'to the Renaissance' ... is obviously still too vague for the
historian to obtain a well-defined answer."35 Guided by this premise, Gombrich's discussion
focused on the pictorial, patronal, and artistic contextualization of each Botticellian Venus in order
to determine what they revealed about her nature and significance. The discussion of works
below is modeled after his example.
Venus in Quattrocento Visual Art
Dunng the quattrocento, much of the irnagery of Venus appears in the same sorts of
contexts and artistic media as the material discnssed in the previous cbapters. For example,
43 For an estcnded discussion of the Italian development of the Garden of Lovc ihemc, see pp. 87-105 in chapter
thrcc of this cssay.
44 Petrarch's realm of Venus is described in the Triumph of Love: "And thc whole vallcy cchwd with the songs
of watcr and of birds, and al1 ils swards 1 Wcrc whitc and grccn and rcd and ycllow pcrsc. 1 Strcamlcts that spring
from living fountains run 1 Through the frcsh vcrdurc in thc summcr hcat 1 Whcn shade is dccp and gcntle is thc
brcczc: 1 And thcn, whcn wintcr comcs and thc air is cool, 1 Warm sun, garncs, food, and torpid idlcncss 1 That
casts ils cvil spell on foolish hearts." Sec Petrarch 1962, pp. 32-33. With rcgard to the Hypr~ero/otnuckia, scc L.
F. Benedclto, Il Roman de la Rosc e la letteralrira ilaliana, Halle, 1910, pp. 196-2 19. Benedetto looks at the
Hyptierotottrackia as the las1 return to the allegorical struclure and content of the Hotriari de la Rose. Colonna's
work was published in 1499 but may have becn wnttcn as carly as 1467. Scznec 1953, p. 100 (n. 78).
45 Gombrich 1978, p. 40.
among the series of Otto Prints discussed in chaptcr three is one which evocatively alludes to the
powers of Venus.46 It depicts a courtly love exchange between a young lady and her male
companion who are dressed in rich clothing (fig. 60). The figures appear on either side of a
central roundel which encircles the image of a siren. A nude, reclining Venus appears with Cupid
at the bottom of the print.
This print seems to present an ambiguous image of Venus which is capable of being
interpreted as representing both the virtuous, marital incarnation or the wanton one, each having
very different forms of influence. As a work commissioned in anticipation of a mariage, the
print's function seems at odds with its content, which makes reference to the powers of women
through iconography borrowed from the tradition of courtly love.
The young couple's exchange of the crown and the image of the siren both characterise
the print in such a way that it seems appropriate to interpret the Venus who accompanies them as
a representative of powerful female agency. The crowning of the young man, borrowed from the
courtly love tradition of the garland exchange, represents an early stage in the pair's relationship
during which the woman holds the position of power.47 The inclusion of a siren is also
important; most Otto Prints leave the central roundel empty for the later insertion of a patron's
coats of arms instead.48 Sirens were half-human, half-mermaid creatures known for luring sailors
to their deaths on treacherous rocks in the sea with their beauty and songs. The entire
composition is, therefore, organised around an emblem of the potency--and attendant dangers--of
the seductive powers of women. Positioned between the young lady and the young man, the siren
seems to mediate their union and reflects upon the young lady's attractive powers. A section of
Ficino's Liber de Vitu illuminates the possible connection between Venus and the sirens. Here, in
46 For a discussion of thc Otto Pnnls, sec pp. 71 in chaptcr thrcc of this cssay.
47Thc mcaning of thc garland cxchangc, as wcll as its appcardncc in quattrocento imagcry, is discusscd on pp.
73-74 in chaptcr thrcc of this cssay.
48 For c~aniplcs of prints in whicli thc ccntral roundcl is lcft cinpry for coats of arins or family dcviccs. sce figs.
34 and 38.
1 20
speaking of the "insidious Venus," Mercury offers some advice: "Against her multiple
deceptions equip yourselves with the eyes of Argus; fortify yourselves with the shield of Pallas;
and stop your ears to her flattering promises as to the lethal songs of the sirens."49
Furthemore, in the print, Venus seems to be responsible for bringing the couple together.
She has clearly enlisted Cupid, who is shown offenng a heart, wounded and captured by two of
his arrows, to the nude, reclining goddess. As indicated in chapter three, pictorial tradition
suggests that this heart more likely belongs to the young man than the young lady. It is he who
has been captured by the seductive powers of women, as the siren and the reclining Venus figure
suggest. Venus's special influence on the young man is evident in the fiery, sun-like rays
emanating from each of their heads. Her nudity and exposed posture also give her a lascivious
quality and the jewels decorating her neck and hair are reminiscent of luxuria. The occasional
interpretation of Venus as luxuria is evident in the similarity between Sassetta's depiction of
Vainglory in an image of St. Francis in Ecstasy (fig. 61) and the depiction of Venus in two early
Renaissance fresco cycles, one in the Church of the Eremitani in Padua (fig. 62) and other in Il
Sulone in the Palazzo della Ragione, also in Padua (fig. 6 3 ) 3 In al1 three representations, Venus
is shown gazing at herself in a mirror. It should be noted that the depiction of Venus in Il Sulone
also reinforces the goddess's role in courtly love as it depicts a number of scenes of
circumstances in which her influence is especially powerful. One of these is an image of a
woman crowning the man who kneels before her with a wreath which resembles the activity of
the couple in the Otto Pnnt (see fig. 63). Therefore, according to some authorities, it was the
Venus associated with lunuria who oversaw the union of courtly couples.
49 Lincs 57-54 of Book II, chaptcr sv of the Liber de Vifn: "Ad multiplices huius insidias tum oculis Argivos
ipsos instruite, tum Palladis clipeo vos munite. Aures autem ad blandas pollicitationes eius tanquam ad lctalcs
Syrcnum cantus obstruite." Sec Ficino 1989, pp. 310-21 1.
50 The same sort of depiction of Venus holding a mirror as an identifying attribute also appcars in the cycle of the
pagan gods which provide the ornamentation on the backs of the thrones in which the allegories of the arts are
seated in the Spanish Chape1 by Andrea Bonaiuti in S. Maria Novella, Florence. This indicates that Florentines
would understand the iconography as wcll as the Paduans who produccd the two frcsco cycles mentioncd i n thc
body of the text.
Venus's nudity in the print, however, could be read entirely differently. Her lack of
clothing and reclining posture also resemble figures often seen on the inner lids of cassoni which
probably acted as an emblem of fertility to encourage marital procreation (fig. 64).5 1 It is
important to recall that this print, like the others in the Otto group, was probably commissioned as
an engagement gift for a young bride-to-be. Therefore, it is possible that Venus, in this context,
could instead be her marital incarnation.
The Venus figure in the print seems to represent a visual conflation of the two
incamations who oversee the pursuit of different kinds of earthly love. Yet what may appear
dangerously ambiguous to a modem viewer was probably of little concem originally.
Quattrocento viewers may have perceived the pictorial Venus as a goddess who played different
roles at different times. In the context of the print, Venus could first be a helpful intercessor in the
lusty beginnings of extramarital love and then, later on, encourage the procreative mating of
lifelong partners in wedlock. The viewer would have always been aware that the print's image of
courtly love showed only the first step in a relationship which would ultimately be resolved in the
pair's marriage. In short, the possibility of interpreting the Venus figure as lascivious may have
been permitted because of the implication that the influence of the marital incarnation would
ultimately tnumph and endure.
A painted descoduparto dating to the first years of the fifteenth century presents a
similarly complex image of Venus. Like the Otto Print, the desco was intended for use and
display in the disciplined, marital environment of a Florentine home, yet also commissioned at a
time when female fertility cast women in the more important role. The Florentine tray by an
unknown artist, now in the Louvre, depicts the Triumph of Venus and dates to around 1400 (fig.
65). Six men appear kneeling in a venereal paradise full of flowers and fruit trees. All of them
focus their undivided attention on the naked goddess hovering above them. To her nght and left
5 1 Musacchio 1999, pp. 132-133.
are two winged assistants, each beanng the bows and arrows which initiate the passions of love.
Golden rays emanate from her genitalia down to the faces of the men below. The male figures
have been identified from left to right as Achilles, Tristram, Lancelot, Samson, Pans and
The image leaves little question of the omnipotence of Venus. Appropnated religious
visual formulae incorporated in her appearance, such as her ostentatio posture and the mandorla
which sunounds her, give her a Christ-like presence. The men on the ground below Venus are
depicted in submissive postures which recall the physical relationships of courtly lovers
discussed in the previous chapter and indicate that the goddess holds the position of power and
infiuence.53 The clawed feet of the winged assistants who flank Venus appear as though they
would be difficult, if not impossible to escape. Finally, the rays descending from Venus's
genitalia to the parted lips of her male worshippers hold the six men in thrall. The lack of females
among the goddess's venerators emphasizes what Eugene Cantelupe has called "the power of
Venus to neutralise masculine belligerence."54
What rernains debatable about the image is what it may have conveyed to its
contemporary viewers. The image's visual elements suggest that the artist drew from a range of
mythographic traditions of Venus, thereby complicating the identification of the meaning of each
individual element. The presence of two winged assistants may allude to the notion of Venus
having borne two children, Amor (Cupid) and Jocus. If this is the case, then the winged figures
are, at best, an ambiguous indicator of Venus's nature in the context of the image. George
Economou has noted that some medieval texts identify Jocus as the "perverted Cupid" and that
the presence of both amorini can represent "the opposition between the two aspects of Venus."55
52 Camillc 1998, p. 33.
53 For a discussion of thc compositional aringcmcnt of knccling malc and sknding fcmalc in thc courtly lovc
tradition, sec pp. 73-74 of this essay.
54 Cantclupc 1962, p. Ml.
55 Economou 1975, p. 25.
1 23
If the two assistants were intended to be read in this fashion, the Venus they frame could
represent an ambiguous conflation of the two earthly Venuses. The possible motivations of such
an aim will be discussed later. However, Economou has also noted that other texts presented
different ways of interpreting the intended meaning of the amorini. For example, the Roman de la
Rose includes both Cupid and Jocus, together guarding the gate to Deduit's garden. The text
follows the writing of Bernardus Silvestris in declaring both to be the sons of Venus scelestis.56
The apparent duality of the image's potential meanings is reinforced by Erwin Panofsky's
suggestion that the clawed feet of the winged servants can be read in two ways. According to
Panofsky, the claws could signai the powerful grip of divine love as described in Francesco
Barberino's Documenti d'Amore of 1318 or represent the demonic grip of lust which Boccaccio
outlines in the Genealogia.57
Although the nudity of the desco Venus could also have been an arnbiguous iconographic
element as mentioned earlier, the early date of the image limits its meaning. The desco was
executed before the philosophical perspective on female figura1 nudity had shifted away from the
critical, moralizing view of the Middle Ages. For these reasons, it is likely that Venus's nudity
was rneant to indicate her lascivious nat ur e3
The male figures in the panel can also be quite easily identified and understood. The six
men represent al1 periods of history as they are drawn from Biblical times, antiquity, and
medieval romances. Although it is not unusual to find figures from these three periods grouped
together as celebratory evidence that love--personified in the figure of Venus--has had power
throughout the ages,59 the fact that al1 of the men shown paid dearly for it argues against
56 Economou 1975, p. 29.
57 Scc Panofsky 1972, pp. 95- 128.
58 Intcrcstingly, thc ciesco Vcnus's postitrc sccms a complctc inversion of thc Vettrcsprcdic~ stancc which, though
pcrhaps not associatcd with Venus in particular at thc timc, was known via ils other uses in Christian art of thc
pcriod. For thc quattrocento's awarcness of thc pudica stance but not in connection with Vcnus, scc Hcckschcr
19-55, pp. 1 -38.
59 Smith 1995, pp. 44-5.
interpreting the desco as a purely positive celebration of Venus's influence.
The meaning of both the male figures and the goddess's nudity seem in direct conflict
with the use of Christian icono,pphy in the depiction of Venus. Elements like the mandorla or
the ostentatio posture were habitually employed in sacred imagery as iconographie indicators of
the holiness of figures like the Virgin Mary or Christ. Seen as attributes of Venus in a secular
image, they lend the goddess an air of celestial goodness. It is unlikely that the juxtaposition of
conflicting iconographies--some saintly, some licentious--in the figure of Venus could have been
unintentional; the question is what the purpose behind blurring her identity may have been. The
neglect of this question is one of the greatest difficulties with much of the literature about the
desco. Most scholars attempt to extricate a single character from Venus's many-faceted identity
as the only one represented. Raimond Van Marle interpreted the desco Venus as an insidious
sister of Eve embodying the notion that the female sex is aiways the cause of man's downfall.60
It seems difficult to believe, however, that sacred iconography such as a mandorla and a Christ-
like posture could be employed in a solely satirical fashion as attnbutes of the lascivious Venus.
In complete opposition to Van Marle, Eugene Cantelupe has argued that the image of
Venus must represent an allegory of the role a woman should play in marriage because the desco
on which it appears would never depict "either a satire on physical love or a parody of sacred
love."6 1 The latter statement is not necessarily true, however.62 Furthermore, the tragic stones of
the six male figures seem to argue against identifying the desco Venus as purely celestial in
60 Van Mark 197 1, v. II, pp. 464-465.
61 Cantclupc 1962, pp. 340-241.
62 Although rlescl~i wcrc commissioncd on thc occasion of an immincnt birth of an hcir, thcy functioncd as
dccorativc objcck long aftcr a mothcr's lying-in pcriod. Hcncc thcir imagcry probably could havc includcd critical
or salirical clements as they would becomc pcnnancnt dccoritivc fixtures in the home. The birth tmys also oftcn
scrved a talismanic function in reassunng or encounging the womes of a new mothcr. Furthermore, there was a
medieval tradition of facetiously refemng to Venus with tcnns reservcd for the Virgin Mary. Wndcring scholars
of thc Middlc Agcs could altcrnately mock or pnisc Venus using the same language. For mcntion of this, scc
Hcckschcr 1956, p. 33.
Some scholars have reco,gised and tried to overcome the restrictive approaches to the
problem of the desco's interpretation. Mary Fitzgerald, for example, suggests that the desco
Venus could represent a conflation of two aspects of her possible nature. She argues that the
image "hints at the dangers of love by portraying the duality of Venus in her power to attract and
her simultaneous potential to destroy."63 However, this assessment is also problematic. The rays
which rain down upon the smitten men from Venus's genitalia suggest her influence rather than
her attractiveness by alluding to her celestial aspect as a planetary force.64
Michael Camille's assessment of the image seems the most reasonable. He states that the
desco presents a conflation of the "celestial and venereal Venus."65 However, he does not
elaborate on this interpretation. A brief look at the Boccaccian narrative about Troiolo, one of the
men who appears on the desco, may help clarify Camille's assessment. In Il Filostrato, Troiolo
directs a prayer to Venus. He addresses her as the positive, celestial incarnation, using
appellations appropnate to the Virgin Mary such as "O Luce eterna," despite the fact that he is
actually expressing gratitude for the base, carnal satisfaction he has just enjoyed.66 Hollander
suggests that "the point of Boccaccio's blending of the attributes of the celestial and the camal
Venus in Troiolo's prayer is probably to indicate that Troiolo has got his two Venuses
confused."67 The ambiguous figure of Venus in IIFilosrato--and the tragic consequences of
Troiolo mistaking her identity--emphasises the ease with which the bad Venus could be mistaken
for the good and offers a warning to the reader. The desco image of Venus may have been meant
to function much like Troiolo's prayer. Troiolo's inappropriate use of Christian epithets to refer
to the Venus scelestis may be similar to the use of Christian iconography in the desco depiction
63 Fitzgcnld 1986, p. 1 1.
64 Cantclupc sccms corrcct in likcning the rays to ihosc i n scicntific micrccosm picturcs which indicatcd cch
planct's influencc over a different part of the body bestowing the planet Venus's "beauty, intelligence, and
swcctness of tempcnment"; sce Cantelupe 1x2, p. 343.
65 Camille 1998, p. 33.
66 Scc Hollander 1977, p. 177 (n. 101). In the Cottredia delle Nit@ Fioreritinc, Boccliccio's charactcrs rcfcr to thc
lascivious Vcnus as "santa Vcnerc" and "sanctissima dca"; scc Hcckschcr 1956, p. 7.
67 Hollandcr 1977, p. 178 (n. 101).
1 26
of Venus which also, in combination with other visual clues, seem to produce an ambiguous
identity for the goddess. It is, after all, precisely by making the mistake of confusing the two
Venuses that Boccaccio's unhappy characters end up so miserable.68
Camille's analysis of the reception of the image, however, seems flawed. He suggests that
the husband who commissioned the desco would have seen its imagery both as a validation of his
own "lower appetites" and a celebration of "his wife's productive capacity." The pictonal
relationship between Venus and the kneeling men, however, does not at al1 involve the worship
of Venus as a symbol of fertility. Camille also states that the wife, as "the first recipient of this
tray might have identified less positively with this Venus, who appears pinned down and
vulnerable in her triumph."69 However, in her othenvorldly mandorla, heavenly rays, and
unusual nudity, the goddess would probably not have been a figure with whom a young lady
would have felt a kinship. Instead, the objectified Venus may have been seen as a symbol
representing the female power to exert influence over the male sex. Thus, for the female viewer,
the painted Venus would have represented an empowering symbol of the potential for female
power rather than a role model.
Another example of the power of venereal influence is found in a print by Baccio Baldini,
the printmaker discussed throughout this paper for his authorship of the Otto Prints (fig. 66). The
pnnt belongs to a series of seven images entitled IPianeti, each devoted to the depiction of one of
the seven planetary gods of antiquity.
The content and appearance of the senes were closely denved from a Northem group,7o
unlike the other instances of depictions of Venus discussed thus far, which have been of Italian
denvation. Like the northem models Baldini imitated, the Italian prints are connected to a tradition
68 Sec thc discussion of Fiammetta's plight in the Elegia di Madortria Fiarnmetta in Hollander 1977, pp. 45-46
Hollander remarks on the fact that in Boccaccio's opere rnirtori vrrlgari, the only lovers whosc stories end happily
are those who gel mamed, thereby indicating that they have been following the right Venus. Scc Hollandcr 1977,
p. 75.
69 Camille 1998, p. 33.
70 Saxl 1938-9, p. 72, and Sax1 1985, p. 274.
known as the Children of the Gods, in which each god's children appear as mortal humans
engaged in professions or activities which the parent god oversees, encourages or protects.71 At
the bottom of each image is a block of text describing the god's nature, effect, and astronomical
data.72 Patrons likely purchased the series as a set and pasted them into a book in which they
would be kept safe and could be easily perused.
In the image dedicated to Venus, the goddess is clothed respectably in dl'aniica dress,
including winged headgear, and rides across the sky in a chariot. A blindfolded Cupid
accompanies her, firing arrows at the people down on earth who are employed in appropriately
pleasurable pursuits. Many engage in activities which ultimately lead to physicai union. One
couple dances while others play flirtatious garnes in which the women toss flowers from the
castle ramparts down to their love-struck suitors below. A number of couples have already left
behind such flirtatious preambles and embrace arnorously on benches or in a bathhouse.
Although the Italian pnnt is very close to the Northem versions from which it was
derived, a few important changes were made including the addition of Cupid.73 Fritz Saxl claims
that this alteration is merely evidence of Baldini's translation of a courtly style of the north into
"the visual language of the Italian humanists."74 However, characterisations of Venus emerging
from traditions other than the humanist one, such as the medieval mythogmphic tradition, seem to
71 Such a tradition involvcd dcpicting pcoplc whosc professions wcrc undcr thc inllucncc of a particular classical
deity. The tradition originally came from the Orient and was then Europeanized dunng the thifieenth and
foufieenth centuries. See Ssxl !%5, pp. 275-279.
72 Thc tcxt block at thc bottom of the pnnt rcads: "Venus is a Scmininc sign locatcd in thc Lhird hwcn. Shc is
cold and moist, temperate, who has these qualitics: she loves beautiful vcstmcnts adomcd with gold and silvcr,
and songs, and mirth, and games, and is lascivious and sweet-spohn; she is lovely in her eyes and in her face, is
delicatc in body, fleshy. She is of medium stature, given to ail things conccrned with beauty, and she rulcs brass.
Hcr day is Friday, and thc first, 8th, 15th, and 22nd hours; and her night is Tucsday. Hcr friend is Jupiter, her
cncmy Mercury; and she has two houses: Taurus by day and Libra by night, and for a counselor the Sun. And hcr
lifc and exaliation is [in] Pisces, and [her] death and humiliation is [in] Virgo. And in 10 months she goes
[lhrough] 12 signs lof lhc zodiac], beginning wilh Libn; and in 25 days she goes [lhroughl one sign; and in onc
day goes through] one degree and 12 minutes; and in one hour, 30 minutes." This translation appears in fie
Illi~sfrafedHartscli 1978fS., v. 24, Commeniary, Part 1, p. 113, cal. no. 2403.005.
73 Sml 1938-9, p. 73.
74 Sad 1938-9, p. 73.
1 28
influence the appearance and content of the pnnt as well. As a consequence, Cupid could have a
more significant meaning. For most medieval mythographers, Cupid's mother could only be the
sinfully lustful incarnation of Venus. The fact that he is shooting arrows at the mortals below
while blindfolded is difficult to interpret with any surety. Panofsky has notrd that by this time,
artists were using blindfolded and seeing Cupids indiscriminately.75 It is therefore, difficult to
determine which aspect of the nature of Venus the archer was meant to signify. Regardless, the
effects of his efforts are clearly evident in the activities taking place on the ground below him.
The print's pictorial landscape is most definitely a paradise of Venus with its copses of
orange trees, flowered lawn and pleasure-seeking lovers. As a more titillating replacement for the
habitua1 fountain found in a locus umoenus like this, Baldini included a covered bathtub instead.
This change can be explained by references to lore about the children of Venus, arnong whom
bathers are included.76 No sense is left unstimulated by the banquet laid out on the table, the
music of a lute, the scent of flowers, the sensual pleasure of physical contact, and the visual
splendour of the surroundings. The pine cones in the trees, believed to be natural aphrodisiacs,
allude to the environment's lascivious nature and seem to have wielded their desired effect on its
human inhabitants.77
As Venus's realm, the landscape seems to empower women to take an active role in the
pursuit of love. At the lower left of the image, the woman crowning a kneeling man with a
garland creates a vivid image of the courtly love tradition discussed in chapter three. From the
ramparts of the castle, other young ladies cast flowers and garlands to the eager men below as
promise of future engagements. In the distance, courtly love conventions appear again in the
7.5 For Panofsky's discussion of thc motif of thc blindfoldcd Cupid, scc Panofsky 1972, pp. 95-128.
76 SCC Hcckschcr 1956, p. 33. Also, sec the dcpiction of Vcnus's childrcn found in the Palaz7.o dclla Ragionc i n
Padua known as Il Salorte wherc two images of' women bathing are included (fig. 63). Unlike in Baldini's pnnt,
however, these women have no partncrs in thcir activity. In a medicval astrological manuscnpt cntitlcd Be
Spliaera, the author notes that Venus oversecs "i lussonosi, i nsplendenti per grnia, i vesiiti omati, i bagni, i
giochi, le bclle vergini, gli sponsali, i conviti e tutto cib che si compie con arte menvigliosa." Sec Antonio
Bmon, 1 Cieli e la loro Itt/uettza tiegli Affrescciii del Salone iti I'adova, Padua, 1924, p. 64.
77 See Watson 1979, p. 31, where the author identifies pine cones as having aphrodisiacal qualitics.
depiction of a pair of lovers on horseback, perhaps retuming from the hunt. The events unfolding
in the bathtub represent the most explicit detail of the image as two naked women erotically
entwined with one another entice a semi-clothed man into their embrace. The motif occurs
similarly in one of the Otto Pnnts discussed in the previous chapter (fig. 34).78The importance
of paying homage to Venus is made clear in a copy of Baldini's pnnt by an unknown artist who,
among other rninor changes, added a small figure of a man kneeling in the landscape with his
hands together and his eyes raised in praise of the goddess above him (fig. 67).
The realm of Venus is almost otherworldly in its perfection. However, such a place is not
as unheard of as it may seem: the prht aiso implies the possibility of such a place existing in the
reality of Florentine city life. The depiction of women tossing flowers from the windows of the
castle to young men below was a tradition which actually took place every May during the city's
licentious celebration of the Calendimaggio, or Calends of May, a phenomenon discussed in
chapter three.79This pictorial echo of reality causes the ideal realm of the pnnt to overlap with the
expenence of spring in real life. Venus is thus recognised as a real force with real powers. The
text block at the base of the print reinforces her realism by providing a pseudoscientific account
of her moments of greatest astrological influence. Baldini's image of Venus presents a goddess
whose influence is most potent in springtime. The link with the Calendimaggio also links the
power of Venus to the celebration of a carnivalesque festival. The irrational passions in which
she easily envelops both men and women constitute a departure from the rational, productive
activities which take place in the other six prints in the Pianeti series. Succumbing to her influence
can thereby be equated to a suspension of reason. Despite the powerful influence of Venus
shown in the pnnt, however, it is important to recall that a viewer would have experienced the
image in the Company of the six companion pnnts of the other planetary gods. This
78 For a dicussion of thc Otto Pnnt, plcasc sce pp. 71-73 in chapter threc of this essay.
7'9 Lcvi d' Ancona, p. 40 (11.40). For a more dctailcd discussion of thc cclcbration of Calcndimaggio, scc p. 103-
105 i n chapter thrcc of this essay.
contextualisation would have ernphasised the brevity of the period of time during which her
influence was prominent or effective.
In contrast with the distant figures of Venus found in Baldini's print or on the Triumph of
Venus birth tray, sorne depictions of the goddess would have been far easier for a contemporary
female viewer to associate with. An important exarnple is the Venus figure that appears in the
fresco cycle which adonis the walls of the Palazzo Schifanoia's Sala dei Mesi at Ferrara. The
cycle was cornmissioned by Borso d'Este in the 1460s during his reign, and an extant letter
indicates that the general subject matter was his own suggestion.80 Baldini's print series, though
very different in nature, purpose and appearance, probably helped inspire the depictions of the
gods in the Sala dei Mesi.81 The Ferrarese cycle was intended to function as both diverting
decoration and compelling propaganda of Borso's facility as a ruler.82
The twelve panels of the Sala are each devoted to a month of the year and divided
horizontally into three separate registers. Each of the uppermost registers depict the triumphal
cmo of a different classical god as the astral force ruling over a given month. The middle
registers of each panel display a sign of the zodiac and the three astrological decans associated
with the god of the register above.83 The lowest registers depict Borso and his subjects engaged
in activities appropnate to each panel's time of year. Venus appears as the deity reigning over the
month of April (fig. 68). This panel, as well as those of March and May are attributed to
Francesca del Cossa.84
While the cycle's relationship to the medieval topos of the Labours of the Months is quite
80 Carandcntc 1963, p. 98.
8 1 Saxl 1938-9, p. 74.
82 This bclicf is gcncrally agrccd upon i n the liieraturc about thc Schilnoia cyclc. For an carly csaniplc of sitch
scholarship, sec Bargcllcsi 1945, p. 8, and Gundcrshcimcr 1973, p. 139 and 280, which rcvcals thc Estc a.. pctty
dcspots in nccd of such propagandistic clcvation.
83 For a discussion of the dccans, thcir castcrn origins, and thcir introduction to the Wcst in an astrological tcst
by Abu Ma'shar, sec Warburg 1966, pp. 253-254.
84 For a tliorougli discussion of thc issue of the panel's attribution, see Bargellesi 1945, pp. 12-19. and Warburg
1966, p. 257.
13 1
close in many respects, the replacement of the flower-bearer who normally signified the month of
April with the powerful image of Venus in triumph seems to greatly affect the message conveyed
in the Schifanoiacycle.85The fresco presents an image of female domination on two levels:
Venus's enslavement of Mars within the upper register and the celestial influence she exerts on
the earthly realm depicted in the lower register.
Venus appears on a triumphal camage drawn by swans and dressed in fine quattrocento
court clothing and crowned with a wreath of roses, her unbound hair fluttering in the breeze. A
shackled figure of Mars kneels in front of her while to either side of her carro men and women
under her influence engage in pleasureable activities. The three graces appear on a promontory in
the upper right while rabbits and hares frolic on the flowered lawns.
The origins of Venus's appearance is the first element of the image which hints at her
nature. Warburg has asserted that her depiction was borrowed from Boccaccio's Genealogiu.
During his researches, Boccaccio had found the description in a copy of a twelfth-century manual
intended to aid artists in depicting the gods entitled De deorum imaginibus libellus by Alberic of
London.86 Both Alberic's description and the fresco involve doves, an image of Cupid on her
belt, the presence of the three graces, Venus's crown of red and white roses, and her triumphal
amval on the water. The remarkable similarity suggests the artist was aiming to depict Venus in
what was believed to be her classical form as a celestial goddess.
The identity of the Schifanoia Venus is also suggested by a number of elements in the
fresco that do not appear in Alberic's text. The fresco draws heavily on the courtly love tradition
whose texts almost always characterise the figure of Venus as the lascivious incamation.87 In the
8s For a comprehensive discussion of thc Labours of thc Months thcmc dunng thc Middle Ages in different
European countnes including Italy, see J. C. Webster, The Luboirrs of the Moritl~, Chicago, 1938, p. 175.
86 Warburg 1966, p. 760. Intercstingly, Ficino would later dcscnbe Venus in a chapter cntitled "What sorts of
figurcs of the Celeslials the Ancients engraved in images" in the third book of his Liber cle Vira. Ficino writcs
that thc ancients oftcn showcd "a young Venus holding applcs and flowers i n her hand, dressed i n yellow and
white"; sec Bmk III, chapter xviii, lines 55-57 from thc Liber de Vita; scc Ficino 1989, p. 337.
87 konomou 1975, p. 25.
image, Mars, dressed in the armoured cuirass of a medieval knight-errant, kneels conquered
before Venus, chained to her throne in amorous servitude.88 Venus wears a wide belt, which
might have been intended to be interpreted as the ceston of the marital Venus had it not been
decorated with the courtly love image of Cupid shooting arrows at a pair of lovers. Reflecting the
pleasure-seeking aspects of the goddess's influence, the figures to either side of Venus are
engaged in amorous activities such as music-making, flirting, and sexual dalliance. As the
proverbial "children of Venus," these figures remind the viewer that people born under the sign
of Venus "are more predisposed to stimuli of the flesh."89
The apple Venus holds seems to refer to her victory in the Judgment of Paris, thereby
alluding to her representation of the less honorable voluptuous life.90 She also reveals her nature
elsewhere in the fresco cycle: she appears in the upper register of the panel devoted to September
under the reign of the personification of Lust where she is shown in the actual act of sexual
dalliance with Mars (fig. 69). Therefore, it seems appropnate that the charming landscape
surrounding her recalls the Garden of Love through its flowers, greenery, animals and flowing
water, which create a place of escape from the urban morality of the towns and castles in the
distance. While the presence of hares and rabbits in the fresco refer to the procreative fecundity
which can anse from Venus's influence, it is counterbalanced by the inclusion of doves, birds
which were traditionally associated with the lascivious Venus because they constantly seek new
lovers.91 The Schifanoia Venus is not the heavenly, intangible goddess of the birth tray discussed
earlier, but rather a woman of flesh and blood who is cornfortable among mortals. As Paolo
dYAncona notes, the contemporary dress worn by both Venus and her entourage "transpose the
88 Warburg ties thc frcsco's imagcry in thc uppcr register to thc idcas of the romancc tradition by noting that thc
kneeling Mars is reminiscent of northem legend of the knight named Lohengrin; see Warburg 1966, p. 259.
89 Ciavolella 1992, p. 174. The notion that the upper registers showr the gods' "children" is suggested i n thc
panel devoted to March which shows Minerva's entourage consisting of women scwing and weaving: working
with wool was considered to be a skill which was particularly strong in children bom undcr her influcncc. Sec
Warburg 1966, p. 258.
90 Bargellesi 1945, p. 9.
91 Schreiber 1975, p. 528.
elements of a pagan myth into the courtly atmosphere of the Este residence at Ferrara."92
The Schifanoia frescoes, whose content was guided by court scholars, also offer
astrological clues to the natures of the gods and goddesses depicted within them. The appearance
of Mars in an image of Venus's triumph can therefore be interpreted as a conjunction of planetary
forces rather than as a pair of immortal lovers. Some suggest that the image of Venus dorninating
Mars could represent a common astrological metaphor for the achievement of peace through the
defeat of war.93 However, although this interpretation has often afforded the means by which the
calm, ordered world of the lower register could be connected to that of the upper register, two
factors argue against such an association. First of all, Charles Rosenberg has firmly established
that Borso "prefemd the French romances to the classical authors, and the traditional religious
values to the new Platonic trends."94 Secondly, as shown above, many elements in the upper
register suggest that the Venus figure should be identified primarily, though not necessarily
exclusively, as the overseer of pleasure-seeking sexuality. The effects of the Venus and Mars
pairing calls to mind the sixteenth-century horoscope of a renowned scholar, Girolamo Cardano,
in which he laments:
the conjunction of Venus and Mars in the dignity of Satum will lead me to
concentrate with such intensity in venereal things that 1 will find no peace .... 1 am
constantly tortured by the thought of sex.95
This comment points out that the influence of Venus on men could spark an irrational
obsession with pleasure and physical gratification in otherwise focused, rational minds in the
92 d'hcona 1954, pp. 35-36.
93 In thc Liber de Vitn Ficino adviscs that "whcn you fcar Mars, sct Venus oppositc." In the original Latin, ilic
escerpt rads: "...ubi Martem times, opporc Vencrem." Book III, ch. i, line 270; sce Ficino 1989, pp. 374-5. This
perspective on the Mars-Vcnus pairing resultcd froin a need to find a moral allegory within the story of thc
couple's othcrwisc immoral tryst dunng the Middle Ages. Bargellesi hm madc thc conncction bctwccn thc
allegory and the fresco's meaning; see Bargellesi 1945, p. 9.
94 Rosenberg 1974. p. 3 10.
95 Ciavolclla 1993, p. 173. The quote is excerpled from one of a number of horoscopes thal Girolamo Cardano
(1501-1576) wrote about himself during his lifetime. Ciavolella 1992 obtained il, in Lrdnslalion, frcim Richard
Burton's seventeenth-century Atiatorny of Melanclioly.
same way that Phyllis distracted Aristotle.
The fresco provides a more specific context for the interaction of Mars and Venus by
incorporating the astrological sign of Taurus which is represented by the bu11 in the rniddle
register. The involvement of Taurus, as a pnmary house of Venus, affects the meaning of the
goddess's interaction with Mars. Ficino remarked in his commentary on Plato's Symposium on
If Mars comes near, he renders the impulse of Venus more ardent by his own heat,
so that if at someone's birth Mars was in a house of Venus, such as Libra or Taurus,
on account of the presence of Mars, he who was bom then will be burned by the
most passionate loves.96
Schreiber has noted that in the Genealogia, Boccaccio argues that children bom on earth when
Mars is located in one of the venereal houses of either Taurus or Libra inevitably "have a
proclivity for luxuria, venereal excess, and ail kinds of crime."97
Given the meaning which the confluence of astrological elements and courtly love
iconography seems to have conveyed, one might expect sexual and criminal chaos to erupt in the
earthly realm of the lowest register where Venus's influence is supposedly felt. Interestingly, this
is not the case. The lower register shows a world in caim and careful order.
Aside from displaying Borso's classical learning, the Schifanoia frescoes were primarily
intended to present an image of a great ruler goveming his realm with facility and justice.98 Borso
appears in the panel three times, always dressed in the same gold-embroidered tunic. On the
lower left, he is shown astride a home amidst a hunting party. On the lower right, he is shown
offering a coin to his favourite fool who, it would appear from the smile on Borso's face, has told
a joke meriting reward. Finaily, in the upper left portion of the register, Borso again appears
96 Ficino 1985, p. 97. Although Schrciber points out that "Mars and Venus together do not begct passion but
nther men susceptible to passion", the atmosphere of irrational sesuality is nonetheless clear. See Sclireiber 1975,
p. 533.
97 Schrciber 1975, p. 532.
98 For discussion of Borso's intercst in portraying his leaming, see Canndente 1%3, p. 97. For more on the
notion of propaganda to display Borso's ruling ability, scc d' Ancona 1954, p. 10, and Gundcrshcimcr 1973, p.
mounted, this time overseeing the annual Fenarese races known as the Palio di San Giorgio. The
first two of these scenes represent simple moments of leisure which could have happened any
day. In contrast, the Palio was a special Ferrarese event which took place only once a year in
April on the feast day of the city's patron saint.
By the time of the decoration of the Sala dei Mesi, the Paiio involved three distinct races:
the first, by horses and jockeys, another perhaps by Jewish men, and the third by the city's
female prostitutes.99 Al1 three of these are incorporated into the fresco, the last of them being
represented by two women, one of whom is a mode1 of indecency, her skirt having flown up
above her waist to reveal her genitals (fig. 70).
The Palio detail exemplifies Werner Gundersheimer's general observation that "for al1
their effulgence of imagery and richness of expression, the frescoes present a world of strict
hierarchical structure."loo The depiction of the races displays a rigidly ordered cornmunity.
Within the detail, the noblewomen are confined to the safe removal of second-storey balconies.
On the raised platform below the balconies, male courtiers and soldiers, including Borso, observe
the festivities taking place in the streets below them where the lowest levels of society--including
the prostitutes and the Jews--provide an entertaining spectacle.~o~
Such an ordered depiction of Ferrarese society is hardly surprising given that Deborah
Shemek's research has revealed that "the principal rhetorical aim of the races was to reaffirm a
social hierarchy in Ferrara that encompassed the moral, political, and sexual spheres."io2 Much
of the implicit function of the races spills over into their depiction in the Sala dei Mesi,
99The origins of the races, especiaily that of the prostituies, is particularly interesting. Deanna Shemek's rcscarch
has shown that during the siege of a city in medieval times, "the rnounted soldiers, looters and prostitutes of the
aggressor amy took turns cornpeting in races outside the embattled city's gates .... On returning to ils own city,
the victorious army someiimes put the cncmy's palio, or banncr, in a prostitutc's hands. She would carry thc
cloth upsidc down, signifying the scxual as well as miliary subjugation of the defeated enemy." Sec Shcmek
1998, p. 24.
100 Rosenberg 1974, p. 209.
101 Shcmek 1998, p. 42.
102 Shemck 1998, p. 23.
particularly in their emphasis of "a visible social order of sex and class."~ 03 Shemek has noticed
that the Palio detail carefully polarises the female sex into two categones along the lines of class
and sexual nature: the proper, asexuai ladies of the upper class and the immoral, indecent
streetwalkers of the lowes classes. The former group is kep pure and unsullied through their
removal and isolation on elevated balconies while the latter is shown literally ruming wild in the
streets below in unbridled exhibitionism.104 It is also important to note that in the lower register,
female figures appear only in the Palio detail. Given Venus's speciai connection with the female
sex, it is quite remarkable that most of the activities taking place under her infiuence during her
reigning month do not include women. Women have been carefully excluded from the imagery of
the hunting party in the lower left, and the enjoyment of idle courtly pleasure on the right, both
pictorial activities in which they could have easily participated. Although the lower register is
characterised by courtly activities, they are not those of courtly love. Absolutely no mingling of
the sexes is permitted in the lower register. The only visual reference to the world of courtly love
and romance is the depiction of a falcon attacking a heron which divides the two lower scenes.105
The courtly love activities involving women which one might have expected to see in an image of
April have been sublimated into, and therefore contained or controlled within, a small detail of the
image. This image of April represents a significant deviation from the pictorial nom given that
quattrocento pictorial cycles of the months traditionally display the pursuit of courtly love as the
activity which is most characteristic of the springtime months, and of April most particularly.lo6
The differences between the content and atmosphere of the upper and lower registers are
103 Shcmek 1998, p. 42.
104 Shcmck suggcsts that by showing thc aristocratie womcn cut off at thc waist by thcir balcony walls, safcly
removcd from socicty, the image "displaccs [theirl sexuality onto the public prostitutc ninning thc r xe below."
Scc Shemck 1998, p. 43.
10s As Robcrta Favis has notcd, the motif of the falcon attacking a heron appears in a numbcr of northem
European dcpictions of the Garden of Love which indicates that it had clcariy arnorous connotations, though its
exact meaning may not bc clear to us today. See Favis 1974, p. 194 (n. 442).
106 An esamplc of such an image is the depiction of MI adoming the Torre dell' Aquila al Trcnto (sec fig. 58).
For a discussion of thc Trcnto frcscoes, please sce pp. 70-73 in chapter thrce of this essay.
blaringly apparent. While in the earthly realm the conduct and nature of the female figures is
under careful control, the celestial realm displays the children of Venus in wanton abandon,
allowing both men and women to behave as they wish under the goddess's lascivious influence.
Despite these stnking differences between the worlds depicted in the upper and lower registers,
most scholars have focused upon the similarities.107 A new effort at explaining the relationship
between the two registers seems necessary.
The concem for moral and sexual order in the imagery of the lower register, especially in
the Palio detail, impacts upon the interpretation of Venus in the upper register where such a
concern does not exist. In looking at the frescoes of the Sala dei Mesi a viewer makes the
assumption that the classicai go& shown in triumph at the top of each panel are exerting their
influence on the earthly zones of imagery which appear below them. Senec has claimed that the
Schifanoia cycle presents "the exact and full translation in visual terms of a concept of the
universe in which the pagan gods have regained the place of cosmocrats, of sovereign
masters."l08 However, in the case of the Apnl panel, such an assessment does not seem
The inclusion of the Palio in the lowerregister, an event which was emblematic of a
dangerously raucous and licentious Ferrarese festival, implies that such festivity was overseen
and encouraged by Venus. This seems to be reinforced by the similarity of the triumphal cmo of
Venus with the carri used in quattrocento festival processions. Although a particular aspect of
Venus's influence is highly effective in her carnival-like realm, it seems to have little effect on the
pleasurable, but restrained activities of the mortal community below. This is especially remarkable
107 Many analyses of the April panel note that clements which wcrc shared by both the upper and loiver registers-
-likc thc courtly drcss of thc figures--were intended to lend Borso's realm the sophistication and beauty of a
vcncreal paradise. For example, see Seznec 1953, p. 206, and Rosenberg 1974, p. 200.
108 Sezncc 1953, p. 76.
given that she is depicted at the zenith of her spnngtime power.109 Instead, the lack of social
discipline or conscience which charactenses the venereal paradise seems directly opposed by the
pointed emphasis of moral and sexual order in Borso's earthly dominion.
The difference between the nature of the imagery in the upper and lower registers
suggests that Borso is able to screen Venus's influence over the people of his dominion in such a
way that her ability to threaten social stability by inciting irrational, lustful behaviour is defused;
only the positive, harmless effects of the goddess, such as her ability to foster gaiety and health,
seem to affect the Ferrarese. In short, depicting the Palio seems to have afforded Borso an ideal
means of displaying his facility as a d e r by emphasising bis ability to nullify or neutralise even
the greatest opponents to civic order--in this case, a powerful, lascivious goddess. Therefore, the
success of the April panel as propaganda of Borso's reign was largely dependent upon the
inclusion and careful undermining of a powerful image of female supremacy and control in the
form of Venus. 1 10
Some depictions of Venus placed her in situations which emphasised her more human
side. Such a Venus seems present in Sandro Botticelli's depiction of Mars and Venus, a panel
painting which dates to the 1480s (fig. 71). The panel appears to have been part of a piece of
furniture, possibly a bed, because of its dimensions and elongated horizontal shape. Here Venus
appears clothed and recumbent. She focuses an alert, measured stare on her lover, the great
warrior Mars, who lies opposite. Divested of his amour, he has fallen asleep, evidently
exhausted by the sexual dalliance which had undoubtedly taken place earlier.
Since Botticelli's mythologies have been studied extensively by a wide range of scholars,
109 In an clegy by Naldo Naldi, a mcmber of Lorcnm thc Magnificcnt's circlc, the poet pays homagc 10 the
tradition of Venus as a harbingcr of spnng: "Per Venerem totus quoniam renovatur et orbis,lArboribus frondcs
prosiliuntque suis.llrietaque diverso variantur prata colorc;lFloribus a multis picta relucet humus." (Through
Venus thc wholc world is rcnewcd, and the lcaves of the trces begin 10 sprout. And the happy meadows arc
paintcd in diverse colours; and the earth sparkies witrh a multitude of flowers.) Both the excerpt from the original
text and ils translation were ttiken h m Gombrich 1978, p. 306 (n. 30).
110 Such an asscssment of the Apnl panel is rasonable as the study of Borso's patronage indicates that hc was
particularly interesteci in commissioning art as personal propaganda. See Gundersheimer 1973, pp. 160-1.
the discussion of the Mar and Venus in this paper will be largely a summary of interpretations
already suggested in the existing literature. It is generally agreed that the image is based upon the
astrological notion of Venus subduing Mars as an allegory for love's ability to win over strength.
What remains uncertain is which literaiy source or sources (if any) provided the image's content
and form, as well as whether the painting was commissioned merely as a depiction of a classical
myth or in comection with a particular event such as a wedding.111 However, as Gombrich has
noted, "the astrological and moral overtone of Botticelli's Mars and Venus ... is not incompatible
with its having been painted for a particular occasion."ll2 Given that many contemporary
responses to the painting involved lewd remarks about the aiertness of Venus and the lethargy of
Mars, the work seems to have appealed to a satirical sense of humour while simultaneously
touching upon a chord of reaiity. This ludic quality, as well as the possibility that it may have
been cornrnissioned on the occasion of a marriage, suggest that the female domination of Mars
had a carnivalesque quality. This sense of playfulness is underscored by the child-like satyrs who
play with the discarded amour of the god of war. The popularity of the image is confirmed by
the fact that others were produced in imitation, such as the early sixteenth-century Mars and
Venus by Piero di Cosimo now found in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin (fig. 72).
Diana in Quattrocento Art
Venus is not the only classical goddess whose effect on "man.Lind" is represented in
quattmcento painting. Diana is also depicted on occasion. Howeve;, unlilce Venus, Diana appears
most often in depictions of particular events from myth or vemacular literature rather than new,
non-narrative contexts creatively devised by artists.
The most popular story about Diana which appears frequently is the story of her
1 1 1 Ernst Gombrich's wcll known discussion of Botticclli's mythologies includcs a bricf discussion of the Mors
nrrd Varrils; sce Gombrich 1978, pp. 66-69; and the catalogue cntry in the monograph by Ronald Lightbown,
Sflrrdro HotficeIli, Berkcley, 1978, pp. 83-89 in vol. I and cat. no. B41, pp. 55-56 in vol. I I whcrc Lightbown
givcs a good summary of the existing literdturc which d a i s with thc painting.
1 12 Gombrich 1978, p. 68.
encounter with Actaeon, the young hunter, which is recorded in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The
myth recounts how Actaeon happened upon Diana's grove, aniving just as the goddess and her
followers are taking a bath in a Stream. Diana becarne aware of Actaeon's spying and, in a fit of
rage, splashed the intruder with water which then transformed him into a stag. The tale concludes
in Actaeon's death as he is pursued and gored by his own hunting dogs who were no longer able
to recognize their master.
The quattrocento mind perceived Actaeon's fate as the well-desewed reward of his
inappropriate, lust-driven voyeurism. As a consequence of the tale's fifteenth-century reception
and interpretation, and because of Diana's exemplification of chaste virtue, Actaeon's downfall
was featured on various deschi and cassoni. A particularly powerful illustration appears on a
desco now in the Williams College Museum of Art which is attributed to a follower of Domenico
Veneziano (fig. 73). Here, Diana and her nymphs are bathing in a fountain-like structure instead
of a river. The clearing is surrounded by a grove of dense trees and rock formations. Actaeon
appears twice in the image, once on either side of the bathing fountain. On the right, he first
appears as a young hunter. On the left, he is subsequently shown undergoing his transformation
into a stag.
The iconogmphy of the image, including a fountain in a forest clearing, is more than
sufficient to signify the landscape's kinship with the nature of the Garden of Love, marking it as
a place characterised by fernale power and camal lust.113 The goddess's control over the men
who enter her realm empowers her to transform the voyeur into an animal, the state in which he
meets his death. Lust also has a palpable presence in the desco image, for although Diana's
power lies in her chastity, she and her followers nonetheless possess the power to incite
uncontrollable and irrational desire in members of the opposite sex.
The artist's decision to render the story using continuous narrative emphasises the
1 13 For a discussion of the Garden of Love plcase sec pp. 87-105 in chaptcr three of this essay.
transformation of Actaeon from the man he is on the right to the stag he becomes on the left. As
the agent of his metamorphosis, Diana proclaims to the viewer that female deities have the power
to tum the natural order upside down. The story's impact is enhanced by the fact that two levels
of inversion are present. Not only is the male punished by a female in a destructive sex role
inversion, but he is also reduced from a human possessed of reason to an imtional beast. The
desco's allusion to the reversa1 of the hunter and prey recalls some of the imagery emerging from
the courtly love tradition, while Actaeon's transformation into a beast cames connotations simila.
to those associated with depictions of Phyllis and Aristotle.114
The fate of Actaeon at Diana's hands seems to present a remarkably clear moral message.
For the male viewer, Actaeon provides a moral waming against lustful behaviour, while Diana
sets an exarnple of chaste virtue for the female audience. The depiction of Diana and Actaeon thus
appears to be a less ambiguous, and therefore less dangerous, instance of visual sex role
inversion. However, such clarity did not seem to exist for the quattrocento audience because
Diana was also occasionally characterized as the evil agent of a man's downfall. An anonymous
cassone front in the Museo Stibbert in Florence indicates this perspective by combining three
panels of imagery together as a group (fig. 74): the left-most panel shows Phyllis astride
Aristotle, the center panel depicts Diana and Actaeon on either side of a fountain, and the right-
most panel shows Solomon worshipping an id01 at the encouragement of his heathen wife. The
two images which bracket that of Diana and Actaeon are stories which belong to the "Power of
Women" tradition as discussed in the first chapter of this essay. Although imagery emerging
from this tradition could be either cntical or celebratory of female power over men, the text
ringing the panel makes it clear that the inclusion of Diana's punishment of Actaeon is critical of
Diana rather than Actaeon and indicates the possibility of reading her as an undesirable role
1 14 For a discussion of hunter-prey reversals in courtly love imagcry, scc pp. 68-69 in chaptcr lhrcc of ihis cssay.
For a discussion of the cnnoiations associated with imagery depicting Phyllis and Anstotlc, sec pp. 51-62 in
chapter two of this cssay.
1 42
mode1 for young women.115
Given the alternative treatments of the story, it is not surprising that some visual
renderings of Diana and Actaeon's encounter might choose not to focus on the power of a
woman to destroy a man. What seems to be a cassone panel now found in the Yale University
collection dating to the 1480s shows a very different approach to the depiction of Actaeon's
downfall (fig. 75). The artist, believed to be Jacopo del Sellaio, elected to use continuous
narrative to present the story, as did the artist of the Williams College desco, but avoided
depicting Diana at all.116 Actaeon first appears in the middle backagound as a young man at a
pool. Soon after he is shown undergoing his transformation in the left foreground. Finally, he is
pursued and attacked by his dogs in the lower right as an indication of his tragic end. Although
Schubring suggests that the companion cassone in the pair probably complemented the first chest
by depicting Diana in some fashion, this may not be the case.117 Diana's presence was not
necessary to the success of the image; the content and message of the panel would have remained
clear despite her absence due to the distinctiveness of Actaeon's metamorphosis. If the artist
made a conscious choice to exclude Diana, one is led to ask what could have motivated such a
decision? Certainly by showing only Actaeon's transformation rather than Diana effecting it, the
artist has avoided creating an overt image of female power. Depicting Actaeon alone also divests
the landscape of any allegorical significance attached to environments akin to the locus amoenus
or Garden of Love because no female figures are present.118 Sellaio's painting shifts the
emphasis to Actaeon's experience, thereby laying the responsi bility for his death entirel y on his
1 1s Thc tcxt cdging thc pancl is quotcd on p. 45 in chaptcr thrcc of this cssay. It is critical of feinalc
dcccptivcncss and uses the imagery of the "Power of Women" couples to demonstrate the temblc rcsults of
duplicitous ladies. The only lime at which Diana seems to be securely identifiablc as a purely positivc force is
when she is set in opposition to Venus. Without this context, it scems that she could be interpreted simply as
anothcr dangerous fcmale.
1 16 Scc Schubring 1973, cal. no. 362, and Osvald Sirn, Catalogue of tlle Jarvis Collection, Yale University,
New Havcn, 1916, cal. no. 48. Sir& agrees with Schubring that the companion chest illustratcd the first half of
the story involving Diana.
1 17 For Schubring's catalogue cntry for thc cassolle, scc Schubring 19-3, p. 305.
1 18 For a discussion of the themc of thc Garden of Love, see pp. 87-105 in chapter three of this essay.
1 43
own shoulders. Perhaps the unwavenng seriousness of the story led to a concem about the
potency of a depiction of female domination. Unlike in stories like those of Phyllis and Aristotle
or Venus and Mars, the male victim of sexual desire is utterly destroyed by the object of his lust.
The disinclination to depict Diana, if this is, in fact, what the Yale cassone panel indicates,
was probably the result of a number of evolving cultural beliefs. Despite Diana's encoumgement
of chastity, her influence was not always perceived as positive during the fifteenth century in
Itaiy. Franco Mormando has discussed a fear of witchcraft which had begun to grow as early as
the first decades of the quattrocento.119 The notion of the "witches' assembly" becarne especially
feared. Mormando has noted that the assembly7s roots lay in the pagan Society of Diana which
consisted of "an innocuous festive ride and gathering of women under the tutelage of the pagan
goddess of the moon and the hunt." As early as the 1420s, agents of the Church had begun to
preach against it, calling it the witches' "sabbath."120
It is therefore possible that by the time Sellaio's panel was executed, the belief in Diana as
a positive role mode1 for women may have been less popular than in earlier periods, encouraging
her omission from the painting. However, even if such factors had little influence on the form of
Sellaio's work, the fact still remains that a story of a woman's destruction of a man was
transformed into a story about the result of a man's foolishness.
Pagan goddesses such as Venus and Diana often played powerful roles in quallrocento
art. Depictions of Venus reigning over her mortal children, however, constituted particularly
powerful and frequently depicted images of female supremacy. The role reversal embodied in the
notion of a female goddess influencing mortal men was especially meaningful as quattrocento
1 19 For a thorough discussion of thc subjcct, see Mormando 1999, chaptcr 2, passim.
120Thc labcling of ihc 'witchcs' Sabbath' also rcllcck the hatrcd of Jews as the name denvcs from anti-Scmitic
sentiment which Momando shows to be prominent in quattrocento Itaiy. See Mormando 1999, p. 66 and chapter
3, passim.
Italians believed in the astrological pseudoscience which described her powers.
This chapter began with an investigation of the written mythographic traditions which
established the multi-faceted nature of the character of Venus. Though her influence was often
beneficial, recognizing her as an exclusively positive incarnation was not always easy. There was
always the danger of mistaking the "Venus malo" for the "Venus bono," as Troiolo seems to
have done in Boccaccio's Il Filostrato.
While it was no surprise that Venus could easily persuade the weak and simple minds of
women to do as she pleased, she also possessed the power to overcome the male, rational mind
with self-indulgent, sexual instinct. As a consequence, the male hegemony felt the need to limit or
contain this often dangerous "force of nature." The quattrocento mind must have easily
understood the clearly frightened words of the opening lines of Alanus de Insulis's twelfth-
century Deplanctu nature, in which the battle of the Venuses underscores both the extremity of
the goddess's power and the divided nature of her identity:
1 tum laughter into tears, joys to lamentation,
Applause to complaint, rnerriment to weeping,
When 1 see Nature's decrees stilled,
( a . . )
When Venus fighting Venus makes he's into she's;
And when she unrnans men through her rnagic arts.121
The power of Venus to turn the natural order of things on its head often linked her to
themes which found a kinship with carnival, such as the imagery of courtly love or tiurnphal
pmcessions. Her encouagrncnt of liccntious Schaviour and love of irrationa! Cesire helped make
her the goddess of the same sort of pleasure and enjoyment which charactensed the freedom of
carnivalesque festivity. Furthemore, just like carnivalesque celebrations, her powers to upend the
normal social order by enslaving men and women to their baser desires were not boundless or
121 Quoted and translatcd in Economou 1975, p. 16, from the opcning lines of Alanus's twelfih-century work
entided Deplanctumtrrrae: "ln lacrimas risus, in luctus gandia verto, 1 In planctum plausus, in lacnmosa jocus, I
Cum sua Naturac vidco dccreta silere, 1 ( . . . ) I Cum Veneris in Venerem pugnans illos facit illas; 1 Cumque
suos magica devirat arte viros." This work was known in M y during the quattrocento.
1 45
unpredictable. Instead, they were bief in duration and scheduled by the stars. Although static
depictions of Venus in triumph provide a permanent display of insuperable and endunng venereal
influence, such a message seems to have been subtly baianced--at times, even undennined--by an
inherent impermanence incorporated into the image's content. This was probably particularly
important in works where the goddess could be (mis)interpreted as her lascivious incarnation.
Indications of the potency of Venus's influence were usually moderated by reminders of its
limitations. For example, imagery which emphasised Venus's identity as a planetary goddess
immediately limited her powers by binding her influence to a cyclic pattern of strength and
weakness which depended upon her movement across the sky. This approach is evident in
Baldini's print from the Pianeti series, whose astronomical text lirnits the period of time in which
the effects of Venus are felt, despite the fact that the image above displays venereai influence at its
most potent. Altematively, an artist could emphasise Venus's association with certain times of the
year in order to temporaiiy restrict the range of her influence. In the Schifanoia frescoes, Venus
was a supreme power in April only, while in the case of desco imagery or the Otto Prints, her
influence was bound to the rare times in which women gained temporary social importance, such
as childbirth or mamage. In a different way, an artist could restrict Venus and her powers to a
particular location, as in the Triumph of Venus, where her influence seems escapable if one takes
pains to avoid the paradisal gardens which bear a kinship to her antique realm in Cyprus.
Depictions of Venus in quattrocento art, therefore, are not images of unbridled female
supremacy but rather carefully limited depictions of momentary release whose purposes ranged
from those of lighthearted entertainment to those of moral education or personal propaganda.
Consequently, it would appear that quattrocento imagery of Venus as a controlling force shares
the flexibility of nature and purpose, as well as the links to the carnivalesque, which characterised
the sex role reversal imagery discussed in the first two chapters.
In this study, 1 have attempted to broaden our understanding of the depiction of sex role
reversal in the visual arts of fifteenth-century Italy. Such imagery appeared in various forms
which 1 divided into three separate, but related groups: works which incorporate the iconography
of the "Power of Women"; imagery derived from the medieval courtly love tradition, such as
depictions of pairs of lovers or the Garden of Love; and portrayals of the pagan goddesses,
particularly Venus, exerting a controlling influence over the male sex. The essential, underlying
quality which connects these vanous forms is their mutual portrayal of heterosexual interactions
in which the woman somehow controls or dominates the man, a complete inversion of the
quattrocento gender hierarchy which posited that men were wiser and stronger than women by
Aside from a variable appearance, sex role reversal imagery also had a remarkable
flexibility of purpose and meaning. Not surprisingly, it was most often employed as a means of
commenting on relations between the sexes and could forefront either a critical or a celebratory
view of situations in which women were in control. However, the imagery could serve purposes
which ranged from the moralising to the entertaining, the talismanic to the propagandistic.
1 have also asserted that because sex role reversa1 imagery inverted a fundamental aspect
of the fifieenth-ceritury social hierarchy, it was probabiy associated with the nonsensical idea of
the worid turned upside down. in fact, the imagery appears to have shared a great deai with the
carnivalesque celebration of certain quattrocento festivals. Just as the imagery upended the
hierarchy of gender, times of carnivalesque festivity afforded a rare freedom from behavioural
noms which permitted the temporary inversion of al1 aspects of the social hierarchy in various
ways. In Italy, the carnivalesque nature of what Eisenbichler has termed "the festive psyche" is
especially evident in extant carnival songs. The relationship between some of these songs and sex
role reversa1 imagery seems especially close, as both describe similar sorts of themes, characters,
interactions and imagery, as well as the fact that both could be experienced on more than on level.
Recognising this quality of the imagery makes any effort to discuss its reception or
interpretation by a contemporary audience particularly problematic. Like most quattrocento
imagery, that of sex role inversion was pressed into the service of the diverse purposes and needs
of its patrons. However, sex role reversai imagery was an especially tricky medium of visual
communication. The hazards of its use lay in the fact that although any given example of sex role
reversal imagery may have been employed towards a particular, strategic function, it also seems
to have been both ambiguous and ambivalent, constantly communicating on levels other than its
primary one. For instance, even when it was not intended as a direct comment on the relationship
of the sexes, it functioned in that capacity nonetheless. When it was intended to make such a
comment, it did so with a marked ambiguity. Consequently, an educational, moral exemplutn
would always have also possessed subversive or humorous undertones, and a lighthearted,
celebratory image of female strength would never have failed to induce at least a twinge of
conditioned anxiety. These CO-existing, and often conflicting, layers of meaning suggest that
images of sex role inversion worked to destabilise the existent social order even when they were
enlisted to reinforce it. This double-edged effect becomes especially hazardous in the unsettled
social climate of urban centres in fifteenth-century Italy. Exposing young men to the idea that
being under the control of a woman was possible--let alone occasionally pleasurable--was
counter-productive to their internalisation of the hierarchical male view of their fathers. For young
female viewers, imagery of empowered and controlling women offered a space for fantasy and
reflection, either of which might have led to thoughts or behaviour which lay outside the social
nom. This tension seems to have been made explicit in imagery derived from the chivalric
tradition which persisted during the quattrocento and placed the court lady-beloved on a pedestal,
and the knightly man as a vassal at her feet.
The ambiguity and ambivalence of the role reversal imagery immeasurably complicates its
discussion as a unified whole. Given that it could be interpreted in different ways from viewer to
viewer, or simultaneously by a single individual, each image must be considered while keeping
the larger artistic and social contexts in mind at the same time. The factors that affected the
experience of an image of sex role reversa1 included its physical environment, the medium in
which it was presented, and, perhaps most importantly, the nature and composition of its
audience, especially with respect to the differences between old and Young, male and female, or
civic and courtly.
This study is only another step in scholarly efforts to investigate the meaning and
significance of sex role reversa1 imagery in the context of fifteenth-century Italian society. Further
research needs to be conducted in order to enhance our understanding of the imagery's historical,
art histoncal and sociological significance. Such efforts would require a more complete
exploration of the imagery's relationship to a number of contextual factors. For example, the
notion that the production of sex role reversal imagery was linked to social anxiety caused by the
unsteady demographics discussed in chapter one deserves greater study. Guido Ruggiero is one
of a number of scholars who have begun such efforts. His archiva1 research suggests a shift
towards a more critical and restrictive treatment of carnival during the sixteenth century and the
onset of the Counter-Reformation.1 Did these circumstances affect the production of imagery
related to carnivalesque festivity, such as that of sex role reversal'? It appears that the depiction of
sex role reversa1 undenvent certain transformations during the transition from the fifteenth to the
sixteenth centuries. Sara Mathews Gneco has addressed the notion that cinquecento imagery of
sex role reversai reflected a broader range and social acceptance of female roles such as the
prostitute or courtesan.2 One is led to ask why later imagery of female agency ceased to depict the
1 Sec thc introduction to Ruggicro 1993b cntitled Tart re Vde and carnival," pp. 3-33.
2 Sce Gricco's asscssmcnt of thc iinporbncc of sistccnth-century broadshcct imagery of proslitutcs and courtcsans.
Grieco 1997, pp. 83-87.
1 49
Young, upper class ladies seen in fifteenth-century Trionfi illustrations or representations of
courtly love couples as the domineering viragos? The meaning and consequences of such a shift
deserves inquiry.
One area for further investigation that may prove fruitful involves the persistence of
courtly values during the quattrocento, including in civic and humanist contexts like Florence. On
paper, romantic relationships were markedly different from those prescribed in fifteenth-century,
humanistic treatises on mamage. The court lady did enslave and emasculate her male admirer,
whereas the civic husband of Alberti's Dellu Famiglh controlled the potential wantonness and
waywardness of his less rational spouse. How did sex role reversai imagery play into these
diverse ideals of male-female dynamics, diverse ideals which co-existed in the literature of the
day, and for the same audiences who puzzled over images of the woman on top?
The connection between images of powerful women and the rise of interest in witches
and witchcraft is another factor that demands more research. Many scholars have discussed the
importance of a fear of witches in northern European countries, but little literature exists on the
phenomenon as it developed in Italy.3 Franco Mormando's me nt book dealing with the sermons
of San Bernardino da Siena reveals that the fear of witches began in the early quattrocento in
Italy. Aside from homosexuals and Jews, witches were the group which Bernardino's sermons
maligned the most.4 Although the depiction of witches in the visual arts had not yet been
established during the quattrocento, Parmigianino's print of a witch holding a spindle and seated
3 For cxamplc, scc Ropcr 1994 which dcals with the phcnomcnon of witchcnl't in countncs north of thc Alps.
Also, scc LCnc Drcsdcn-Cocndcrs, "Witchcs as dcvils' concubines: on thc origin of fcar of witchcs an protection
against witchcraft," in Saitrts wd Site-Devi1.s: Itrtoges of Wott~rrt itt iiir Fi//erttiii und Si r/ ee~t i Cenlirries,
London, 1987. Charlcs Zika kas noicd that in northcrn Europcan art, witchcs wcrc "incrcasingly portraycd as
womcn who sought to appropriak male scxuality and powcr for thcmsclvcs and, in that way, to invcrt and pcrvcrt
the propcr gcndcr and social ordcr." Scc thc cxtcndcd discussion Charles Zika, "Shc-man: Visual rcprcscnlations
of witchcrdt and scxuality in sixtccnth-ccniury Europe," in Vetiirs and Mars: Bqetideritig Love and \Var iti
Medieval and h r l y Moderti l:iirope, cds. A. Lynch and P. Maddcni, Ncdlands, 1995, p. 148.
4 With rcspect to thc Jew, the sodomite and the witch, Mormando notcs, "Although legally sanctioncd
pcrsccution of thcsc groups was by no mcans at its worst in thc fiftccnth ccntury, this ccntury noncthclcss can bc
considcrcd a watcrshcd in thcir collcciisc fortunes, inasmuch as it \vas ihcn that thc tidc bcgan a noticcably sharp
upward risc, at lcast in Italy." Mormando 1999, p. 50.
on a phallus dating to around 1530 suggests that the power of witches and the pictonal powers of
the common woman became linked at some time (fig. 76).
Future research should also take a closer look at the connection between pnntmaking and
sex role reversa1 imagery. While objects which showcased sex role reversal imagery such as
deschi had begun to decline in number by the beginning of the cinquecento,s pnnts of the same
material were appeanng in increasing numbers. As a consequence, it seems that sex role reversal
imagery was subject to--and reflective of--the demands of the public. The imagery's prominence
in prints, the most affordable and accessible artistic medium of the day, also raises questions
regarding its reception by members of different classes, a question which 1 have not addressed in
this paper. For example, research into printshop inventories has revealed that imagery of figures
like Judith was very popular among the upper classes, but not among the lower ones.6
In many ways, this investigation of quattrocento sex role reversa1 imagery seems to have
raised more questions than it has answered. The imagery's complexity stands as a testament not
only to the potential for multivalency in fifteenth-century Italian art, but also to the intricacies of a
society built upon the existence and enforcement of a hierarchy of distinct genders. Future study
of sex role inversion imagery will continue to contribute to discussions of the tensions and
anxieties that underlie social definitions of gender and the family.
5 Musacchio 1998, p. 155.
(5 Gricco 1997, p. 70.
Appendix: Selected Italian Renaissance carnival songs
Al1 of the texts below are carnival songs taken from the collection amassed by Charles
Singleton (see Singleton 1936). The page references which follow the titles refer to their
appearance in Singleton's text. The translations of directly relevant portions of the songs are
included in the body of the preceding essay and are my own.
1. Canzonu delle vedove (Song of the widows), pp. 76-77.
Donne, chi lieta si tmova,
a piet6 di noi si muova.
Contemplate questi panni,
quanto son di gran dolore!
No' si6n pur tenere d'ami,
e abbi6n giovin il core,
molestate dall'amore
che ci scalda, anco ci stmgge;
I'onest6 il piacer fugge,
il dolor sempre rinnuova.
Quanto duro a sopportare
giovinezzamal contenta;
nulla vale ogni ben fare
che per forza altri consenta;
l'ap,petito ci tonnenta
di discreder la natura,
e 1' cosa troppo dura
far per forza di s pruova.
No' vegnan diliberate
per aiuto e per consiglio:
vorrem esser man tate
perch siamo in gran periglio;
non possiamo alzar il ciglio,
e pur siam di came e d'ossa,
biasimarla a ognun giova.
Quel che si vede palese
mal si pub altrui celare;
chi del suo non cortese,
quel d'altrui non pub toccare;
dura cosa l'aspettare,
e chi non pmova, non crede;
ci savia, abbia merzede,
e a pieta di noi si muova.
I I . Canzona di Vedove (Song of the Widow s), pp. 298-299
Perch ciascun difender de I'onore,
bench vil donne vedovette siamo,
oggi mostrar vogliamo
che gli piu il vostro assai che'l nostro errore.
Come s' ha a far pallone O travestiti
O qual'altra pazzia,
voi fate turchi, diavoli O romiti,
e noi in compagnia:
il che, bench ci sia
vergogna, ei ci duo1 piu che voi mostrate
che d'invenzion mancate,
e miseria e ignoranza e poco amore.
Se questo avvien, per non vi far piacere,
di noi per carnovale,
noi vi facciam, com'a ingrati, il dovere,
perch siate cicale;
che se facciam pur male,
Io t egnh qualche volta al men celato:
ch'un segreto peccato
si scusa piu ch'un manifesto errore.
Ognun vu01 biasimar, e voi piu vecchi
con manco discrezione:
poi ci straccate tutto il di gli orecchi
con lettere e canzone;
ma noi siam troppo buone,
ch, se noi vi volessimo straziare,
vi faremo pazzi e ciechi in casa e fuore.
I I I . Cunzona delle Monache (Song of the nuns), pp. 44-45.
Deh! gustate le parole
d'este povere figliuole.
Non prendete ammirazione
1 53
d'esser fuor del munistero:
non fu nostro intenzione
di portar questo vel nero;
sempre avemmo desidero
come l'altre esser ornate;
quest' quel che piu ci duole.
Siamo state in penitenza,
in digiuni e in affanni;
avam poca conoscenza
quand'entrammo in questi panni:
or che siam mature d'anni,
conosciamo il nostr'errore,
e sentiinci ardere'l core
d'altro caldo che di sole.
Quanto son grievi tormenti
alle pover' monacelle
a veder tanti ornamenti
di quest'altre dame belle!
E le penson a vedelle:
"1' sare' cosi anch' io!
Maladisco il padre rnio
che cosi tener mi vuole!"
Quante monache sacrate
maladiscon notte e giorno
chi 'n ta1 loco l'ha menate
e piangendo van attorno!
Orsu, su, non pic soggiorno!
Cerchiin pur nostra ventura:
a discreder la natura
bisogn' altro che paroie.
IV. Cunzona delle Femine che Tornano in Chiasso (Song of the Streetwalkers), p. 56-57
Che savio, gusti e 'ntenda,
e nessuno non ci riprenda!
Savam tutte convertite
perle buone spirazione,
del peccar tutte pentite
con gran pianto e contrizione;
fumrno date a piu persone,
1 54
ch ci avessino in commenda.
Le promesse furon grande,
ma fu poi l'attener corto:
ne' boschetti a mangiar ghiande
pres' aremo piu conforta!
Non sie gnun che ci die '1 torto
se no' siamo state a menda.
Savam use a trionfare
con pollastre e buon piccioni,
sempre a cena e desinare
con be' giovani garzoni:
sicch'ognuno ce la perdoni
del tornare a ta1 faccenda.
Tutte quante abbiin disposto
di manderne ognun contento,
e di dare lesso e arrosto
come fia vostro talento;
per avere oro e argento,
ne daremo alla tregenda.
V . Cunto di Donne che si Purton di Casaper Disperute (Song of the women who are leaving their
homes in desperation), pp. 443-444.
Per colpa sola de' mariti nostri,
misere e sfortunate
di casa partiam per disperate.
Noi abbiamo i mariti nostri tutti
di noi forte geiosi,
avari e sopratutto vecchi e brutti
e perversi e ritrosi;
tanto che 'n casa mai
non sentiam se non guai,
grida e nmbrotti, e fuor d'ogni ragione
guardate come fussimo in prigione.
Chi con fatica alla messa pu6 gire,
O a casa suo madre:
chi non pu6 rassettarsi, O npulire
le sue membra leggiadre:
perch '1 tristo marito
con istrano appetito
terne che quel che dar non ci pub egli,
non cerchiam procacciar da questi e quegli.
Misere dunque, e sopratutto quelle
che sono, O che saranno
con simil sorte; e bench sagge e belle,
da pianger sempre aranno.
Lasciamo ir che ciascuna
fia sempremai digiuna
di quel ch'all'altre donne tanto piace,
guerra abbiam sempre in casa, e non mai pace.
Ben ci possiam de' padri e fratei nostri
sempre rammaricare,
ch'a uomini impotenti e quasi mostri
ci vollon maritare,
per dar poco, O niente
di dote, e finalmente
fummo da lor, sendo d'ogni ben prive,
non maritate, anzi sepolte vive.
Eperb padri, e voi altn ch'avete
fanciulle a maritare,
monache prima, O in casa le tenete,
che le vogliate dare
a chi carico sia
d'anni, O di malattia:
lasciate andare e ncchezze e tesoro,
se '1 vostro onor bramate e I'util loro.
Dunque voi, donne, ch'avete gli sposi
amorevoii e begii,
giovani sopratutto e graziosi,
sappiarevi godegli
e con ardente zelo
rendete grazie al cielo
di tanto bene; or noi senza indugiare
n'andremo i nostn amanti a ritrovare.
VI. Cunzonadegli Innamoruri (Song of those who have fallen in love), pp. 54-55
Quanto dura e grieve pena
questa rigida catena!
Oim! questo Cupido
ci distrugge ne1 suo foco:
e' ci fa sudar ne1 sido,
non trovian Pace in gnun loco,
n speranza pur un poco
Infelice quel che nasce
nelle forze del tiranno
che de' nostri cor si pasce
e ristoraci d'affanno!
O, felici que'che vanno
liberi da ta1 catena!
Ogni liberta si perde,
che si lega in forza altrui:
del continu0 rinverde
l'aspra fiarnrna di costui,
merz mai non regna in lui,
sempre strigne la catena.
Donne, deh! siate pietose,
ch per voi legati siano;
al pregar siate graziose,
gioventti non spiri in vano;
cor gentil fu sempre umano,
sendo cinto in ta1 catena.
Per pieta, di noi v'incresca:
non ci sia persona avare
d'insegnarci spegner l'esca
che par dolce ed amara;
libertfi ch' tanto cara
non consiste i n ta1 catena.
N consiglio n risposta
non ci dato alla presenza:
di partianci a nostra posta,
sopportando in pazienza
questa cruda penitenza:
morte rompe ogni catena.
VII. Trionfo d'Amore e Gelosia (The triumph of Love and Jealousy), pp. 155-156
Da1 nostro acerbo, inevitabil fat0
costretti s i ho a seguitar costoro;
e qua1 sie '1 nostro stato
potete intender per ciascun di loro,
per cui v' denotato
quanto sie de' suo' beni il cielo avaro,
poich si poco dolze ha tanto amaro.
Nacquon costoro insieme anticamente
e cosi insieme vivono e morranno;
quasi sopr'ogni gente,
come vedete, giurisdizione hanno;
bench ognun lietamente
servirebbe ad amor, che signor nostro,
se non fussi quel'altro orrendo mostro.
Perla forma e per I'abito s'intende
chi coste' sia e gli effetti suo' fri;
da1 vestir ben comprende
ciascun gl' incerti e vari suo' pensieri;
testimonianza rende
la suo magrezza e '1 suo colore ancora
com'altri sempre distrugge e divora.
Quattro v6lti ha, perch per tutto vuole
I'orecchio suo, la boca e gli occhi porgere;
per I'amorose scole
ci6 che si dice e fa, cerca di scorgere;
mai sonno albergar suole,
ma sempre piange e sempremai mal vede,
e peggio pensa e a verun non crede.
Perme' veder, gli occhiali agli occhi porta,
CO' quali vien raddoppiando il suo dolore,
perch gli sono scorta,
veggendo male, a mostrargliel maggiore;
di nulla si conforta,
ma ' 1 suo sospetto in infinito accresce,
e dove un tratto alberga, mai non esce.
Con quella spada ch'ella porta in mano
ferisce altrui, n sana mai ta1 piaga,
e noi qui la priano;
1 58
cosi sempre costei di mal s'appaga,
come detto v'abbifino:
e per6 ciaschedun che liber sia,
fugga questa perversa gelosia.
VIII. Canzona del Trionfo della Pudicizia (Song of the tnumph of chastity), pp. 63-64
cornincian gli amanti
Deh, men! crudele amore,
di chi tuo servidore.
Deh, risguarda i nostri petti,
come stanno tutti quanti:
no' siin tutti tuo' suggetti,
tuo' fedeli servi costanti,
tutti siin fedeli amanti
che ami6n per gentilezza,
ma nessuna non apprezza
di costoro il tuo valore.
Deh, dimostra la tuo forza
contra queste tuo nemiche:
tuo valore ognuno forza.
Leggiin pur le storie antiche:
delle nostre aspre fatiche.
Deh, diventa un po' pietoso,
si' a tuo' servi grazioso
come de gentil signore.
Tu ha tanti uomini vinti,
di gran pregio e di gran fama;
e 'n piU parte n' dipinti
che ciascun men ti chiama:
e or par che una dama
vinca te col voler suo!
Deh, disema I'arco tuo
e incendi loro il core!
Ic diunc pudichc
Non aranno tuo saette
ta1 valor che tu offenda
queste pudiche angiolette;
non pensar ch'altri s'amenda
a un orbo c'ha la benda
che gli tien velati gli occhi:
ma costor son tutti sciocchi;
chi ti crede 'n grande errore.
Getta pu saette e fiocca
col tu' arco accesi strali,
ch nessuno incende e tocca
nostri cor si naturali:
se tuo' colpi son mortali,
son per chi non si difende;
chi la sua libert vende,
non mai sanza dolore.
Non ami tanta letizia
che da te sian superate:
val piu nostra pudicizia
che non val tuo falsitate.
Quante gi6 vituperate
sute son per darti fede!
Ben matto chi ti crede,
O tiranno traditore.
I X. CanzonudelSignordella Cavallinu (Song of the Sire of Young Fillies (or wild oats?)), pp.
Ogni dama pellegrina
che ne1 core sente d'amore,
lieta venga a fare onore
al signor di Cavallina.
Gli venuto quel bel mese
che raiiegra tutt' i cori
e rivesta ogni paese
d'erbe, frutte, fronde e fiori:
maggio pieno di dolci odori
pe' giardini e pe' boschetti,
dove canton gli uccelletti
notte e di, sera e mattina.
Vuolsi fare festa di maggio,
perch gli degno d'onore:
non loco si selvaggio
che non sia pien di splendore;
escon de' boschetti fore
gli animali alla foresta;
per amore facendo festa,
l'un con I'altro s'avvicina.
Pien d'amore e d'allegrezza
siin venuti a visitare
qui la vostra gentilezza
per far tutti rallegrare;
e cerchih di mantare
queste nostre damigelle,
chi volesse una di quelle,
O vu01 grande O vu01 piccina.
Chi ha '1 core magno e cortese,
or dimostn il suo valore;
no' vogliin mutar paese
col rnagnifico signore:
qua1 di voi brama I'onore,
non aspetti piu parole;
or presenti quel che vuole,
perch '1 sole ratto cammina.
X. Canzona de ' Mariti Discreti (Song of the considerate husbands), pp. 50-5 1
No' abbiam fatto concetto
per aver qualche diletto.
Voler gire alla foresta
e lassu far carnesciale
con le donne, in giuoco e 'n festa,
e la came trar di sale:
gli un tempo naturale
ch'ellafia vermiglia e soda,
e costor voglion la coda
per far morbido il ciuffetto.
Elle dicon che quel grasso
cosi morbido e degno,
e perb vengono a spasso
per fomire il lor disegno;
ell'arebbon troppo a sdegno
se la fusse adoperata,
da nessuna mantata
sare' loro troppo dispetto.
Sian disposti a contentalle
e dar loro mille piacen,
per giardini, boschetti e valle,
ricercando i lor poden;
elle vengon volentien,
perch'ognuna ha '1 suo discreto:
cosi noi a loro dirieto
spess7andi6n per buon rispetto.
La farn pescare a mano
pe' fossati a certe grotte,
e cacciar per monte e piano
sempre di di e di notte;
darn loro cacio e ncotte
e capretti teneregli
tra le mandorle e baccegli:
tutto '1 maggio a lor diletto.
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2. Pieter Bruegel, The Huy Clmsing Afrer the Horse (proverb), engraving, 1.568.
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Sammlung, Munich.
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Sabauda, Turin.
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cliest, fi fieeiilli cenlury. Museo Nazionale, Florence.
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Petrarch 's Trionfi.
7. Unknown Neapolitan, Triurnph of Love, frontispiece to a codex of Petrarch's Trion$, latter
half of the fifteenth centtiry. Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, MS. Pal. 157, C. 1'.
8. Unknown Florentine, Triwnph of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, Florentine, ca. 1460.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
9. Follower of Pesellino, Ti-iwnpks of Love (l17tl CI ~~~st i t y, tempera on panel, front of a mariage
chest, mid-fifieenth centiiry. Forrnerly i n the collection of Major General Sir George Rrirns,
North Mymms Park, Hertf'or$4u~e.
10. Attributed to Marco del Buono, Triurnph cf Love, tempera on panel, side of a mamage chest,
fifteenth century. Pinacoteca, Siena.
1 1. Attributed to Apollonia di Giovanni, Triutnplz of Love, manuscnpt illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's TrionJi, Ca. 1442. Bibiioteca Laurenziana, Florence, MS. Pal. 72, f. 75''.
12. Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni, Triurnplz of Love, manuscnpt illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Ti-iorzfi, after 14-42. Biblioteca Laiirenziana, Fiorence, MS. Strozz. 174, f. 19".
13. Workshop of Apollonia di Giovanni, Triunzph of Love, manuscript illiimiiiation in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionfi, second half of the fifteenth century. Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence, MS.
1129, f. IV.
14. Workshop of Apollonia di Giovanni, Triutnplz of Furnc, manuscript illumination i n a codex of
Petrarch's Trior$, after 1442. Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, MS. Strozz. 174, f. 12".
15. Francesca d'Antonio del Chienco, Triutnph of Love, manuscript illumination in a codex of
Petrarch's Trionfi onginally made for Lorenzo de' Medici, last quarter of the fifteenth centtiry.
Bibliothque Nationale, France, MS. italien 548, f. IO\'.
16. Workshop of the Master of the "Vitae Tmperatorum," Triutnph of Chastity, manuscript
illumination i n a codex of Petrarch's Trior@. Biblioteca Vaticana, cod. Barb. lat. 3943.
17. Wotkshop of Neroccio ds' h i d i , T r i ~ n y h of C'husritv, tanpera on panel, f mi t of a i i i ani age
chest. ca. 1470- 1430. PRvatc collection.
18. Baccio Baldini, 'Ti.i~tiph of Love, print from a series of the Ti-ionji (dl olliers i i i the series
were eseciiteci by Maso Finiguerra,) ca. 1465- 1435.
19. Unknown Paduan, Triidniph of Law, nianuscript i l luiuiiiation i r i a codex of Pelrarch's
Trionfi, fifieenth century. Biblioteca Vaticaria, Rome, cod. LJrb. 68 1.
20. Pl7ylli.s und Arisirotlc inatiusci-ipt niargirialiiim in a Frencl psaltei aiitl liours. enrly Lw-teentli
ceiitury. Muse Diocsain, Arras, MS. 47, f. 74.
21. Attributcd to Mcmrno di Filippuccio, Ari.stot1 ; - i dt h hy Plqdlis, frcsco frorri thc cycle of
seduction stories i n the tower roorn of the Palazzo del Podest, San Gimignano, ca. 1305-13 15.
! 93
22. Unknowri Florentine, Phjlllix ::~d,.iristntk, prlnt, inid-fiftecnth ccnlui).. Kunstlialle,
23. Taddeo di Barloio, Mi rs, fresco i n the vesti5i:le o f the Pa'alazzo Rbblico, Sicna, cariy
foiirteerilli cenliiry.
23. Un knowii Italiati, Ph?Vii.~ m l Aristorkc, broiize, si xleentii i'nriiry. h.oiivi-e, Paris.
25. Franesco Marmitta, E. i f ~. ryh c!fLor.e, ina!iuscript illiimiiiatioii in a copy of Peiirarch's
Ii-iot!fi, ca. 150 1 - 1505. Laiidesbibliotliek. Kassel.
26. Unknowii Florentine, Vit;qil tlw Sor.cerw, engnving. fifteenth cerilury.
1 98
27. M m rl@t~din~q tr cbustlc ugainsr htrrclv, iiianuscripl itinrginalium in a copy of the Akt :
Pontijicd. Fitzwilliani Miiseuin, Cambridge, MS. 298, f. 4 1 .
1 99
25. U'oirmn uho~tr to LIII. YPLCT u knight with lier distuflin u josi.\t, rnaiiiiscripi r-i-iargiriaiiurii iri a copy
of the Lclncelor du Dic, laie ~hirteentfi century. Yale Uiiiversitp Library, New Haven. MS. fr. 95,
f . 739.
29. lf~tilrress with t1og.s pu::wii?g u v t q . nimiscript inargiiial i un? i n the "Teiiisoii Psnlter,"
iliirteeiitii entury. British Museiini. I.,ondori, A83. MS. 24.686, f . 13'.
30. Unknown Tuscan, Wotncin srriltei nzmz with urrow, page from a niodel-book. late fourteeni h
centiiry. Pierpoiit Morgan Library. New York, Drawin; I l , f. 14.
3 1. Domenico di Bartolo, The q&-in,q ofthe Hcw-t, lenlpera on panel, lid of a coffer, ca. 1438.
Foi-ilierly Schiossinuseiini, Berlin.
32. Muz ixlttiing Eros and " k t z prcscntitzg heurr to lcrcb, rnanuscri pt margirialia in a psalter
Bodlein tibraiy, Oxford, MS. 6, vol. 2, S. 159'.
33. Aribtited to Baccio Baldini, Worncm ~1x 1 ccpivc'.\ h e m, priiil, ca. 145- 145. British
Museum. London.
34. Attnbuteci to Baccio Baldini, Roundel wi t hf i w loir vccncs andfnur imimc115 rithin (1 hrder-
o//lvit, prinl, ca. 1465-14.35. Cabinet Rotlischild, Loiivre, Paris.
36. Pl?vllis seciucirz;: Aristorlc. nianuscript rnarginaliutn in a codex of 1,'Hi.sfoire di Gmd .
~ i b l i i h ~ u e Natioriale, 13aris, MS. fr. 95. C 2%.
38. Attnbuted to Baccio Baldini, Young wn mn givin,g n wreuth ro u young m m , pritit, 1465-
1485. Grapliisclie Saminlung, Albertina, Vienna.
39. Diagrani of the reinainitig frescoes and sinopia in the Suladel Pi.suiello, Gonzaga palace,
Mantiia. (Taken from Joanna Woods-Marsden, The Gonzugu of Muntlrn und Pi.sctnc.lIo's
Arlh~rriun Frescoes, Princelon, Princeton University Press, 1988.)
40. Pisanello, To~rrnutnentscetw, fresco from an Arthurian cycle, Ca. 14-47-1448, south-east wall of
the Sulu del Pisua,~ello, Goiizaga palace, Mantua.
41. Oltaviano Nelli (?), La Virilit, detail of a fresco in the corridor of the PalazzoTrhci, Foligno,
late thirteenth or early foiirteenth ceniiiry.
42. Benedetto Bembo, Presrntation of the Sword, fresco, 1460- 1463: soiiih lunette of the C(meru
Perc:grinuAureu, Cnstello di Torrecliiara, Torrecliiara.
43. Benedetto Bembo, Crowizing with u Wreuth, fresco, 1460- 1463, West lunette of the Carneru
Pt.regrifiuAuwu, Caslello di Tomechiara, Torrechiara.
44. Sliop of Giovanni di Marco, Gurdetz of Love, tempera on panel, front panel of a marriage
chest, ca. 1430- 1440. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
45. Follower of Jacopo di Cione, GUI'&IZ of Love, tempera on panel, birth tray, ca. 1370- 1380.
Muse de la Chartreuse. Douai.
46. Uiiknown Tiiscan, Garden ofLove, front of a marriage chest carved in reliefs and gilded, ca.
1430- 1440. Victoria and Alberi Museuin, Londoii.
47. Buffalniacco, detail of the Garden of Vanity froin the Triurnph of Declth, fresco in the
Camposanto, Yisa, ca. 1340.
2 19
48. Mariotlo di Nardo, Illornentj-om the Tewida, tempera on panel, birtli tray, ca. 1420.
Staalsgalerie, Stuttgart.
49. Atiributed to the Masler of the Bargello Tondo, Susunnu ucdthc Elderv, teriiperri on panel,
birth tray, ca. 1447. Serristori colleciioii, Florerice.
50. Follower of Masolino, Garden ofLove, tempera on panel. birtli tray, cri. 1420- 1440. The Art
Miiseiim, Princeton University, Princeton.
51. Florentine close io Pesellino, GLI I ' L~~I Z of L,OIW, te~npera on panel: ti rtl i iray, ca. 14-50.
Forriierly i n ihe colleciion of Martin IAioy, Paris.
52. Follower of Jacopo di Cione, a chessimard painted on the reverse of a birth tray, tempera 011
panel, ca. 1370- 1380. Muse de la Chartreuse, Douai.
53. The Prodigal Son, ivory casket, French, ca. 1325- 13.50. Metropolitan Miiseiim of Art, New
.S. Spriiig, rrianiiscript illuniinatiori i n a TLlcuir?i~m~~~~t7ifufi.~, ca. 1.340- 1400. Hiblioteca
C:?sanatense, Rome, MS. 4182, f. 55".
55. Roses, illt~mi~ialion in a Tucuinu~riSunitutis, ca. 1390. Bibliothque Nationale, Paris, MS. lat.
Nouv. Acq. 1673, f. 83.
56. Young wot mn weaving a g~rl and~f or a yomg t mn, French ivory, foiirteentli century.
Kunstgeweibeiriiiseiiin, Slaatliche Miiseeri Preussischer Kultiirbesitz, Berlin.
57. Franco and Filippolo de Veris, delail of sinful behaviour froin the i mt .Judgnnent, fresco, S.
Maria dei Ghirli, Cai-iipione, ca. 1400.
58. Unkriown Lombard, hluy, fresco panel i n a cycle of the nionlhs in the Torre delI'Aquila,
Castello del Buon Coiisigliu, Trento, beginning of the fifteenth century.
59. Phnet Mun and Zodiuc Mm , illustrnlioiis in a tnedical text. Slaalsbibliotliek, Munich, Cod.
lat. 5595, f. 5 1 \ and 56.
60. Baccio Baldini, f i m g I,&s Givirq Yo~in,? Mun u Crorvt?. print, Ca. 1465-1485. Grnphische
Sanimliing, Al berlina, Vienna.
61. Sassetta, detai! of Vaiiiglory Froiii SI . F ~ n c i s i rl Ecstuy). Villa 1 Tatti. Florence.
2 3.3
62. Ridolfo Guarierito, Venus, fresco, detail of a cycle of the pa$aii gods in the choir of the
Ereniitarii, I'adoa, before 1378.
63. Giovanni Miretlo and his workshop (?), detnil of the depiction of Venus and her irilliieiicc
from the frescoes in Il Scilorw in the Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, lirst half of the fifteentli
64. Unknowri Florentine, image of a naked, reclining woinaii or1 the inside lid of a rnamage chest,
tempera on pancl, ca. 14-65 Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
65. Urikriowri Floreilline, Tt-iutrzplz of Vetu~s, tempera on panel. hirtli tray, ca. 1400. I,ouvre,
Pari S.
66. Baccio Baldini, Venus, print froni the Pimeti series, ca. 1464-1465. British Miiseiiiii,
l mdon.
67. Unkiiowri Florentine, Venus, erigraviiig copied from Baccio Baldini's series of the Pi ut zfi ,
after 14.65. British Museum, London.
68. Francesca del Cossa, April, fresco, Ca. 1460- 1470, from the cycle of the nionths in the Sukl
dei hiesi, Palazzo Scliifnnoia, Ferrara.
69. Detail of tlie depiction of Septenzher, fresco, ca. 1460-1470, from the cycle of [lie niontlis in
the SuEu dei h!esi, Palazz,o Sclii faiioia, Fkm-ara.
70. Francesca del Cossa, detail of the palio froni the lower register of April, fresco, ca. 1430-
1470, frorii the cycle of the inonths i n the Sulu dei, I'alazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
7 1. Sandro Botticelli, ILfurs u d Venus, tempera on panel, Ca. 1470- 1480. National Gallery,
72. Piero di Cosiirio, Murs md Ver~lcs, oil on panel, ca. 1500. Staatliclie Museeii, Berlin.
7.3. Follower of Doinenico Veneziano, The ttzyth ofActurnr~. tempera oii panel, birtli tray, mid-
fificerith ccntury. Williams College Miiseiiin of Arf, Williamstown.
74. Unknown Florentine, Phyllis unu' Aristotle, Diuncl ord Actaeon, and Solnmon und his pnguri
M. V~L' , front panel of a rnarriage cliest sculpted in relief, ca. 1430. Museo Stihberl, Forence.
75. Attnbuted to Jacopo del Sellaio, The ci'ownfull ofActueon, tempera on paiiel, probably a paiiel
of a niarriage chesl, ca. 1480- I EW. Yale Uiiiversity Art Gallery, New Haven.
76. Fraiicesco Parmigianirio, Mfitch ridinguphallus, engraving, ca. 1530. British Miiserim,

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