Faith, Gender and the Senses in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art: Interpreting the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Faith, Gender and the Senses in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art

Interpreting the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas, 1st Edition

By Erin E. Benay, Lisa M. Rafanelli


308 pages

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Taking the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas episodes as a focal point, this study examines how visual representations of two of the most compelling and related Christian stories engaged with changing devotional and cultural ideals in Renaissance and Baroque Italy. This book reconsiders depictions of the ambiguous encounter of Mary Magdalene and Christ in the garden (John 20:11-19, known as the Noli me tangere) and that of Christ’s post-Resurrection appearance to Thomas (John 20:24-29, the Doubting Thomas) as manifestations of complex theological and art theoretical milieus. By focusing on key artistic monuments of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, the authors demonstrate a relationship between the rise of skeptical philosophy and empirical science, and the efficacy of the senses in the construction of belief. Further, the authors elucidate the differing representational strategies employed by artists to depict touch, and the ways in which these strategies were shaped by gender, social class, and educational level. Indeed, over time St. Thomas became an increasingly public--and therefore masculine--symbol of devotional verification, juridical inquiry, and empirical investigation, while St. Mary Magdalene provided a more private model for pious women, celebrating, mostly behind closed doors, the privileged and active participation of women in the faith. The authors rely on primary source material--paintings, sculptures, religious tracts, hagiography, popular sermons, and new documentary evidence. By reuniting their visual examples with important, often little-known textual sources, the authors reveal a complex relationship between visual imagery, the senses, contemporary attitudes toward gender, and the shaping of belief. Further, they add greater nuance to our understanding of the relationship between popular piety and the visual culture of the period.


"Given its wide use of literary source material, Faith, Gender and the Senses in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art will appeal to early modern scholars across a range of disciplines, not only within the history of art. From a strictly practical perspective, the individual chapters will also make for focused reading assignments for the Renaissance and/or Baroque student. The amount of textual and visual evidence consulted is truly impressive, and the study will become a useful source for anyone working on either of these subjects or in gender studies."

- CAA Reviews

"This book brings together a considerable body of research from the authors’ PhD dissertations and subsequent articles. It highlights the relationship between two intriguing iconographic subjects, and interprets them in the light of a wide array of visual and documentary sources, to provide a convincing account of the range of readings that images of these episodes might have given rise to in early modern Italy. As such, it is a valuable reference for any scholar of art history of the Renaissance and Baroque periods."

- Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Verifying the Resurrection: St. Mary Magdalene and St. Thomas at the intersection of word and image, c. 400-1300; Mary Magdalene as a model of piety in mendicant art; The Doubting Thomas and Franciscan renewal in the early Renaissance; ‘Toccate il vero’: evidence, belief, and images of the Doubting Thomas in the public eye; The decorum of touch: private devotional images of St. Mary Magdalene and the Noli me tangere in central and northern Italy; Experiencing faith after the Reformation; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Authors

Erin E. Benay is Assistant Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art at Case Western Reserve University, USA. Lisa M. Rafanelli is Professor of Art History at Manhattanville College, USA.

About the Series

Visual Culture in Early Modernity

A forum for the critical inquiry of the visual arts in the early modern world, Visual Culture in Early Modernity promotes new models of inquiry and new narratives of early modern art and its history. We welcome proposals for both monographs and essay collections that consider the cultural production and reception of images and objects. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to, painting, sculpture and architecture as well as material objects, such as domestic furnishings, religious and/or ritual accessories, costume, scientific/medical apparata, erotica, ephemera and printed matter. We seek innovative investigations of western and non-western visual culture produced between 1400 and 1800.


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / History / Renaissance