Old Women and Art in the Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Old Women and Art in the Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior

1st Edition

By Erin J. Campbell


216 pages

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Though portraits of old women mediate cultural preoccupations just as effectively as those of younger women, the scant published research on images of older women belies their significance within early modern Italy. This study examines the remarkable flowering, largely overlooked in portraiture scholarship to date, of portraits of old women in Northern Italy and especially Bologna during the second half of the sixteenth century, when, as a result of religious reform, the lives of women and the family came under increasing scrutiny. Old Women and Art in the Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior draws on a wide range of primary visual sources, including portraits, religious images, architectural views, prints and drawings, as well as extant palazzi and case, furnishings, and domestic objects created by the leading artists in Bologna, including Lavinia Fontana, Bartolomeo Passerotti, Denys Calvaert, and the Carracci. The study also draws on an array of historical sources - including sixteenth-century theories of portraiture, prescriptive writings on women and the family, philosophical and practical treatises on the home economy, sumptuary legislation, books of secrets, prescriptive writings on old age, and household inventories - to provide new historical perspectives on the domestic life of the propertied classes in Bologna during the period. Author Erin Campbell contends that these images of unidentified women are not only crucial to our understanding of the cultural operations of art within the early modern world, but also, by working from the margins to revise the center, provide an opportunity to present new conceptual frameworks and question our assumptions about old age, portraiture, and the domestic interior.


'This is a work of careful reconstruction, deep archival documentation, and sensitivity to the lived experience and material context of portraiture. Campbell proves that old women of the later Renaissance were far from invisible: especially in Bologna, they were pictured, commemorated, and their likenesses revered as symbols of family identity and tools of memory. Her work shows that portrayals of elderly women were not limited to witches, crones, or hags. Rather, old women's roles of piety, authority, and virtue found expression in their portraits. These same vivid, striking portraits adorned family homes, shaping and re-shaping behavioral codes and family memory. This provocative, well-illustrated work will alter our understanding of the history of Renaissance portraiture, the Italian domestic interior, and patriarchy itself among the patrician class.' - Renée Baernstein, Miami University, Ohio, USA

'Although portraits of old women were commissioned by families to be viewed in domestic interiors, Campbell convincingly argues that their influence extended well beyond the confines of the palace to the larger civic community. … Noting the “hollow, sunken cheeks and thin lips” and bodies in many Bolognese portraits of old women, Campbell convincingly ties the suffering of old age to the reforms of Paleotti and the virtue of their families and their city.' - CAA Reviews

Table of Contents

Introduction: Old women, portraiture, and the early modern domestic interior

1 Portraits of old women and the domestic meshwork

2 Prophets and saints

3 Matriarchs

4 Old women in frames

5 Old age, women, and the signs of suffering

About the Author

Erin J. Campbell is Associate Professor of the History of Art at the University of Victoria, Canada. She is also the editor of Growing Old in Early Modern Europe (2006), and is a co-editor of The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700 (2013).

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 / General
ART / History / Renaissance
ART / History / Baroque & Rococo