Academic journal article
By Comerford, Kathleen M.
The Catholic Historical Review , Vol. 87, No. 3
Recinti: Donne, clausura e matrimonio nella prima eta moderna. By Gabriella Zarri. [Saggi, 516.] (Bologna: II Mulino. 2000. Pp. 480 and index of names. Lire 48,000; Euros 24.79.)
This book is a collection of articles, all but one (chap. 4) previously published in Italian from 1986 to 1999 (chap. 6 was also published in English), about the lives of women in early modern Europe. Although not a monograph, it does operate according to certain unifying themes, set out clearly and forcefully in the introduction, and covers a great deal of territory in women's history, particularly in Italian women's history. Zarri considers, for example, monasticism, marriage, education, tertianship, and a host of representations of these different aspects of women's lives.
The theoretical introduction addresses first of all the choice of title: she defines recinti as an adjective meaning enclosed or surrounded, and as a noun meaning a pen, enclosure, or fence. Physically, therefore, it calls to mind the monastery walls and the garden gates which kept women in a specific location; metaphorically, it refers to virginity, Eden, and limitations on behavior. The book, Zarri explains, is structured around the metaphorical use-explanations of the ways that women's lives were limited by but not closed off from society.
Many chapters begin with rehearsals of medieval precedents, from the dowry inflation of the Quattrocento and Cinquecento which affected the monasteries as it did family life, to the mystical marriage of the female saints which formed precedents for both behavior and iconography in the early modern period. However, the main purpose of the studies is neither historiographical nor contextual; Zarri's focal points are sixteenth- and seventeenth-century issues including the Tridentine decree Tametsi (chap. 3); the female educational institutions and practices, especially the work of the Company of St. Ursula (chaps. 2,5,6, and 7); changes within monasteries due to new norms of claustration (chaps. 1 and 7); developing understandings of sanctity and virginity (chaps. 3,4, 5,6, and 7); and other smaller issues including the wedding iconography of the Virgin Mary, clandestine marriages, and the context of changes in marriage in the Jewish tradition. …