Feminism and Renaissance Studies

By Lorna Hutson | Go to book overview

7 The 'Cruel Mother': Maternity,
Widowhood, and Dowry in Florence in
the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber

In Florence, men were and made the “houses.” The word casa designates, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the material house, the lodging of a domestic unit, and it is in this sense that many documents of a fiscal, legal, or private nature use the term. But it also stands for an entire agnatic kinship group. The casa in this case designates all ancestors and living members of a lineage, all those in whose veins the same blood ran, who bore the same name, and who claimed a common ancestor—an eponymic hero whose identity the group had inherited.1

“Houses” were made by men. Kinship was determined by men, and the male branching of genealogies drawn up by contemporaries shows how little importance was given, after one or two generations, to kinship through women. Estates also passed from one generation to another through men. Among the goods that men transmitted jealously, excluding women from ownership as far as they could, was the material house, which they “made” also, in the sense that they built it, enlarged it, and filled it with children who bore their name. The Florence of the early Renaissance, the Florence of the great merchants and the first humanists, was not a tenderly feminine city. Family structures and the framework of economic, legal, and political life remained under the control of level-headed males, bastions of solidarity, and family values were inspired by a severely masculine ideal.2

In these case, in the sense of both physical and the symbolic house, women were passing guests. To contemporary eyes, their movements in relation to the case determined their social personality more truly

Originally published as “Maternité, veuvage et dot à Florence,” Annales, E.S.C. 38, no. 5
(1983): 1097-1109. A first version of this essay was presented at the colloquy at Sénanque
organized by Georges Duby in July 1981 on the topic “Maisons et sociétés domestiques au
Moyen Age”; it was later revised for the workshop “La femme seule,” held 1980-82 at the
Centre de Recherches Historiques. The version here is reprinted from Christiane Klapisch-
Zuber, Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy (University of Chicago Press, 1985). ©
The University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.

-186-

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Feminism and Renaissance Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Notes on Contributors vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Humanism After Feminism 19
  • 1: Did Women Have a Renaissance? 21
  • 2: Women Humanists 48
  • 3: The Housewife and the Humanists 82
  • 4: The Tenth Muse 106
  • Part II - Historicizing Femininity 125
  • 5: The Notion of Woman in Medicine, Anatomy, and Physiology 127
  • 6: Women on Top 156
  • 7: The 'Cruel Mother' 186
  • 8: Witchcraft and Fantasy in Early Modern Germany 203
  • Part III 231
  • 9: Diana Described 233
  • 10: Literary Fat Ladies and the Generation of the Text 249
  • 11: Margaret Cavendish and the Romance of Contract 286
  • 12: Surprising Fame 317
  • Part IV - Women's Agency 337
  • 13: Women on Top in the Pamphlet Literature of the English Revolution 339
  • 14: La Donnesca Mano 373
  • 15: Guilds, Male Bonding and Women's Work in Early Modern Germany 412
  • 16: Language, Power, and the Law 428
  • 17: Finding a Voice 450
  • Bibliography 468
  • Index 475
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