Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence

By MacNeil, Anne | Notes, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence


MacNeil, Anne, Notes


Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence. By Kelley Harness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. [xvi, 378 p. ISBN 0-226-31659-9. $45.] Music examples, illustrations, plates, index, bibliography.

Echoes of Women's Voices is an important contribution to musicological literature. Not only is it a sorely-needed comprehensive study of the musical and artistic works pertaining to the early seventeenth-century regents of Florence, Christine of Lorraine and Maria Maddalena of Austria, it is also a savvy critical study that demands of its readers a rigorous confrontation with some of the great, overarching questions of our time: the interaction of critical theory with archival source studies; the translation of an inherendy masculine conception of patronage into the realm of women; and the profound interpenetration of thematic materials across sacred and secular lines.

Harness's conception of women's patronage and self-fashioning as conversational reconfigures the usual muscular, monumental vision of patronage in a softer, more communal orientation that today we perceive as feminine. For example, William J. Connell's and Andréa Zorzi's edition of essays on Florentine patronage, Florentine Tuscany: Structures and Practices of Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), consistently refers to concepts of dominion, empire, ambition, and statebuilding. Harness, in contrast, writes of messages, depiction, perception, and communication. This new orientation draws in analyses, not only of finances and strategies of control, but also of thematic development, community, and kinship. The potential consequences for the study of patronage are profound. If, as Harness argues, all patronage may be perceived as fundamentally conversational, then we must redefine our notions of power and how it is exerted. (Indeed, the word "exerted" now seems inappropriate to me. The phrase might better read, "our notions of power and how it is communicated") This establishes a conception of power as something that is simultaneously commanded and freely given-a fundamentally social interaction in which all sides contribute to some aspect of the power relationship. As such, it generates strong bonds between ideas of power, rhetoric, gift-giving, and persuasion, and embeds the dynamics of patronage more deeply in our understanding of other social and educational practices of the late Renaissance.

Harness's point of departure for Echoes of Women's Voices is an analysis of the aftermath of a performance of Andréa Salvadori's and Marco da Gagliano's opera La Giuditta, given in Florence for the visit of the papal nephew and nuncio, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, in late September 1626. Harness draws particular attention to the draft of a heavily edited letter from a Florentine secretary, Dimurgo Lambardi, to his colleague, the Florentine resident ambassador in Rome, Andrea Cioli. Lambardi urges Cioli to manage the Pope's interpretation of La Giuditta, steering him away from any idea that the opera "was deliberately intended as a commentary on the current political quarrels between Pope Urban VIII and Florence" (p. 1). Harness urbanely derives the foundation of her entire argument from the analysis of this letter-an exemplary illustration of close reading. In so doing, she also sets in motion a tacit dialogue with Frederick Hammond's Music and Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Barberini Patronage under Urban VIII (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

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