Teaching Other Voices: Women and Religion in Early Modern Europe

By Margaret L. King; Albert Rabil Jr. | Go to book overview

TEACHING TORNABUONI'S
TROUBLESOME WOMEN

Jane Tylus

Ihave now shamelessly taught my translation of Lucrezia Tornabuoni's SacredNarrativesthree times since its publicationin2001. Given the content of the narratives and the prominent stature of their author, Tornabuoni's work can probably be taught in any number of contexts—courses in art history, religion, women's studies, and Italian and comparative literature might all make use of her poems. Based on my own classroom experiences, I think that Tornabuoni's writings provide the most scintillating introduction to gender and religion in pre-Reformation Italy of any work I know, and students find that these almost cinematic storie sacre serve as points of reference for many of their other readings. In particular, they help to refine a question that haunted Tornabuoni's contemporaries: how could one best practice an authentic Christian life within the Renaissance city?1

As the stories show, this question haunted Tornabuoni too, Florence's prima donna for over two decades. Fifteenth-century Italy witnessed a renewed emphasis on the vita mista. This was a life that embraced the values of contemplation and action alike, opening up new possibilities for laymen and laywomen of the early Renaissance, while causing headaches for civic and ecclesiastical authorities attempting to regulate public actions. As David Cast has commented, this active life of Christians is represented in much of

1. One could introduce a number of works at this point as useful guides to the religious and
spiritual dimensions of Florentine Renaissance life. Let me just restrict myself to two very
helpful recent texts that can be nicely used to set the stage for class discussions on religion
and the Florentine Renaissance: Gary M. Radke, “Masaccio's City: Urbanism, Architecture, and
Sculpture in Early Fifteenth-Century Florence,” in The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, ed. Diane
Cole Ahl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 40–63; and Dale Kent, Cosimo de'
Medici and the Florentine Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), particularly chap. 9,
“Expiation, Charity, Intercession.”

-55-

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