Phenomenal Women

Reblogged from MissPen

Aristocratic Daughters

We think of nuns as living a secluded life, peacefully going about their daily prayers and rituals. However, at the threshold of the Italian Renaissance, the life of a nun offered a creative solution to women who wanted to pursue interests outside of keeping a home and raising children. For many, convent life meant an education and a the ability to be creative. The subjects of today’s blog are such women.

Catherine de’Vigri (8 September 1413 – 9 March 1463) was the daughter of an aristocratic Bolognese family. Her father was a diplomat at the court of Niccolo III d’Este in Ferrara. As a young girl Catherine became a maid of honor and and confidante of Princess Margherita d’Este. Along side the Princess, Catherine had access to an education. She also discovered that she particularly loved drawing and painting. 

Madonna and Child attributed  to Catherine de’Vigri

Legend has it that when the Princess married she wanted Catherine to stay with her at court. However, Catherine begged the Princess and her family to allow her to join the convent. So, at the tender age of thirteen Catherine entered the convent of Corpus Domini at Ferrara. There she devoted herself to living a holy life. In the manuscript Le sette armi spirituali (The seven spiritual weapons) she describes several mystical visions and epiphanies. While at the convent she also dedicated herself to miniature painting and poetry. Her paintings were often of the Madonna and Child.

In nearby Florence Maria di Ormanno degli (d.1470), was born into an upper class family. The Medici’s exiled Maria’s family  from Florence in 1434, so in 1438 Maria entered the convent of Santa Caterina al Monte, known as San Gaggio, located outside of Florence. At San Gaggio the nuns formed an elite community, learned community. The scriptorium at San Gaggio was a busy place where the nuns copied their own breviaries and manuscripts . They were also active in the textiles industry and produced fine linens and gold thread.

Maria exhibited her badassery by painting a self portrait in a breviary that she signed and dated 1453. A scroll frames the portrait bearing Latin inscription describing her as “handmaid of God, daughter of Orman, and the writer of the book”. What makes this painting particularly interesting is that Maria is looking into the eyes of the viewer. Refined quattrocento ladies during this period were normally painted in demure profile.

Self Portrait. Maria di Ormanno degli Albizzi

In this painting Maria looks anything but demure. She seems straight forward, sure of herself and ….