Fifteenth-Century Italian and Netherlandish female portraiture in context: a legal-anthropological interpretation

Toreno, Elisabetta (2015) Fifteenth-Century Italian and Netherlandish female portraiture in context: a legal-anthropological interpretation. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis contributes to the study of portraiture by delivering an appraisal of female portraits produced in the urban areas of Italy and Flanders in the fifteenth century. Scholarship on individual and selections of these items exists, but it is fragmented and influenced by Marxist-feminist views about genders and their roles in the system of patriarchy. The term ‘patriarchy’ describes a socio-political and economic organization that is male-controlled. By applying patrilineal rules of patrimonial and political transmission through social stabilisers such as the institution of marriage, it disenfranchises women from decisions that affect their life directly, and ultimately their sense of entitlement. However, in order to function successfully, it creates forms of compensation that diminish the risks of uprising by the marginalised. Concerning women, this could be seen as their feminine experience of these conditions, which feminist analyses tend to overlook. With an original survey of one-hundred and four individual female portraits dated c.1400-c.1500, this thesis explores the relationship between the image and such experience during the rise of entrepreneurial communities, because these groups relied principally on this system to prosper individually and collectively. For the task, this thesis uses a legal-anthropological method that eschews the Marxist-feminist trappings. Its results show that female agency in the domestic environment and the dowry-system produced a binary relationship between men and women and forms of public and private recognition that challenge the basic notion of female marginalisation. Secondly, the Christocentric practices developed by evangelical groups from the early-thirteenth century proved very popular amongst women because they offered varieties of autonomy and public intervention that were otherwise precluded to them. Thirdly, humanism affected a small but important group of women, whose desire for learning challenged conventional propaganda about female inadequacies.
This thesis explains the ways in which these facets are integrated in the likenesses of this survey. It demonstrates that fifteenth-century spectatorship received two types of stimuli. One that invested on an affinity of appreciation of the social values of female beauty, fashion and domestic skills, and that articulated ideas of commonwealth and kinship. One other that sought affinity that was more intimate and consistent with the sitter’s psychological condition. These strands ramified into social and ethical discourses that this thesis charts and examines.
The one-hundred and four portraits featured in this survey originated predominantly in Flanders and central-northern Italy, the early strongholds of European mercantile groups. Current scholarship compares Netherlandish and Italian portraiture in terms of modernity versus obsolescence because the former developed naturalistic portraits in located backgrounds in c.1430, whilst the latter preferred the profile format until the end of the century. This thesis contests this polarisation because visual and contextual evidence together suggest that sociocultural interests informed choices of formats and the circulation of likenesses to the effect that modernity in portraiture cannot be measured in mere technical terms. Fifteenth-century Netherlandish portraits are, indeed, the earliest examples of modern portraiture but this phenomenon must be understood, this thesis explains, as the product of concomitant conditions that include new media and new attitudes towards the self, caused by the secularisation of culture and the revival of Greco-Roman literature.
This thesis also contributes to the knowledge of the genre because it uncovers types of female portraiture that are new to the existing assessments, thereby setting the parameters for a classification of the topic from the perspective of the feminine experience of her own mimesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: female portraiture, Italian portraiture, Netherlandish portraiture, fifteenth-century art, mimesis, dowry, marriage, incorporated societies
Subjects: N Fine Arts > ND Painting
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts
Supervisor's Name: Rush, Dr. Sally, Richards, Dr. John and De Montfort, Dr. Patricia
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Dr Elisabetta Toreno
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6728
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2015 15:25
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2015 08:02

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