Virgins, Wives, Mothers. National Personifications in Early Modern Europe. Rainer Babel, German Historical Institute, Paris; Christine Gouzi, Centre André Chastel, University Paris-Sorbonne, Paris; Thomas Kirchner, German Center for the History of Art, Paris; Thomas Maissen, German Historical Institute, Paris, 29.03.2016–31.03.2016.
Reviewed by Lina Weber
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (June, 2016)
Virgins, Wives, Mothers. National Personifications in Early Modern Europe
While comprehensive research has been done on the national allegories of both the French Revolution and modern nation states, the early-modern period has up-to-now been largely ignored. However, early-modern Europeans made extensive use of female symbols rediscovered from antiquity during the Renaissance, which they combined with religious images in order to glorify state power and for political propaganda purposes. Closing this research gap was the aim of the colloquium that was organised by the German Historical Institute Paris, the German Centre for Art History and the LabEx EHNE (Axe7) in cooperation with the IEG Mainz. It brought together international scholars from the fields of political history, intellectual history, and art history.
In his opening address, THOMAS MAISSEN (Paris) linked the emergence of female allegories to the concept of sovereignty as coined by Jean Bodin. Presenting various examples from fourteenth-century Venetia to eighteenth-century Berna, Maissen argued that representations of the body politic modelled on the Virgin Mary could be used both by Catholics and Protestants and opened up interpretations in new contexts, secular and political.
BERTRAND COSNET (Nantes) started the section on the Italian states with his paper on the genesis of national personifications in fourteenth century Italy and their development as political issues. Using the example of Pisa, Florence, and Verona, he described the process of producing these pieces of art and pointed out how the personifications of states were used in political contexts. Focussing on the personification of Venice during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, MARINA VIDAS (Copenhagen) presented illuminations to manuscripts. Here, the Republic took the shape of Venetia, an idealised women dressed in contemporary cloths. She combined features of Mary with symbols of virtue and justice to stress the Republic’s claim to control and domination. The different functions of Venetia in the public realm during the sixteenth century were addressed by MASSIMO GALTAROSSA (Padua). He showed that orators presented this allegorical personification as virgin, loving mother, bride to the sea, or as the ancient goddess Cybele to argue for their respective political aims. For their emergence as a sovereign republic in the 17th century, the Genoese, in contrast, mainly drew on the image of the Madonna. BETTINA MORLANG-SCHARDON (Rome) demonstrated that the Virgin Mary of the Apocalypse was used as patron saint in paintings to symbolize Genoa’s sovereignty and to present the city as protector of the Christian faith against the Ottoman threat. Morlang-Schardon claimed that the images of Diana (often painted on the walls of aristocratic palazzi after the attack by Louis XIV in 1684) were a substitute for this image of the Madonna and had a similar political function.
The session on England changed the focus from allegorical figures to images of the ruling monarch as representations of the body politic. BENOÎT CHÊNE (Saint-Cassien) showed how the image of Mary Tudor as embodiment of the English nation was combined with the rhetoric of motherhood to bring about peace and unity in a time of political and religious uncertainty. While Mary’s successor, Elizabeth, also used her own body to represent English nationhood, this function vanished in the images of James I. Drawing mainly on portraits and frontispieces, MAX HOWELLS (Oxford) explained this contrast with the fact that James was much more tangibly human as a man with a family and had to act as a king of a composite monarchy.
Female allegories were not constrained to single states but were also used for continents, as the session on Europe revealed. SYLVAIN-KARL GOSSELET (Paris) introduced changes of the personification of Europe during the sixteenth century from which two figures emerged: the antique and mythical Europa in the Greek tradition and a new Christian illustration following the example set by the Virgin Mary. The political significance of continental allegories in baroque art works was developed by WOLFGANG SCHMALE (Vienna). Continents were shown in a male or female body, sometimes with a mixture of both, accompanied by the attributes of rulers and, therefore, these allegories could be used to claim European priority over the other continents.
The first day of the conference concluded with the key note lecture of QUENTIN SKINNER (London), followed by a comment of HORST BREDEKAMP (Berlin). Skinner claimed that a ‘frontispiece’ was a metaphor from architecture. Using the example of Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), he showed how early-modern frontispieces illustrated the content of the respective book. According to Skinner, Hobbes considered the sovereign as a mortal good encompassing three personae that, in order to create and maintain unity and peace, need great power to control and keep under the factious forces of the nobility and clergy. Though agreeing with the main argument, Bredekamp questioned Skinner’s interpretation of the genderlessness of the state by drawing attention on the seemingly male head of Hobbes’ Leviathan.
The second day of the conference began by investigating political iconography in France. In her paper, AUBRÉE DAVID-CHAPY (Paris) concentrated on Louise of Savoy, mother of King Francis I and regent of France. Showing her as a “mirror of virtues”, ruling the kingdom with virtue and caritas, Louise became the embodiment of a regent interested in peace, welfare and protection. In her paper on the figure Dame France, CORNELIA LOGEMANN (Munich – read in her absence by Rainer Babel) focussed on the growing physicality of the female image from the fifteenth towards the sixteenth century. Shifting from a solely literary description to a decoration in monarchical ceremonies to an image in prints, Dame France was related to the growing masculinity of the image of the ruling king and increasingly gained erotic potential. DAMIEN BRIL (Paris) showed how the personification of France was connected to the iconography of actual reigns during the seventeenth century. In periods of female regents, so he claimed, the personification of France was used to redefine the value of female power and, thereby, became a means to symbolically legitimate the respective regency. Focusing on Louis XIV presented as charitable mother of the kingdom on medals and engravings commemorating his coronation, ALEXANDRA WOOLLEY (Toulouse) showed how the allegory of charity was used to magnify the ruler’s piety and underline the divine right of kings.
Continuing the topic of French iconography, the next section began with the paper of BENOÎT DAUVERGNE (Paris). Drawing on seventeenth-century pictures that show the birth of the dauphin in the royal family, he investigated the meaning of the different family members and concluded that male heirs were presented as saviors of France. Looking at pictures of royal childbirth from the eighteenth century, BASTIEN COULOUN (Paris) analyzed the allegorical figure of France. This national personification helped to construct a national myth and to legitimize the future power of the dauphin. CHRISTINE GOUZI (Paris) asserted a shift in royal iconography after the illness of Louis XV in 1744. Whereas the king had earlier been portrayed as a god or demigod, the pictures by Charles-Antoine Coypel left out any male or mythological figure and instead showed a female figure symbolizing France that celebrated the recovery of the king.
The following section presented the exceptionally stable imagery of the early-modern Netherlands. During the Dutch revolt, female figures represented the provinces or their unity and were often shown within a hortus conclusus, a symbol of sovereign territory, besieged by Spanish men. In her paper, BRITTA TEWORDT (Cologne) focussed on Hollandia and Belgica in pamphlets and prints that she related to plays and images about Lucretia. Tewordt claimed that all these female figures served the Dutch to stylize themselves as victims of Spanish cruelty and, thereby, helped to coin a national identity and appeal to potential supporters of the rebels’ cause. Also using pamphlets, ROMAIN THOMAS (Paris) investigated the symbolism of the marriage ceremony of the Dutch Maiden with the Prince of Orange. He concluded that both the role of the fiancée and the meaning of the marriage itself changed with the political context. FRANS GRIJZENHOUT (Amsterdam) showed how the image of Hollandia with attributes of Minerva was a contested figure throughout the early modern era. Drawing on paintings, frontispieces, wall paintings, and images of political festivities, Grijzenhout asserted that the meaning of this symbol was agreed on but that it could be used in different ways by the Orangists and the anti-Stadtholder-faction in their political conflicts.
The next session assembled examples of female allegories from Central Europe. MATTHIAS MÜLLER (Mainz) presented the changing image of Germania in the Holy Roman Empire. After having disappeared from images in the eleventh century, Germania was reintroduced during the reign of Maximilian I to foster the nationalisation of the Empire. During the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the image of Germania was presented as torn, corrupted, or ill and revealed the difficulty of achieving unity in the fragmented political structure of the Empire. In their talk, SANDRA HERTEL (Vienna) and STEFANIE LINSBOTH (Vienna) presented the dynastic and religious aspects of Maria Theresia’s portraits. Both she and her name patron, Theresa of Ávila, were painted in images and on walls of chapels to represent the Habsburg dynasty and to support religious ideas about a new devoutness. The emancipation of Croatia within the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom was the topic of PETRA BATELJA (Zagreb). Images of the Virgin Mary were commissioned by politically motivated nobles and churchmen to show her as the protector of both Hungaria and Croatia and, thereby, aimed at creating a Croatian identity that was on equal foot with Hungary and Austria.
The last day started with a session on Eastern Europe. KATHARINA UTE MANN (Cologne) presented the Polish case. Here, Polonia was used as a political image to support monarchical rule and power until the country lost its sovereignty in the second half of the eighteenth century. Mann claimed that after the partitions, artists painted Polonia next to a grave, enchained, and in mourning in order to maintain the Polish identity in stateless times. In her paper on Russia, ELENA KASHINA (York) investigated the relation of state-making and the image of the Virgin Mary, which implied protection and the prophecy of a new kingdom. Kashina claimed that Ivan III, the first ‘Lord of all Russia’, used this religious image to relate to Western political discourse.
The following section presented allegories of Spain and its periphery. The iconography of the Spanish monarchy in the seventeenth century was investigated by ALVARO PASCUAL CHENEL (Alcalá). Drawing on paintings, frontispieces, and monuments, he showed how the image of Hispania on ancient coins was transformed into a representation of the monarchy that was frequently combined with the signs of religion and justice. The study of NICOLAS VERNOT (Cergy-Pontoise) is based on two allegorical canvases which have been made during the last decade of the Spanish regency in the Free County of Burgundy and his capital, Besançon. Vernot demonstrated that this objects themselves were intended to reinforce the loyalty of the local inhabitants towards the Spanish king and that the used allegories reinforced the political message.
The last session encompassed particular personifications in a broader perspective. CHLOÉ PERROT (Lille) presented the personification of the states in the second half of the eighteenth century. She drew attention on the meaning of the various attributes that accompanied these female allegories in different political contexts and asserted that these images also show the emergence of public opinion. The role of Minerva in representations of power was presented by ASTRID ZENKERT (Schwetzingen). She claimed that Jean Bodin introduced a new paradigm of political rule by including into his concept of sovereignty prudence and the taking of council, both central elements of the figure of Minerva.
In the final commentary, GABRIELLE DE LASSUS (Paris) asserted that these early-modern allegorical glorifications of power continue to have relevance for our present time.
This colloquium has shown the importance of female allegories in early modern political discourses, which were used widely, in a geographical, a temporal, and a medial sense. Interdisciplinary and comparative approaches are useful to fully understand and explain these usages. As a result, it can be said that these female figures were multi-layered and encompassed different meanings without being random or completely open to interpretation.
Thomas Maissen (Paris): The state of the virgin – representing the body politic through metaphors of marital status
Chair: Stefano Andretta (Rome)
Bertrand Cosnet (Nantes), La genèse des personnifications nationales dans les communes italiennes du XIVe siècle
Marina Vidas (Copenhagen), Personifications of Venice in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Illuminated Documents and Manuscripts
Massimo Galtarossa (Padua), Le personificazioni allegoriche di Venetia nelle orazioni politiche del Cinquecento
Bettina Morlang-Schardon (Rome), Himmelskörper – zur Allegorese ideeller Souveränität im Genua des Seicento
Chair: Marie-Élizabeth Ducreux (Paris)
Benoît Chêne (Saint-Cassien), Embodying the Nation. Collective Identity and Queenship under Mary Tudor (1553-1558)
Max Howells (Oxford), The Face of a Queen and the Mind of a King. The Personification of England 1586-1625
Chair: Klaus Oschema (Heidelberg/Paris)
Sylvain-Karl Gosselet (Paris), Deux femmes pour un continent. L’Europe
Wolfgang Schmale (Vienna), Politische Aspekte von Erdteilallegorien in der Frühen Neuzeit
Chair: Thomas Kirchner (Paris)
Quentin Skinner (London), The Leviathan Frontispiece: Meaning and Provenance
Commentary: Horst Bredekamp (Berlin)
Session: France I (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century)
Chair: Godehard Janzing (Paris)
Aubrée David-Chapy (Paris), Invention et exaltation d’une figure maternelle et mariale. Le cas de la régente Louise de Savoie (1515–1531)
Cornelia Logemann (Munich), Dame France unter Göttern. Mythologische Masken und nationale Identität bei François Ier und seinen Nachfolgern
Damien Bril (Paris), Pouvoir féminin et allégorie politique. Régence et personnification nationale en France au XVIIe siècle
Alexandra Woolley (Toulouse), Louis XIV sur le »Trosne de la Piété«. Le roi personnifié en mère charitable du royaume
Session: France II (Towards the Eighteenth Century)
Chair: Denis Crouzet (Paris)
Benoît Dauvergne (Paris), La mère, l’héritier, la France. Représenter les naissances masculines de la famille royale au XVIIe siècle
Bastien Coulon (Paris), Déesses mères et mythologie nationale. La personnification de la France dans les scènes de naissances royales au XVIIIe siècle
Christine Gouzi (Paris), Les tableaux commandés à Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694–1752) après la maladie de Louis XV à Metz en 1744. Les personnifications du royaume de France
Session: The Netherlands
Chair: Naima Ghermani (Grenoble)
Britta Tewordt (Cologne), Rollenspiele. Belgica, Hollandia und Lucretia als Opferpersonifikationen in der Propagandagrafik des Spanisch-Niederländischen Krieges
Romain Thomas (Paris), La Fiancée hollandaise. Usages politiques de la symbolique matrimoniale dans les Provinces-Unies au XVIIe siècle
Frans Grijzenhout (Amsterdam), Contested Unity. The Figure of the Dutch Republic in Times of Political Disagreement
Session: Central Europe
Chair: Naima Ghermani (Grenoble)
Matthias Müller (Mainz), Germania sancta – Germania corrupta – Germania capta. Zum Imagewandel der »Reichsmutter« in der Bildpolitik des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts
Sandra Hertel (Vienna), Stefanie Linsboth (Vienna), Eine Herrscherin – ein Bild? Nationale, religiöse und dynastische Personifikationen am Beispiel von Maria Theresia (1717–1780)
Petra Batelja (Zagreb), Beatissima Maria, Advocata Croatiae
Session: Eastern Europe
Chair: Wolfgang E. J. Weber (Augsburg)
Katharina Ute Mann (Cologne), Polonia – eine Nationalallegorie als Erinnerungsort in der polnischen Malerei
Elena Kashina (York), The Temple of Transcendent Wisdom. The Image of the Virgin Mary as an Agent of Russia’s National State
Session: Spain and its Periphery
Chair: Wolfgang Weber (Augsburg)
Alvaro Pascual Chenel (Alcalá), »España con Religion y Justicia«. Iconography and Personifications of the Spanish Monarchy in Seventeenth Century: Image and Propaganda
Nicolas Vernot (Cergy-Pointoise), Les allégories de la cité de Besançon et du comté de Bourgogne dans les dernières années de la domination espagnole (v.1664-1674)
Session: Allegories and Particular Personifications
Chair: Gabrielle de Lassus (Paris)
Astrid Zenkert (Schwetzingen), Virtutem fingere. Minerva’s role in representing the sovereign ruler
Chloé Perrot (Lille), Les personnifications des États dans les iconologies de la deuxième moitié du XVIIIe siècle, importants témoins d’une histoire politique
Final comment: Gabrielle de Lassus (Paris)
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