Selfie Fashioning and the Self-Portraits of Calligrapher Esther Inglis

In this blog post, guest blogger Taylor Clement explores the richly complex self-portraits of Esther Inglis. 

By Taylor Clement

In 2013, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary named “selfie” the word of the year and added the noun to the official English vocabulary. Since the rise of the selfie, art historians and media scholars have re-evaluated modes of self-representation, tracing a history of self-portraiture spanning from Dürer to Kardashian. Journalists and bloggers have also drawn comparisons between Renaissance self-portraiture and contemporary selfies. For example, a 2015 article in The Atlantic calls Matthäus Schwarz’s Klaidungsbüchlein (1520-1560) “the first book of selfies,” and Bustle’s “13 Selfie Lessons from Renaissance Portrait Paintings” gives advice to twenty-first-century photographers based on the sixteenth-century stylings of painters like Paolo Veronese and Hans Holbein the Younger. Earlier this year in Frontiers in Psychology, Claus-Christian Carbon examined the “universals” in depicting the self across centuries.

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Fig. 1. Portrait of Esther Inglis (unknown artist, c. 1595). National Galleries of Scotland. (Not a self-portrait.)

Curators and museum educators on The Getty’s blog The Iris and Alli Burness’s Museum in a Bottle critique these anachronistic comparisons between selfies and self-portraits, but they mostly discuss paintings on panels or canvas (often by Rembrandt) and neglect artwork in different media, like the paper-and-ink portraits in early modern books. French-Scottish calligrapher Esther Inglis (1571-1624) was one of the first artists in Scotland to create a self-portrait,[1] but she did not paint on panels or canvas. Instead, Inglis drew miniature portraits of herself on paper and tucked them away within the first pages of her handmade manuscript books. During her career as a scribe and bookmaker, Inglis created at least nineteen self-portraits that “authorized” her manuscripts.

Inglis was the child of Huguenot refugees; she was born in London in 1571 shortly before her family relocated to Edinburgh. Her father Nicholas Langlois worked as a French schoolmaster and her mother Marie Presot taught her to write calligraphy. Inglis made gift books on spec, copying French devotional poetry, the Psalms, and proverbs, among other texts in hopes of patronage from wealthy aristocrats and political leaders. Almost all of her self-portraits appear in gift books designed for royal patrons like Queen Elizabeth, King James I, and James’s sons, Prince Henry of Wales and Prince Charles. Her gift-books capitalize on both the private circulation of manuscripts and the novelty of print – two types of early modern social media.

Although Inglis’s drawings and paintings of herself are not selfies, they have more in common with millennial self-representation than one might assume. To understand this connection we have to move beyond assumptions that smartphone self-portraits are motivated by narcissism. Sure, twenty-first-century selfie photographers do promote themselves, but they also participate in online communities by mimicking others’ digital portraits. Many selfie photographers model their behaviors and self-representations on other photos already in circulation. In other words, a person may create a selfie using the same filters, poses, and/or backgrounds as her favorite celebrities on Instagram and her friends on Snapchat. At its core, the selfie is not so much about individual self-expression as it is about imitation and intertextuality.

Like postmodern selfies, Inglis’s self-portraits are conscious of other writers’ and translators’ presences and poses on the pages of early modern media. Although her work is in manuscript, Inglis’s self-promoting portraits have strong ties to Renaissance print culture where mass-produced portraits in books first appeared. Early modern printers created copperplate engravings or woodblock prints of authors’ or translators’ faces in the sticky, oil-based ink of the press, reproducing these faces again and again, stamping hundreds of books with portraits – some of the earliest “facebook pages,” so to speak. These pictures of authors or translators provided authorial credibility as they peered out at consumers from title pages and front matter of books.

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Fig. 2. Esther Inglis, Type I Portrait in Le Livre de l’Ecclésiaste (1601). Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Digital Collections.

Inglis modeled her own image after printed author portraits, but her drawings are radically different from print in construction and context. First of all, she meticulously designed every portrait by hand, unlike the mass production of portraits stamped into printed books. Second, Inglis did not broadcast her image to the reading public in ways that authors in print did. Instead, she designed her manuscripts for a coterie audience of likeminded readers. In some ways, these portraits have the conversational intimacy that selfies have because of the function of manuscript as a text shared among close friends and acquaintances.[2]

Bibliographers A.H. Scott-Elliot and Elspeth Yeo catalogue four main types of self-portraits that Inglis created: Type I (1599-1602), Type II (1606-1607), Type III (1612-1615), and Type IV (1624). These self-portraits mark subtle changes in her self-presentation over time. Sometimes Inglis mimics print through black and white frontispiece portraits, and other times she uses color to enliven the image, painting her reddish-blonde hair and rosy cheeks onto the page.

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Fig. 3. Jan van der Noot, translator portrait. Frontispiece in Het theatre (London: John Day, 1568). Folger Shakespeare Library copy (on EEBO).

Ingils created eight renditions of the Type I portrait, and one of these appears in Le Livre de l’Ecclésiaste [and] Le Cantique de Roy Salomon (1601; Fig. 2), which Inglis dedicated to French poet and humanist Catherine de Parthenay. In the self-portrait, Inglis sits at her table with writing and music books; she holds a pen in her right hand and looks out at the reader. To produce this image, Inglis used a penwork style that mimics the engraver’s burin and framed her portrait with adapted designs from Clément Perret’s Exercitatio Alphabetica (1569). The architectural and symmetrical framework of the drawing also resembles other author portraits in sixteenth-century print. For example, if we compare Inglis’s portrait with the frontispiece portrait of Dutch writer Jan van der Noot (1568; Fig. 3), we see the same kinds of architectural scrolls and flower/fruit designs that frame the portrait. Various other author and translator portraits also used these kinds of borders and decorative scrolls. Inglis rendered her own portrait by appropriating designs she encountered in other books.

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Fig. 4. Esther Inglis, Type II Portrait in Cinquante Octonaires… (1607). Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

One of Inglis’s Type II portraits can be found in the Cinquante Octonaires… (1607; Fig. 4) dedicated to Prince Charles. She depicted herself in a black dress and decorated the frame around her portrait with colorful scrolls, fruit, and animals. A. E. B. Coldiron has shown that additions of animals to translators’ portraits can signify fidelity to the original text; she argues that dogs can symbolize loyalty, while the monkey denotes the translator/printer’s “aping” or imitating the original text through translation.[3] Coldiron uses the example of John Harington’s translation of Orlando Furioso (1591), in which the title page frontispiece features an oval-shaped portrait of Harington near the bottom of the page. To the right of Harington’s portrait, an image of a dog rests in the corner. Inglis’s portrait frame also includes a dog below her portrait, but the squirrel in the right corner is a new addition. Inglis depicts the squirrel holding but not consuming an acorn, perhaps indicating her own role as a “collector” of verses. The two parrots that sit above Inglis’s portrait also denote mimicry. Again, Inglis constructs her own self-portrait by imitating and adapting others’ portrait conventions, and perhaps her strategies can be likened to modern trends in which selfie photographers frame their faces with flowers or use the popular deer and dog filters to capture their own likenesses on Snapchat.[4]

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Fig. 5. Esther Inglis, Type III Portrait in The Psalmes of David (1612). Folger MS V.a.665.

The Type III portraits appear in the smaller books in Inglis’s oeuvre, and they present a minimalist approach to self-representation. One of these Type III portraits appears in The Psalms of David in English (1612; Fig. 5), a manuscript dedicated to Henry, the Prince of Wales. The tiny book, smaller than the smallest iPhone (at around 3×2 inches), is a new acquisition by the Folger Shakespeare Library. In this portrait, Inglis wears the same black dress, ruff, and hat as she does in the Type II portraits. Below her image, Inglis included a sonnet upon the anagram of her name: RESISTING HEL. Anagrams were very popular among poets and other educated elite in the seventeenth century.[5] Inglis imitates and appropriates the self-stylings of writers in print, demonstrating her awareness of early modern popular culture.

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Fig. 6. Esther Inglis, Type IV Portrait in Octonaries (1600; portrait dated 1624). Folger MS V.a.91.

Inglis’s Type IV portraits are direct imitations of French emblematist Georgette de Montenay (Fig. 6).[6] In De Montenay’s Cent Emblemes Chrestiennes (1584), engraver Pierre Woeiriot depicted the French poet with a pen and inkwell, a small book at her right hand, and a music book at her left. In a similar fashion, Inglis displays her writing materials and books, as well as her lute, compass, and other objects that signify her status as an educated woman and artist. She models almost all of her poses and settings in portrait Types I, II, and IV on the portrait in Emblemes Chrestiennes. Inglis relies on De Montenay as an imitable icon throughout her works, much like twenty-first century selfie-photographers look to Kim Kardashian West for lighting tips and contouring tricks to enhance the appearance of their own portraits.

As I have written in my article “Moveable Types,” the copying of portraits and faces in print informs early modern readers’ conception of selfhood. Much like the intertextualities of her transcriptions, Inglis’s self-portrayals are always in conversation with other authors and artists as she mimics their costumes, settings, and decorative frames. When we compare her self-portraits with postmodern selfie photography, the similarities might cause us to question how much of individual self-depiction relies on representations of others. Especially when we consider that millions of Snapchat and Instragram users are circulating similar photographs, constantly fashioning themselves with the same filters and frames.

Taylor Clement is a doctoral candidate in English Literature and History of Text Technologies at Florida State University. Her research interests include early modern print, illustration, remix, and copies. She is the recipient of a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship for her project, “Visualizing Verse in Early Modern England.”

Further Reading

On Esther Inglis

Bracher, Tricia. “Esther Inglis and the English Succession Crisis of 1599.” Women and Politics in Early Modern England, 1450-1700. Ed. James Daybell. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2004. 132-146.

Frye, Susan. “Materializing Authorship in Esther Inglis’s Books.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 32.3 (Fall 2002): 469-491.

Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Ross, Sarah Gweneth. “Esther Inglis: Linguist, Calligrapher, Miniaturist, and Christian Humanist.” Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters. Ed. Julie D. Campbell and Anne R. Larsen. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009. 159-182.

Scott-Elliot, A. H. and E. Yeo. “Calligraphic manuscripts of Esther Inglis.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 84 (1990): 11–86.

Tjan-Bakker, Anneke. “Dame Flora’s Blossoms: Esther Inglis’s Flower Illustrated Manuscripts.” English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700 9 (2000): 49-72.

Van Elk, Martine. “Courtliness, Piety, and Politics: Emblem Books by Georgette de Montenay, Anna Roemers Visscher, and Esther Inglis.” Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters. Ed. Julie D. Campbell and Anne R. Larsen. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009. 159-182.

Ziegler, Georgianna. “Hand-ma[i]de Books: The Manuscripts of Esther Inglis, Early Modern Precursors of the Artists’ Book.” English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700 9 (2000): 73-87.

Ziegler, Georgianna. “‘More than Feminine Boldness’: The Gift Books of Esther Inglis.” Women, Writing, and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain. Ed. Mary E. Burke, Jane Donaworth, Linda L. Dove, and Karen Nelson. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2000. 19-37.

On portraits and print

Bizer, M. “The reflection of the other in one’s own Mirror: The Idea of the Portrait in Renaissance Imitatio.” Romance Notes 36.2 (1996): 191-200.

Clement, Taylor. “Moveable Types: The De-Individuated Portrait in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Renaissance Studies 31.3 (2017): 383-406.

Howe, Sarah. “The Authority of Presence: The Development of the English Author Portrait, 1500–1640.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 102.4 (2008): 465-499.

Loh, Maria. “Renaissance Faciality.” Oxford Art Journal 32.3 (2009): 341-363.

Mann, Alastair J. “The Anatomy of the Printed Book in Early Modern Scotland.” The Scottish Historical Review 80.210 (2001): 181-200.

Woods-Marsden, Joanna. Renaissance Self-Portraiture: The Visual Construction of Identity and the Social Status of the Artist. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

 

[1] Art historian Duncan Macmillan calls her the first Scottish artist to paint a self-portrait. See Macmillan, Scottish Art 1490-1650, 2nd and Revised Ed. (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing 2000), 65.

[2] Alli Burness argues that selfies are “part of a conversation, a series of contextual interactions and are connected to the selfie-maker in an intimate, embodied and felt way.” See her 2015 blog post, “What’s the Difference between a Selfie and a Self-Portrait?” here.

[3] See Coldiron’s forthcoming chapter, “The Translator’s Visibility in Early Printed Portrait Images and the Ambiguous Example of Margaret More Roper,” in Thresholds of Translation: Paratexts, Print, and Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Britain, ed. Marie-Alice Belle and Brenda Hosington (Palgrave, forthcoming). Coldiron discussed Caxton’s image of the ape in her talk “Visibility, Collaboration, and The Author-Function in Early Modern Translators’ Portraits” (presentation, Renaissance Society of America, Chicago, IL, March 31-April 2, 2017).

[4] While early modern viewers saw the dog as a symbol of fidelity and loyalty, apparently some 21st century viewers see Snapchat’s “puppy filter” as a symbol of promiscuity. See http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/dog-filter.

[5] Alastair Fowler “Anagrams,” The Yale Review 95 (2007): 33–43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9736.2007.00307.x

[6] You can read more about Inglis’s imitation of De Montenay in Martine van Elk’s blog post below.

 

 

 

 

 

The Monstrous Worlds of Two Seventeenth-Century Hispanic Women Writers: María de Zayas and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This blog post by Bonnie Gasior explores monstrosity and/in the works of two early modern Hispanic women writers.

by Bonnie Gasior

Disclaimer: this post contains no references to flying, three-headed creatures or fire-breathing one-eyed beasts. Or even Medusa, for that matter.

When people, both academics and their non-academic counterparts, hear the term “female monstrosity” used in an early modern Hispanic (con)text, they frequently imagine an observable, physical abnormality in either the (female) characters female writers engender or the authors themselves. While these more traditional types of female monsters do exist in literature of the period (e.g., in classical and mythological references), my research instead looks at monstrosity of the female persuasion as particular deviations from the norm. These abnormalities can manifest in a multiplicity of ways but typically manifest as transgressive behavior from within or outside of the text. When Aristotle asserted that women were merely deformed men, he probably had no idea that his incendiary claim would lay the groundwork for literary feminist scholarship and inform studies on monstrosity in enduring and compelling ways.

Two female authors from the Hispanic tradition—María de Zayas (Spain) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico)—both wrote in the 17th century, though the latter was only in her first decade of life when the former left this earth. Both women were monsters in their own right, having permeated literary spheres dominated by men at a time when women who spoke up or appropriated the plume were regarded negatively. Today, their texts—from plays to essays to poems—have (successfully) challenged the notion of canonicity, cast light on women’s issues, and secured their rightful place in literature classrooms.

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Modern rendering of María de Zayas

María de Zayas was born in Madrid of noble lineage in 1590 and participated in the poetry gatherings of her day (academias). Other than these scant details, history has revealed little more about her, even after almost four-hundred years. We do know, however, that she maintained a close friendship with another Spanish contemporary female writer, Ana Caro, as other literary publications of the time indicated. The date of Zayas’ death is accepted as 1691, though the last years of her life are shrouded in mystery.

 

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Title page, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (1637)

Though both a poet and a playwright, Zayas is probably most recognized for her two riveting short novel collections, inspired by masters of the Italian school, including Giovanni Boccaccio and Masuccio Salernitano on one hand and Miguel de Cervantes on the other: Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Amorous and Exemplary Novels, 1637) and Desengaños amorosos (Disenchantments of Love, 1647). Both enjoyed a robust readership during the era, as the intriguing storylines figured as the soap operas of their day. In the first, Lisis, a young, aristocratic woman summons her friends to her home to celebrate her pending nuptials and distract her from an unnamed illness. Over the course of several days, men and women take turns telling (long) stories and narrating. In the second installment, Lisis once again gathers her friends for more camaraderie. However, this time, she allows only women to be the storytellers, a decision surely tied to the cancellation of her wedding and subsequent disillusion with her suitor (and most likely, men in general). Both collections are rife with violence, grotesque imagery, and sexual predation.

In what ways, then, is Zayas’s world “monstrous”? One can find monsters throughout her body of work, from her characters to Zayas herself, as her voice destabilizes hegemony through side commentary, in the vein of Bakhtinian heteroglossia (“another’s speech…serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way”). For example, in the 1637 prologue, “To the Reader” of her first collection, she opens by stating, “Oh my reader, no doubt it will amaze you that a woman has the nerve, not only to write a book but actually to publish it, for publication is the crucible in which the purity of genius is tested” (1). She drives home her point by affirming that the blood of males and females is chemically identical, a claim that advocates for gender equality in general. Likewise, Zayas, through her narrators often interrupts with interjections, particularly when women are treated unjustly, as seen here in the novella from the Desengaños, Amar solo por vencer (“Love for the Sake of Conquest”): “Now even gentlemen noted for their gentility, who promise to defend women, get carried away by common public opinion, without realizing that they’re failing to uphold the name of gentlemen and the values they espouse!” (240).

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Modern sketch of the immurement of Inés

The novella La inocencia castigada (Innocence Punished) from the Desengaños illustrates Zayas’ awareness of and attention to monstrosity, particularly as it affects women. As the title hints, Inés, although declared innocent of adultery, is nonetheless made to suffer an unthinkable ordeal: for six years she is forced to subsist in a living, vertical tomb behind a wall her husband and sister-in-law have constructed and through which only negligible amounts of sustenance are passed. Just as Inés is about to succumb, a female neighbor hears her cries, notifies the local authorities, and denounces Inés’ family. When Inés finally and unceremoniously emerges from behind the concrete partition, the way in which the narrator describes her—lice-infested tresses, maggot-ravaged flesh, excrement-laden body—is unimaginable, if not monstrous. On a more figurative level, Inés’ appearance could furthermore signal the way society viewed women in general. We are informed that time restores everything except for Inés’ eyesight due to long-term exposure to darkness. The symbolism of this particular scene and Inés eventual fate—retreating to a convent—are impossible to overlook and call into question the men of the novel, including Inés’ stalker, the purported insurers of justice, and even her own spouse, all of them monstrous in their own right for their deplorable actions.

Sor
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, portrait by Miguel Cabrera (c. 1750)

The theme of monsters takes an even more personal turn with Sor Juana. In contrast with Zayas, much more can be said about the life of Sor Juana, where monstrosity is at the forefront. The Mexican nun has been portrayed in television shows, movies (I, the Worst of All) and most recently, a 2016 Mexican mini-series titled Juana Inés, though none of these fully or faithfully capture her spirit. For many people familiar with the Hispanic literary tradition, Sor Juana is the embodiment of feminism, having penned poems such as “Hombres necios” (“Foolish Men”) in which she lambasts men’s hypocrisy: “But who has carried greater blame / in a passion gone astray: / she who falls to constant pleading, / or he who pleads for her to fall? (167). Born to a criolla (a descendent of Spaniards born in the New World) mother and Spanish father, Sor Juana was born Juana de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana in Nepantla around 1650. Sor Juana was, by all accounts, a precocious child and an autodidact who reportedly was reading by age three and composing poetry at around eight. In 1669, she became a Hieronymite nun and continued her studies behind convent walls, where it was claimed she amassed an extensive library of nearly four-thousand books. Sor Juana’s relationship with the vicereine, María Luisa Manrique de Lara, has been cause for intense speculation as a result of the poetry the former dedicated to the latter, but notwithstanding, the protection Manrique de Lara afforded Sor Juana was instrumental in allowing her to continue to write, particularly toward the end of the seventeenth century, when she had her works published in Spain.

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La respuesta, in Fama y obras póstumas (1700)

Sor Juana’s acclaimed essay La respuesta a Sor Philotea (The Answer to Sor Filotea, 1691) demonstrates at once how she was both a threatened and threatening individual. Its genesis includes a written critique by Sor Juana of a Portuguese priest’s forty-year old sermon, which was intended to be a private, spiritual exercise; the Bishop of Puebla’s learning of the critique’s existence and subsequently publishing the piece without Sor Juana’s permission, probably to make a spectacle of her; and the “correspondence” that ensued between the two in the form of two epistolary essays.

Obispo_Manuel_Fernández_de_Santa_Cruz
Bishop Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz (anonymous portrait)

The Bishop, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, responded to Sor Juana’s critique of the aforementioned sermon with his Carta Atenagórica (Letter Worthy of Athena, 1690), in which he hides behind a pseudonym, Sor Philotea, in order to admonish the nun more slyly for her secular transgressions. Sor Juana, in turn, delivers a rhetorical, reasoned retort, The Answer, which could be read as part biography (“people marveled not so much at my intelligence but my memory and the facts I knew at an age when it seemed I scarcely had time to learn to speak The Answer 51); part self-vindication (“My writing has never proceeded from any dictate of my own, but a force beyond me” 47) infused with humanistic mastery (“Without logic, how should I know the general and specific methods by which the Holy Scripture is written?” 53); not to mention a dose of false modesty (“What understanding do I possess, what studies, what subject matter, or what instruction, save for profundities of a superficial scholar?” 47). Sor Juana at once defends and promotes women’s causes in general, particularly as they relate to the pursuit of and access to knowledge, which, ironically, the Bishop was obviously trying to curtail but failed to do by virtue of the Respuesta’s publication.

The fodder these two early modern female writers offer, in the form of themes, characters, and circumstances, exemplifies the workings of monstrosity. I have argued previously that monstrosity operates in varying ways but often has specific, telltale signs in the context of gender. Ultimately, I see women deemed monstrous (by others) when they overstep their gender roles (Sor Juana as a detractor) or as a form of punishment (Inés’ spell-induced outings). Rendering women monstrous thus exposes them, incites (self)reflection, and in theory is a corrective if not curative measure. In a way, though, those same displays of monstrosity are what best serve a feminist agenda by exposing the mechanisms that so often have and continue to victimize women.

In the spirit of political phenomena such as the Hillary Clinton support group Pantsuit Nation or Trump-inspired pussy hats; cultural ones like the Netflix series Orange is the New Black; and literary examples, such as the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, female monsters are more prominent than ever, moving from the shadows toward the spotlight in a world that now champions and celebrates them.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite anyone interested in similar topics to submit an abstract or panel proposal to the GEMELA (Grupo de estudios sobre la mujer en España y Las Américas) conference. Since its inception, the organization has devoted itself to examining the cultural production of women (1300-1800) in Spain, the Americas and Portugal. Our biennial conference has taken place in numerous locations in the U.S. and Latin America, including Portland, Houston, Long Beach (CA) and most recently, San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 2018, we will meet in Reno, NV and welcome scholars whose work dovetails with ours. Please see www.gemelas.org for further information about membership, conferences, newsletters and other relevant details.

**I would like to thank my colleagues, Yolanda Gamboa and Mindy Badia, for their suggestions during the editing process and more importantly, their unwavering friendship.

Further Reading

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

Caputi, Jane. Goddesses and Monsters. Women, Myth, Power, and Popular Culture. Madison: University of Wisonsin Press, 2004.

Cohen, Jeffery Jerome, ed. Monster Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Castillo, David. Baroque Horrors: Roots of the Fantastic in the Age of Curiosities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous Feminine. Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1993.

De la Cruz, Sor Juana Inés. The Answer/La Respuesta. Trans. Arenal, Electa and Amanda Powell. New York: The Feminist Press, 2009.

Gasior, Bonnie L. “Monstrous Maneuvers and Maneuvering the Monstrous in Two of Sor Juana’s Dialogic Romances.” Hispanic Issues Online. Special issue of Writing Monsters: Essays on Iberian and Latin American Cultures 15 (Spring 2014): 60-77.

—. “Women’s Webs of Dialogic Poetry in Early Modern Spain.” Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry 16.2 (2011): 45-64.

Gamboa, Yolanda. “Architectural Cartography: Social and Gender Mapping in Maria de Zayas’s Seventeenth-Century Spain.” Hispanic Review 71.2 (Spring, 2003): 189-203.

Hanafi, Zakiya. The Monster in the Machine: Magic, Medicine, and the Marvelous in the Time of the Scientific Revolution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Huet, Marie-Hélène. Monstrous Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Merrim, Stephanie. Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Nelson, Bradley. “Zayas Unchained: A Perverse God or Theological Kitsch?” Hispanic Issues Online. Special issue of Writing Monsters: Essays on Iberian and Latin American Cultures 15 (Spring 2014): 42-59.

Paz, Octavio. Trampas de la fe. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1982.

Platt, Peter G, ed. Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999.

Velasco, Sherry. The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso. Austin : University of Texas Press, 2000.

Vélez-Quiñones, Harry. Monstrous Displays: Representation and Subversion in Spanish Literature. New Orleans: University Press of the South, 1999.

Vollendorf, Lisa. Reclaiming the Body: María de Zayas’s Early Modern Feminism. North Carolina Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures 270. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Welles, Marcia. “Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor and her Novela cortesana: a Re-evaluation.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 55.4 (1978): 301-10.

Whitenack, Judith A., and Amy R. Williamsen, eds. María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995. Print

Zayas, María de. Desengaños amorosos. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra, 2000.

—. Disenchantments of Love. Trans. H. Patsy Boyer. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

—. The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels. Trans. H. Patsy Boyer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Bonnie Gasior is Professor of Spanish and Faculty Athletics Representative at California State University, Long Beach. She is co-editor of Crosscurrents: Transatlantic Perspectives on Early Modern Theater (Bucknell UP, 2006) and the forthcoming Making Sense of the Senses in the Spanish Comedia (Juan de la Cuesta Press, 2017). She is also co-author of a forthcoming third-year literary analysis textbook entitled Redes literarias (McFarland Press, 2017).

Mary Ward and the Society of Jesus

This blog post by Alexandra Verini recounts the life of Mary Ward, founder of a female religious community and controversial figure in her time.

by Alexandra Verini

MW
Portrait of Mary Ward (anonymous, c. 1600)

Mary Ward is a fascinating early modern woman who has been relatively little studied. She was a Catholic born in a post-Reformation England and so spent much of her life in Europe where she founded a new congregation modeled on the Jesuit Society of Jesus, which served as a religious community for English Catholic women and a school for girls. I first became interested in Ward in my research on women’s utopianism and have found her to be a powerful example of how early modern women could refashion prescribed gender roles and enact prescient models of female community.

Despite her innovations, relatively few scholarly works have focused on Ward, in part, because, before 2007, all documents concerning her life and her society were kept under lock and key at the Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich. Recently, however, Sister Christina Kentworthy-Browne from the Bar Convent in York has published a biography of Ward written by her companions as well as Ward’s autobiographical fragments and select letters. Moreover, five German volumes have made available for the first time the entirety of the Ward archive, which includes letters between Ward and her followers, her spiritual writings, autobiographical fragments and institutional documents. These volumes, alongside with visual representations of Ward’s life, bear witness to a career that, in face of great challenges, staked a claim for women’s collective spiritual and political authority.

 

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Opening page of A Briefe Relation from webpage for a Mary Ward Documentary

Born in 1585 to religious parents from a Catholic family in Yorkshire, Ward spent much of her early life with relatives. In 1599, she moved to the house of Sir Ralph Babthorpe at Osgodby, Selby, where, at the age of 15, she found a calling to religious life. As her biography, which was written after Ward’s death by two of her followers, recounts, when living at the Babthorpe residence, Ward “wou’d retyre herselfe alone in her Chaumber, with an old Catholicke Woman, and heare her tell storyes of Religious Women…which gave her such Light of the excellency of a Religious state, as all her Life she had a feeling of it (Kentworthy-Browne 6-7).

 

This period of her life is illustrated in the Painted Life, a series of fifty paintings illustrating significant events in Ward’s career commissioned by her followers Mary Wigmore, Mary Poyntz, and other early companions in the later seventeenth century. I traveled to Augsburg last year to see these paintings, which were helpfully explained to me by the sisters of the Congregatio Jesu.

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Painted Life 9. Copyright ‘Painted Life’ Pictures, Mary Ward Spirituality Centre, Augsburg. Photo Tanner, Nesselwang, Germany.

 

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Roger Lee, SJ. Miniature housed at Mary Ward Spirituality Centre, Augsburg.

In 1606, like many recusant Catholics, Ward left England to join the convent of Saint Clares in Saint-Omer in what was then Spanish Flanders, where she met her future spiritual director Roger Lee (1574-1615).

The following year she left the convent to start a new foundation of the same order specifically for English women at the nearby Gravelines. Five years later, however, she received a divine revelation, which she later called her glory vision, in which God instructed her to “take the same of the society,” referring to the Society of Jesus. This vision prompted Ward to leave Gravelines to found the Schola Beata Mariae, the first of over a dozen houses devoted to teaching Catholic girls and pursuing missionary work for the Catholic cause in England. Ward’s “Society of Jesus” was highly unusual as it was governed by women, unenclosed, and available for apostolic work worldwide, including the support of priests on the English Mission. In taking the step to found her society, Ward went against the establishment on multiple fronts: she was inherently at odds with her nation’s religion, but she also fell out of favor with the papacy since, by promoting women’s active ministry, she defied the Post-Tridentine prescription of enclosure for religious women.

 

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Painted Life 22. Copyright ‘Painted Life’ Pictures, Mary Ward Spirituality Centre, Augsburg. Photo Tanner, Nesselwang, Germany

Female community was integral to Ward’s society, and she maintained strong female friendships throughout her life, describing herself in her spiritual exercises as “apt for friendship.” During her stay in London in 1609, she won over several young aristocratic women, who crossed over with her to Saint-Omer to serve under her direction. These women are shown sitting together in the Painted Life.

The value Ward placed on the female community that subsequently gathered around her is manifest in a set of addresses that she delivered in December 1617 at Saint-Omer to 60 of her followers. Speaking directly to these women, she describes them in exalted terms: “You are spectakells to god, angells and men. It is certaine that god has looked uppon you as he never looked uppon any” (Dirmeier, vol. 1, 363). Ward acted on the faith she invested in her followers when she founded centers for her society in Bratislava (Pressburg), Cologne, Hewarth, Liège, London, Munich, Naples, Perugia, Prague, Rome, St.-Omer, Trèves (Trier), and Vienna and entrusted their governance to her female friends with whom she corresponded regularly about administrative and spiritual matters.

 

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Ward’s signature. Image from document housed at Mary Ward Spirituality Centre, Augsburg.

Her most frequent epistolary correspondent was Winefrid Wigmore (shown on the left of the Painted Life image 22 according to a sister from Augsburg). In her many letters, Ward addresses her friend affectionately as “My Dear Win” and commends her “mannaginge of matters” (Perugia 1624 July 23)

In another letter sent on July 16, 1627, Ward congratulates Wigmore on the progress she has made in the Latin education of girls and instructing her to encourage more pupils to study Latin: “Thes [words] are indeed cheifly to congratulate the unexpected progress of your lattin Schools … All such as are capable, invite them to yt; and for such as desirs to be of ours, noe tallant ys to be so much regarded in them as the lattin tounge.” Ward further praises Wigmore’s education of a particular girl, describing how priests have praised the girl’s Latin writing: “The lattin hand Maria Mich: wrote her theam in, ys hear by thes fathers much commaunded, though I thinke yt ys farr short of what yt wilbe.” In this letter and others, Ward demonstrates the value she placed on education for women and interest she took in each of her individual followers and pupils. Far from being the ego-driven project of one woman, Ward’s Society was formed through the collaborative efforts of a network of women and girls across Europe.

 

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Modern stained glass image of Ward instructing young girls, Bishop Thornton Church, Harrogate

Despite Ward’s successes, her vision of a community for women engaged in active ministry was never fully realized in her lifetime, primarily due to Catholic opposition (including by one of her community’s former members, Mary Alcock). Opponents viewed Ward as heretical, dubbing her and her followers “galloping nuns,” referring to her society’s lack of enclosure. Ward’s breach of papal law led to the Vatican’s suppression of the Institute in 1631, with Pope Urban VIII’s signing of the Pastoralis Romani Pontificis. All Ward’s foundations were dissolved, and she herself was imprisoned, ironically in a foundation of the same order she had joined as a young girl: a Poor Clare convent, the Angerkloster, in Munich. She was denied the female companionship that had been so vital to her mission as the sisters of the Angerkloster were forbidden to speak to her and she was prohibited from writing letters. During this time, Ward communicated with her supporters secretly by sending letters written in lemon juice, whose words only appear when the paper was heated. Twenty-three of these fragile lemon-juice letters survive today.

When Ward was eventually freed in October 1631, she set out for Rome to seek a papal audience and make a case for her Society. Despite his verbal approbation of her work, Pope Urban VIII did not revoke the Bull condemning the Institute, and though the Inquisition issued a statement that neither Mary Ward nor her companions were guilty of acts against the Church, Ward remained under the shadow of the Inquisition. She was never allowed to see the written statements against her, and it was not until recently, when granted access to the Vatican’s archives, that the Institute realized the extent of papal opposition against the Society. Most of the members of the Society of Jesus were forced to leave their houses and either return to secular life or join other religious orders. Only in Munich and Rome were a limited number allowed to live together as laywomen.

Ward spent the remainder of her life under house arrest in Rome and moving between various spas in Europe due to her ill health before returning to Yorkshire where she died on January 30, 1645. Her tombstone reads:

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Mary Ward’s tombstone in Osbaldwick Church

To love the poor,
persevere in the same,
live die and rise with them
was all the aim of
Mary Ward
who lived 60 years and eight days
and died on 20th January, 1645

After her death, the Ward’s foundation slowly gained recognition. The Society received full confirmation by Pope Pius IX in 1877; in 1900, the name Institute of the Blessed Virgin (in place of Society of Jesus) became its official title; in 1909, the petition for Ward’s rehabilitation received approval by Pope Pius X. Finally, in 1979, the Vatican approved Ward’s plan to adopt the Jesuit Constitutions; in 2002, the Roman branch of Mary Ward’s Institute returned to Mary Ward’s founding vision by changing its name from “Institutum Beatae Mariae Virginis” (IBMV) to “Congregatio Jesu” (“Congregation of Jesus” in English); and in 2004, the Roman branch of IBVM was renamed the Congregation of Jesus, fulfilling the vision of its foundress, who was given the title ‘Venerable’ by Benedict XVI in 2009. In 2015, during Pope Francis’s trip to Cuba, Mary Ward Associates presented him with a letter requesting that he beatify and canonize Ward, which would constitute the Catholic’s Church’s highest recognition of her achievements.

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Sisters at the Loreto Institute in Australia (Archives of Loreto Institute)

Several branches of Ward’s order survive today, including the Roman branch of the order, the Congregatio Jesu, and the Sisters of Loreto founded by Sister Frances Mary Teresa Ball in the early nineteenth century. Both of these branches have established foundations and schools across the world.

There is still much work to be done on Ward. Most accounts of her life are biographies, which while valuable resources on her life, in many cases, did not have access to the documents in Munich. Her Painted Life, many letters in multiple languages, institutional documents, biography and autobiographical fragments are works of historical, theological, art historical and literary importance and hopefully will gain greater recognition in years to come.

 

Further Reading

Dirmeier, Ursula CJ, ed. Mary Ward ind hire Grundung. Die quellentexte bis 1645, 4 vols. Munster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2007.

Congregatio Jesu. Accessed April 21, 2017. http://www.congregatiojesu.org/en/index.asp.

Gallagher, Lowell. “Mary Ward’s ‘Jesuitresses’ and the Construction of a Typological           Community.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, 199-220. Oxford: Oxford         University Press, 1999.

Gallagher, Lowell. “Remembering Lot’s Wife: The Structure of Testimony in the Painted Life of Mary Ward.” In Religious Diversity in Early Modern English Texts: Judaic, Catholic, Feminist and Secular Dimensions, edited Arthur F. Marotti and Chanita Goodblatt, 77-106. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013.

Kentworthy-Browne, Christina, ed. Mary Ward (1585-1645): A Briefe Relation…with Autobiographical Fragments and a Selection of Letters. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press for the Catholic Record Society, 2008.

Littlehales, Margaret. Mary Ward: Pilgrim and Mystic 1585-1645. Tunbridge Wells: Burns and Oates, 1998.

Peters, Henrietta. Mary Ward: a World in Contemplation. Leominster, UK: Gracewing Publishing, 1994.

Wallace, David. “Periodizing Mary Ward (1585-1645) and the Premodern Canon.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36.2 (2006): 397-495.

Wallace, David. Strong Women: Life, Text and Territory 1347-1645. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Alexandra Verini is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include medieval and early modern women’s writing, devotional culture, and gender theory. Her dissertation, “A New Kingdom of Femininity: Women’s Utopias in Early English Culture and Imagination,” examines women’s utopian writing between 1405 and 1666. You can learn more about Alexandra’s work on her personal website or her academia.edu profile

The Delicate Hand: Female Engravers

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1. Jan van der Straeten,  Plate 19 of the Nova Reperta (New Discoveries). Late 16th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Digital Photo #: DP102228.tif

I have been researching glass engraving recently, and my readings sparked my interest in the related art of copper engraving.  Although some of them were well known, there were not many women copper engravers and printmakers in the early modern period. To what extent was it a gendered activity? Unlike glass engraving, which could easily be practiced at the home, copper engraving, as a famous image by Jan van der Straeten shows, was often done in a print shop in what was very much a male environment. The process of turning the copper engraving into print relied on collaboration, with tasks marked off separately as the designations on the print, “invenit” (designer), “sculpsit” (engraver) and “excudit” (publisher) suggest. Although these tasks might all be performed by one person, often they were not. This type of collaborative production, along with the material environment needed to engrave and print, presented obstacles to women, whose art was more commonly created within the household and intended for limited consumption or distribution to close friends. Besides, the product of copper engraving was meant to be widely disseminated, and this association of engraving with the marketplace would have meant it was off-limits to upper-class women.

In this context, it is important to keep in mind the social distinction Elizabeth Honig describes, between “amateur” female artists of the elite, whose art was a product of pastime, and female artists who worked in a family business, whose art was situated in the male-dominated professional realm. These distinctions, she notes, were sometimes fluid, and it was certainly possible for works created by “amateurs” to be marketed and sold or to become widely known (34). All the same, we can situate the majority of early modern female engravers firmly within the professional sphere. For instance, looking at a list of early modern female map engravers and printers in a blog post by the Osher Map Library, it is immediately obvious that they were mostly widows or daughters of male map engravers. Perhaps the Low Countries were the most promising location in Europe to find women engravers, given that it was home to some of the best known engravers and that a number of crucial innovations in the craft originated there (see The Brilliant Line on the developing techniques). Yet, female engravers were rare even in the Low Countries. Although there were small numbers of women engravers in countries all over Europe in this period, I’d like to use this post to explore in brief two Dutch women who engraved in copper, one professionally and the other, remarkably, as pastime.

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2. Portrait of Magdalena van de Passe by Simon van de Passe (1630). Rijksmuseum. Object number RP-P-OB-15.811.

Magdalena van de Passe (1600-1638) was the most famous female engraver of her own day. She was the daughter of Crispijn van de Passe and sister of Crispijn the Younger, Simon, and Willem, all established and well-known engravers themselves. As Ilja Veldman explains in her detailed study of the family, Magdalena already signed prints at age 14, suggesting she must have been very talented (200). She would develop what Veldman calls “her own, very delicate engraving style” (283-84). Even within the open environment of her father’s print shop, there seems to have been a gendered difference between Magdalena and her brothers: unlike the men, she usually worked from the designs and models of others. In this sense, we might compare engraving to translation: it can be based on an original, but nonetheless in subtle ways add its own touches, creating a product that is both original and an imitation. Just as translation was considered respectable for women, engraving after a male design may have been considered a more suitable occupation for Magdalena than original creation.

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3. Magdalena van de Passe, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Based on Ovid; after a painting by Jacob Symonsz. Pynas (1623). Rijksmuseum. Object number RP-P-OB-15.828.

Magdalena engraved only a small number of portraits mostly of female sitters (Veldman thinks she knew three of them personally), turning to landscapes after 1620. More surprisingly, she created a small number of engravings based on episodes in Ovid, embarking with her father on an ambitious project of making a large book of Ovidian prints. Unfinished during her lifetime, a book was eventually published in 1677, long after her death, including prints by her father and brother Crispijn. Contrary to much of her other work, the Ovidian prints show the latitude possible in female engraving. Ovid was considered immoral reading for women, and women artists did not usually depict nudes in other art forms like painting, Yet Van de Passe’s Ovidian prints break such rules. A striking example of this is her engraving of the sensual episode of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, showing strongly expressed female-male desire, placed in what looks like an emotionally charged landscape.

Van de Passe also printed engravings on satin and even on nightcaps. In 1630, she was given a three-year license by the States General, making her the only person in the Republic allowed to print on fabric. How many people wanted to sleep with an image on their nightcap of battles and noble Protestants like King Sigismund II, King Frederick V, and King Gustave II of Sweden is unknown, and none of them survives (as far as we know). Still, they represent an instance of blending different types of craft, not unlike some of the more politically themed glass engravings and embroidery of the period. Thus, while Van de Passe seems to have limited herself largely to engraving after male designs and paintings, she nonetheless crossed gendered bounds, infusing her work with her own style and inventing her own objects by superimposing political subject matter onto a domestic piece of clothing. Apparently, she stopped engraving after her marriage in 1634, as is not unusual for professional women artists (Honig 31-32).

Equally intriguing is the evidence that Van de Passe taught the skill of engraving to the versatile and multitalented Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), a frequent subject in this blog, who was famous for her book learning but also practiced in a wide range of arts. Katlijne van der Stighelen has argued persuasively that an early account that mentions that Van Schurman learned engraving in the printshop of the Van de Passe family, being “apprenticed” as it were to Magdalena, is probably true (116-17).Van Schurman is a prominent example of the amateur artists examined by Honig, who, she notes, were much more inclined to experiment and work in a variety of mediums than professionals, as they were unencumbered by guild regulations and the pressures of the marketplace (33). Still, engraving as amateur pastime is exceptional, and the link between Van de Passe and Van Schurman is a fascinating instance of female to female instruction in a craft dominated by men.

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4. Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-Portrait (1633). Rijksmuseum. Object number RP-P-OB-59.344.

Van Schurman’s first venture into the art of engraving is also her most famous. In a remarkable self-portrait, dated 1633, she shows herself holding a cartouche bearing a poem in Latin. The poem denies that there is pride or vanity in the choice of herself as subject. She says that she did not want her inexperienced pen to attempt a more weighty subject for this first try. The engraving gave rise to a series of poems by men, including especially Constantijn Huygens (I discuss his poem at some length in my book on early modern women). Agnes Sneller has remarked on the sexual innuendo used by Huygens when he calls it “the first cut / She ever did in her days.”[1] Presenting the cartouche behind which Van Schurman hides her hands as a shield to highlight her virginity, Huygens’s punning on “cut” ignores the modest poem inscribed on it. He reminds his readers of the sharpness of the burin  and suggests that the very act of engraving itself could be perceived as inappropriately sexual for women.

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5. Anna Maria van Schurman, Self Portrait (1640). Rijksmuseum. Object number RP-P-1887-A-11946.

Another, equally well-known self-portrait was engraved in 1640. It would later be included in a print publication of her letters, giving it wide distribution. This engraving went through several states and was frequently copied. Since both Magdalena and her father had passed away at this point, Van Stighelen notes that Van Schurman must have had access to a different studio with the necessary equipment and materials. Here too, the hands are conspicuously hidden from view, but there is great detail in the dress, which combines a kind of opulence with modest respectability. Compared with the earlier portrait, there is a more sophistication in the relation between sitter and background, creating a tension between the artistry of the engraving and the modest subscription, which reads, “See here depicted our appearance in image / If it is lacking in art, your grace will make up for it.”

Not coincidentally, perhaps, praise poems for Van Schurman and especially Van de Passe tend to shy away from describing engraving as “cutting.” Rather than hiding the hands involved in the carving motion, they present engraving in aesthetic terms and emphasize the movement of the hand and the grace with which the lines are drawn. Adriaen van de Venne, for instance, focused on Van de Passe’s hand, which “with sweet bending, / Sets something new in the copper.”[2] Her brother Crispijn, who honored his sister with a poem in French after her death, wrote that she “has shown with her delicate hand that bronze / Yielded to the daring lines of her skilled burin” (Veldman 294). Such poems, in their aestheticizing of the act of engraving, suggest, though less explicitly and crudely than the poem by Huygens, that the cutting involved may have been perceived as just beyond the boundaries of properly feminine art. In making their engravings, whether in the context of a family business or as pastime, Van de Passe and Van Schurman moved female art in new directions and helped pave the way for others, such as Geertruydt Roghman and Maria Sybilla Merian, both daughters of engravers themselves.

 

Further Reading

On engraving generally:

This video shows the process of engraving: From Paper to Copper: The Engraver’s Process.

Emily J. Peters, Evelyn Lincoln, and Andrew S. Raftery, The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver 1480-1650 (Providence: Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, 2009).

Timothy Riggs, Larry Silver, and Walter S. Melion, Graven Images: The Rise of Professional Printmakers in Antwerp and Haarlem (Evanston: Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, 1993).

On women artists and female engravers:

Elizabeth Honig, “The Art of Being ‘Artistic’: Dutch Women’s Creative Practices in the 17th Century,” Women’s Art Journal 22.2 (2001-2002): 31-39.

Katlijne van der Stighelen, Anna Maria van Schurman of ‘Hoe hooge dat een maeght kan in de konsten stijgen’ (Leuven: Universitaire Pers, 1987).

Agnes Sneller, “‘If she had been a man…’ Anna Maria van Schurman in the Social and Literary Life of Her Age,” Choosing the Better Part: Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), edited by Mirjam de Baar, Machteld Löwenstein, Marit Monteiro, and Agnes Sneller (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1996), 133-150.

Ilja M. Veldman, Crispijn de Passe and His Progeny (1564-1670): A Century of Print Production. Trans. Michael Hoyle (Rotterdam: Sound and Vision, 2001).

 

Notes

[1] Sneller, 138-39. The line is “d’eerste sné / Die sij van haer dagen dé.” De Gedichten van Constantijn Huygens, naar zijn handschriften uitgegeven, tweede deel, 1623-1637, ed. J. A. Worp (Groningen: Wolters, 1893), 301. DBNL.

[2] Veldman, 73-74. Hoyle translates the phrase “met zoet gebuig” as “gracefully” (Veldman 293); it makes poetic sense, but I retranslated it, awkwardly, to reflect Van de Venne’s emphasis on the movement of the hand. The original, from his Tafereel van Sinne-mal (1623), reads “Opdat u handt met soet ghebuygh / Wat nieuws int coper sett, / Ontfangt dit lied nu voor u cunst / Die gij my hebt vereert” (Veldman n376, 430).

Book Announcement

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With apologies for the self-promotion, I’d like to use this post to announce the publication of Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy, and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic, published in the Early Modern Literature in History series by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is available on Amazon and on Palgrave’s website in e-book format, with print publication expected in early February. Many of the women featured on this blog are discussed in-depth in book, which explores English and Dutch women writers.

Here is the synopsis from Palgrave’s website:

“This book is the first comparative study of early modern English and Dutch women writers. It explores women’s rich and complex responses to the birth of the public sphere, new concepts of privacy, and the ideology of domesticity in the seventeenth century. Women in both countries were briefly allowed a public voice during times of political upheaval, but were increasingly imagined as properly confined to the household by the end of the century. This book compares how English and Dutch women responded to these changes. It discusses praise of women, marriage manuals, and attitudes to female literacy, along with female artistic and literary expressions in the form of painting, engraving, embroidery, print, drama, poetry, and prose, to offer a rich account of women’s contributions to debates on issues that mattered most to them.”

The aim of the book, as is true of this blog, is to explore women in ways that are cross-cultural and interdisciplinary. Early Modern Women’s Writing offers new readings of Dutch women writers, who have not yet received the attention they deserve internationally, and fresh approaches to English women writers, who are too often discussed within their national context only.

 

The Court Beguinages of the Low Countries

This blog post by Sarah Moran explores the lives of Court Beguinages, women who lived in religious communitiesHer overview moves from the Middle Ages to today, with particular focus on the early modern period, to trace their fascinating history.  

by Sarah Joan Moran

 

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1. Anonymous, Béguine allant en Ville (Antwerp Beguine habit, worn outside the Beguinage) in Johann Friedrich Schannat, Lettre de Mr. l’Abbé S… à Mlle De G… Beguine d’Anvers, sur l’origine et le progres de son institut (Paris, 1731)

During the early modern period, tens of thousands of women in the Low Countries, a region roughly comprising modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and part of Northern France, joined unique communities known as Begijnhoven or Court Beguinages. These were semi-monastic institutions whose members, called Beguines, made the traditional monastic vows of chastity and obedience but eschewed the vow of poverty, meaning that each Beguine was responsible for her own financial needs. Although this excluded most poor women from the Court Beguinages, it also allowed members to maintain control over their personal property, and thus to a great extent over the course of their lives, which they could not have done had they married or joined a convent. Moreover, the Beguines enjoyed a relatively high degree of freedom: unlike nuns, they did not have to spend their time singing canonical hours, and their gates stood open during the day so that they might come and go as they pleased. These factors made the Beguinages enormously popular, with the smaller communities counting around a hundred members, and the largest topping out at over a thousand (the term “Court Beguinage” comes from the architectural complexes, built around courtyards, that were necessary to house such large communities). All but the smallest Court Beguinages also acquired independent parochial rights, making them the only all-female parishes in Christian history.

 

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2. Church of the former St. Christopher Beguinage in Liège, constructed c. 1241-1257

The Court Beguinages’ roots were in the early thirteenth century and the religious revival that was then sweeping Western Europe. Around 1200 the term beguinae appeared to refer to the many women active in the movement. Many of these women, including a number of now-famous mystics like Marie d’Oignies (1177-1213), Margaret of Ieper (1216-1237), and Lutgard of Aywières (1182-1246), embraced an apostolic and itinerant lifestyle. Alongside them, however, the Court Beguinages emerged as highly structured residential institutions, which quickly also became quite well-endowed.

 

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3. Anonymous, Béguine allant à l’Église (habit of the Antwerp Beguines, worn in church and for other formal occasions) in Schannat (see fig. 1).

They built their wealth through pious donations, both from their own members and from their local communities, usually in the form of testamentary bequests that were given in exchange for the Beguines praying for the donors’ souls so that they might sooner be released from purgatory. Since as women the Beguines could not perform the sacraments, each Court Beguinage had to have a priest and, often, several chaplains to perform masses and to hear their confessions. The priests governed the communities together with one or more elected Beguine superiors or “grand mistresses,” who oversaw staffing and financial administration and acted as representatives of the communities to the outside world. A system of internal administrative divisions coupled with the fact that Beguines were responsible for supporting themselves made the institutions financially flexible and that in turn helped make them remarkably stable. So too did their strong, often familial connections to the local secular and clerical elite, which allowed them to escape the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century campaigns of persecution against ‘heretical’ beguinae unscathed to flourish throughout the High Middle Ages.

 

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4. Braun and Hogenberg, Mechelen, from Civitates orbis terrarum (1575)

The Beguines played prominent roles in the dazzling public ritual culture of Low Countries cities under Burgundian rule in the fifteenth century, for example walking in the annual Holy Blood procession, participating in the ‘joyous entries’ of Charles the Bold into Ghent and Mechelen in 1467, and greeting Charles’s new bride Margaret of York when she arrived in Bruges the following year. By the early sixteenth century the largest of the Court Beguinages, the Beguinage of Saints Alexis and Catherine at Mechelen, counted between 1500 and 1900 Beguines along with several hundred employees and boarders. Braun and Hogenberg’s 1575 map from the Civitates orbis terrarum shows the institution’s enormous scale; the Beguinage appears at bottom left on the city’s northern edge.

 

The Italian expat Ludovico Guicciardini wrote in his Descrittione di tutti Paesi Bassi (1567) that the Mechelen Beguinage resembled an immense walled castle,[1] while other early modern sources noted that this and other Court Beguinages seemed like little cities in and of themselves. Inside their walls Beguines supported themselves in various ways, some working in the institutions’ breweries, bakeries, and washhouses—the Mechelen Beguinage even had its own printing press where Beguines could find employment—while others ran their own small businesses, with lacemaking workshops and small schools being especially popular. Wealthy Beguines, on the other hand, lived on investments in loans and real estate held throughout their cities, and some of them turned that financial experience to use in managing the Beguinages’ vast assets when they served as mistresses.

 

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5. Detail from fig. 4 of St. Catherine’s Beguinage outside the walls, which was destroyed in 1578-1580

Just one year after Guicciardini’s book was published, however, growing political discontent and Protestant beliefs erupted in a wave of iconoclasm across the Low Countries, and most of its provinces declared open rebellion against Spanish rule. From the late 1560s into the 1580s the Court Beguinages, along with other Catholic religious institutions, were decimated by iconoclasts, soldiers, and Protestant municipal governments. When Spain regained control over the Southern provinces in 1585, many Beguinages, including the Large Beguinage at Mechelen, had been utterly destroyed, while others had sustained major damage to their architectural complexes, property portfolios, and population numbers. In the Northern provinces, which became the independent and Protestant Dutch Republic, all of the Court Beguinages except those at Amsterdam and Breda were shut down outright or prohibited from admitting new members, so that by the 1670s the communities died out.

 

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6. Anonymous, St. Begga as the Patron of the Beguines and the Begards. From Joseph Geldosph Ryckel, Vita S. Beggae ducissae Brabantiae, Andetennensium, begginarum, et beggardorum fundatricis: vetus, hactenus non edita, et commentario illustrata. Adjuncta est Historia Beginnasorium (Leuven, 1631) 

In the South, by contrast, most began to rebuild, and as they did, the Low Countries’ bishops took steps to bring the Beguines more tightly under Church control. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries their lack of enclosure had helped make them a target of anticlerical and misogynist criticism, and they had also been a source of anxiety for the Church, who feared that they might cause scandal through sexual misbehavior. But in the early seventeenth century the Tridentine reformers decided to turn the Beguines’ freedoms and liminal status to their advantage, by making them into model Catholics who could help spread the Counter-Reformation’s messages to the laity. In order to improve their image the Beguines were given something of a ‘monastic makeover,’ so that they would be more closely allied with the traditional virtues of nuns—most importantly religious chastity. Clerical scholars “discovered” the Beguines’ historical founder in the seventh-century abbess and duchess of Brabant St. Begga of Andenne (we know today that Begga had nothing to do with the Court Beguinages, but this was only established in the twentieth century), which made them seem more like a regular order, as did the fact that the Beguine habit was now standardized for the first time.

 

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7. Frederick Bouttats II, Frontispiece of Het wonder-baer leven van Joanna Dedemaecker… (1662)

The bishops instituted more frequent visitations to ensure that the Beguines were, in fact, behaving themselves, and they asserted the Court Beguinages’ rightful, if idiosyncratic and local, position within the ecclesiastical hierarchy as places where women who for whatever reason were unsuited for a convent could pursue a more spiritually perfect life. In published biographies, like those of Anna van Schrieck and Joanna Dedemaecker, and the nearly 700-page Het Leven van de seer edele en doorluchtigste H. Begga met een cort begrip van de levens der salige, godtvruchtige en lof-weerdige Beggijntjes der vermaerde en hoogh-gepresen Beggijnhoven (1712), exemplary Beguines were presented as models of

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8. Philibertus Bouttats, Frontispiece of Cort begryp van het godtvruchtigh ende deughtsaem leven van Señora Anna van Schrieck (1698)

orthodoxy whom any good Catholic should emulate. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century the Beguines were also major patrons of religious art and architecture, building massive churches filled with images that communicated orthodox Catholic messages. The Court Beguinages were thus essential components of the social fabric of early modern Low Countries cities, playing important social, economic, and religious roles and from the early seventeenth century onwards also acting as agents of the Counter-Reformation.

 

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9. Anonymous, Beguinage of St. Amandsberg, Ghent, postcard, late 19th century

The end of the eighteenth century, however, saw the first major disruption at the Court Beguinages since the Dutch Revolt. In the 1790s the French Republican Army under Napoleon swept through the Low Countries and annexed the region, and most Beguinages saw their property confiscated. In the early nineteenth century most of the Beguinages regained at least some of their property, rights, and privileges, and they experienced a limited Renaissance. With the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830, the Beguines further became romanticized symbols of a particularly Flemish heritage, appearing in impressionist paintings and, later, thousands of photographic postcards.

 

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Anonymous, Beguine of Ghent’s St. Amandsberg Beguinage Making Lace, postcard, early 20th century

But by the first decades of the twentieth century the Court Beguinages were in a final and irreversible decline—as women gained equal legal and economic rights the institutions simply ceased to fill the social and gendered needs that had made them so popular for so long. A few kept functioning as schools into the 1970s, but as new professions dried up these too shut down. Today the Court Beguinages are, architecturally, in various states of preservation. About two dozen are substantially intact, with most of their structures dating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in 1998 thirteen of these Flemish Beguinages were named as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

The Beguinage of Hasselt is one of those not under UNESCO protection, and the city has recently approved sale of part of it for commercial development. If you’d like to protest this action, please fill out this petition. It’s in Dutch, but all you need to do is fill in your name, location, and email address on the right side and click on the “Onderteken” button. You’ll then get an email and you need to click the link under “BEVESTIGEN” to confirm your signature.

 

Further Reading

Aerschot, Suzanne Van, and Michiel Heirman. Les Béguinages de Flandre: Un patrimoine mondial. Brussels: Editions Racine, 2001.

Coomans, Thomas. “La plus ancienne église médiévale du mouvement béguinal.”Bulletin monumental 164, no. 4 (2006): 359-376.

D’Huys, Bert, et. al., Werken en kerken: 750 jaar begijnhofleven te Gent, 1234-1984. Ghent: De Stad, 1984.

De Moor, Tine. “Single, Safe, and Sorry? Explaining the Early Modern Beguine Movement in the Low Countries.” Journal of Family History 39, no. 1 (2014): 3-21.

Grieten, Stefaan. “Een heilige verbeeld: iconografie en ideologische recuperatie van de heilige Begga.” Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1994): 89-183.

Eck, Xander. Van “Between Restraint and Excess: The Decoration of the Church of the Great Beguinage at Mechelen in the Seventeenth Century.” Simiolus 28, no. 3 (2000): 129-162.

Majérus, Pascal. Ces femmes qu’on dit béguines… Guide des béguinages de Belgique. Bibliographie et sources d’archives. Introduction bibliographique à l’histoire des couvents belges antérieure à 1796, Vol. 9. Brussels: Archives générales du royaume et archives de l’Etat dans les provinces, 1997.

Moran, Sarah Joan. “Of Locked Doors and Open Windows: Architectural Strategies at the Court Beguinages in the Seventeenth Century.” Chicago Art Journal 20 (2010): 2-27.

Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

 

[1] “Congiunto alla citta allato alla porta di santa Caterina verso Anuersa, è un’degnisimo, & memorabil’ munistero, quasi a guise di castello, con le sue mura attorno attorno, per amplisimo spatio, oue e una bella chiesa dedicata a Sant’ Alesso […].” Ludovico Guicciardini, Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi, altrimenti detti Germania inferiore (Antwerp: Guglielmo Silvio, 1567), 153.

 

Sarah Moran has taught at the University of Bern and will be joining the faculty of Art History at Utrecht University in January 2017. Her primary research interests center on cultural production in the Counter-Reformation Southern Low Countries, with foci on women’s patronage, material culture, religious art and architecture, public performance, authorship, and image theory. For more on the Court Beguinages (especially in the seventeenth century) you can check out Sarah Moran’s academia.edu page and keep an eye out for her forthcoming book Unconventual Women: Visual Culture at the Court Beguinages of the Habsburg Low Countries, 1585-1794

 

Renaming Themselves: The Mottoes of Early Modern Women Writers

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1. Print by Daniel Veelwaard, reproducing a letter by Maria Tesselschade Roemers Visscher, with her motto. Rijksmuseum, RP-P-OB66.611.

When I first started this blog, my 13-year-old son recommended that I “put in a lot of puns” because that would be sure to attract readers. I told my pun-loving son that unfortunately, I didn’t think many puns would apply to the subject of early modern women. But of course, early modern women themselves used and enjoyed puns, as did everyone else at the time. One form their puns take is in the phrases with which they most closely associated themselves. Working on early modern English and Dutch women writers for my forthcoming book, I came across some striking mottoes that early modern women chose for themselves. Normally, these mottoes are a short saying or proverbial-sounding phrase with which the person in question wants to be associated, a succinct expression of her philosophy and worldview, used to sign off letters and poems, placed on a self-portrait, or engraved on a glass. Mottoes are reminiscent of aristocratic devices, and they were adopted to highlight someone’s sophistication, literacy, devotion, and respectability. At the same time, like those devices, they are reminiscent of emblems. After all, emblems consist of an image, a poem or prose gloss, and a motto, and the pleasure in reading emblems lies in the intellectual challenge of combining those three elements and considering similarities and tensions between them. By formulating a personal motto, early moderns offered themselves up as an emblem to be read by others. Mottoes create a signature and add a concise superscript to the textual, visual, material, and embodied selves found in books, letters, poems, portraits, and objects .

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2. Detail from Toneel- en Mengelpoezij (Amsterdam, 1731). Vol 1, Fol. 337, Vvr.

Mottoes may pun on the name of the person in question. An example that stands out of for me is the motto of the Dutch writer Cornelia van der Veer: “Ik tracht veerder” or “I try harder.” The pun on “veer” for farther is expanded on in friendship poems by her fellow author Katharina Lescailje, to include the Dutch word for quill, which is also veer. As I have argued (Van Elk, 2012), these puns on Van der Veer’s name formulate a double approach to authorship: Van der Veer’s writing is the product of honest hard work (these were Calvinist women after all), and yet she is also presented as born into the profession of writer by virtue of her last name. The motto is not aristocratic in that it explicitly denies the need for sprezzatura or courtly nonchalance; instead, it is suggestive of a strong sense of self and a concept of authorship founded both on divine predestination and sustained effort. The strength of the authorial self put forward by Van der Veer is particularly obvious in print, where her name is often placed in capital letters (fig. 2).

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3. Signature from a manuscript by Anna Roemers Visscher entitled Letterjuweel. Currently in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague (KB128 G 28).

The motto of another well-known Dutch author of the period, Anna Roemers Visscher, was “Genoeg is meer” or “Enough is more.” Visscher was not only a poet but also a writer of emblems, encouraged by and expanding on her father’s work in this genre. Visscher’s own motto is reminiscent of those emblems and indeed of early moderns’ love of sententiae, quick proverbial phrases used to sum up an experience or resolve life’s complexity. In the case of Visscher specifically, the motto highlights her temperance and exists in interesting conflict with the elaborate, artistic way in which she signed her name in manuscript form and in letters (fig. 3). It can also be read as a counter to the hyperbole with which she was praised by male poets, who called her the “Tenth Muse.” It gave her a reputation that, I argue in my book, prevented her from being seen as an author in her own right and instead limited her to a role as inspiration to others.

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4. Page from Roemer Visscher’s Sinnepoppen

Anna’s sister, the equally well-known Maria Tesselschade already had a kind of pun in her name: her father invented the name Tesselschade to remind himself of the insigificance of wordly goods, recalling the losses he suffered when a number of ships sank close by the island Texel (Tesselschade means damage done in Texel). Tesselschade’s self-chosen motto was “Elck zijn waerom” or “To each his wherefore,” a motto she took from one of her father’s emblems in his popular collection Sinnepoppen (1614; fig. 4 and fig. 1). The tolerance evident in her motto is characteristic of her father’s collection and gives her self-presentation a much more practical, down-to-earth character than the somewhat sterner moralism of her sister. Both women, in other words, chose mottoes that summed up their world view. Tesselschade’s motto would become particularly meaningful later in her life, when she was attacked for converting to Catholicism.

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5. Title page of the English translation of Anna Maria van Schurman’s Dissertatio Logica, with her motto in Greek

The motto of another famous Dutch writer, Anna Maria van Schurman, was the far more religiously explicit phrase “Amor meus crucifixus est” or “my love has been crucified.” The phrase is taken from Ignatius of Antioch and is a sign, as Pieta van Beek has explained, of Van Schurman’s commitment to celibacy. She often inserted it next to her signature in entries in alba amicorum (the friendship albums people kept) and returned to it, Van Beek writes, in some of her poetry. Tesselschade took her motto from her father’s work, and Van Schurman’s motto was also connected to her father: it was a personal reminder of the promise she made to him on his deathbed never to marry, setting her apart from ordinary Dutch women, for whom marriage was the expected fate. In this regard, it is important that in Greek, the usual language in which she cited her motto, the word for love is “eros,” and, as Anne Larsen notes,“has been crucified” can also be translated as “is the crucified.” In a poem in one friendship album, Van Schurman wrote the line “My longing has been crucified [is the crucified].” A life without “eros,” or earthly desire, is what she espouses in her motto, either erasing such desire entirely (“has been crucified”) or directing it towards Christ (“is the crucified”), rather than a husband. The motto presented a powerful counter to those authors who hinted at her sexuality, even as they praised her virginal state. But it also shows that her status as an exceptional scholar and author depended on her decision to remain unmarried. Mottoes often served to mark the woman in question as properly religious, but these mottoes also show the contrast between the Visscher sisters’s more secular, practical self-representation and the deeply religious, sacrificial identity put forward by Van Schurman.

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6. Self-Portrait by Esther Inglis, with her motto. Folger, v.a. 91, fol. 1v. Detail.

Elsewhere, women writers took on a variety of mottoes as well. The French-Scottish writer, calligrapher, and embroiderer Esther Inglis used two different ones. One was “Nil penna, sed usus” (“The feathers are of no force, but useful”), taken presumably from an emblem by Claude Paradin. Sarah Gwyneth Ross argues that this motto deemphasizes Inglis’s skill and penmanship, to direct others to the “use” or proper religious purpose of her writing. Thus, Inglis, like Anna Roemers Visscher, carefully anticipates and counters potential accusations of overreaching or pride. In self-portraits, Inglis also used the motto “de dieu le bien, de moi le rien” (“from God the good, from me nothing”), showing, as Laura Lunger Knoppers has pointed out, her affinity with the French emblematist Georgette de Montenay. The small self-portrait above (fig. 6) shows Inglis in exactly the same position as De Montenay (fig. 7), mimicking the woman who was her inspiration. De Montenay, whose emblems were translated by Inglis and by Anna Roemers Visscher, accompanied her self-portrait with motto, “O plume en la main non vaine” (“O pen in my hand not vain”). Here too, we are directed away from the courtliness and ostentation that is associated with taking up the pen towards proper religiosity. While women could chose mottoes to articulate the relationship between their religious beliefs and their social status, Inglis appears to have chosen hers to forge a close connection with her literary inspiration and enhance our sense of her as writer.

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7. Title page image of Georgette de Montenay’s Cent Emblemes Chrestiennes (1584)

Perhaps not surprisingly, many female mottoes highlight their modesty, but they also provided women with means to adjust the impression they made on others as writers or makers of artful objects. They emphasize that courtliness, elite femininity, and aesthetic skill can be combined with devotion and modesty. At the same time, the use of the pen in these mottoes suggests that they are keen to present themselves as authors, concerned with projecting humility and morality, but not necessarily with defending female writing itself, which is beyond question. Less explicitly and more privately, we may see a similar tactic in the fact that Lady Mary Wroth, even once married, marked her manuscripts with the initial S, for Sidney, associating herself with her famous family members and literary ancestors Philip and Mary Sidney, rather than with her married name (fig. 8). It is merely an initial and not a motto, but this type of signature performs similar cultural work.

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8. Detail from a page of Mary Wroth’s manuscript Songs and Sonnets (ca. 1625). Folger v.a.104, 46v.

In brief, the motto, the signature, and the device are affiliated cultural practices that foreground self-presentation, reputation, and authorial identity. Here I have concentrated on writers, but these types of inscriptions by women can be found in many places, from letters and embroidery to portraits and engravings. Mottoes offered educated women the opportunity to “name” themselves, in a culture in which the name of the father and husband tended to override their identity. Some chose a motto that was associated with their father, but others did not. Research into letters by women, stimulated by digital efforts such as WEMLO, will hopefully turn up more instances of this type of subtle self-fashioning, which is, in the sense in which the word was originally used by Stephen Greenblatt, both a submission to conventions and a performance with possibilities for improvisation.

Further Reading

Pieta van Beek, The First Female Student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636), translated by Anna-Mart Bonthuys and Dineke Ehlers (Utrecht: Igitur, 2010). Accessible here.

Martine van Elk, “Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory.” Reading Early Women: An Anthology of Printed Texts and Manuscripts, 1500-1700. Eds. Helen Ostovich and Elizabeth Sauer. New York: Routledge, 2003. 422-28.

Martine van Elk, ““True Fire, Noble Flame: Friendship Poetry by Katharina Lescailje, Cornelia van der Veer, and Katherine Philips,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 7 (2012): 157-90.

Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980).

Laura Lunger Knoppers, “Introduction: Critical Framework and Issues,” The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Anne R. Larsen, Anna Maria van Schurman, ‘The Star of Utrecht’” (London: Routledge, 2016).

Katharina Lescailje, Toneel- en mengelpoezij, 3 vols. (Amsterdam, 1731). On Google Books, here.

Georgette de Montenay, Emblematum Christianorum Centuria/Cent Emblemes Chrestiennes (Zurich, 1584). Accessible at French Emblems at Glasgow.

Sarah Gwyneth Ross, “Esther Inglis: Calligrapher, Linguist, Miniaturist and Christian Humanist,” in Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters, ed. Julie Campbell and Anne R. Larsen (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).

Roemer Visscher, Sinnepoppen (Amsterdam, 1614). Accessible here.

Mary Wroth, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. Sonnets and Songs Manuscript (ca. 1625). Accessible on Luna, the Folger database, here.