Marina Vidas (Copenhagen), Personifications of Venice in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century illuminated documents and manuscripts

My paper will analyze images of female personifications of Venice in frontispieces of illuminated manuscripts and in documents, primarily patents by which doges appointed officials to various offices. I will first examine the sources and development of the iconography for the image of a woman symbolizing the city. Then I will discuss illuminations of doges depicted with a female personification of Venice (for example, a miniature showing Doge Marco Barbarigo attended by a woman holding a banner with the Lion of St Mark and personifying Venice, on folio 1 of MS Additional 21463, in the collection of the British Library, London). Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between text and image and the reasons to believe that the female gender of the personification is not coincidental.

I will additionally examine the manner in which personifications of Venice are represented in scenes depicting subject cities. For example, it will be shown how the illuminations, which equate Venetian governance with Justice and other cardinal virtues, portray submission to the republic in a positive light. I will also discuss Renaissance representations of female figures personifying La Serenissima which were based on contemporary Venetian depictions of the Virgin Mary. Finally, I will examine some of the possible meanings which these images might have had for their audiences. In particular, it will be suggested that the illuminations can be understood as illustrating the heavenly favor bestowed on the republic and its representatives.

Bibliography: J. J. G.Alexander (ed.), The painted page: Italian Renaissance book illumination, 1450-1550, Munich, 1994; Id., Studies in Italian manuscript illumination, London 2002; D. Chambers, Merit and money: The procurators of St. Mark and their »commissioni«, 1443–1605, in: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 60 (1998), p. 23–88; E. Cheney, Remarks on the illuminated official manuscripts of the Venetian Republic, 1869; G. C. Mariani, La miniatura veneta del Rinascimento, 1450–1500, Venice 1969; D. Rosand, Myths of Venice: The figuration of a state, Chapel Hill 2001; H. Szépe, Civic and artistic identity in illuminated venetian documents, in: Bulletin du Musée hongrois des beaux-arts 98 (2001), p. 58–78.

Capture (1)Marina Vidas is Senior Researcher at the Royal Library, Copenhagen and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She is the author of a number of publications dealing with Medieval and Renaissance art, the majority of which have focused on women as patrons, viewers, and subjects of representations. Her publications include: The Christina Psalter: A Study of the Images and Texts in a French Early Thirteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscript, Copenhagen 2006, and : Elizabeth of Bosnia, Queen of Hungary, and the Tomb-Shrine of Saint Simeon in Zadar: Power and Relics in Fourteenth-Century Dalmatia, in: Studies in Iconography, 29 (2008), p. 136–175. Her forthcoming book, The Copenhagen Bohun Manuscripts: Women, Representation and Reception in Late Fourteenth-Century England, is in press.

AdditionalMS21463 (2)

Doge Marco Barbarigo attended by a woman holding a banner with the Lion of St Mark and personifying Venice, folio 1 of MS Additional 21463, collection of the British Library, London


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