Gift-giving, consumption and the female court in sixteenth-century Italy
The subject of my research is the female consort and her court. I focus on three Austrian Archduchesses: Giovanna, Barbara and Eleonora Habsburg who came down to Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century and married into the ducal houses of Florence, Ferrara and Mantua respectively. My thesis compares the structures, roles and relationships in these three contemporary female courts, and analyses the consorts’ reliance on personal consumption, gift-giving and patronage activities to assert their power, position and identity. My research is primarily based on the unpublished letters and accounts preserved in the three state archives of Florence, Modena (which contains the Este archive) and Mantua. My thesis starts with a background chapter on the history of the three Duchesses, and then turns to address each Duchess’s financial situation, the organisation of her court, her attitude to her husband and her new family and the particular circumstances of her life. This chapter sheds new light on the position of the consort, and sets the stage for the exploration of her patronage and consumption. My first case-study focuses on clothing. I examine the Duchesses’ choices in dressing themselves and their courts and analyse their treatment of clothing as a valuable visual language. My second case-study focuses on the gifts of food that were sent to and from the Duchesses. I discuss their function as items of relatively small economic value in the creation of patronage relationships and in the process of social and political mediation. The central tenet in my case-studies is that objects could act as coded messages, with multiple meanings which can be dissected by studying owner, receiver, means of transmission and the type of object itself. My approach employs material culture as a means for enriching current knowledge of a particularly under-researched subject: the female consort.
AuthorsBercusson, Sarah Jemima
- Theses