Mar 6 | Female Agency and Religion in Counter-Reformation Italy (Double lecture by Ida Caiazza and Eleonora Carinci)

Mar 6 | Female Agency and Religion in Counter-Reformation Italy (Double lecture by Ida Caiazza and Eleonora Carinci)





New York University, Department of Italian
Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, 24 W 12th St, Library, 2nd floor
March 6, 2023, 6.30pm

The event is free and open to the general public.

Please, RSVP to reserve a spot

 The event is part of the Marie Curie Projects “Women Thinking Love” and “Rethinking Mary”, and has received funding by the Horizon 2020 program – grant agreements no 101024634 and 101031720

Traditional scholarship of Early-Modern Italy sees the Counter Reformation as a moment of decline for female agency and cultural contribution, after the “golden” mid-Cinquecento, when women’s participation in the public sphere had reached unprecedented levels. Current scholarship, instead, has shown – and new evidence continues to appear – that after the Council of Trent, female agency did not suddenly stop, but sought and found new ways and paths. This double lecture will tackle the question: was religion only a means to restrain women’s agency, or is it possible to see it also as one of the many contexts in which and through which women affirmed their views? To contribute new material to this complex debate, Ida Caiazza will present case studies of women who managed to stay true to themselves, also through their own understanding of religion and religious female paradigmes, in the context of romantic relationships; Eleonora Carinci will consider how two proto-feminist writers represent and subvert the idea of the Virgin Mary as a model of passive woman proposed by post-Tridentine culture.


Ida Caiazza
Female Agency and Religion in Counter-Reformation Romantic Relationships

This talk will present two educated, smart, and determined women, coming from two different religious backgrounds, who had to face the challenges of Counter-Reformation Italy, in order to set up their lives and their romantic relationships the way they wanted to. The first one will be Sara Copio Sullam, a Jewish poet and salonnière of the Venetian ghetto, who had a very peculiar relationship (witnessed by a four-year-long correspondence) with the Catholic prelate Ansaldo Cebà, experimenting an unprecedented combination of romantic love and intellectual dispute. We will try to understand how Sara used the tools of religion and literature to build a self-narrative and a path for action and self-determination, as well as to counterfeit the passive female models that men tried to impose on her. The second one is the mysterious noblewoman Emilia Fiorentina (clearly a pseudonyme for an aristocrat whose identity needed to be conceiled), a sincere Catholic believer, who had a clear idea of what love and marriage should be – resonating with the Tridentine sacramental conception of marriage and spiritual affinity between spouses. We will see how she used religion and literature to stay true to her ideas and beliefs, in a decade-long relationship (and correspondence) with the aristocrat and knight of Santo Stefano, Bernardino Lattanzi, who tried to subjugate her to his own paradigms of womanhood and romantic love.


Eleonora Carinci
Rethinking Exemplary Women:
The Virgin Mary in Lucrezia Marinella and Arcangela Tarabotti

The figure of the Virgin Mary represents a crucial and at times controversial point of reference for Christianity in general and for women in particular. Mary, in fact, is first and foremost a woman, probably the best-known one in Western culture, and the most widely portrayed and narrated archetypal female image. For this reason, she can offer much information on the construction of the feminine and maternal imaginary, and on the representation and self-representation of women. Over the centuries, the figure of Mary has taken on different functions in relation to the position of women in the world. It has transformed and shaped the image of women; it has, in its turn, been influenced by images of real women; it has been regarded as an elusive, and unattainable icon of a powerful and mysterious feminine; or, as an imitable model of power and action. This talk will consider the ways in which the Virgin was used in literary works by men and women after the Council of Trent to shape an ideal woman: on the one hand as a model of virtuous, passive, obedient and chaste figure, and on the other, as an exemplary figure able to preserve women from misogynistic attacks, and, at the same time, to offer them an empowering role model. I will consider in particular the ways in which the two well-known proto-feminist Venetian writers, the lay writer Lucrezia Marinella and the enforced nun Arcangela Tarabotti discuss and use the figure of the Virgin in their writings.


Ida Caiazza is a Marie Curie Global Fellow at NYU and at the University of Oslo. Her current research focusses on ideas and practices of romantic love in the Italian Renaissance and post-tridentine period. She is analysing love letter collections written and/or published in Italy in the years 1500-1650, in order to understand how, in its daily practice, romantic love was conceived, negotiated, constructed on philosophical and literary bases, in a dynamic and sometimes critical dialogue with the Petrarchan and Platonic paradigm. She has published extensively about love letter collections, and is currently finalizing a monograph about Renaissance epistolary narration in the forms of the novella and of the novel (provisional title: Narrare per lettera. Epistola, novella e romanzo nel Rinascimento). She has also published about modern and contemporary writers as Foscolo and Camilleri, outlining the love epistolary archetypes which contribute to convey the Ortis’ core message, and the role of Ingrid, the Swedish female character of the Montalbano series, as an outsider as well as a critic of the sexist and violent Sicilian environment portrayed in the novels. She has brought to attention the forgotten but remarkable literary personality of Alvise Pasqualigo, whose works were very successful in the Italian book market, were translated into English, French, Latin, and were regarded as a model of writing and spoken language. She has also explored Renaissance comedy, paremiology, and literary onomastics, and has an interest in Jewish women’s lives and writings (current and future research projects include Mariastella Eisenberg’s novels, and Sara Copio Sullam and Pacifica di Castro, two representative figures of the 17th centuries Venice and Rome ghettos). Prior to joining UiO and NYU as a Marie Curie fellow, she collaborated with the University of Pisa, the University of Helsinki, the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, the Guglielmo Marconi University of Rome.


Eleonora Carinci Graduate at Sapienza University of Rome, Eleonora Carinci earned her PhD from the University of Cambridge. Between 2017 and 2019 she was postdoctoral fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice with a project on the role of women in Italian vernacular Aristotelianism, within the ERC starting grant “Aristotle in the Italian Vernacular: Rethinking Renaissance and Early Modern Intellectual History”, led by Marco Sgarbi. She is currently Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Oslo with the project: ‘Rethinking Mary in Early Modern Italy: Men’s and Women’s perspectives on the Virgin Mary (1450- 1650)’. From September 2023 she will be María Zambrano Research fellow at the University of Seville for one year. Her broad research interest concerns Early modern Italian literature and culture, with particular interest in women’s writings. Within her current Marie Curie project, she is working on the impact of the literary representations of the Virgin Mary by men and women on the construction of early modern Italian women’s identity. She is currently focusing on women’s point of view on the Virgin, especially when she is presented not only as an object of devotion, but also as an empowering role model. Recent publications include a number of journal articles and chapters in edited collections focusing on various authors including Moderata Fonte, Camilla Erculiani, Lucrezia Marinella, Vittoria Colonna, Chiara Matraini, Maddalena Campiglia and Felice Rasponi, as well as a modern edition of Camilla Erculiani’s Lettere di philosophia naturale (Agorà & Co, 2016). Erculiani’s work was also published in English translation in ‘The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe’ series (Iter, 2021) edited by Carinci, translated by Hannah Marcus and foreword by Paula Findlen. Thanks to a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant funded by MHRA, a monograph on sister Felice Rasponi which will include new editions of Rasponi’s works will come out soon (Classiques Garnier).