Lecture Series: Between Invisibility and Autonomy
Wann: Mo, 21.11.2022, 18:00 Uhr bis 20:00 Uhr
Wo: Warburgstraße 26, 20354 Hamburg
Between Invisibility and Autonomy: Negotiating Gender Roles in Manuscript Cultures
Women as Scribes: Materials, Methods, and Motives in Medieval Italy and Beyond
Dr Melissa Moreton (Princeton)
Female scribes produced an astounding number of texts in late medieval and early modern Italian convents. Creating manuscripts gave women agency over the texts they used, while the books they produced served as powerful tools to improve their communities’ standing within commercial, religious, and socio-political networks. As copyists, nun-scribes created high-end liturgical manuscripts for royal patrons, copied personal and communal devotional texts for in-house use, and produced books for a variety of secular and religious audiences. Convent scribes often worked in close-knit teams and collaborated with secular male illuminators and manuscript painters to complete a commissioned book’s border decoration and images. Such manuscripts were used in high-stakes gift exchanges to strengthen socio-political alliances, while convent book production provided income that put these women in contact with a broad book-buying clientele.
Within the gendered confines of the place and period, the convent offered monastic women a unique opportunity to pursue an artistic and intellectual life, one rarely afforded to their secular sisters who were typically obliged to give up writing, painting, and similar pursuits after marriage. As a pious act, book production served individual nun-scribes as a devotional activity that was at once an act of meditation and a path towards spiritual perfection. This lecture will explore how convent leaders and nun-scribes used their books and scribal skills to further their religious, economic, social, and political agendas. It will also touch briefly on the role of women as scribes and patrons of texts in Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish manuscript traditions, contextualizing Italian religious women’s book production within the broader global middle ages.