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Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence

, 280 pages

11 halftones, 1 line drawing

September 2009



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Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence

Winner, Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize, American Catholic Historical Association

The 15th century was a time of dramatic and decisive change for nuns and nunneries in Florence. In the course of that century, the city’s convents evolved from small, semiautonomous communities to large civic institutions. By 1552, roughly one in eight Florentine women lived in a religious community. Historian Sharon T. Strocchia analyzes this stunning growth of female monasticism, revealing the important roles these women and institutions played in the social, economic, and political history of Renaissance Florence.

It became common practice during this time for unmarried women in elite society to enter convents. This unprecedented concentration of highly educated and well-connected women transformed convents into sites of great patronage and social and political influence. As their economic influence also grew, convents found new ways of supporting themselves; they established schools, produced manuscripts, and manufactured textiles.

Strocchia has mined previously untapped archival materials to uncover how convents shaped one of the principal cities of Renaissance Europe. She demonstrates the importance of nuns and nunneries to the booming Florentine textile industry and shows the contributions that ordinary nuns made to Florentine life in their roles as scribes, stewards, artisans, teachers, and community leaders. In doing so, Strocchia argues that the ideals and institutions that defined Florence were influenced in great part by the city’s powerful female monastics.

Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence shows for the first time how religious women effected broad historical change and helped write the grand narrative of medieval and Renaissance Europe. The book is a valuable text for students and scholars in early modern European history, religion, women’s studies, and economic history.

Sharon T. Strocchia is a professor of history at Emory University and author of Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"Strocchia examines the complex interrelationships between Florentine nuns and the laity, the secular government, and the religious hierarchy. The author skillfully analyzes extensive archival and printed sources."

"Strocchia performs a service both to convent studies and to historians of Renaissance Florence by bringing these two fields together... Convents, long a hazy presence on the rich scholarly map of Renaissance Florence, now have their political and economic contours there clearly charted."

"An enjoyable, well-written account by a gifted historian clearly knowledgeable about her subject."

"Strocchia makes a significant contribution to the developing body of work on women's religious life in the Renaissance... providing a plethora of research avenues for the interested scholar and an interesting glimpse of Renaissance life for the general reader."

"A convincing and wide-ranging analysis of a crucial facet of Renaissance Florence."

"An original and high-quality contribution to the knowledge of the monastic institute."

"One of the central arguments advanced in this book is that the fifteenth century was a decisive moment both for convents and for their relations with urban society."

"This is a splendid intervention in the expanding study of religious women's communities. It is a 'must read.'"

"An important volume which deserves to be read and re-read not only by historians of the Renaissance church, but also by those interested in the histories of women, work and early modern urban culture."

"Lucidly written and meticulously organized... The book is remarkable for both its richness and its clarity: the chapters are logically framed, the sections of broad argumentation are supported by vivid case studies, and the conclusions are both sound and thought-provoking... Strocchia's study makes a significant contribution to the study of Renaissance Florence. By weaving the convent into myriad aspects of Florentine social and political life, she offers both thought-provoking findings and a trove of new evidence that will make the book required reading for a wide range of scholars."

"Well worth your close attention whether you are interested in Renaissance religion or ruling dynasties or the textile industry of Florence."

"A most impressive investigation of the intricate connections that developed between convents and the Florentine state in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries."

"Through scrupulous archival research, Strocchia situates her nuns in the context of late medieval spiritual, political, social, and urban developments... Strocchia convincingly moves the history of nuns and nunneries to the center of our understanding of Renaissance urban geography."

"In this brilliant study, Strocchia brings us a deftly crafted analysis of Florentine convents and life within them... The combination of Strocchia’s scholarship and engaging narrative sets a new standard for future studies of nunneries in other Italian cities. This is a superb book!"

"This well-conceived work breaks new ground for the role of convents in society and politics in early modern Europe."

"Strocchia has written a judicious, balanced, and meticulously researched book, one that is drawn from a splendid breadth of archival sources and that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the complex and changing relationships between ecclesiastical institutions, family strategy, and civic consciousness."

"A terrific book. It’s superb in its analysis of the internal life of convents and in its subtle and thorough use of archival materials. There is no other book like it and historians will turn to it for a long time to come."