Experiencing Alba Tressina’s Anima mea liquefacta est through Bodily Humors and the Sacred Erotic

Johnson, Lindsay

In this article, I situate Tressina’s Anima mea liquefacta est (1622) at the nexus of Renaissance and Early Modern intellectual and religious frameworks. I demonstrate the ways in which it connects with the sacred erotic, a major component of European religious thought in the seventeenth century, and Galenic humorism, which by the end of the Renaissance had regained popularity. Through close reading of Tressina’s composition, I explore the artistic and cultural celebration of the sacred erotic and its offshoot, liquid eros, as well as the link between humorism and musical performance. Finally, I analyze Anima mea with respect to humorism, mapping Galen’s four humors and their cultural connotations line by line onto the piece itself in order to more fully appreciate the associations between sacred eroticism, the psychology and emotion of performance, and the physical bodies of the nuns who performed this music. Tressina’s compositions employ many conventions of sacred polyphonic music popular in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Such pre–existing conventions function as a shorthand version of collectively agreed–upon cultural meanings, performing cultural work that is easily recognizable to a wide variety of listeners living in a common time, society, and geographic area. By linking Anima mea to prevailing ideas about the body and its connection with the Divine, I demonstrate the extent to which Tressina interacted with and contributed to her artistic and political communities—not cut off from society, as many in the church hierarchy expected from a cloistered nun, but very much a part of it.



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Columbia University
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August 7, 2015