Review of Kelley Harness. 2006. Echoes of Women’s Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press

Marshall, Melanie L.

Echoes of Women’s Voices is an absorbing study of female self-fashioning in early modern Florence that documents successes and mishaps in the patronage strategies of women regents and women religious. The main focus is on Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria, widow of Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Florence, during her joint regency of Florence (1621-30) with Christine of Lorraine, but there are also two chapters on the institutional patronage of the convent of Santa Croce (known as La Crocetta), home to Princess Maria Maddalena, Christine of Lorraine’s daughter and therefore Archduchess Maria Magdalena’s sister-in-law. The concept of patronage as a means of fashioning a public identity is familiar, but aside from William Prizer’s articles on Isabella d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia (e.g., 1982; 1985; 1999), and studies of convents by Robert Kendrick (1996), Craig Monson (1995), and Colleen Reardon (1996; 2002), there is little substantial work on women’s musical patronage in Italy. Harness draws upon research into early modern women’s patronage of the visual arts, particularly highlighting the idea from Roger Crum (2001) that, regardless of who commissioned a work, the potential patron, recipient, or user of a work exerts influence over its production. Harness argues that patronage took on special significance for women as a means of communication-one that perhaps did not sit easily with society’s emphasis on the importance of silence as a female virtue (second only to chastity). In short, through patronage, women had a voice. The women” envoiced” through female patronage were not only the patrons but also the women characters that proliferated in their music theater.


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August 18, 2022