The working title of my PhD thesis, ’Classical Influences on Renaissance Women Patrons’, is not particularly catchy, but it is neatly descriptive. My research looks at the engagement with and emulation of ancient Greek and Roman literary and visual culture by women in Europe from c.1400-1600, and the ways in which these influences affected their decision as patrons of art.
The two main questions that I aim to answer are:
What is the correlation between revivals of ancient matter and the content of art commissioned by women?
What do such correlations reveal about women’s self-fashioning and identity construction?
At its root this work is an interdisciplinary one, combining my twin interests in Classics and Art History to make an addition to academic narrative regarding the ‘Classical Tradition’ in the Renaissance world. In its most wonderfully simple terms, my work could be summarised by the below Venn diagram:
The reality, of course, is more complicated. A thesis that focuses specifically on the experiences of women must, at least to some extent, situate itself within the existing scholarship on feminist perspectives towards art history (really, all contemporary works of Art History ought to acknowledge and function within an understanding of feminist perspectives, but that’s a subject for another post). This means asking a number of complex questions about the relevance (or lack thereof) of a patron’s gender when it comes to their artistic commissions, the extent of the erasure of women patrons’ contributions to the world of art by the once male dominated field of Art History, and the significance of gender more generally in the Renaissance and beyond.
I also have a penchant for theoretical approaches to visual culture, with a particular fondness for iconology, semiotics and psychoanalysis. These areas of thought have to do with the discovery of meaning within art, and the reasons why certain people create certain objects. They constitute a number of significant additions to my thesis, leaving my original Venn diagram well and truly in the dust. My second attempt below is perhaps a more accurate (if still rather simplified) representation:
I am fortunate to be supported in the untangling of this work by my brilliant supervisor Dr Gabriele Neher, a leading researcher of Renaissance women, identity and patronage. She is a wonderful teacher, a fact which can be attested to not only by my anecdotal reminiscences of her as my undergraduate tutor, but through her repeated recognition by the University of Nottingham. She has received three Lord Dearing Awards (2013, 2009 and 2000), a Personal Tutor Oscar (2011) and a Chancellor Award (2012). On a National Level, she was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2015. I'm in good hands.
If you have any questions about my research, or indeed if your own work insects with the ideas discussed here or anywhere else on this blog, I'd love to hear from you.