AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Moretto da Brescia: Viewing Female Spirituality in Sixteenth-Century Brescia

by Anna Goodman

Institution: Indiana University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Brescia; Merici; Moretto; Ursulines
Record ID: 2060605
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/19822


This dissertation focuses on four devotional paintings executed by north Italian artist Il Moretto da Brescia between 1540-1550. These works depict holy women and virgin martyrs as spiritual exemplars for the faithful. In an effort to contextualize Moretto's oeuvre within the broader religious climate of Cinquecento Brescia, I discuss the works in relation to the larger Reform movement of the time. I am specifically interested in the ways in which Moretto's images of women religious reflect and contribute to his female viewers' self-conception as brides of Christ. Brescia offers a unique set of circumstances as regards women's opportunities for devotion, as the newly formed Company of St. Ursula provided an alternative to the convent or matrimony. Founded by living saint Angela Merici, Brescia's innovative Ursuline order offered young women the choice of pledging holy virginity while continuing to live at home with their families. The notion of uncloistered virginity was particularly controversial and the amount of autonomy Merici's followers enjoyed was quite unprecedented. It is my contention that Moretto's work during the decade after Angela Merici's death represents a show of support for her fledgling Company, and encouraged members of the order to meditate on their status as brides of Christ through a series of paintings that highlight various beliefs about holy chastity. These analyses are grounded in Merici's own writings about the Ursuline mission, fleshing out our understanding of the meanings female religious would have been able to make from Moretto's canvases. In a small memorial portrait of Angela Merici herself, Moretto presents a vision of her miraculously incorrupt remains, reminding viewers of the heavenly rewards of a chaste life. An altarpiece featuring St. Ursula and her 11,000 Virgin Companions provides a model of solidarity and strength, as the namesake of Merici's order stands with her army of virgins. Merici's words to her followers emphasize the need for preparedness in the battle of holy chastity. Finally, in two works depicting groups of female saints standing together, reading, praying, and conversing, Moretto offers a visual manifestation of all the Ursulines might be if they remain united against life's hardships.