Journal Article

The Widows' Might: Women's Identity and Devotion in the Brancacci Chapel

Nicholas A. Eckstein

in Oxford Art Journal

Volume 28, issue 1, pages 99-118
Published in print March 2005 | ISSN: 0142-6540
Published online March 2005 | e-ISSN: 1741-7287 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oaj/kci015
The Widows' Might: Women's Identity and Devotion in the Brancacci Chapel

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The famous early-Renaissance fresco cycle in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence has in the past been interpreted in relation to a fundamentally male paradigm. Using original archival research, this article contends that the frescoes, and the chapel itself, in fact have a feminine side. Several scenes of Saint Peter's miracles are informed by a late-mediaeval culture that idealised Christian charity in female terms, and reflect a culture of religious patronage and charity orchestrated by actual women living in the vicinity of Santa Maria del Carmine, where the Chapel is located. These women, all of them widows, participated as lay converts (commesse) in networks of neighbourhood charity connected with locally based lay confraternities. In relating this local culture to the frescoes, a new reading of scenes including Masolino's Raising of Tabitha, Masaccio's Distribution of Goods and St Peter Healing with his Shadow emerges. In the process, the article establishes a previously unknown link between the imagery of this most important yet elusive fresco cycle and the social soil in which it grew.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Art Forms ; Art Styles ; Art Subjects and Themes ; History of Art ; Theory of Art

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