Following more than a century of civil war in Japan, Empress Tōfukumon’in played a pivotal role in shaping culture and aesthetic tastes in the peaceful Edo period. Tōfukumon’in used her endowment from Tokugawa leadership to rebuild prominent Kyoto temples and collect art by her era’s leading artisans. She dabbled in creative endeavors herself, writing poetry and experimenting with calligraphy, and she was particularly interested in fashion and textiles.
Together with her husband, Gomizunoo, Tōfukumon’in fostered more direct relationships between the imperial family and artisans. The empress collected pottery by famed ceramicist Nonomura Ninsei, paintings by Tosa Mitsunobu, and works by other prominent artists and workshops of the day, like Tawaraya Sōtsatu and the Kano and Tosa schools. Her chambers featured artworks that mingled classical styles with contemporary scenes featuring warrior figures and commoners.
Among her most notable commissions are six painted screens by court painter Tosa Mitsuoki that together comprise Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips (1654–81). Against the golden silk backdrop, the artist rendered slips of medieval poetry dangling from finely wrought leaves. The work merges Tōfukumon’in’s interests in literature and painting, and also represents the royal couple’s quest for cultural influence in an era when the feudal shogunate increasingly wrestled control from the imperial family.
Here’s a reprint of a 1988 article in the New York Times about Prato:
By ANNE MARSHALL ZWACKFEB. 7, 1988
PRATO is Florence’s industrial alter ego, the milling ants to Florence’s blithe cricket, as in the fables of La Fontaine. But when it comes to play, it is Prato that does the chirping. Porsches from Prato are parked outside the expensive restaurants of Florence, and it is the matrons of Prato who patronize the fashionable boutiques and jewelers of Florence. Indeed, not without a pinch of envy, the more parsimonious Florentines consider the Pratesi ostentatious.
In the 13th century Prato – 12 miles northwest of Florence – was an important center for the spinning, weaving, carding and dyeing of wool. In the 19th century the cenciaioli (rag men) of Prato started recycling wool on a vast scale. Today the city is said to be the biggest wool-producing center in the world, with 2,000 firms and 60,000 people involved mostly in the recycling of wool, but in every other facet of the wool trade as well. (Recycled wool becomes the short-fiber, carded wool that, for instance, pea jackets are made of, as opposed to long-fiber or combed wool.)
The first merchant of Prato was Francesco di Marco Datini of Iris Origo’s biography, who waited for his ships to come in during the 14th century, and who at a time when accountancy was in its infancy invented the letter of credit. Today Pratese merchants sponsor the arts – a Henry Moore statue dominates one of the main squares and the Pecci Museum of Modern Art will soon be completed.
It is hardly surprising then that the narrow streets of old Prato are full of stores selling cloth and knitting wool. The city has always been known for its scampolai, stores that collect end pieces of material, the leftover stock or spoiled lengths from which they cut away flawed parts, and then sell as samples.
The scampolai are mostly in a network of streets to one side of the cathedral square, and they sell not only local wool but also silk, cotton and velvet. Fabric by the yard (in 36- and 60-inch widths) and sample pieces are available at excellent prices.
In Via Magnolfi every other store is selling samples and cloth by the yard. At No. 25, Bruno Franchi (telephone 38400) has been a scampolaio since 1958 and threatens to close his shop because of his age, but this evidently depends on his wife, Rita, whom he calls la padrona, the boss. The stock is a constantly changing spectrum of wools, silks, striped cotton for shirts, taffeta, toweling and so on, at prices that start at $2.50 a yard for cotton and anything from $4 to $40 for the silks, One item carried all the time is tartan blanketing, very soft and warm-looking wool that sells at $5 for a single-bed size and $11.50 a double.
CENTRO Scampoli (44-46 Via Magnolfi) is a large store selling every possible kind of material as a sample or by the yard. The real bargains are, of course, the samples (24 to 80 inches in length usually) but the material sold by the yard is also remarkably inexpensive. Cotton can be found for $7.75 a yard, linen mixed with rayon at around $14 in lilac, turquoise, lemon yellow and Nile green. There is quilted material for robes or bedspreads at $11.50 to $15, while the panno for which Prato is famous – the wool cloth in colors such as bright blue, geranium red, turtledove gray and muted emerald – retails at $12. If you dig around among the bolts of cloth, you can find silks by Valentino or Galitzine for $27 to $31 a yard, and pure silk Gucci unhemmed scarves – with a defect such as a smudge of color or a blurred outline – that cost less than $20.
At 83 Via Magnolfi there is a store (telephone 20667) that is worth a visit more for the owners than for the shelves of samples. Albina Gori-Pacini is a poet, and one wall is lined with cups and medals and literary awards, while her eight volumes of poetry are kept in an antique chest in an adjoining room. Albina Gori-Pacini and her husband, Dino, have been scampolai since 1933 in a period piece of a store that was once a hotel dining room with fat stone columns and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with vine leaves.
Around the corner to the right, in Via San Giorgio, Franco and Anna Polichetti have a rambling store (telephone 26311) redolent of mothballs with several rooms where you can browse undisturbed. Particularly attractive were the printed velvets retailing from $11.50 to $34.50 and the crushed velvets at $29.
Another street parallel to Via Magnolfi is Via del Serraglio, where, at No. 83, there is a tiny store – with materials spilling out onto the street – called Ditta Marmino. They have a good selection of furnishing materials such as 60-inch-wide Gobelin-style tapestry designs selling at $35 a yard in addition to rasatello, a cotton satin featuring large flowers, English country house-style, for $15 a yard; they also had the same kind of floral designs in cotton for $5 or in a linen mixture for $11.50 a yard. Bold deck-chair striped heavy cotton in blue and white or red and sand sells for $5 a yard.
The largest store with the biggest choice is Renzo Rosati at Nos. 56 and 60 in Via del Serraglio (telephone 24267). Six family members work in the street store and in the warehouse next door; the courtyard of the warehouse is dominated by a large olea fragrans tree that in autumn fills the drab little street with a haunting scent. Mr. Rosati has been in the fabric business since he was 15, and his daughter, Laura, who has been to the United States, speaks English. He sells any length of pure silk in plain colors, prints or Jacquards for $17 a yard. Soft wools in luminous white, deep purple and fuchsia cost $24. Men’s suiting materials signed Ermenegildo Zegna cost $50, while similar cloth in what Mr. Rosati calls ”super merino’‘ is $27. Harris tweed and Scottish-made kilt materials in clan tartans cost $18 a yard, while various shades of soft German-made velvet are priced at $19. This is the store where more enterprising members of the Florentine aristocracy might come to shop, whether to cover a sofa or to make party frocks for their junior jeunesse doree.
It should be stressed that in none of these stores are the materials inexpensive because they are shoddy; the choice and the quality are excellent.
In the Piazza San Antonio, at No. 12, tucked away behind the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria delle Carceri is a store called L’Angolino del Tessuto di Sorello Scarlini (telephone 21149) owned by sisters named Scarlini. While I was there a group of Pratese ladies-who-lunch were buying materials for evening dresses: pure silks at $15 to $19 a yard, satin at $24 and Lurex at $28 while silk goffering started at $11, crepe de chine silk mixtures at $19; higher priced were chiffons covered in sequins at $43 a yard and silk velvet that looked like astrakhan fur at $32. PRATO: A TOWN FOR FABRICS The Scampolai
The stores mentioned (called scampolai) are open 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 3:30 to 7:30 P.M. (They are closed Monday morning and Saturday afternoon.) No credit cards are accepted. Lodgings
At the Villa Santa Cristina (Via Poggio Secco 58, 50047 Prato; telephone 595951) – which also has an excellent restaurant – a double room costs $73 and a single $49. The hotel is closed during August. In the dining room a meal for two with wine costs about $80; it is closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. Dining Out
One of Italy’s better fish restaurants is Il Pirana (Via Valentini 110; telephone 25746), in a less lovely part of the city a short taxi ride from the center. The spaghetti with lobster is a first and second course in one. The restaurant is closed Saturday, Sunday and during August. A meal for two with wine costs about $95. A. M. Z.
A note about Albina Gori Pacini, La Poetessa di Prato. Time marches on and Signora Pacini has died since the Times published the article above.
Hürrem Sultan, a.k.a. Roxelana (1505–1558)
Empress of the Ottoman Empire
Titian, La Sultana Rossa c. 1500. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Through her coquetry and mastery of palace intrigue, Roxelana (meaning “the maiden from Ruthenia,” a region in what is today Belarus and Ukraine) rose from sex slavery as a concubine in Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s harem, eventually becoming his first (or most preferred) wife. In the harem, Roxelana learned Turkish, the principles of Islam, and the art of seduction, and she earned a new name, Hürrem—“the joyful one.” Roxelana so enchanted the sultan that he broke with tradition and had multiple children with her. A few years later, he married her—an act that granted Roxelana her freedom.
At the side of one of the most powerful rulers in Ottoman history, Roxelana wielded extraordinary influence over the empire through her philanthropy and prominent public building projects. Her Haseki complex in Constantinople featured a mosque, school, hospital, and soup kitchen. When a fire partially destroyed Suleiman’s harem, Roxelana used the opportunity to move in with her husband at the Topkapi Palace—an unprecedented move among sultanic wives that ushered in an era called “the Reign of Women.” Instead of rebuilding the harem, she encouraged Suleiman to construct a mosque.
The Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent still stands as a landmark in Istanbul today. In The Women Who Built the Ottoman World (2017), Muzaffer Özgüles suggests that Roxelana “reshaped the patronage of all Ottoman women builders who came after her.”
How’s my goal of living in Italy working out? Pretty well. It hasn’t been easy or fast, but it has been steady.
I came to Florence at the end of November in 2016. I arrived with a student Visa, which let me live in Italy beyond the 90 days any American can stay in Europe as a tourist. I stayed in Florence for 11 months and successfully obtained the all important Permesso di Soggiorno with that Visa. The Permesso expired after 8 months, regardless of the fact that I had already paid for Italian language school for 12 months. Lesson 1: there is no logic.
I returned to the states in October of 2017, going from Florence to Chicago where it was necessary for me to go to the Italian Consulate to apply for an elective residency Visa. Such a Visa allows Americans like me, if we are fortunate enough to receive the Visa, to live in Italy under certain circumstances. Chicago was necessary for me because my home is in Denver and that’s the way that cookie is divided. I filed the myriad documents needed to show my eligibility for the elective residency Visa, and then went to Denver to wait its hoped-for arrival.
Fortunately, I received the Visa. But, it has certain conditions. I won’t enumerate them all, but one of the most important ones is that I am not allowed to have gainful employment in Italy. I cannot receive any payment from anyone in Italy. Doing so could result not only in my Visa being revoked, but the Italian government could prohibit me from ever setting foot in Italy again. It’s a powerful rule.
I returned to Florence in December of 2017, armed with my new elective residency Visa. The first step, then, once within the country, is that within 8 days, one must apply for the Permesso di Soggiorno. I applied for this before Christmas in 2017 and then began to wait for its arrival.
Some people will receive their Permesso within a month, or so they say. Others, like me, are not so lucky. I waited for 8 months to receive word that my new Permesso was ready for me to pick up at the police station, or the dreaded Questura.
In July of 2018, I received a text message telling me to appear at the Questura on a certain date in early August, at a certain time. I did as I was asked. I turned in my old, expired, student-based Permesso, and received my new one. Unfortunately, my new Permesso was already expired when I received it. You read that right. Welcome to Italy.
The true impact of this situation on my daily life was nil. As long as one re-applies for a new Permesso within a short period, and keeps the receipt of that application with them at all times, typically no problems will result. Fortunately, I have never been stopped by the police in Italy and asked to show my documents. Theoretically, even if the police did stop me and ask for my documents, the receipt of the new Permesso application would suffice.
I filed my new application for a new Permesso in late September of 2018. Of course I kept a copy of the receipt for fees paid for that application with me at all times.
And then I began the wait for my new Permesso.
So, what is the importance of this waiting period on my life? Again, on a daily basis it is unnoticeable. However, there are other steps that one needs to do to truly function in present day Italy after one receives the Permesso.
For example, I tried to open a bank account in Italy in the winter of 2017, while I had my student Visa and my related Permesso. With the assistance of an Italian friend, we could not find a bank that was willing to open an account for me. I suppose I was considered to be too transient to bother with.
At that time, I was warned about opening an Italian bank account in any case. Still not having one, I cannot tell you exactly why people recommended I NOT open an account, should I ever find a bank that was willing to let me. Why? As I understand it, bank accounts here are very different from what I’m used to in the USA. For starters, it is quite costly to maintain an account here. In any case, no bank would open an account for me if I didn’t have a current Permesso di Soggiorno. Although I never tried to open an account with just my receipt, perhaps I could have done so. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to try, so I didn’t. For months I expected to receive my new Permesso and then I would try. That was my plan
Once I received my elective residency Visa and had an actual, unexpired Permesso di Soggiorno, I could follow other steps. First among these is applying for a Certificato di Residenza. I still don’t understand why this is important to have, but it is. There are certain things I just accept here and just accept that it makes no sense to me. The Serenity Prayer comes in handy.
After obtaining the Certificato di Residenza, one can apply for the Carta d’ Identita, which is necessary to have before applying for an Italian health care card which would allow me to seek medical treatment in Italy should the need arise. Up until such time, it is incumbent upon me to maintain a private traveler’s health insurance policy to cover unforseen events. As a matter of fact, proof of such a policy is a necessary document needed to apply for both the elective residency Visa and also for the Permesso di Soggiorno.
So, I’ve been waiting since last September (2018), for my new Permesso di Soggiorno. Six months went by, 7 months, 8 months, 9 months, 10 months and then, finally, I received a text message telling me my new Permesso would be ready for me to pick up at the Questura last week. I went with baited breath, wondering if it would already be expired again.
This time, I got lucky. True, I had to wait 11.5 months for the thing, but at least I got one that does not expire for 12 months! I’m suddenly completely legal, not needing any receipts for anything, at least for a year! Then I get to do the whole thing over again.
So, how did I celebrate? I did so by immediately (the next week) applying for my Certificato di Residenza. I was informed by knowledgeable people and blogs that this would arrive 45 days after I applied for it. Then I could apply for the Carta d’ Identita.
Imagine my surprise, after going to the correct government office in Florence, when the clerk told me she could produce and give it to me that same day! She asked me if I wanted to apply for the Carta d’ Identita and I mostly certainly did. She gave me the forms to sign and submitted them. She said I should receive it within a week (I’ll expect it within a month, if I’m lucky).
Once I have that in hand, I intend to apply for the Italian health care card which, if I understand things correctly, will allow me to seek medical assistance if the need were to arise, which I obviously hope it will not!
And, bonus, in the meantime I met an Italian who works with a lot of English speakers, and she told me that she thought I could apply for a “bank account” with the Italian postal system. Say what?
It turned out, she was correct. I went into the Post Office in Florence last week and opened an account that seems to be something like a bank account…even if it is with the postal system. I have a new debit card and the ability to wire money into this account from the US. For the first time since I arrived in Italy in November of 2016, I will be able to pay my rent to my landlord’s bank account. Up until now, I’ve had to take cash out of the ATM over the period of a few days to get enough money together to pay my rent.
All of a sudden, I feel like I’m living in the 21st century again. However, I’ve been in Italy long enough to know that any number of things could and may still go wrong. I’ll check in again once money has successfully been wired from the states to my post office bank account and I’ve paid my rent. Fingers crossed.
And, next week, I’ll apply for a health insurance card. Step by slow step, my life in Italy is becoming complete.
Padova or Padua is a big subject! I’ve recently posted 2 times about it, here, here, here and here. And, still, I am far from done!
This post includes a list of the major features that grace this lovely, historic town. But first, a sweet little video about the town itself:
Undoubtedly the most notable things about Padova is the Giotto masterpiece of fresco painting in the The Scrovegni Chapel (Cappella degli Scrovegni). This incredible cycle of frescoes was completed in 1305 by Giotto.
It was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, as a private chapel once attached to his family’s palazzo. It is also called the “Arena Chapel” because it stands on the site of a Roman-era arena.
The fresco cycle details the life of the Virgin Mary and has been acknowledged by many to be one of the most important fresco cycles in the world for its role in the development of European painting. It is a miracle that the chapel survived through the centuries and especially the bombardment of the city at the end of WWII. But for a few hundred yards, the chapel could have been destroyed like its neighbor, the Church of the Eremitani. The Palazzo della Ragione, with its great hall on the upper floor, is reputed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe; the hall is nearly rectangular, its length 267.39 ft, its breadth 88.58 ft, and its height 78.74 ft; the walls are covered with allegorical frescoes. The building stands upon arches, and the upper story is surrounded by an open loggia, not unlike that which surrounds the basilica of Vicenza.
The Palazzo was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. In 1306, Fra Giovanni, an Augustinian friar, covered the whole with one roof. Originally there were three roofs, spanning the three chambers into which the hall was at first divided; the internal partition walls remained till the fire of 1420, when the Venetian architects who undertook the restoration removed them, throwing all three spaces into one and forming the present great hall, the Salone. The new space was refrescoed by Nicolo’ Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara, working from 1425 to 1440. Beneath the great hall, there is a centuries-old market.
In the Piazza dei Signori is the loggia called the Gran Guardia, (1493–1526), and close by is the Palazzo del Capitaniato, the residence of the Venetian governors, with its great door, the work of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, the Veronese architect-sculptor who introduced Renaissance architecture to Padua and who completed the door in 1532.
Falconetto was also the architect of Alvise Cornaro’s garden loggia, (Loggia Cornaro), the first fully Renaissance building in Padua.
Nearby stands the il duomo, remodeled in 1552 after a design of Michelangelo. It contains works by Nicolò Semitecolo, Francesco Bassano and Giorgio Schiavone.
The nearby Baptistry, consecrated in 1281, houses the most important frescoes cycle by Giusto de’ Menabuoi.
The Basilica of St. Giustina, faces the great piazza of Prato della Valle.
The Teatro Verdi is host to performances of operas, musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts.
The most celebrated of the Paduan churches is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. The bones of the saint rest in a chapel richly ornamented with carved marble, the work of various artists, among them Sansovino and Falconetto.
The basilica was begun around the year 1230 and completed in the following century. Tradition says that the building was designed by Nicola Pisano. It is covered by seven cupolas, two of them pyramidal.
Donatello’s equestrian statue of the Venetian general Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) can be found on the piazza in front of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova. It was cast in 1453, and was the first full-size equestrian bronze cast since antiquity. It was inspired by the Marcus Aurelius equestrian sculpture at the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Not far from the Gattamelata are the St. George Oratory (13th century), with frescoes by Altichiero, and the Scuola di S. Antonio (16th century), with frescoes by Tiziano (Titian).
One of the best known symbols of Padua is the Prato della Valle, a large elliptical square, one of the biggest in Europe. In the center is a wide garden surrounded by a moat, which is lined by 78 statues portraying illustrious citizens. It was created by Andrea Memmo in the late 18th century.
Memmo once resided in the monumental 15th-century Palazzo Angeli, which now houses the Museum of Precinema.
The Abbey of Santa Giustina and adjacent Basilica. In the 5th century, this became one of the most important monasteries in the area, until it was suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. In 1919 it was reopened.
The tombs of several saints are housed in the interior, including those of Justine, St. Prosdocimus, St. Maximus, St. Urius, St. Felicita, St. Julianus, as well as relics of the Apostle St. Matthias and the Evangelist St. Luke.
The abbey is also home to some important art, including the Martyrdom of St. Justine by Paolo Veronese. The complex was founded in the 5th century on the tomb of the namesake saint, Justine of Padua.
The Church of the Eremitani is an Augustinian church of the 13th century, containing the tombs of Jacopo (1324) and Ubertinello (1345) da Carrara, lords of Padua, and the chapel of SS James and Christopher, formerly illustrated by Mantegna’s frescoes. The frescoes were all but destroyed bombs dropped by the Allies in WWII, because it was next to the Nazi headquarters.
The old monastery of the church now houses the Musei Civici di Padova (town archeological and art museum).
Santa Sofia is probably Padova’s most ancient church. The crypt was begun in the late 10th century by Venetian craftsmen. It has a basilica plan with Romanesque-Gothic interior and Byzantine elements. The apse was built in the 12th century. The edifice appears to be tilting slightly due to the soft terrain.
Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico)
The church of San Gaetano (1574–1586) was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, on an unusual octagonal plan. The interior, decorated with polychrome marbles, houses a Madonna and Child by Andrea Briosco, in Nanto stone.
The 16th-century Baroque Padua Synagogue
At the center of the historical city, the buildings of Palazzo del Bò, the center of the University.
The City Hall, called Palazzo Moroni, the wall of which is covered by the names of the Paduan dead in the different wars of Italy and which is attached to the Palazzo della Ragione
The Caffé Pedrocchi, built in 1831 by architect Giuseppe Jappelli in neoclassical style with Egyptian influence. This café has been open for almost two centuries. It hosts the Risorgimento museum, and the near building of the Pedrocchino (“little Pedrocchi”) in neogothic style.
There is also the Castello. Its main tower was transformed between 1767 and 1777 into an astronomical observatory known as Specola. However the other buildings were used as prisons during the 19th and 20th centuries. They are now being restored.
The Ponte San Lorenzo, a Roman bridge largely underground, along with the ancient Ponte Molino, Ponte Altinate, Ponte Corvo and Ponte S. Matteo.
There are many noble ville near Padova. These include:
Villa Molin, in the Mandria fraction, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1597.
Villa Mandriola (17th century), at Albignasego
Villa Pacchierotti-Trieste (17th century), at Limena
Villa Cittadella-Vigodarzere (19th century), at Saonara
Villa Selvatico da Porto (15th–18th century), at Vigonza
Villa Loredan, at Sant’Urbano
Villa Contarini, at Piazzola sul Brenta, built in 1546 by Palladio and enlarged in the following centuries, is the most important
Padua has long been acclaimed for its university, founded in 1222. Under the rule of Venice the university was governed by a board of three patricians, called the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova. The list of notable professors and alumni is long, containing, among others, the names of Bembo, Sperone Speroni, the anatomist Vesalius, Copernicus, Fallopius, Fabrizio d’Acquapendente, Galileo Galilei, William Harvey, Pietro Pomponazzi, Reginald, later Cardinal Pole, Scaliger, Tasso and Jan Zamoyski.
It is also where, in 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to graduate from university.
The university hosts the oldest anatomy theatre, built in 1594.
The university also hosts the oldest botanical garden (1545) in the world. The botanical garden Orto Botanico di Padova was founded as the garden of curative herbs attached to the University’s faculty of medicine. It still contains an important collection of rare plants.
The place of Padua in the history of art is nearly as important as its place in the history of learning. The presence of the university attracted many distinguished artists, such as Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Donatello; and for native art there was the school of Francesco Squarcione, whence issued Mantegna.
Padua is also the birthplace of the celebrated architect Andrea Palladio, whose 16th-century villas (country-houses) in the area of Padua, Venice, Vicenza and Treviso are among the most notable of Italy and they were often copied during the 18th and 19th centuries; and of Giovanni Battista Belzoni, adventurer, engineer and egyptologist.
The sculptor Antonio Canova produced his first work in Padua, one of which is among the statues of Prato della Valle (presently a copy is displayed in the open air, while the original is in the Musei Civici).
The Antonianum is settled among Prato della Valle, the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Botanic Garden. It was built in 1897 by the Jesuit fathers and kept alive until 2002. During WWII, under the leadership of P. Messori Roncaglia SJ, it became the center of the resistance movement against the Nazis. Indeed, it briefly survived P. Messori’s death and was sold by the Jesuits in 2004.
Paolo De Poli, painter and enamellist, author of decorative panels and design objects, 15 times invited to the Venice Biennale was born in Padua. The electronic musician Tying Tiffany was also born in Padua.
As an influential and beloved politician, art patron, and fashion icon, Isabella d’Este, known as the “First Lady of the Renaissance,” turned the city of Mantua into an important cultural center. Her husband, Francesco Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, quickly became jealous of her popularity in the region. To escape his resentment, Isabella traveled to Rome. She spent time in the influential circles of Pope Leo X—a prominent patron himself—and met artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Titian, Pietro Perugino, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Giorgione. In these artists’ portraits of the patroness, Isabella appears as a pale and regal beauty with an exuberant taste in clothes.
In an unusual move for the time, Isabella arranged her apartments as a kind of museum. The studiolo and grotta in the ducal palace became places for her to entertain nobles, dignitaries, and artists, and to show off the works that she had commissioned. In this way, as scholar Rose Marie San Juan has explained, Isabella inserted herself into “spaces traditionally allotted to men.” After her husband died, Isabella became co-regent of Mantua with her son, Federigo II. Her people so admired her that they persuaded Federigo to reinstall his mother as their leader. Through her collecting and her noble background, Isabella established networks across Europe that furthered her influence.
In a classic rags-to-riches story, Theodora rose from working as an actress—a low-class profession associated with prostitution—to shaping the nascent Byzantine empire, which spanned present-day Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East. Theodora met Justinian, the emperor’s nephew, in Constantinople when she was 21.
Despite her social status, the emperor was so enamored with her that he changed a law that would have prohibited their marriage. After ascending to the throne, Theodora used her authority to support sex workers’ rights and established anti-rape legislation. During her tenure, the empress also supported significant building projects that projected the couple and the empire’s dominance. One was the original Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537.
The mosaic portraits of Justinian and Theodora that face opposite one another in the apse of the Basilica di San Vitale (ca. 547) in Ravenna, Italy, however, have cemented the couple’s image in history. The empress, flanked by attendants, wears dangling gems and a long, royal purple gown. In her hand, she holds a chalice that indicates her as the building’s patron. The portrait confirms Theodora’s influence, glamour, and patronage, and flies in the face of her detractors.
Writing not long after her death in 548, the historian Procopius described her as “Theodora-from-the-brothel,” a wanton temptress who once said she regretted only having three orifices for pleasure. More recently, scholar Nadine Elizabeth Korte has suggested that Procopius probably disapproved of the substantive power Theodora wielded over Justinian and the empire.
Livia Drusilla (ca. 58 B.C.E.–C.E. 29)
Empress of Rome
In the long-running Roman Empire, statues, portraits, and coins were the best indications of a ruler’s identity. Livia, the wife of the republic’s first emperor, Augustus, used these media to her advantage. “She looked to statuary to present her persona in Rome and the empire, relief sculpture to describe her relationship to other members of the imperial family, coins to advertise the emperor’s policies, and gems to articulate that same vision for a more selective audience,” writes art historian Diana E. E. Kleiner in Cleopatra and Rome (2005).
Livia was less interested in creating a uniquely individual presentation than in codifying a traditionally feminine ideal for Roman empresses and nobility in general. She took inspiration from statues depicting classical Greek goddesses and Hellenistic queens to align herself with the values of the previous Republican “golden age” that Augustus hoped to restore in his new empire. Unlike Cleopatra, her opulent predecessor in Egypt, Livia communicated virtuousness through an austere image that favored modesty and simplicity. Still, Rome’s first empress took measures to stand out among other elite women. Kleiner has suggested that the empress had artists depict her with hairdos that only a stylist could have arranged, indicating her superior taste and wealth.
Expat American writer who hosted the avant-garde art world at her Paris salons
Through collecting art, American writer Gertrude Stein solidified her position among avant-garde artists in Paris, and found a community that was supportive of both her experimental work and her lesbian lifestyle. In 1901, Stein dropped out of Johns Hopkins Medical School and followed her aspiring-artist brother, Leo, to London and then Paris.
Through Leo, Stein began to acquaint herself with the bohemian artists living around the Montmartre neighborhood. In 1905, Stein met Pablo Picasso. He began to paint her portrait, which he finished the next year. It was a crucial step in the development of modernism: In the picture, Stein’s face adopts a flatness and mask-like quality that Picasso would soon push to the extreme in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), the firstCubist painting.
Stein’s patronage helped Picasso to continue painting throughout the early 1900s before he received international acclaim. His portrait of Stein is seen above her left shoulder in the photograph below.
Stein also collected work by Paul Cézanne, one of the great Post-Impressionist painters, renowned for his radiant landscapes, intense portraits, and complex still lifes.
,Juan Gris and Henri Matisse also benefited from her patronage. Meanwhile, Stein produced her own groundbreaking body of literature, which grew to include Three Lives (1909), Tender Buttons (1914), and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).
You must be logged in to post a comment.