The Use of Emblems by Women in Sixteenth-Century Italy
My aim is to open new interpretations of Early Modern gender studies through the decoding of the iconographic and iconological language of emblems. Initially, the use of emblems was restricted to male rulers and their courtiers. By the first half of the sixteenth century, a few aristocratic women seized on the emblem as a means to express their emerging gendered identities. Early female adopters included Isabella d’Este (1474-1537), Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547), and Elisabetta Gonzaga (1471-1526). For these women, the ambiguity inherent in emblems made them ideal artefacts through which to explore new ways of representing female roles and qualities, challenging the widely held traditional conceptions on their sex inherited from Aristotle and medieval Christianity. Emblems thus provided a space for negotiating with the patriarchal tradition, without risking open conflict with the powerful men that sustained it.