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Prestige, piety and moral perfection : Deruta maiolica and the social and cultural value of a decorative object Clarke, Angela Judy

Abstract

A study of four of images commonly found on Deruta maiolica produced between 1500 and 1550 is used to show how the lives of Umbrian middle class women were affected by comportment and social interaction, private devotional interests and their relationship with the Catholic Church hierarchy. The conclusions are based on four categories of images (bella donna plates, four female lay saints, St. Francis receiving the stigmata and St. Francis in prayer) combined with information from literary, archival and visual sources. Women were given bella donna plates by their husbands. These encouraged the new bride to study exemplary women, such as Isabella d’ Este and the Erythrean sibyl in order to learn how to interact in public. Although the illustrious or exemplary aristocratic women were unknown to middle class women, much of their behaviour was assumed by looking at their carefully comported images. Middle class women were also provided with comportment manuals to further educate themselves. The ceramic plates featuring the four lay saints show how middle class Umbrian women embraced a specific typology of saint. The four saints possessed a common story to the degree that they almost seemed interchangeable. This specific typology appealed to Umbrian women because they represented their personal concerns: namely, the conflict between their devotional needs versus the demands of marriage and children. The two images of St. Francis in prayer and receiving the stigmata on Deruta plates show how the Franciscan Order had bonded with Umbrian women and relied on them to adopt and disseminate the cult of its saint and its devotional practices. The authority of St. Francis and the Franciscan Order spread rapidly throughout Italy during 16th. century, because of the devotional and monetary support of middle class Umbrian women. While they had little power of their own within the Church and social hierarchy of Italy, they were able to affect the culture of Italian society through their support of specific religious orders. Finally, this study examines the history of maiolica collecting in order to determine how the placement, time and the gender of the owner and the observer can alter the significance of the object throughout history. This concept, known as axiology, is examined in order to determine how maiolica is valued presently as a museum object and a subject of scholarly study.

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