UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A’ frutti loro li cognosciarete : gender and genre in a quattrocento altarpiece Dunlop, Anne Elizabeth


In the Cleveland Museum of Art there is a fifteenth century Italian altarpiece called The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve, which shows the Virgin Mary nursing the Child with Eve lying below her, almost completely naked and the snake between her thighs. Nothing is known about the circumstances of the panel's commission or provenance, save that art historical consensus attributes it to a "minor master" from the Papal Marches called Carlo da Camerino and dates it to about 1400. While related to an established tradition linking Mary and Eve, this image is a departure from older representations of the theme; compared to the few iconographically similar works that have come down to us, the image of the Cleveland panel seems to present a different relation to the viewer, stressing the bipolar nature of these two females figures through, among other things, the careful differentiation of their physical bodies. Clearly anomalous in the received canon of Trecento and Quattrocento works, the Cleveland panel creates immediate questions about the place of gender and the female body in the imagery of Renaissance altarpieces. This thesis seeks to determine what, as an altarpiece, The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve could offer its viewers in fifteenth-century debates about gender and female sexuality, by focusing on two aspects which shaped both the panel and its viewers' responses: the dichotomous and contradictory nature of constructions of femininity, and the conventions and expectations of the altarpiece as a genre.

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