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2 - Women in Marriage Portraiture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2022

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter surveys the genesis of Christian marriage. Its aim is to probe how the popular practice of this sacrament underpinned the continuity of its patrimonial, patrilineal, and patriarchal values. It considers the points of contact between nuptial rituals and marital portraiture in the fifteenth century. The visual analysed are rooted in three novel ideas: 1. Alongside betrothal and nuptial events, portraits celebrated the sexual consummation of the union. I have called these likenesses “Morgengabe portraits” to stress their affinity with gifts that women once received after their virginity was lost in the marriage bed. 2. Because of pre-marital uncertainties, the commissions for the portraits of the female betrothed received priority over those of their male companions. 3. The conditions of spectatorship were phenomenological and relational, and were augmented by mnemo-techniques and by the storage methods for these items.

Key words: Betrothal – Folklore – Marriage – Phenomenology – Renaissance – Sexuality

“God established marriage; nature beckons us to use and enjoy it; people agree upon it; and individual cities have found rites and solemn ceremonies for it.” Thus, a fifteenth-century chronicler described the matrimonial oath: the natural path to social stability, its rituals and material culture inspired by its function. In practical terms, to get married was a multi-stage affair akin to economic and socio-political negotiations and coloured by bespoke rituals that sanctioned the union publicly. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has visualised the dynamics as a triptych with a predella that illustrates the preliminary discussions between two families, including the value of the dowry negotiated by the men of the family or their trusted circle. Two wings show the formalisation of the agreement and the betrothal. The central panel describes the nuptials. Missing in the triptych is the sexual consummation of the newlyweds, but in many parts of medieval Europe this accounted for the validation of the marriage because it sealed the irreversibility of the contract. It was celebrated with a gift agreed beforehand and received by the bride on the morning after the first intercourse. For this reason, it was called a morning gift, Morgengifu, Morgengabe or Morgive. By the fifteenth century, the gift was no longer expected but rituals still celebrated the first marital night.

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Chapter
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Netherlandish and Italian Female Portraiture in the Fifteenth Century
Gender, Identity, and the Tradition of Power
, pp. 69 - 90
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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