Tangible Women: Marble Sculptures of Female Saints in Seventeenth-Century Rome

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Tangible Women: Marble Sculptures of Female Saints in Seventeenth-Century Rome

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This dissertation investigates how early modern sculptors employed different typologies of white marble sculpture to present an archetypal, yet largely inimitable model of the post-Tridentine, ideal Christian woman. Employing a mix of extensive fieldwork and historical investigations, I present four case studies that are broadly representative of the era’s major typologies which have so far gone unremarked upon in the literature: reclining women in ecstasy or death, freestanding statues on altars, and multimedia reliefs. These sculptures include Stefano Maderno’s "St. Cecilia" (1600), Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s "St. Teresa in Ecstasy" (1647–1652), Ercole Ferrata’s "St. Agnes on the Pyre" (1660–1664), and Melchiorre Cafà’s "St. Catherine of Siena" (1662–1667). My research contextualizes the complex and fluctuating status of holy women in seventeenth-century Rome by investigating these sculptures through a material and gendered lens. This dissertation reveals how marble statues of female saints mobilized specific moments from each woman’s biographical narrative to embolden post-Tridentine attitudes towards feminine sanctity, contributing to new and innovative scholarly debates on gender, religion, and sculptural materiality in early modern studies. Ultimately, I argue that marble sculptures of female saints oscillated between embodied purity and material sensuality, creating a paradox of story, purpose, and form for the early modern viewer to unravel.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2023. Major: Art History. Advisor: Steven Ostrow. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 340 pages.

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Patton, Ashley. (2023). Tangible Women: Marble Sculptures of Female Saints in Seventeenth-Century Rome. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/258642.

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