Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


James M. Saslow

Subject Categories

European History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Women's Studies


Counter-Reformation, Italy, Prints, Renaissance, Textiles, Women artists


The history of women's participation in religious movements during the Early Modern period in Europe has long been less commented upon in modern scholarship than that of their male counterparts. This project will enlarge our understanding of the participation of women in the visual program of the Counter-Reformation in the Papal State of Bologna. The study focuses on Bologna since the city had an unprecedented large group of active women artists as well as being a crucial site of Catholic reform. Knowledge of Bologna's women is still incomplete; therefore this dissertation is structured as a series of interlinked case studies, some of which rescue forgotten artists, while others add a new dimension to better-known figures. This research thus takes a necessarily broad approach, combining aspects of iconography, patronage, gender studies, and reception studies; it also integrates media neglected in previous studies such as prints and embroidery. The goal is to insert these artists into the larger philosophical and theoretical context of the city's intellectual history, first by investigating the links between religion, science, and naturalism; and second, by unpacking critical terms from the historiography of style that came to bear on their work. Lastly, the project explores the city's concern with women's virtue, as it is a constant thread woven into visual imagery of all media, from the sixteenth into the seventeenth century. The synthesis of all this material will produce a wider view of the still understudied and ill-documented relationship between women, religion and the visual arts in the complex period of the Counter-Reformation.