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Echoes of Women’s Voices

Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence

Aristocratic women exerted unprecedented political and social influence in Florence throughout the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. During this period, female members of the powerful Medici family governed the city for the first and only time in its history. These women also helped shape the city’s artistic life, commissioning works of music, art, and theater that were inscribed with their own concerns and aspirations. Echoes of Women’s Voices examines the patronage of individuals and institutions, particularly convents, which have remained, until now, largely neglected by scholars.

Through commissions, patrons sought to promote a vision of the world and their place in it. The unique social norms, laws, educational backgrounds, and life experiences of female patrons meant the expression of a worldview that differed significantly from that of their male counterparts. Joining exceptional archival research with telling analysis of significant examples of music, art, and drama, Kelley Harness challenges the prevailing view that Florence saw a political and artistic decline during this period. She argues convincingly that the female domination of these years brought forth artistic patronage that was both continuous and well-conceived.

408 pages | 4 color plates, 20 halftones, 26 musical examples, 5 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Art: European Art

History: European History

Music: General Music

Women's Studies


"Harness argues very convincingly that through their patronage of the figurative arts, musical theater, and early opera, the Medici women reinforced their position and their image as powerful women and capable rulers. The subject is original and the research is impressive."

Elissa B. Weaver, author of Convent Theatre in Early Modern Italy

"Echoes of Women’s Voices is an important contribution to musicological literature. Not only is it a sorely-needed comprehensive study of the musical and artistic works pertaining to the early seventeenth-century regents of Florence, Christine of Lorraine and Maria Maddalena of Austria, it is also a savvy critical study that demands of its readers a rigorous confrontation with some of the great, overarching questions of our time. . . . Come to this book with your best game—it both demands and deserves it."

Anne MacNeil | Notes

"Echoes of Women’s Voices is a superb contribution to women’s studies, the history of arts patronage, musicology, and, more generally, to our understanding of early modern Florence and the dynamics of its political self-fashioning. Meticulously researched, beautifully written, well argued, and enhanced by a rich apparatus of illustrations, tables, musical examples, and document transcriptions (most with translations), this study is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship at its best."

Marica S. Tacconi | Renaissance Quarterly

"An absorbing study of female self-fashioning in early modern Florence. . . . Harness has written a fascinating, insightful, and well-documented study of the communicative and political strategies of early modern noblewomen’s artistic and musical patronage. . . . Thanks to Harness’s attention to the echoes of women’s voices, regency Florence can once again be seen to have had all the signs of a thriving cultural life."

Current Musicology

"The lucid and richly layered discussion is accompanied by 26 musical examples and five tables that provide ample evidence in support of the author’s claims for the significance of female patronage of music in seventeenth-century Florence. She does suggest that the importance of women patrons of music needs further investigation, and has, with her own study, provided an engaging model as to how to go about this, combining methodologies from the fields of social, cultural and art history with that of the history of music."


"This book offers interdisciplinary scholarship of a very high order. . . . Ms. Harness’ book will become standard for this neglected area, but, even more importantly, it will inspire others to listen for and record neglected ’other voices.’"

Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

"[The book] does an admirable job of looking squarely at archival material, music, musicians, and art. . . . Harness has taken the resources available and seen how they might apply to the female-centered communities that were active and, she finds, highly creative. Along the way, she documents much about how Medici rulers of both genders used artistic patronage to project and protect their political status."

Thomasin LaMay | Journal of Modern History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Notes to the Reader
1. Modes of Artistic Communication and Perception in Early Modern Florence
2. “A more than virile prudence”: Archduchess Maria Magdalena
3. Amazons of God: Virgin Martyrs Spectacles, 1621–25
4. “Una forte, magnanima, e generosa vedova”: Judith
5. “She hoped to see in the triumphs of religion the triumphs of her house”: Epic-Chivalric Poems and the Equestrian Ballets
6. “Now it suits me to beseech”: End of the Regency, End of a Decade (1628–30)
7. “One of the most Perfect Unions of the Spiritual and the Temporal imaginable”: The Monastero di Santa Croce
8. “Queens of the Arno”: Medici Princesses and the Crocetta
Appendix A. Female Worthies Depicted in Lunette Frescoes in the Audience Room, Villa Poggio Imperiale
Appendix B. Summary of Book 3 of the Acts of Paul
Select Bibliography

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