Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Claire Farago

Second Advisor

James Cordova

Third Advisor

Kirk Ambrose

Fourth Advisor

Lilian Armstrong


Reforms enacted by the patriarch of Venice in the sixteenth century silenced the canonesses of Santa Maria delle Vergini, leaving only the words and images of their illuminated chronicle to articulate their thwarted resistance. The Latin text scrolling across the top of the chronicle’s architectural frontispiece proclaims the manuscripts intentions: “The original monastery of Santa Maria delle Vergini di Venezia begins :~ Whoever should plunder it, such that he destroys its honor, will be excommunicated.” Persuasive visual and textual threads weave a complex institutional history across the pages of the previously unpublished Cronica del Monastero Delle Vergini Di Venezia, giving material form to a highly politicized controversy. In an attempt to persuade Venice’s ruling men that the patrician convent and her elite inhabitants were sacred and indispensable components to the city’s superior moral and mercantile fabric, the Cronica warns that an attempt to reform or alter the institution will in turn ruin the leaders of Venice and threaten the city’s sanctity and power. A desperate fear laces the Cronica’s venomous threats issued both implicitly and explicitly, while the historical habitual refusal to acknowledge the manuscript confirms and clarifies the threat posed by the illuminated chronicle.

I examine the Cronica’s written commentary as it converges with the vibrant narrative illustrations. Through this study I seek to understand how the visual aspects of the Cronica add weight to the women’s threats, and contribute to the manuscript’s exiled life in the shadows. I approach the Cronica through a comparative analysis, addressing Venetian women’s writing in the sixteenth century, the Venetian narrative painting tradition and the practice of illuminating manuscripts and printed books in early modern Venice. Through my analysis I conclude that by inserting their foundation story and the figure of Abbess Giulia into one of the myths of Venice and conforming to sixteenth century Venetian literary and visual traditions, the Cronica created a relevant and “authentic” history that threatened to contradict the intentions of the Venetian church and state. Ultimately, though the convent appealed to multiple sources of authority the documents did not persuade the Pope or the ruling officials of Venice to interfere and save the convent from reform.