Fenwick Fellow Lecture: Skirting the Issue

Join the University Libraries on Thursday, April 13 at 2 p.m. in the Fenwick Library Main Reading Room, for Dr. Kristina Olson‘s lecture, “Skirting the Issue: Clothing and Politics in 14th Century Italy,” where she will discuss her research findings from her 2015-2016 Fenwick fellowship.

Lecture Abstract: From the mid-13th to the end of the 14th century, an increase in mercantile activity in Florence and other cities in Italy witnessed the proliferation of new wealth among families that did not belong to the aristocracy. This economic development, together with other demographic shifts (such as those caused by the Black Death, ca.1350), caused many non-aristocratic families to climb in social and political power. One way in which they displayed their change in status was by means of their clothing and jewelry, thereby wearing their newfound gains on their persons. This drastic shift in social markers of status bred envy and confusion: families with long-standing claims to nobility appeared impoverished in comparison with these rising upstarts. Bitter feuding and acts of vengeance between the leading aristocratic and mercantile families ensued. In order to maintain social order, civic sumptuary legislation targeted various displays of luxury: excessive spending on clothing, jewelry, and rituals, such as funereal practices and exorbitant wedding dowries.

As clothing comprises a visual language signifying status, then, for many authors of the Italian Middle Ages clothing and luxury became an essential part of their poetic language, bound up with politics and civic identity. Dr. Olson’s book project, Sumptuous Literature: Clothing and Governance in Fourteenth-Century Italy, explores how authors interpret the relationship of wealth, politics and the body in terms that alternately target women (misogyny) or men (misandry) during this exceptional moment in economic and social history.

About the Fenwick Fellows: The Fenwick Fellowship is awarded annually to a Mason faculty member to pursue a research project that uses and enhances the University Libraries’ resources while advancing knowledge in the faculty member’s field. Applications for the 2017-2018 fellowship are currently being accepted; the deadline is May 5, 2017.

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