What do Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the sisters of Fuligno, and a painting Nun of the Renaissance have in common? The Medici Dynasty Show, of course! Oh, and they all lived in convents and impacted Florentine history. Throughout history, convents were a place where women could live and congregate together, sharing education and passing down knowledge of the scriptures. The intimate space of reflection was a hotbed for ingenuity and creativity. One might surmise that women were longing for a chance to express their artistic souls! And many of them did.
The venue for The Medici Dynasty Show, the Il Fuligno complex, was first the home of the nuns of Fuligno before it became a college for poor young orphans. In 1829, it was again transformed into a reformatory school for wayward girls who were “in danger” – of what, we can only imagine. Tour guide and art history PhD, Lucia Montuschi tells me, “What men were scared of mostly were alliances between women. That’s why they asked the Superior to keep a lookout. When you are in a group, you are part of the same rules, but when you are two, it is an alliance, and women are very strong in that.”
A life of contemplation and feminine arts was offered to reform these women. The artworks of the convent inspired meditation upon religious themes, and it is in the cenacolo that we find the acclaimed Last Supper fresco of Perugino. Now, its fame is matched by the extraordinary unearthing of The Last Supper painting created by Renaissance Nun, Plautilla Nelli, another remarkable woman who used her religious life to express herself artistically and industriously, leading an all-female workshop in creating religious artworks for sale. She was the first female Renaissance painter, and the only known woman to paint the grand theme of The Last Supper.
Montuschi, urges me to remember: “Florence is a city with a deep devotion to Maria. The female example, the mother, who can take care of you, can hold you in her arms, a place where you can feel hope. These women with different lives, when they don’t have a place that is home, where they can feel peace, this is the place that they wanted to stay.” One can consider that Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici was seeking such comfort when she chose to live with the nuns at Villa La Quiete upon her return to Florence after her husband’s death. She is known for her Family Pact, the contract that preserved the artistic patrimony of the Medici family in Florence for all time. Lesser known is her time at La Quiete. Not one for inaction, she oversaw a large expansion of the villa, along with the creation of a three tiered Italian garden that is still captivating to visit today.
As women’s history month ends, our challenge is to amplify these women’s voices and achievements to all. I suspect a Mother Superior would have her hands full these days, trying to separate the “wayward” women forming alliances and empowering each other across the past, the present, and into the future.
by Marisa Garreffa