Mark Meadow: “Across Space and Time: Imagining Historical and Cultural Distance in the Sixteenth Century.”
“Across Space and Time: Imagining Historical and Cultural Distance in the Sixteenth Century.”
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Tanya J. Tiffany: “He Gave Me the Sign”: Painting and Piety in the Vida of Estefanía de la Encarnación (ca. 1597-1665)
This essay explores the tension between painting and piety in the only known autobiography by a woman artist from the early modern period: the unpublished Vida(1631) by the Madrid painter and Franciscan nun, Estefanía de la Encarnación (Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, MSS 7459). Although the Vida remains little studied by art historians, it sheds important light on the intersection of religion, gender, and the practice of painting in post-Tridentine Spain. Throughout the text, Estefanía acknowledges her struggle to subsume her desire for fame as an artist to her vow of conventual humility. In keeping with her roles as both nun and painter, she draws upon the conventions of women’s spiritual autobiographies – foremost among them, Teresa of Ávila’s Libro de la Vida– and also engages with discourse on painting, which was being codified by contemporary theorists such as Vicente Carducho and Francisco Pacheco. By Estefanía’s account, the renown she achieved as an artist tempted her toward the sin of pride as she strove to follow the example of the sixteenth-century painter Sofonisba Anguissola and win acclaim at the Madrid court. Yet Estefanía also mitigates the tension between worldly glory and saintly modesty by affirming that her talent for painting had a divine origin and a sacred function, albeit one whose significance she had long failed to understand. More specifically, she argues that the precocious emergence of her artistic skill had been a “sign” by which God indicated that he wanted her for his bride, despite her parents’ unwillingness to fund a convent dowry (fol. 23r). Ultimately, Estefanía’s God-given talent allowed her to become an undowered nun in the Castilian town of Lerma, where her dowry was waived in exchange for her labor as a painter.