A conspicuous imbalance is being corrected by a surge of publications on patronage and collecting by women in the past. Until recently women collectors were almost completely absent from surveys of the subject: for example, Lady Charlotte Schreiber was the only female to be afforded space of any length in Frank Herrmann’s study of the English as collectors. The minutiae of women’s contribution before the present century have been overshadowed by the achievements of their menfolk. Catherine E. King’s Renaissance women patrons comes from Manchester University Press, following a collection of essays on women in the arts in the nineteenth century, published in 1995. The modern scholarly emphasis on material culture has favoured women’s activities, but the resulting publications are, of course, academic in approach. Coming at them from a lay perspective, I cannot judge them by academic criteria, but I can venture an opinion as to whether they are interesting, and the answer is: very much so. Renaissance women patrons is not about courtly patronage where gender is almost irrelevant—to call Isabella d’Este a woman collector is somehow to miss the point—but about the proper conduct of women in society and particularly about the piety of widows. It is packed with information from a great diversity of documents. It is a pleasure to read and opens a window on the distant lives of the subjects that brings them within reach of our sympathy and understanding.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Catherine E. King, Renaissance women patrons, wives and widows in Italy, c. 1300-1550 (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1998), 288 pp, 70 b/w ills, £45, $79.95 (hb) ISBN 0719052882, £16.99, $29.95 (pb) ISBN 0719052890'