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Ellen Sharman (University of Oxford): 'Making Masculinity in Roman Villa Gardens: terraces, frescoes, and fountains, c.1550-1600'

This talk will frame cardinals' gardens in Renaissance Rome as spaces in which masculine identities were expressed and negotiated during the Counter-Reformation. It will explore the ways in which the sculpting of earth and the organisation of water was used to convey masculine power and dominion by a group of uniquely positioned men. It will also consider how frescoes of finished or idealised gardens entwined both of these ideas and were used to memorialise the time and labour involved in the physical process of sculpting a garden. A patron’s demands for monumental earthworks and terracing, as well as the idea of water as a substitute for virility by celibate cardinals, will be used as tools to help us think about the relationship between masculine ideals of power and the function of cardinals’ gardens.

Ellen Sharman

is a DPhil student at Oxford University and is currently researching the relationship between elite masculinity and gardening culture in 16th century Rome. Her work explores the ways in which gender shapes and is shaped by landscapes, and how this enables gardens to be read as critical spaces in which power is contested. She has published on the role of masculinity in the gardens of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este at Villa d’Este, and beyond the Early Modern period, as well as on the subject of the post-war masculinity crisis in the James Bond novels.

This event is part of the series A Material World: Gender, which brings together academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines to discuss issues concerning historical objects, their materials, forms, and functions, as well as their conservation, presentation, display, and reconstruction.

Organisers: Rembrandt Duits (Deputy Curator, The Photographic Collection, The Warburg Institute) and Louisa McKenzie (The Warburg Institute).

All sessions during 2023-2024 will be delivered online.


image: photograph ©️ Gordon Plumb