“Representations of Judith on 15th C. Cassoni: Exhorting the Heroic Female Identity in Service of Civic Duty”. Southeastern College Art Conference. October 17, 2018 - October 20, 2018

International Meeting or Conference

Renaissance marriage chests (cassoni) were domestic objects which conveyed moral lessons about gendered public and familial identities to the bride. One popular subject of these narrative chests was that of biblical Judith, a woman of exemplary feminine virtue, who demonstrated courage and masculine prowess in order to save her community. Previous scholars have justified her significance in domestic representations by citing her character and her special relationship to the civic identity of Florence. However, few have addressed the complicating factor of her model of female strength in a patriarchal society, counter to typical cassone narratives emphasizing obedience. This study explores possible motivations for selecting the multidimensional character of Judith as an exemplum virtutis, and examines the diverse range of representations of her story on cassone. I propose that this surprising narrative choice communicated traditional feminine virtues while also serving as a model for elite noblewomen negotiating shifting identities as wives, mothers, and widows. Though the narrative’s gender inversions had the potential to challenge male leadership, artistic conventions of cassone representations de-emphasized the violence and agency of Judith’s act, and emphasized her humility. These representations offered role flexibility for elite noblewomen to navigate gendered power structures in service to their communities.

Service Performed By


  • October 17, 2018 - October 20, 2018

Host Organization

  • Southeastern College Art Conference

Location or Venue

  • Birmingham, Alabama