Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Girls receiving dowries

  • Title: Annunciation
  • Creator: Antoniazzo Romano
  • Description:

    Late in life (1460), the Dominican cardinal Juan de Torquemada (d. 1468) founded a confraternity of the Annunciation at the Roman church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The confraternity was to provide dowries for poor girls of good birth to marry honorably or enter a monastery. Otherwise they might fall into prostitution. The confraternity endured, receiving support from the papacy and setting an example for dowry confraternities founded in the sixteenth century. The confraternity's statutes survive, giving details on procedures and on the young women chosen for support. While girls without fathers were of particular interest, the need for local connections changed so that by the end of the fifteenth century daughters of artisans from outside of Rome received support. The confraternity publicized their activities with a "marriage" ceremony and liturgy on March 25 in which the girls received their dowries.

    The painter Antoniazzo Romano (d. betw. 1508 and 1512) worked at the Minerva together with Melozzo da Forlì, subsequently painting a Virgin Annunciate, now located in the Annunciation Chapel of that church. The Virgin and the archangel Gabriel follow a familiar pattern, Mary turning away from a lectern with a prayer book to receive the angelic message. God the Father is shown above, sending the Spirit dove. The unusual feature is the presence of Torquemada in a Dominican habit with his cardinal’s hat leaning against him. He, in turn, is presenting three young women dressed in white, one of whom is receiving a bag of money from the Virgin. Two more money bags rest at the foot of Mary’s lectern. In one picture, Antoniazzo has captured the founding of the confraternity, its pious purpose and its heavenly patron.

    Antoniazzo Romano was a leading painter in Rome in the second half of the fifteenth century. While using elements from the Roman school he also incorporated innovations from visiting artists in his commissioned paintings. For example, his use of three-dimensional representations and natural facial expressions may be traced to such Florentine artists in Rome as Perugino. Over time Antoniazzo set up a workshop, so that some commissions, especially frescos, attributed to him are actually the work of family members or apprentices. In the case of the Annunciation painting, Antoniazzo makes effective use both of tradition and innovation. The gold background is a medieval representation of the holy, while the central placement and strongly individualized portraits of the cardinal and the three girls gives new meaning to the standard representation of the Annunciation.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Confraternities Dowries Juan de Torquemada, Dominican Cardinal Mary, Virgin, Saint- Annunciation Rome- Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1485-1500
  • Related Work: Other works by Antoniazzo Romano:
    Healing miracle by Francesca Romana, from a series of paintings commemorating the saint in the Monastero di Tor de Specchi, Rome;
    Madonna and child with saints Francis and Anthony;
    Another painting about marriages of orphan girls:
    Domenico di Bartolo, The Rearing and Marriage of Female Foundlings
  • Current Location: Rome, Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
  • Original Location: Rome, Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wooden panel; Oil; Tempera; Gold
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 130/185/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Esposito, Anna. “Ad dotandum puellas virgines, pauperes et honestas: Social Needs and Confraternity Charity in Rome in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” Renaissance & Reformation/ Renaissance et Reforme 18, 2 (1994): 5-18;
    Howe, Eunice D. “Antoniazzo Romano [Antonio di Benedetto Aquilio].” Grove Art Online in Oxford Art Online. Available to subscribers: http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T003297;
    Richardson, Carol M. Reclaiming Rome: Cardinals in the Fifteenth Century. Brill, 2009. Pages 169, 249, 309-310;
    Zeri, Federico and Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Sienese and Central Italian Schools. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980. Plates 61-63.