chapter

Introduction

WithAdelina Modesti

In the last two decades the growing interest in applying a gender lens to art history has transformed the way that the patronage strategies and cultural practices of rulers in early modern Europe have been studied. Women rulers and other aristocratic women can now be placed at the heart of state building by investigating the dynamics of their cultural patronage activities. They are often found to be part of the avant-garde in their introduction of innovative styles and new artistic forms and cultural practices, responsible for much more of the state’s cultural and diplomatic patronage than has traditionally been acknowledged. ‘Matronage’, as it is now identified, that is, patronage by and through women via a matrilineal transmission of symbolic capital, often takes place in the cultural and religious spheres: areas in which ruling- and noblewomen could wield significant influence and authority. This is because cultural patronage and spiritual philanthropy were the key means by which many elite women chose to express their identity and autonomy, as recent studies have demonstrated. 1