chapter  2
30 Pages

Letters and Lace: Arcangela Tarabotti and Convent Culture in Seicento Venice

Of all early modern spaces, it is the female convent that most vividly evokes the gendered boundaries that circumscribed, at least in theory, female experience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The very architecture of the convent reinforced the gender-specific segregation of nuns from the secular world under the guise of offering them protection; following the reforms dictated by the Council of Trent, this separation was materially reinforced through the construction of thicker walls, smaller windows, and doors that locked only from the outside.1 Even (or especially) the spaces that allowed for some limited interaction between nuns and visitors were carefully constructed and surveilled: visitors were to speak to the nuns through a grille in the parlatorio with a chaperone nun in attendance; gifts and goods were passed through a ruota (service wheel) to avoid direct physical contact; and anyone entering the convent was supposed to first obtain special permission.2