Professor Pat Simons: The Crone, the Witch, and the Library in Renaissance Italy

29 November, 2013

Professor Pat Simons,
History of Art and Women’s Studies,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

This paper examines ways in which renewed attention to antiquity during the Renaissance re-invigorated misogynist stereotypes of old women as well as bringing new evidence to the emerging discourse about witches, hence shaping for the hag a vivid pictorial presence. Proof for the threatening female figure was drawn from the humanist’s library of classical authors, many cited in Giovanfrancesco Pico della Mirandola’s Stryx (1523), which stated that witches were “ancient in essence and new in accidents.” Late medieval depictions of the crone were amalgamated with classical precedents to produce new or revised images such as the personification of Envy, which is a focus here, since Pico claimed it was the core motivation for demons. However, not all witches were conflated with the image of Envy, which has been claimed as a psychoanalytic explanation for the witchcraze. Nor did all Italians share Pico’s suspicion of pagan evil.

About the speaker
Pat Simons’s most recent book is The Sex of Men in Premodern Europe: A Cultural History (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Her numerous essays analyzing the visual and material culture of Early Modern Europe range over such subjects as female and male homoeroticism, and the visual role of humour.

Location: CCANESA Boardroom, Madsen Building F09