Real Women and Imagined Femininity: Images of Womanhood in Italy from the Middle Ages to the present

Appel à communications: Real Women and Imagined Femininity: Images of Womanhood in Italy from the Middle Ages to the present

3-6 mai 2022 (Online Conference)
University College Dublin and University of Toronto

‘Naked Ambitions’. This was the title of an article published in the Financial Times in July 2007, in which it was asked: ‘Do Italians, particularly Italian women, really think it acceptable to sell primetime quiz shows on terrestrial television by trying to stir the male genitalia instead of viewers’ brains? Or are they instead happy with life as it is – beautiful, flirtatious and with a supply of great shoes?’. Similar views surrounding women have been delivered through different media, linking the image of women to their body and appearance.
Regarded as having infirmitas, imbecillitas and levitas as key characteristics, women, their behaviours and their desires, have been a matter of concern since ancient times in Italy. In a world largely revolving around appearances, the image of women has been and still is of great importance.  Since the Middle Ages, a series of laws regulating women’s apparel were approved, and some towns also established a figure with the task of controlling their compliance with the law (e.g. the Ufficiale sopra gli ornamenti delle donne in Florence). Throughout the centuries, alongside laws, many treatises were written. These writings aimed at standardising women’s image and ruled on their make-up, their apparel, their behaviour and strongly intruded in their intimate lives. 
From the 18th century, the role of women started to change, with images of womanhood also evolving. In the Risorgimento, alongside women complying with the predominant image of womanhood linked to the private sphere, there were women who joined the patriotic fight, with some even dressing as men to become soldiers. In the first half of the 20th century, the model of femininity radically changed, with the ideal woman embracing the androgynous look of the American flapper first and then the curvy Fascist woman who embodied motherhood.  After the Second World War, while women began to obtain equal rights, their image started to undergo a process of hyper-sexualisation. 
Nowadays, the use, abuse and objectification of the female body and its image in the media continuously leverages on the ambiguous and equivocal idea that womanhood means being ‘beautiful, flirtatious and with a supply of great shoes’, whereas online movements are encouraging body positivity and challenging standards of beauty as well as the importance of appearance in a woman’s life. 
We seek to explore how these images and models of beauty changed over time in Italy, to focus on their narrative around femininity, and explore the links between reality and stereotypes, between real women and imagined womanhood. 

We welcome contributions that investigate and address the portrayal of women between reality and imagination. From Medieval illuminations to modern comics, we aim to frame the discourse around femininity and the female body through the use of images on women, by women and for women. 
Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Visual arts: paintings, sculptures, films
  • Print media: magazines, books, fanzines, comics, pamphlets 
  • Manuscripts
  • Literary and other forms of representations 

Please send an abstract in English or Italian of 250 words and a short bio of maximum 150 words to Sara Delmedico ( and Manuela Di Franco ( by January 31st, 2022.

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