There are many differences in the roles of women in society today, the roles of women during the Renaissance period were very limited. The best they could hope for was to aspire to marry. The destiny of most women were to find a man, marry him and have his children. Christian teaching had a lot to do with the way gender roles were constructed in Early Modern Italy, and unfortunately, women got the worst of it and were treated differently.
A woman from the renaissance era
Most of what we know about Renaissance Italy comes from recorded evidence, paintings or other visuals that tells us much more about the lifestyles of the women. The lower classes are more often referred to by chance occurrence we know about their lives through records of institutions. Most of these documents and paintings are recorded by men, so a certain dose of chauvenism that has to be interpreted to find a measured version of reality.
Girls remained in her realm until marriage, docilely practicing needlework, while little boys from the age of seven were abruptly removed from their mother’s care lest they end up effeminate, and given a strict formal education. Some women were permitted to work small jobs as leather workers, fabric merchants, or as assistants to bakers. In rare cases, the wife of a merchant would take over her husband’s position and duties after he died. This didn’t put the woman on equal footing, however. Women were paid much less than a man doing the same type of job. Even a Renaissance merchant woman was expected to remain silent unless spoken to, avoid all discussions of religion or politics, and to attend to the duties of their husbands’ business and household.
A painting depicting woman during the renaissance
Evidence correctly tells us facts like the average age of marriage. In Renaissance Florence, girls were usually married to a man chosen by her family when she was about 16 years old and he would be much older than she was. Marriages were arranged not for reasons of romantic love, but for business reasons, in the interest of trade relations, and sometimes to make or maintain peace between families. The peasant classes married between the same ages who were permitted a certain amount of contact to ensure compatibility, since all they were looking for here was a reliable working partner. Women married at a young age in order to increase the chances of producing as many heirs as possible. If a woman did not marry, she would often be sent to a convent to become a nun, living her life in chaste service to God.
Amongst the rich, marriage was a business transaction. Families were paid with money and household objects, while usually the bride got jewelry before the big day, if you ever see a painting of a younger girl with a nice expensive necklace, that’s probably an image exchanged during the engagement. A woman would also carry all her belongings in a special trunk, called a cassoni that would be handled by her husband. More often in this society, a man married when he needed to increase the flow of cash for a major venture for use in things like sailing to Asia or investing in the family business. Women were treated as mere decorations in public they were seen as no more than a prize around a man’s arm in order to increase his social standing among his peers.
The actual wedding in this period was not that of the modern church wedding but more of an exchange in which a ring was given at home and symbolized, as it does today, a promise. Contributing to the view of the woman as a prize to be claimed, on the day of her wedding, she was often paraded about town by her husband. Parties were just as important, they spread word of the marriage to the whole neighbourhood or city. At the end the new couple was escorted into a bedroom and expected to perform, while in some cases the festivities continued next door and in France, the man’s rowdy friends sang lewd songs below the window.