Signa et insigna nobilitatis. Women as Patrons of Medieval Art and Architecture and “Makers” of Aristocratic Consciousness: The Case of Sicily under Norman and Hohenstaufen Dynasties (12th-13th centuries)

Bérangère Soustre de Condat-Rabourdin, Université catholique de Louvain,

Questioning women’s roles in medieval art and architecture implies questioning individual and aristocratic self-awareness in the Middle Ages. Such Selbstbewußtsein will be addressed in this paper through the means of artistic commissions, documentary sources, and inscriptions. In the Realm of Sicily during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, women’s patronage was of great significance. The actions of noblewomen allowed them a place for display in the public arena—normally reserved for the men of their families—to express their personal power and the prestige of their own lineage. These women seem not to have questioned men’s rule; concerning especially their personal agency, their actions were not subversive. An examination of the works commissioned by these women demonstrates that their patronage reflected more their status within the aristocratic social structures than their gender. Women’s patronage was frequently connected to the question of aristocratic memoria, the individual defining herself with regards to a group formed by the dead and by the living, so that the remembrance of ancestors also contributed to the creation of an aristocratic kinship conveyed by the women. For Sicily, however, it cannot be asserted that women’s patronage differed radically from men’s; rather, patronage was above all one of the markers of aristocratic and familial consciousness.