How to be a Renaissance woman The untold history of beauty & female creativity

Jill Burke, 1971-

Book - 2024

"Plunge into the intimate history of cosmetics, and discover how, for centuries, women have turned to make-up as a rich source of creativity, community and resistance. The Renaissance was an era obsessed with appearances. And beauty culture from the time has left traces that give us a window into an overlooked realm of history - revealing everything from 16th-century women's body anxieties to their sophisticated botanical and chemical knowledge. 'How to be a Renaissance Woman' allows us to glimpse the world of the female artists, artisans and businesswomen carving out space for themselves, as well as those who gained power and influence in the cut-throat world of the court. In a vivid exploration of women's lives, P...rofessor Jill Burke invites us to rediscover historical cosmetic recipes and unpack the origins of the beauty ideals that are still with us today."--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor New Shelf 940.21/Burke (NEW SHELF) Due May 29, 2024
Subjects
Published
New York : Pegasus Books 2024.
Language
English
Main Author
Jill Burke, 1971- (author)
Edition
First Pegasus Books cloth edition
Item Description
Previously published: London : Profile Books : Wellcome Collection, 2023.
Physical Description
xiii, 317 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), portraits ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 259-298) and index.
ISBN
9781639365906
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Beauty Ideals
  • 1. Venus and the Fruit Seller
  • 2. What Is a (Renaissance) Woman?
  • 3. Sprezzatura and the Natural Look
  • Part 2. Judgement
  • 4. Was Renaissance Beauty Culture Oppressive or Empowering?
  • 5. Beauty Tips for Brides
  • 6. Whiteface
  • Part 3. Renaissance Bodywork
  • 7. Getting in Shape
  • 8. Breast Bags, Nose Jobs and Labiaplasty
  • 9. Witch Hunts and Body Hair
  • Part 4. Power (Un)Dressing
  • 10. Beauty's Dangerous Paths
  • 11. Nakedness and the Power of the Gaze
  • 12. Rebellious Hair
  • Part 5. Communities of Knowledge
  • 13. Poison and the Patriarchy
  • 14. What Renaissance Women Knew
  • 15. How to Be a Renaissance Woman: The Recipes
  • Further Resources
  • Notes
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Burke, a history professor at the University of Edinburgh, argues that Renaissance Europe laid the groundwork for our modern-day ideals of female beauty. Attributes included an hourglass figure, apple-sized breasts, golden tresses, and creamy white skin. Cosmetics could not only transform a woman's appearance but also provided opportunities for subversion and experimentation. Women squeezed themselves into tight bodices to attain the coveted shape, with a "mono-bosom" which both supported and flattened the breasts. These cloth bodices were a precursor to stays and whalebone corsets. Burke suggests that skin whitening became more popular in the sixteenth century as colonization increased contact with darker-skinned people on different continents. Women were often the purveyors of apothecary recipes, although their knowledge and folk wisdom were sidelined by university-trained, male physicians. Burke concludes the book with recipes for Renaissance-era cosmetics and beauty potions. Although the book's scope is sometimes unclear, the author succeeds in making the case for the Renaissance as progenitor of beauty as artifice. The legacy of that transformation continues to this day. Readers will be both entertained and informed.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Art historian Burke (Changing Patrons) takes an eye-opening look at the lives of women during the Italian Renaissance. Arguing that the era experienced the first modern wave of unrealistic beauty standards for women, Burke tracks how an upswell of personal beautification methods was tied to developments in art, especially painting and sculpture's newly popular classical form (an hourglass shape, distinct from the large-bellied Gothic ideal of the preceding era) and new negative aesthetic connotations for dark hair and skin color and positive ones for whiteness that emerged alongside the sub-Saharan slave trade. However, as Burke makes clear, personal beautification methods could also be used by women as a way to increase their influence, maintain their security, or rebel against conventions. Providing vivid descriptions of the practice and origins of beauty methods, such as body hair removal (popular in Islamic-influenced cultures of southern Europe but also a centerpiece of witch trials, where hair was removed from defendants), and in-depth analyses of the beauty guides and diet books that proliferated in this era, Burke convincingly builds her case that "the celebrated poems, plays, and paintings of the time had profound effects on how real people perceived bodies and beauty" but were also in dialogue with women's attempts to push back against and manipulate beauty standards. It's a novel and immersive history. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Jan.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Burke, a historian of Renaissance visual and material culture (Univ. of Edinburgh; The Italian Renaissance Nude), examines previously underutilized primary-source texts in this extensively researched scholarly analysis of beauty standards for women in Renaissance Europe. It's also about the business of attaining an attractive visage via beauty tips shared between women. Beauty standards were mediated and propagated through the visual arts, with paintings and sculptures making clear which qualities were valued: which hair colors and textures, which particular proportions of face and body. Women's often-undervalued knowledge of and experimentation in biology and chemistry--in the form of recipes for cosmetics and tonics, guidance on maintaining health, and instructions for treating illness or ending an unwanted pregnancy--were immortalized in writing and shared more widely via the printed texts that became accessible in the 16th century. Women had long been viewed as commodities, but the Renaissance saw women gain autonomy through acquiring and sharing such knowledge. Burke's book includes extensive notes and historical recipes for cosmetics. VERDICT This treatise on Renaissance beauty highlights similarities to contemporary beauty standards. There's appeal for casual readers, but the real value is for academics.--Jessica A. Bushore

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