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Taken into custody: girls and convent guardianship in Renaissance Florence

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This study examines the widespread practice of placing girls in the temporary care of convents in Renaissance Florence, a practice called serbanza. During the turbulent years from 1480 to 1530, guardianship became one of the most important social services offered by female religious communities, which sheltered girls in increasing numbers. Serbanza was the major form of extrafamilial care for young girls of the middling and artisan classes, as well as for the vulnerable rich, before the advent of large-scale custodial institutions in the later sixteenth century. Based on extensive archival records, this study documents how patterns of guardianship changed in response to political turmoil and concerns over female honour. I argue that convent guardianship formed part of the institutional and experiential foundation of female culture that cut across lines of neighbourhood and class, and introduced girls to a distinctive kind of constructed community. Boarding girls on a regular basis also raised important issues for internal monastic governance and ecclesiastical supervision. Nuns balanced the financial and social benefits of guardianship against the disruption of monastic routines and the disapproval of clerical officials. These tensions were resolved only by the reorganization of convent life and the development of new custodial institutions under Cosimo I. (pp. 177–200)
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Emory University

Publication date: 2003-06-01

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