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Two newly discovered manuscripts in the Biblioteca Estense provide an insight into convent culture in late sixteenth‐century Italy. They are the work of Annalena Aldobrandini, a nun at the convent of Santo Spirito in Florence. Annalena's manuscript contains eight veglie intended for performance during Carnevale and the Calendimaggio. Striking detail is preserved in the instructions for instruments, music, staging and costumes. Subject matter ranges from intellectual debates about the sciences and the arts to an appreciation of religious commitment and the difficulties of maintaining moral rectitude as part of monastic life. There is a wealth of practical information regarding music in a little‐known dramatic context as well as a unique exposition of the Divine Office as a musical, as well as a religious, experience. The veglie are testament to the creativity of the nuns, showing how they, like the Medici outside, used spectacle as a method of community bonding. Moreover, because they were transmitted in manuscript rather than in print, they are unmediated by any masculine agency. The importance of this manuscript to our better understanding of early modern monastic women, their attitudes to enclosure, education and the performing arts, and their interactions with the secular world cannot be overestimated.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Southampton

Publication date: 2012-02-01

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