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How to be a Renaissance Woman

The Untold History of Beauty and Female Creativity

Jill Burke



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24 October 2023
Can the pressures women feel to look good be traced to the 16th century?

As the Renaissance visual world became populated by female nudes by the likes of Michelangelo and Titian, a vibrant literary scene of beauty tips emerged - fuelling debates about cosmetics and adornment, with 'solutions' to worries about everything from podgy upper arms, smelly armpits, droopy breasts, stretch marks and bad breath.

Telling the stories of courtesans, artists, actors and writers rebelling against the strictures of their time, when burgeoning colonialism gave rise to increasingly sinister evaluations of bodies and skin colour, this book puts beauty culture into the frame.

It will make you question your ideas about your own body, and ask: why are women often so critical of their appearance? What do we stand to lose, but also to gain, from beauty culture? What is the relationship between looks and power?

Imprint:   Profile
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Edition:   Main
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 158mm,  Spine: 38mm
Weight:   595g
ISBN:   9781788166669
ISBN 10:   1788166663
Pages:   336
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Professor Jill Burke is a historian of the body and its visual representation, focusing on Italy and Europe 1400-1700. She is the Principal Investigator of a Royal Society funded project, 'Renaissance Goo', at the University of Edinburgh, working with a soft matter scientist to remake Renaissance cosmetic and skincare recipes. It is part of a wider investigation into how people in the Renaissance tried to look good - how they sought to change their bodies, faces and hairstyles to meet beauty ideals. @profjill_burke

Reviews for How to be a Renaissance Woman: The Untold History of Beauty and Female Creativity

A total eye-opener, I loved it -- Nuala McGovern, BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour A lively and intriguing exploration of female life in the Renaissance, lifting the lid on anxieties and aspirations that will sound oddly familiar to any 21st century reader. You'll never look at Renaissance portraits in the same way -- Maggie O'Farrell Terrific ... Drawing on early published beauty pamphlets, letters, poems, songs, diaries and recipe books, not to mention treatises by both men and women and the rich material of Renaissance art, [Burke] has emerged with enough knowledge to open her own Renaissance Body Shop ... The book is that rare thing, a serious history that is both accessible and entertaining - no more so than when it comes to the age-old debate as to whether women's commitment to beauty is a sign of weakness, a pandering to male desire or a form of empowerment * Literary Review * Taking a fresh, women-led perspective, Burke highlights a rich tapestry of female experience that encompasses everyone from artisans to aristocrats ... the everyday women mixing their own beauty products should rightly be considered chemists and botanists. Successfully creating these cosmetics required knowledge of plants and their properties, as well as how to transform them via different techniques. Renaissance women had greater scientific knowledge and experience than they are often credited with * The Times * Shapewear. Stretch mark remedies. Nose jobs. Eyebrow shaping. These things are not just preoccupations of ours, but also concerned the women of the Renaissance. Through paintings of the Italian Renaissance, Burke offers a fun, informative and occasionally sobering look at the lives of women across social strata -- Editor's Pick * New York Times * If you think that pressures on women to look their best, either through chemical enhancements or using filters on Instagram, are a modern invention, then Jill Burke's new book is a timely reminder that our ancestors were undergoing the medieval equivalent 500 years ago ... Some of the most compelling parts of the book detail female solidarity and friendship in this visual society ... The book finishes with an amusing and engrossing section of real-life Renaissance beauty recipes for the brave to try - from the relatively innocuous honey and egg eye cream to a non-toxic version of the skin lightener that beauties used on their faces ... But there's a serious message behind the book: the tyranny of beauty ideals has been with us for centuries * Mail on Sunday * An erudite, witty and engaging history of cosmetics and beauty ... lavishly illustrated and hugely entertaining -- Anna Carey * Irish Times *

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