Disciplining the tongue: Archbishop Antoninus, the Opera a ben vivere and the regulation of women’s speech in renaissance Florence

Theresa Flanigan (The College of Saint Rose)


In circa 1454, the Florentine Archbishop Antonino Pierozzi (later St. Antoninus) composed a spiritual guidebook, called Opera a ben vivere (A Work to Live Well by), for an elite Florentine laywoman, presumed to be Dianora Tornabuoni. Contained within this book are instructions to his female reader for how to protect her soul from vice and, therefore, ‘live well’ by controlling her sensual appetite, especially her desire for speech. In this text, Antoninus singles out three types of speech as particularly harmful if performed by his female reader. These sinful types of speech are excessive talk, idle talk (i.e. gossip), and intemperate laughter. This article analyses Antoninus’s argument for the regulation of his female reader’s sensual appetite for speech by contextualising it within early renaissance penitential culture and relative to Aristotelian and Christian notions about the nature of women.

Keywords: women, sin, speech, senses, penitential literature, Antonino Pierozzi (St Antoninus), renaissance, Florence, Tornabuoni, gossip, laughter

Full text: OAJ_issue4_Flanigan (PDF, 1 MB)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2015w03 

Biographical note

Theresa Flanigan is associate professor of art history at The College of Saint Rose and a specialist in Italian late medieval and renaissance art, architecture, and urban history. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, a Masters in renaissance art history from Syracuse University’s Florence Programme, and a B.Arch. in architectural design from Syracuse University. Flanigan also received a foreign fellowship from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. She has published on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, fourteenth-century Italian urbanism, the development of the Florentine Oltrarno, and on the senses, spirituality, and sin in the penitential writings of St Antoninus. Her current research explores the relationship between renaissance art and ethics.