Bedroom politics: The vexed spaces of late medieval public making

Bronwen Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In the Secret History of Domesticity, Michael McKeon explores the process through which the private and public realms were wrought by tracing changes in literary, architectural, and pictorial forms. One example is the Curtain Lecture, illustrated in 17th-century prints, in which earlier expressions of wifely authority, familiar from the topos of the woman-on-top, have been reduced to bedroom rants to oblivious husbands. This essay extends the geographical purview of McKeon’s framework to painted fresco decorations in a late 14th-century bedroom in Florence, the Sala della Castellana in the Palazzo Davizzi-Davanzati. Secrecy, seduction, betrayal, blackmail, suicide and revenge are themes from a 13th-century chivalric romance played out in a narrative frieze in which a verdant landscape with castellated structures is set within a continuous arcaded loggia. The female protagonists, and the threat of female authority and desire, are associated with the crenellated buildings in the frescoes, and thus the old order of magnates who had been expelled from Florence, but whose feudal values were making a resurgence. The loggia instead echoes recent urban developments designed to foster loyalties to new and more egalitarian forms of political representation. Bedrooms were not yet private spaces, but the frescoes anticipate the later English pamphlets by deflecting anxieties about masculine authority and loyalty onto the figure of the aggressive and philandering wife, thereby underscoring emerging but still entangled family and civic allegiances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-621
Number of pages14
JournalHistory Compass
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2012

Cite this