Rebecca Messbarger

​Professor of Italian; Affiliate Faculty of History, International and Area Studies, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Director of Medical Humanities
PhD, University of Chicago

contact info:

office hours:

  • ​Thursday 1:15 - 3:15 PM

mailing address:

  • WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • CB 1077
  • ONE BROOKINGS DR.
  • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899
image of book cover

Professor Messbarger's major research interests center on Italian Enlightenment culture, in particular the place and purpose of women in civic, academic and social life, and the intersection of art and science in the production of anatomical wax models during the age.

Cultural historian Rebecca Messbarger is the Co-Founder and first Director of the Program in Medical Humanities, Professor of Italian, and Affiliate Professor of History, Art History, Performing Arts, International and Area Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Washington University. She is a Fellow in the Institute of Public Health. Her research centers on the Italian Enlightenment, in particular the intersection of anatomy and art, and medicine and religion, and the shifting roles of women in civic and academic life during the age. Her most recent monograph, The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini (U of Chicago Press, 2010) traced the remarkable life of the 18th-century Bolognese woman from provincial artist to internationally renowned anatomist and anatomical modeler for the University of Bologna’s famous medical school. She is the author of numerous articles, including “The Re-birth of Venus in Florence’s Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History,” in the Oxford Journal of the History of Collections, winner of both the James L. Clifford Prize and the Percy Adam’s Prize for the best article in 2012-13. Most recently, she co-edited with Christopher Johns and Phil Gavitt the volume Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment: Art, Science and Spirituality (U of Toronto Press, 2016). She has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Philosophical Society, and Washington University’s Center for the Humanities. 

The Century of Women: Representations of Women in Eighteenth-Century Italian Public Discourse

The Century of Women: Representations of Women in Eighteenth-Century Italian Public Discourse

Eighteenth-century Italian playwright Pietro Chiari designated the age he lived in 'The Century of Women' - an age when women gained considerable power through education and admission to various academic positions and professions. Structured as an extended disputation, this book tells the tale of five paradigmatic and ideologically divergent eighteenth-century Italian texts by male and female authors whose leitmotif is woman. These include an academic debate, a scientific tract, an oration, an Enlightenment journal, and a fashion magazine. Analysis focuses on the specific ways in which the exigencies of the 'new science' and the burgeoning Enlightenment project founded on rational civil law, secular moral philosophy, and utilitarian social ethics forced a transformation in the formal controversy about women.

By uncovering the characteristics of the expansive dominant discourse about women among Italian Enlightenment thinkers and of the counter-discourse women authors produced to assert their own distinct authority over constructions of femininity and the public sphere, this study reconceives eighteenth-century Italian culture and rectifies misconceptions about Italy's position and influence within the literary republic of the European Enlightenment. Groundbreaking and original, this study is the first to examine the contribution of women to the Republic of Letters of the Settecento, and will revise prevailing notions of eighteenth-century Italian culture and academia.