Rebecca Messbarger

Rebecca Messbarger

​Professor of Italian
Affiliate Professor of History, Art History, International and Area Studies, Performing Arts, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Director of Undergraduate Studies in Italian
Founding Director of Medical Humanities
PhD, University of Chicago
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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.

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, and is a faculty scholar at Washington University's Institute for Public Health. 

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.

The Contest for Knowledge: Debates over Women's Learning in Eighteenth-Century Italy

The Contest for Knowledge: Debates over Women's Learning in Eighteenth-Century Italy

At a time when women were generally excluded from scholarly discourse in the intellectual centers of Europe, four extraordinary female letterate proved their parity as they lectured in prominent scientific and literary academies and published in respected journals. During the Italian Enlightenment, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Giuseppa Eleonora Barbapiccola, Diamante Medaglia Faini, and Aretafila Savini de' Rossi were afforded unprecedented deference in academic debates and epitomized the increasing ability of women to influence public discourse.

The Contest for Knowledge reveals how these four women used the methods and themes of their male counterparts to add their voices to the vigorous and prolific debate over the education of women during the eighteenth century. In the texts gathered here, the women discuss the issues they themselves thought most urgent for the equality of women in Italian society specifically and in European culture more broadly. Their thoughts on this important subject reveal how crucial the eighteenth century was in the long history of debates about women in the academy.

 

The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini

The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini

Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714-74), a woman artist and scientist, surmounted meager origins and limited formal education to become one of the most acclaimed anatomical sculptors of the Enlightenment. The Lady Anatomist tells the story of her arresting life and times, in light of the intertwined histories of science, gender, and art that complicated her rise to fame in the eighteenth century.

Examining the details of Morandi’s remarkable life, Rebecca Messbarger traces her intellectual trajectory from provincial artist to internationally renowned anatomical wax modeler for the University of Bologna’s famous medical school. Placing Morandi’s work within its cultural and historical context, as well as in line with the Italian tradition of anatomical studies and design, Messbarger uncovers the messages contained within Morandi’s wax inscriptions, part complex theories of the body and part poetry. Widely appealing to those with an interest in the tangled histories of art and the body, and including lavish, full-color reproductions of Morandi’s work, The Lady Anatomist is a sophisticated biography of a true visionary.