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Early Modern Habsburg Women and their Material Legacy


Women played complex and sometimes conflicting roles in Early Modern society and a significant number of scholarly studies in the recent two decades focused on investigating the strategies women deployed to further their political and spiritual self-actualisation. Spanish Habsburg women, who frequently advanced to become foremost political players in the theatre of European politics, present an exceptionally rich field for gender and religious studies in this period. These women engaged with a wide variety of cultural forms of which the creation, commissioning, display and viewing of imagery was an essential part. This module will focus specifically on the function and interrelation of canonical and popular works of art and spectacle in the field of politics, femininity and spirituality at Spanish Habsburg courts in Brussels and Madrid between 1550-1630, one of the most important centres of European politics and diplomacy during this period. Each week we hope to bring alive the life, experience and material world of one specific historical person such as Mary of Hungary, Margaret of the Cross, Juana of Portugal, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, and others. Our discussions will focus on one or two key works through which we will disclose larger concepts, topics and issues.


By the end of the module students should have acquired the following:

  • Specialist knowledge of a range of key works which constitute the material legacy of specific Habsburg personae.
  • An advanced and sophisticated understanding of the social, political and cultural context which informed the creation and reception of these works.
  • A sound knowledge of the wide diversity of cultural practises and visual forms current at the time.
  • An ability to apply and critique various methodologies and explanatory strategies through which these works may be researched and understood.
  • Ability to conduct independent research of different visual and textual primary sources in museums, archives, and libraries
  • A nuanced and methodologically self-conscious approach to the challenges of interdisciplinary investigations
  • A readiness to tackle texts in a foreign language
Inscription, Alonso Sanchez Coello, The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia with Magdalena Ruiz, c. 1598, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Module information

  • Module title
    Early Modern Habsburg Women and their Material Legacy
  • Module number
  • Convenor
    Cordula van Wyhe

For postgraduates