Publication Date

Summer 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art and Art History


Anne Simonson


Casa delle Zitelle, Charitable institution, Gender, Italy, Patronage, Venice

Subject Areas

Art history; Women's studies; European history


This thesis examines the Casa delle Zitelle (the House of Unmarried Girls), a female asylum created to care for poor, beautiful young girls who were at risk of becoming prostitutes in early modern Venice. The institution was founded, as well as funded and administered, by a group of pious patrician women in 1559. The Casa delle Zitelle was not only sponsored by and for women, but also the predominant patrons of the institution were Venetian women. The institution’s commitment to transform the zitelle (unmarried girls) into the sixteenth century ideal of womanhood was best articulated in the design of the architectural complex, which was influenced and patronized by the founding female administrators of the institution. The ability to reform the zitelle also persisted in the devotional imagery of the Zitelle’s attached church, Santa Maria della Presentazione delle Zitelle. This thesis focuses specifically on the altarpiece commissioned by Elisabetta Foppa, The Agony in the Garden (c. 1618) by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, which assisted the zitelle in matters of religion and piety that were instrumental to the girls’ transformations. An examination of Foppa’s altarpiece further reveals an understanding of, and contributes to, an interpretation of the iconographic trends in the visual arts located in the churches of early modern female asylums.