Board of the project

  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Enrique Fernandez, Department of French, Spanish and Italian, University of Manitoba, Canada, enrique_fernandez@umanitoba.ca
  • Co-Investigator: Prof. Darlene Abreu-Ferreira, Department of History, University of Winnipeg, Canada d.abreu@uwinnipeg.ca
  • Collaborator: PhD candidate, Ariana Ellis, Department of History, University of Toronto, Canada, ariana.ellis@mail.utoronto.ca
  • Collaborator: PhD student, Maria Rodrigo-Tamarit, Department of Linguistics, University of Manitoba, Canada, rodrigo1@myumanitoba.ca
  • Collaborator: PhD candidate, Hoorieh Rezasoltani, Department of French, Spanish and Italian rezasolh@myumanitoba.ca


  • Diego Belmonte Fernández, Universidad de Sevilla, Spain
  • Marina Brownlee, Princeton University, US
  • Karen Burch, University of London, UK
  • Antonella Cagnolati, Universita Foggia, Italy
  • Giordano Conticelli, University of Washington, US
  • Malene Dirschauer, Independen Scholar, Germany
  • Ariana Ellis, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Sharon Emmerichs, University of Alaska, US
  • Leeishleigh Jones, Southern Methodist University, US
  • Mireille Pardon, Berea College, US
  • Deirdra Shupe, University of Florida, US
  • Kieary Schut, University of Toronto and University of Bristol, Canada and US

In the early modern period, human remains served as an arena for the reworking of gender and its relation to humanness. They played a role comparable to today's cyborg in the deconstructions and reconstruction of the category of gender, facilitating the reworking of embodiment through soteriological and utopian discourses.

Although the dead body was expected to keep the kernel of individual identity that the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh required --the corpse was considered somehow alive while it had flesh on it (Aries 1984, 404)--, the debate whether gender and sex organs would continue to exist in heaven was unsettled.

Since the days of the Fathers of the Church, some defended a sexed and gendered resurrected body, while others considered the glorious resurrected body to be of the age of thirty-three and sexless, in line with a strong element of equalitarianism in the original Christian doctrine (Petrey 2015).

The tendency to keep strong gender identity attached to the relics manifests in the preference for collecting relics of only male or female saints depending on the collectors' gender. This is the case of the nuns in the nunnery of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid, where female members of the royal Habsburg family lived. They gathered a vast collection of relics from martyred virgin females, mostly papal presents extracted from the corpses in the rediscovered Roman catacombs. Curiously, a peculiarity of their collection is the abundance of so called "baptized relics." They were remains of unidentified martyrs of unknown sex, extracted from the Roman catacombs, that had been authenticated under allegorical names –female in Spanish and Latin—such as Gratia or Prudentia, and therefore were implicitly feminized and adored as female saints (Pablo Jiménez 2017). These and other interventions show that, in the treatment of relics, gender often was superseded by the higher-order discourse of religion and its practices. An example of de-gendering intervention is the insertion of remains within statues made from wax in the likeness of the saint. Wax was chosen not only for practical reasons but also for being considered a matter purer than flesh, which was associated with sin and lewdness. Treated this way, the relics were purified and dehumanized, and their gender and sexual identity faded –Peter the Venerable compares the bones of saints to angels (Bynum 2011, 181). As others have argued, "in forming the skin covering the saint's bones, the reliquary itself becomes part of the saint" (Cornelison and Montgomery 2006, 3).

      Re-gendering and de-gendering interventions can be detected in the treatment of anatomical remains. For instance, many anatomical treatises of the period represented the anatomized corpses as alive (ecorchés), engaged in gender-specific activities, and sometimes in sexualized positions often taken from classical statuary depicting the ideals of manhood and womanhood (Moe 1995). Even skeletons were affected by this trend and Dürer's figure of death in The Four Horseman of Apocalypse is depicted with exaggerated male genitals (Aries 1984, 137).  Contrary to these re-gendering interventions, death was also represented as a skeleton (morte secca) of indeterminate sex, with an empty space where the genitals were in the fleshed body (Koerner 1985, 99). Furthermore, some skeletons impersonating death are able to mimic the gender or the person they are coming to seize by appropriating their clothes and utensils, such as death stealing the king's sceptre or the bishop's hat in Holbein's famous engravings. At the same time, other skeletons impersonating death are represented as seducers or suiters of the opposite gender of their preys. This is the case of the traditional imagery of Death and the maiden, or of death as a skeleton disguised as a seductive woman covered with a veil (la tapada) in Pedro Camprobín's 1670 painting Death and the Gentleman (Bass and Wunder 2009).

This project is inscribed within the need many scholar need to go beyond Laqueur's one-sex model for the period before the Enlightenment because it relies on conclusions extracted from a limited group of sources and cases that were not interpreted in their original languages and historical contexts (Parker 2016, 252). Parker and Nie's (1991) belief that gender differentiation was more complex than unitary or binary division. Other factors intervened because "the metaphysical categories and distinctions of classical and Renaissance writers were just as real to them as our more material ones are to us" (Park and Nye's 1991, 54). As King insists, more nuanced, contextualized studies are needed to "move forward with a better, if more complex, picture of how sexual difference has been made and remade over the centuries" (King 2013, xii).

  • Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death. Vintage Books, 1982.
  • Bass, Laura R., and Amanda Wunder. “The Veiled Ladies of the Early Modern Spanish World: Seduction and Scandal in Seville, Madrid, and Lima.” Hispanic Review, vol. 77, no. 1, Feb. 2009, pp. 97–144. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hir.0.0043.
  • Bynum, Caroline Walker. Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe. Zone Books, 2011
  • Cornelison, Sally J., and Scott B Montgomery. Images, Relics, and Devotional Practices in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006.
  • Moe, Harold. The Art of Anatomical Illustration in the Renaissance and Baroque Periods. Rhodos, 1995.
  • King, Helen. The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence. 1 edition, Routledge, 2013.
  • Koerner, Joseph Leo. “The Mortification of the Image: Death as a Hermeneutic in Hans Baldung Grien.” Representations, vol. 10, 1985, pp. 52–101. doi:10.2307/3043800.
  • Pablo Jiménez, Esther. “Cultura material en ‘clausura’: las reliquias del Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales en los siglos XVI y XVII.” Antíteses, vol. 10, no. 20, 2017, pp. 613–30.
  • Park, Katherine, and Robert A. Nye. “Destiny Is Anatomy.” New Republic, vol. 204, no. 7, Feb. 1991, pp. 53–57.
  • Parker, Sarah E. “The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence by Helen King The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence Helen King Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 252–53.  doi:10.3138/cbmh.33.1.252.
  • Petrey, Taylor. Resurrecting Parts: Early Christians on Desire, Reproduction, and Sexual Difference. Taylor and Francis, 2015.

Working Bibliography