Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Matilda of Tuscany

25 September 2008
ANSA - English Media Service

The northern province of Mantua is celebrating the life and times of one of Italy's most powerful medieval women, Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115). Three exhibitions exploring her steady rise to power and her close relations with the Church are running in the city and the surrounding area. Matilda was the daughter of Boniface II of Canossa, who controlled great swathes of land in northern Italy, and his second wife, Beatrice.

At the age of six, Matilda became sole heir to her father's estate when he died, even though she had an older brother. Beatrice, herself a strong, intelligent and deeply religious woman, was responsible for her daughter's upbringing, which was considered unconventional for the time.

Matilda enjoyed an extensive education and was able to speak, read and write Latin, Italian, German and French, and also developed a great love of literature that led her to acquire numerous manuscripts. Some sources also suggest she had military training, including horseriding, swordsmanship and tactical skills, and her presence on important battlefields seems to support the theory.

Matilda governed the vast tracts of land she owned in northern and central Italy for almost 40 years but is today best known for her pivotal involvement in the Investiture Controversy. This involved a struggle between Europe's secular rulers, especially the German emperors, who believed they had the power to appoint Church officials, and the papacy, which declared that the pope alone had the power.

Throughout her life, Matilda was a strong and active supporter of the papacy and played a crucial role in mediating an agreement of 1077 between the two main adversaries in the struggle, Pope Gregory VII and the German king Henry IV, later Holy Roman Emperor.

Each of the three exhibits explores a different aspect of Matilda's life.

The first and largest, in Mantua's Casa del Mantegna is entitled 'Matilde di Canossa, il Papato e l'Impero' (Matilda of Tuscany, The Papacy and the Empire). It features 250 items, including Henry IV's imperial throne of wrought iron and Gregory VII's papal throne.

The only remaining seal used by Matilda is displayed, as well as 22 documents she personally signed. Other items include hangings, jewellery, sculpture, crucifixes and weapons, as well as a host of archaeological artefacts, giving a sense of what day-to-day life was like at that time.

The second exhibition in the small town of San Benedetto Po, focuses on the Benedictine Abbey of San Benedetto Polirone founded by Matilda's grandfather, Tedaldo in 1007. Matilda withdrew to the Abbey for increasingly long periods of her life as she grew older and was eventually buried there. Entitled 'Matilda's Abbey', the exhibit collates artworks, including portraits of Matilda, and original documents from the abbey, as well as archive maps, showing work carried out by the complex's inhabitants.

The final show in the Diocesan Museum of Mantua spotlights the life of the Archbishop of Lucca Anselmo (1035-1086), sent by Gregory VII to be Matilda's advisor and confessor. This contains a variety of artworks and valuable documents. All three exhibitions are open until January 11 2009.