Jutta Sperling

Professor of History (on leave, currently teaching at Amherst College).

Hampshire College

Teaching Interests:

I teach a variety of courses on the history of Early Modern Europe (ca. 1400-1800), with a special interest in Renaissance and Baroque Visual Culture; Gender, Family and the Law in the Wider Mediterranean; Body History; Catholicism; and the Portuguese Empire. I like to integrate bodies of knowledge from different disciplines such as art history, religious history, social and cultural history, the history of medicine, legal history, queer studies, and postcolonial studies. Recent courses include “Renaissance Bodies: Sex, Art, and Medicine;” “Women’s Writing, Art, and Music in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (ca. 1100-1800);” “Women and Gender in the Wider Mediterranean (ca. 1300-1800);” “Queering the Renaissance;” “Nuns, Saints, and Mystics;” and “Decolonial and Colonial Archives: Historical Research Methods.”

Past and Current Research Interests:

My recent book Roman Charity: Queer Lactations in Early Modern Visual Culture investigates the popularity of the iconography of Pero and Cimon, or the daughter-who-breastfed-her-father-(or-mother)-in-prison. Drawing on recent concepts in visual culture and queer studies, I examine these highly sexualized representations from the perspective of dissent with early modern patriarchal structures. Also relevant is the Catholic iconography of Charity, often allegorized as a breastfeeding woman. In addition, I have published numerous articles on the Nursing Virgin and related imagery. My interest in images of the erotic maternal body builds on prior archival studies of mine that investigate early modern patriarchies, for example marriage and women’s property rights in the wider Mediterranean and Venetian convent culture, including strategies of coerced monachizations (i.e. the practice of forcing young girls to enter monasteries). My current research takes me to Ethiopia, where I investigate the cult of the Virgin Mary and its iconography in the context of Coptic and Byzantine traditions.

Selected Publications:


Roman Charity: Queer Lactations in Early Modern Visual Culture (transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2016; open source: De Gruyter, 2016)

Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, and Practices (edited volume) (Ashgate Press, 2013).

Across the Religious Divide: Women, Property, and Law in the Wider Mediterranean (1300-1800); co-edited with Shona K. Wray; (Routledge, 2010).

 Convents and the Body Politic in Late Renaissance Venice (University of Chicago Press, 1999).


“Nurse, Nursing,” with Mati Meyer, in: Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception Online, eds. Constance M. Furey et al., (Oldenbourg: De Gruyter, 2010-), forthcoming.

“Milk and Miracles: Heteroglossia and Dissent in Venetian Art after the Council of Trent,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 51:2 (2021): 285-320.

“Observing the Observant Self: Female Reader Portraits and the Lactating Madonna in Illuminated Prayer Books (1450-1566),” in: Bodies in Early Modern Religious Dissent: Naked, Veiled – Vilified, Worshiped, eds. Xenia von Tippelskirch and Elisabeth Fischer (Routledge, forthcoming 2021).

“Feminist, Queer, Subversive: Appropriations of Roman Charity/ΦΕΜΙΝΙΣΤΙΚΕΣ, ΑΛΛΌΚΌΤΕΣ, ΑΝΑΤΡΕΠΤΙΚΕΣ: Όικειοποιήσεις της Ρωμαϊκής ευσπλαχνίας” in: 59 TIFF (Thessaloniki International Film Festival) Non Catalog / 59 ΦΚΘ Α ΚΑΤΑΛΟΓΟΣ (Thessaloniki, 2018), 52-65.

“The Family Economy: A Comparative Perspective on Legitimate Marriage, the Dispossession of Mothers, and the Displacement of Children” in: The Cultural History of Marriage in the Renaissance and Early Modern Age, ed. Joanne M. Ferraro (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 83-99.

“A Feminist Picture Atlas: Images of Lactation in Medieval and Early Modern Art,”Early Modern Women, vol. 13, no. 1 (2018), 117-31.

“Squeezing, Squirting, Spilling Milk: The Lactation of Saint Bernard and the Flemish Madonna Lactans (ca. 1430-1530),” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 3 (2018), 868-918.

“Same-Sex Lactations in European Art and Literature (ca. 1300-1800): Allegory, Melancholy, Loss,” in: Cultural Representations of Breastfeeding, eds. Ann Marie A. Short, Abigail L. Palko, and Dionne Irving (Demeter Press, 2018, 50-69).

“Caritas Romana: zu einem verlorengegangenen Gemälde Angelika Kauffmanns,” in: Künstlerinnen der Vormoderne. Sammelband zum 4. Kunsthistorischen Forum Irsee, eds. Andreas Tacke and Birgit Ulrike Münch (Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2017), 170-82.

“Address, Desire, Lactation: On some Gender-bending Images of the Virgin and Child by Jan Gossaert,” Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch LXXVI (2015): 49-77.

“Wet-Nurses, Midwives, and the Virgin Mary in Tintoretto’s The Birth of Saint John the Baptist (1563)” in: Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practices, ed. Jutta Sperling (Ashgate Press, 2013), pp. 235-54.

“Charity’s Nudity and the Veil of Allegory,” in: Renaissance Studies in Honor of Joseph Connors, (Milan, Libraria Officina, and Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2013), pp. 520-26.

“The Economics and Politics of Marriage,” in: The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, Allyson Poska, Katherine McIver, Jane Couchman, eds., (Ashgate Press, 2013), pp. 213-33.

“Las Casas and His Amerindian Nurse: Tropes of Lactation in the French Colonial Imaginary (ca. 1770-1810),” Gender & History, 23,1 (2011): 47-71.

“‘Divenni madre e figlia di mio padre.’ Queer Lactations in Renaissance and Baroque Art,” in: Sex Acts: Practice, Performance, Perversion and Punishment in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Allison Levy, (Ashgate, 2010), pp. 165-180.

[Italian translation: “‘Divenni madre e figlio di mio padre’: allattamenti strani ed incestuosi nell’arte rinascimentale e barocca,” in: Sesso nel Rinascimento. Pratica, performance, perversione e punizione nell’Italia del Rinascimento, ed. by Allison Levy, (Florence, Casa Editrice delle Lettere, 2009), pp. 171-185.]

“Marriage, Kinship, Property in Portuguese Testaments (1649-50),” in: Across the Religious Divide: Women, Property, and Law in the Wider Mediterranean (1300-1800), co-edited with Shona Kelly Wray (Routledge, 2010), pp. 158-174.

“Allegories of Charity and the Practice of Poor Relief at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco,” Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, vol. LXX (2009): 119-146.

“Dowry or Inheritance? Kinship, Property, and Women’s Agency in Lisbon, Venice, Florence (1572)“, Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 11 no. 3 (2007): 197-238.

“Women’s Property Rights in Portugal under Dom João I (1385-1433). A Comparison with Renaissance Italy,” Portuguese Studies Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (2005): 1-33.

“Marriage at the Time of the Council of Trent (1560-70): Clandestine Marriages, Kinship Prohibitions, and Dowry Exchange in European Comparison,” Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 8, no. 1-2 (2004): 67-108.

“The Paradox of Perfection: Reproducing the Body Politic in Late Renaissance Venice,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 41, no. 1 (1999): 3-32.