Renaissance and Reformation Masculinity
Gerry Milligan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0114


The question of masculinity lies at the heart of masterpieces of Renaissance art, philosophy, and literature. Proscriptive and prescriptive literature formed a discourse of ideal fathers, priests, courtiers, and warriors, and these ideals were then reified in fictional texts as well as in pigment and marble. Such textual and artistic ideals of masculinity were by nature not obtainable by real men, a matter that was the cause of a gender anxiety that has received much scholarly attention. Furthermore, masculinity in the Renaissance was frequently discussed in contrast to its negative effect, effeminacy. For example, the development of the civilized man, tempering emotion and demonstrating politeness, was also at risk of being condemned as effeminate. In this case, men would have been slandered for their concern with decorum rather than action. In other instances, the censure of effeminacy was used in contexts quite far from our own modern understandings of the term. For example, the term was often directed toward men who exhibited extraordinary heterosexual desire. Thus, to study masculinity in the Renaissance is to consider historical context as well as rhetorical modes. It is a field that comprises the investigation of the characteristics of manhood as well as the language that condemned effeminacy. There is a general consensus that Renaissance masculinity studies owe their beginnings to feminist scholarship of the past several decades. It is also notable that Renaissance scholars working on masculinity often do not exhibit much affinity with the larger academic field of so-called Masculinity Studies, possibly because of the latter’s propensity to consider only modern questions. Because Renaissance investigations of masculinity typically address the same topics that one would expect in any critical analysis of the period (war, honor, economics, love, sexuality, religion, etc.), it is necessary to determine a working definition of what is included in this bibliography. In sum, this bibliography seeks to indicate publications that address any discourse that arises when one considers “men” in the Renaissance and that engage such discourses with particular questions regarding gender formation. Primary works have not been listed, except when part of anthologized readers. However, those seeking a reader for primary sources might note that the secondary literature does point to an unwritten canon in literary, visual, and material cultures.

General Overviews

While there is yet to be a definitive overview of Renaissance European masculinity, there are some monographs and essay anthologies that cover a broad scope of subject and period. Works of non-European masculinity during the period are notably scarce. Pan-European works are typically anthologies, and Lees 1994 is one of the first studies to attempt to capture the expansive notion of European premodern masculinity. Hadley 1999 and Kiefer 2009 similarly offer essays on late medieval Europe, while Hendrix and Karant-Nunn 2008 is a long-needed addition on the Reformation era. The best monograph on European masculinity is Karras 2003. Mosse 1996, an important work on modern masculinity, offers a description of the development of medieval masculinity into its modern form.

  • Hadley, Dawn M., ed. Masculinity in Medieval Europe. London: Longman, 1999.

    An early contribution to the field of European masculinity. It is a collection of essays that cover a wide geographical range and span from the 4th to the 15th centuries. Swanson’s essay on clerical masculinity is notable since the field of studies on religion and masculinity is still relatively small. The book is suitable for students and scholars alike.

  • Hendrix, Scott H., and Susan C. Karant-Nunn, eds. Masculinity in the Reformation Era. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2008.

    The book is divided in two parts, with the first devoted to men in civic and religious duties, and the second devoted entirely to essays on masculinity and Martin Luther. Essays focus on reformed France, Switzerland, Germany, and northwestern Spain.

  • Karras, Ruth Mazo. From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

    A highly useful book that examines the transition from boyhood to manhood for three groups in medieval Europe: knights, university students, and urban craftsmen. Focuses on physical prowess for knights, Aristotelian moderation for university students, and autonomous authority of workshop and household for artisans. It is well suited to classroom use and is useful for students and specialists alike.

  • Kiefer, Frederick, ed. Masculinities and Femininities in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 23. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009.

    A collection of accessible essays based both on historical and literary texts. They cover a wide range of topics such as clerical masculinity, the male body in French chivalric tales, sex and the Renaissance pet, and homosocial relations in Quattrocento Florence.

  • Lees, Clare A., Thelma Fenster, and JoAnn McNamara, eds. Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

    This groundbreaking volume was crucial to the establishment of a subfield of research on masculinity in premodern periods that was not focused on sexuality. The volume discusses a pan-European heterosexual masculinity, using the terms established by historical feminist criticism, and it avoids psychoanalytic or theoretical approaches. The introduction is still very useful, and the volume is still one of the more frequently cited works in premodern masculinity.

  • Mosse, George L. The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    A study of modern masculinity that seeks to identify an important shift between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The book identifies modern stereotypes of masculinity as well as the development of the ideal of modern masculinity in history in the late 18th century. The greatest difference between modern and medieval/early-modern masculinity for Mosse is the modern emphasis on the body itself.

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