Wise and Valiant. Women and Writing in the Spanish Golden Age

Saint Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582), Los libros de la madre Teresa de Iesus fundadora de los monesterios de monjas y frayles Carmelitas descalços de la primera regla [The books of mother Teresa of Jesus, founder of the monasteries of the Discalced Carmelite nuns and friars of the first Rule]. Salamanca: by Guillelmo Foquel, 1588. Biblioteca Nacional de España. © Instituto Cervantes.

The exhibition Wise and Valiant. Women and Writing in the Spanish Golden Age, brings together manuscripts, printed books and original documents of twenty authors, many of them unjustly silenced despite the relevance of their work and having been true pioneers. Organized as a collaboration between the Cervantes Institute and the Spanish National Library, it re-opened on June 18 after a three-month hiatus due to the Covid-19 situation.

Wise and Valiant recovers names and works of authors from the 16th and 17th centuries barely mentioned in the literature manuals, in contrast to the leading role of writers such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Garcilaso, Quevedo or Góngora. The best known are Teresa de Jesús (1515-1582), Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) – both nuns – María de Zayas (1590-1661?), Ana Caro (1590-1646), one of the first authors who lived from her trade, or Catalina de Erauso (The nun ensign).

But there were many more women who wrote in that Golden Age of Spanish letters and are hardly remembered: Leonor de la Cueva, Olivia Sabuco, Leonor de Meneses, Angela de Sotomayor, Catalina del Barrio and Angulo, Cristobalina de Alarcón, Elena de la Paz, Isabel Correa, Mother Ana de Jesús, Mariana de Vargas y Valderrama, Sor Hipólita de Jesús … There are a few nuns because the convents were spaces that allowed a certain freedom at that time for women to read, write, and learn.

The exhibition brings together some thirty manuscripts, printed books and original documents from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as contemporary editions and translations, and posters from films and theatrical works that focus on the lives of these authors or adapt works written by them.

The difficulties that those writers had to face or the current issues they addressed (such as violence against women, the institution of marriage, sexual norms, honor, the role of women in the family, the capacity of women for learning and writing, the limits to feminine freedom, the causes and effects of misogyny) are essential themes in today’s world.

 “Dynamite the Canon”

Wise and Valiant, which takes its name from words written by Sor Juana Inés, ” invites us to reflect on women” and “helps us to recover our memory and dynamite the canon,” said the director of the Cervantes Institute in the presentation to the media. Luis García Montero added that with this exhibition, the Cervantes Institute “bets on equality, diversity and an ever more just society.”

Most of the works come from Spain’s National Library, and leave its building for the first time, which, for its director, Ana Santos Aramburo, marks “the beginning of a future collaboration” with the Cervantes Institute. This has been possible thanks to the installation of a large showcase on the ground floor of the Institute that allows the exhibition of some “treasures of immense value” with the appropriate technical conditions.

The curator is Ana M. Rodríguez-Rodríguez, full professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Iowa (United States). It was in that country that she discovered many of the exhibited authors, “true heroines” who defended women “when writing was a risky activity.” The philologist declared that she was “enthusiastic” about “making these women known and recognized” thanks to their works, true allegations in favor of women’s rights and against discrimination, injustice or mistreatment.


Payment document to Ana Caro for writing the wedding chronicles of a cousin of Philip IV. [Madrid], 1638. Archivo de Villa, Madrid. © Instituto Cervantes.

Ana Caro de Mallén (1590-1646), Valor, agravio y mujer: comedia famosa [Courage, Betrayal and a Woman Scorned: famous comedy], 17th century. Image: Biblioteca Nacional de España. © Instituto Cervantes.











Ana Caro: by Profession, Writer

The payment document of 1637 (belonging to the Historical Archive of Madrid) is shown for the first time, which shows that Ana Caro charged for her works, and therefore exercised the profession of writer. Also, the text of the trip to Peru by the group of Capuchin nuns who founded an important monastery in Lima, and who narrate the hard journey and its vicissitudes, which, according to Rodríguez-Rodríguez, “would deserve a film or a television series”.

Printed works in workshops led by women are also included. Those women printers, although most inherited this work upon the death of their parents or husbands, played a fundamental role in the dissemination of knowledge of the time and in the development of the world of books and culture.

The exhibition is organized in 10 sections: 1. Writing from the convent; 2. Teresa: a protofeminist in the 16th century; 3. I do not study to know more, but to ignore less: Sor Juana Inés, the tenth muse; 4. Overcoming limits, poem after poem; 5. María de Zayas, advocate of women’s dignity; 6. Art and profession: Ana Caro, a seventeenth-century playwright; 7. Catalina de Erauso: autobiography of an identity without barriers; 8. Hidden pens; 9. Women also print; and 10. Recognition, dissemination and a look towards the future. The tour closes with the piece Caminar, obrar, no parar, directed (2020) by Marta Javierre Acín, which brings together fragments of eight audiovisual works on several of the protagonists of the exhibition.

A 176-page catalog has been published with texts by the curator, Luis García Montero and Ana Santos, as well as the reproduction of all the works exhibited and quotes by the authors.

Wise and Valiant will remain open until September 3 at the headquarters of the Instituto Cervantes (c / Barquillo, 4, Madrid).


Other Things You Might Be Interested In

The Institute has also posted the content of the exhibition on the Centro Virtual Cervantes as an online exhibition, both in Spanish and English.

On YouTube, you can listen to the curator of the exhibition, Ana M. Rodríguez-Rodríguez, going into detail about the topic of the exhibition. She does this in Spanish as well as in English.

The opening ceremony of the exhibition is also available on Youtube.

In the library of the MoneyMuseum, we have the first book written exclusively about women. It also covers the story of the “Popess” Joan.

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