In the light of the current exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Womenâs Rights, I want to show a new acquisition, an Italian poem printed in Venice in 1618.
This religious, heroic and allegorical poem has an extraordinary feminist subtext and its title is Amore innamorato, et impazzato poema di Lucretia Marinella; con gli argomenti, & allegorie a ciascun canto. Alla serenissima [...] Caterina Medici, Gonzaga, duchessa di Mantova [...] â âPoem on enamoured and mad love by Lucretia Marinella, with topics and allegories before each canto. Dedicated to Catherine deâ Medici Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantuaâ.
References to the authorâs intentions are already clear in the choice of the dedicatee, a female patron, Caterina Gonzaga, whom she actively encourage to read the poem.
Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato (Venice, 1618) awaiting shelfmark
The poem tells the story of Cupidâs conversion to Christianity. The literary form is inspired by Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso and the epic poems of the Counter-Reformation. The authorâs aim is indeed to promote the values of the Church, through the allegory of Cupidâs religious journey and conversion. The poem at a first glance follows the religious constraints of its time, but its main female character, Ersilia, is an independent woman fully in charge of her destiny. She will reject Cupidâs love and the passive role of the ethereal donna angelicata provided by the Italian literary canon of Dante and Petrarch.
Ersilia is stronger than Cupid, and her resistance to his advances asserts her religious values, but is also imbued with feminism. Religion had to be used to validate work and ideas and to get published.
The author, The author, Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), was the daughter of the writer and physician Giovanni Marinelli, and is usually known by the feminine form of her father's surname. Her father encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. She was close to the Accademia Veneziana, but led a reclusive life of private study. She married a physician and had two children.
Lucrezia Marinella by Giacomo Piccini, 1652
Lucrezia Marinellaâs fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise Le NobilitaÌ et Eccellenze delle Donne, et i Diffetti, e Mancamenti de gli huomini.. (Venice, 1600; 1080.k.7.(2.)) âThe nobility and excellence of womenâ, recognised as a landmark in the history of womenâs contribution to the querelle des femmes.
Moderata Fonte, anonymous 16th-century engraving
Marinellaâs work will sit alongside that of another Venetian author of the same period: Modesta Pozzo or Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). Although little known to modern criticism before around 1980, Fonte is recognised as one of the most accessible and appealing of 16th-century Italian women writers. Her best-known work is the posthumously-published dialogue Il merito delle donne âThe Worth of Womenâ (Venice, 1600; 721.f.17.), which is one of the most original contributions to early modern debate on sex roles, as well as one of the earliest to have been authored by a woman. Other women writers who preceded and inspired Marinella are Gaspara Stampa and Vittoria Colonna.
Amore innamorato, et impazzato has been purchased with the generous help of the British Library Collection Trust.
Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
P. Malpezzi Price, Lucrezia Marinella and the "querelle des femmes" in seventeenth-century Italy ( Madison, c2008.) YC.2009.a.11706
S. Kolsky, âThe literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653)â, in: F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds. Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 325-342. YC.2006.a.12963
A. Cagnolati, A portrait of a Renaissance feminist : Lucrezia Marinella's life and works ( Rome, 2013.) YD.2013.a.3057
Stephen Kolsky, âModerata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Giuseppe Passi: an early seventeenth-century feminist controversyâ, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 973-989. P.P.4970.ca.
Paola Malpezzi Price, âA Woman's Discourse in the Italian Renaissance: Moderata Fonteâs âIl merito delle donneââ Annali dâItalianistica, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 165-181. 1014.600000
Prudence Allen and Filippo Salvatore, âLucrezia Marinelli and Womanâs Identity in Late Italian Renaissanceâ Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et RĂ©forme, New Series / Nouvelle SĂ©rie, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall / Automne 1992), pp. 5-39. 7356.865100