Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keep Thee From A Nunnery - A Primer on Being a Single Woman in Renaissance Venice

I taught this class for the first time at Great Northeastern War this summer, and again at Pennsic. 

Thank you to everyone who came, but especially those who braved the heat of Pennsic 45. They may have shut down all martial activities - but the A&S folks marched on!

Class description (because it makes me laugh every time): How to avoid bad (nuns) habits and have it all in Renaissance Italy. Learn the traits to make yourself the epitome of marriageable Italian womanhood. There is only so much dowry money to go around, and if you've got sisters, you are likely to end up as Sister Mary on the Shelf. Culled from various sources of advice, learn to be an ideal bride and your options if Lord Charming never comes. 

Keep Thee From A Nunnerya Primer on Being a Single Lady in Renaissance Venice
Lady Fortune St Keyne

   The Hard Facts or The Odds Are Not Ever in Your Favor:
  • Nearly 60% of Patrician women joined convents the late 1500s.
  • Only a minority joined voluntarily
  • The Venier family produced 52 nuns & 29 brides between 1590-1670
  • Single Women are considered DANGEROUS

Doesn't She Look Thrilled?
Sister Elena Anguissola, as painted by
her sister Sofonisba Anguissola in 1551

“Women are very wicked, generally behaving badly and displaying excessive pride. But these defects are just part of their nature; they do not constitute a sufficient reason not to marry”
-Francesco Tommasi’s 1590 guide for the patriarch Reggimento del padre

Three ladies of Venice railed against the options open to them in print in the late renaissance: noble matron Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi  wrote under the pen name Moderata Fonte The Worth of Women: Wherein is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men, Lucrezia Marinella, the daughter of a prominent physician and wife of a doctor herself, wrote The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men, and Arcangela Tarabotti, a nun, wrote texts such as Paternal Tyranny and corresponded with cultural and political figures for most of her adult life. Her writings center on the issues of forced enclosure, and what she saw as other symptoms and systems of patriarchy and misogyny. One of the period male writer even advocates that the superiority of women is seen in the law that women can marry without parental consent at 16, but men cannot until 18.
However, the preferred path to happiness and security for women was still to marry – and marry well. Noblewomen were forbidden to marry beneath themselves and could not marry without a hefty dowry. Dante writes in his Paradiso disparagingly about dowries. Stating in his great-great-grandfather’s time they did not see fathers taking fright at the birth of a daughter, and that dowries had “fled all limitation”. In Venice in the mid-1300s dowries were 650-1540 ducats, in 1420 the Venetian Senate placed a limit of 1,600 ducats on patrician dowries, but it did no good and the law was revised in the early 1500s to limit dowries to 3,000 ducats.
A Venetian ducat is 3.5 g of gold. On 7/7/16 gold closed at $43.65/gram so about $152.75 a ducat making 3,000 ducats $458,250. Think about this: at the end of his life Leonardo da Vinci worked for the king of France, who paid him 400 ducats a year.
A woman’s entire claim to her father’s estate was her dowry, and it was to be kept in trust by her husband. In 1629 Clara Vidali brought suit against her wastrel husband of 4 years, Niccolo Montin, and won her dowry back and separation from him.

More women than men filed petitions for separation in the 16th & 17th centuries in Venice.

The ideal age for a bride (going back to Aristotle) is thought to be 18, where a groom should be 37.

And so catching a spouse was a popular topic, and many pamphlets and essays were published on this topic. One treatise on marriage starts with supposed advice from Socrates that married or single you will repent either way:
“If you do not marry, you will miss the sweet delights of having children, along with the loving companionship and support of a wife. If you do marry, you are headed for a life of constant warfare, without peace or truce, that will leave you no moment of repose and will turn even you nights into harsh, cruel battlefields. Instead of finding a quiet bed, you will lie in an armed camp with an unceasing din of complaints and laments all about.”

Leering-est putti in all of Renaissance Art
Lorenzo Lotto, Signor Marsilio Cassotti and his Wife, Faustina c. 1523 Museo del Prado

Note the gold chain that encircles her shoulders - traditional jewelry of a bride called a vinculum amoris or chain of love.

Advice against choosing a young bride:
“If you choose one who is young,
You will have to train her
To curb her accursed tongue.
She will do nothing but mutter
And with her constant complaining,
He voice to the sky ringing,
She won’t give a hoot
If you threaten to give her the boot.“
Le malitie delle donna

Other brides to avoid? A girl who is rich, poor, pretty, amorous, or a foreigner.

Advice for Brides circa 1300:
1.      Avoid anything that might annoy him. Do not be joyful when he is sad, do not be sad when he is joyful.
2.      Find out what he likes to eat, and if your tastes do not agree with his: do not show it.
3.      If he is asleep, sick, or tired – do not disturb him. If you must do so – be gentle.
4.      Do not rob him, lend his goods, or give them away.
5.      Do not be too curious about his business but if he confides in you, keep his secrets.
6.      Be good to his family and friends.
7.      Do not do anything important without first seeking his advice.
8.      Do not ask him to do things that are impossible or might damage his honor or position.
9.      Be attractive, fresh, clean, modest in appearance, and chaste in behavior.
10.  Do not be too familiar with the servants.
11.  Do not go out too often; the man’s domain is outside whereas the woman’s is in the home.
12.  Do not speak too much, for silence is a sign of modesty and chastity.
13.  Do not make your husband jealous.
Gilt over Silver Fede ring c. 1650 Private Collection
The clasped hands indicate a promise, which made them popular engagement rings

Wanted: Virgins
It was thought that a young woman properly raised in a truly virginal state would neither know, nor wish to know carnal union with a man.
The renaissance groom is going to expect a virgin and there were pamphlets on how to spot a deflowered woman. One by Lorenzo Giobity disputes commonly held beliefs, such as a woman’s nipples darken after intercourse, her neck becomes larger, the tip of her nose lengthens.
            He also cautions against common tests for virgins, such as grinding up aloe feeding it to your prospective bride or putting dock leaves into the fire and making her inhale the smoke. It was thought a virgin would immediately become incontinent.
            He suggests the less scientific approach of studying the sweetness of countenance and general demeanor.

Look the Part – the Appearance of a Bride:  

The ideal woman would have features grouped in threes:
Three white – flesh, teeth, and face
Three black – eyes, lashes, and pubic hair
Three red – lips, cheeks, and nails
Three long – body, hair, and hands
Three short- teeth, ears, and feet
Three wide- chest, hips, and forehead
Three narrow- mouth, vagina, and waist
Three large- thighs, buttocks, and nature
Three soft- hair, lips, and fingers
Three small- mouth, nose, and breasts
-Anonymous Giardino di virtu… Florence 1600

Blonder is better. Sit out on your altana or enclosed rooftop and try out one of the following:

"Take the dried dregs of white wine and chop them into olive oil. Comb this through your hair while sitting in the sun".
(Recipe for bleaching hair by Giovanni Marinello, 1562, "Gli ornamenti delle donne"

"To five glasses of Fountain water, add Alome-Foeces, one ounce, Soap, three ounces, Barley Straw, one handful.  Let them boil in earthen pots, till two thirds be boiled away.  Then let it settle.  Strain the water with the ashes, adding to every glass of water, pure Honey one ounce.  Set it up for your use."  Recipe from Giambattista della Porta's Magiae Naturalis, 1558

Cosmo Agnelli’s Loving Advice on the Abuses of Vain Women - 1592 Verona
  • No Colored Hair: Dyeing or bleaching your hair blond is a reprehensible practice that does violence to nature and offends the Supreme Author who gave you the color you have.
  • No powered faces or exposed breasts. If a woman first adorns her bosom and then displays herself… she is advertising merchandise for sale.
  • No high-heeled shoes! They prevent you from kneeling properly in church and doing your chores at home like a good wife and mother.

You See Him Across a Crowded Church… But He Can’t See You

As a young and adolescent girl you wear a white veil to church that covered the face and chest. Once you reach marriageable age you are then allowed a shorter black veil of costly silk that is very firmly fixed in place with your face still remaining obscured.  
Marriages are arranged by a third party broker in many cases. Francesco Sansovino 1581: The bride is not seen by the groom or his family until AFTER the contract is signed in most cases, but in the 1590s Vecellio starts to describe well-chaperoned visits including excursions prior to signing the contract.
During these excursions the bride would wear a long black veil still, but it’s attached more loosely, which covers her face but not her bodice. The bodice (sottana?) and sleeves were usually white, but the outer garments black with a short train, and she would have the privilege to wear expensive gold and pearl jewelry, as well as perfumed gloves, and a long jeweled gold belt. (the latter two being symbols of marriage)
Once a marriage contract has been signed the groom with present a ring and a few small courtship gifts or contrados: small chests with ribbons, pearls, and jewelry, fabric for new dresses, belts, gloves, etc. Viena Gritti received a silver casket with a zibellino or jeweled animal pelt on the morning of her wedding.
The acceptance of these gifts publically announced one’s consent to the marriage. One bride from Bologna refused to wear these contrados as a refusal of her groom-to-be.
Belts were popular gifts as symbolically the clasping of the belt represented the union of the couple. Often the idealized profiles of the happy couple were depicted on belt ends. The girdle was also a symbol of the bride’s chastity that she might return to her husband on the night of consummation as proof of her virginity.
Gloves too held significance. The gift of gloves was a very serious one and those gloves would be worn up until the marriage night. You’ll often see in portraits of couples the glove being slightly peeled down indicating that she is intimate only with her husband.

Say Yes to the Dress, well, really, Hair
Hold on tight girlfriend
Jost Amman – Procession of the Doge to the Bucintoro on Ascension Day, with a View of Venice c. 1565 (detail) The Met (49.95.5)
Brides wear distinctive dress, but the biggest indicator is the hair – worn loose over her shoulders, intertwined with gold filaments, with a circlet of gold or jeweled bridal diadem. Many brides also dress in white. Gowns are described ranging from simple white satin with simple baragoni or upper sleeves and a lacy ruffled camicia to gold-embroidered white gowns with elaborate neck and shoulder ruffs of lace.
            However, the color of choice for brides in Venice (and elsewhere) in practice seems to have been red. In addition to the white silk gowns, Vecellio also describes a plush crimson velvet bridal gown in his Habiti. In 1525 Viena, the granddaughter of Doge Andrea Gritti wore a rose-colored gown (ruosa secha) meant to match his robes. Samaritana Freschi wore a crimson velvet dress with gold sleeves in 1504, and so did her sister Giustina two years later.
All brides wore expensive gold and pearl jewelry. One particular item of note is the vinculum amoris or chain of love seen in many portraits, see the above Lotto portrait. Vecellio specifically describes brides marrying during the 15 days of the Feast of the Ascension as shining like so many suns: having the most lavish jewelry, silver handled fans, wearing long trains and long transparent veils and are heavily perfumed. During this time many foreign visitors were in Venice to witness these displays. This is also the time when the Doge’s symbolic marriage to the sea is celebrated.

The Parentado  a “Coming Out” Party for the Bride 

Bride and Ballerino
Giacomo Franco, Habiti d’huomeni ei donne c 1610
Once the contract is signed the parentado or display of the bride will occur. On alternating days the groom’s male and female relatives will visit for the same display. The groom’s family will be seated on the portico and the bride will come from her room, escorted by her elderly dance master or ballerino, perform a few dances to musical accompaniment, then bow to the assembled relatives.
For those relatives who are in religious orders, the bride will travel in a gondola, originally with only her hair on display, but then the practice became that the bride sat behind the roof so that all may see her in her finery. Often other family in gondolas formed a procession and onlookers would join in. (On the mainland these would be horse-drawn processions with white horses to demonstrate the bride’s purity). 
After the last display the bride is part of a grand procession of the bridal party takes place to the church for the wedding Mass, with musicians and servants carrying torches which would be lit during the ceremony.
Grand processions are also described in Rome, and an entire book is dedicated to the marriage in 1589 of Grand Duke Ferdinando de' Medici and the French princess Christine of Lorraine, whose wedding festivities took a month to execute and a year of planning.
After the ceremony a huge feast is attended by all at the home of the groom. Wedding feasts were among the most lavish of meals, featuring entertainment as well as many courses of specialty foods for both eating and beholding. When Eleanor of Aragon arrived in Ferrara in 1473 for her multiday wedding, she was greeted by a parade of allegorical floats, followed on subsequent days by a fifty-six-course feast, and dances and jousts, during which sugar sculptures were displayed. The humanist Filippo Beroaldo reported that the 1487 wedding of Lucrezia d’Este and Giovanni Bentivoglio in Bologna featured giant sugar sculptures of castles, ships, people, and animals, and a flaming wheel of fireworks that accidentally ignited some of the wedding guests.
Being a Wife

For the first year of your marriage you get to dress the part of the bride. After that, portions of your wedding finery will be farmed out to other family members for their daughter’s weddings. This was the subject of many a lawsuit. These all essentially boil down to: “I gave you 400 ducats worth of jewelry when you married, and you only gave me 200 ducats worth back”. Only goal? Give birth to children. Preferably boys. The methods of achieving this end are laughable and could comprise an entire class.

Rules for the Wife 1589:
1.      Guard over all the family possessions inside the house.
2.      Let no one into your home without informing your husband.
3.      Do not dress or adorn yourself beyond your means or beyond the customs of your locale
4.      Do not put your nose into your husband’s affairs, especially political doings.
5.      Imitate the honest ways of your husband.
6.      Revere your husband not with servile fear but with filial respect.
7.      Be happy and evenhanded with your husband, in good times and bad.
-Gozze Governo della famiglia

Won’t Someone Think of the Children?  - Casa delle Zitelle (House of the Young Maidens)

  • Founded in 1568 Casa delle Zitelle took in young girls 9-13 who were at risk of becoming prostitutes, sheltered and educated them in the effort to make them marketable wives or nuns as adults. Typically women stayed until their early 20s, but a few stayed on until their 40s.
  • The founders of the house were noblewomen, both single and widowed, who say prostitution as a problem not from women’s sinful natures, but of circumstances like poverty and lack of alternatives in Venetian society.
  • Competition for admission was stiff, and girls had to be interviewed by members of the governing board, and had home visits. The goal was insure that girls met the requirements of being poor, pretty, and likely to prostitute. “Poor, or those without beauty, can find shelter elsewhere.” Bologna also had similar requirements for charity programs.
  • The house was almost entirely staffed by women as well. Administered by the Madre (often a widow), and her assistant the Coadjutrice who were both noblewomen, and assisted by the Maestre who were singlewomen and former zitelle.
  • Contact with men was strictly forbidden and only the confessor and doctor being exceptions, and even the doctor had to examine patients under the watchful eye of the Madre.
  • The founders put clauses into the Casa charter to govern the behavior or the zitelle, including a provision if two charges show a marked partiality to each other they must be separated and supervised by others.
  • Once a zitelle bride married there were visits by the governing board to her new home, mentoring and also demonstrating to the groom that they were under the protection still of the matrons.
  • The Casa survived into the 1920s!

Lower Class? Prepare to be a Working Girl, a Magic-working Girl – but likely everybody’s going to be a maid.

Three main ways to support yourself:

Become a Domestic Servant:
  • Most female servants are single. You are likely poor, you also likely are an immigrant or you have left rural life behind – which increases your likelihood of staying single.
  • Employers were required to review& revise servant’s contracts every 10 years to ensure they were not exploited.
  • Many servants also had their employer act as executor of their will or in other legal matters.
  • Towards the end of the 1600s male servants were becoming more fashionable due to their “honor”

Become a Prostitute:
  • As is common in cultures where men marry (comparatively) late and extramarital sex is taboo  - prostitution thrives.
  • Meretrici, (also known as courtesan puttana) or street prostitutes made up an estimated 10% of the population according to one patrician citizen Marin Sanudo
  • 2/3 of meretrici are listed as head of household
  • Legislative issues:
    • o   1539 & 1572 laws attempting to expel immigrant prostitutes
    • 1576-77 food shortages and plague blamed on the sinful ways of Venice
  • Reformed or retired prostitutes who had the disease were often housed in their own semi-religious houses called converites, one in Venice  grew out of a hospital just for syphilitics (Incurabili) in the late 1520s

Practice Magic: (for fun and profit!)

Remember, that Veronica Franco was tried not for being a courtesan, but for practicing witchcraft.
  • A risky way to make your money, but a great economic stabilizer as long as you don’t get caught. Some working women also supplemented their income by selling charms and incantations. Working as a wise woman was done by single, married, or widowed women.
  • The Holy Inquisition began in Venice in 1547 and after heretics they began to focus on practitioners of magic and demonology:  specifically targeting the popolane – lower class singlewomen who offered charms to heal the sick or glimpse the future. 

Things may seem bleak - however:
·         A survey of parish records shows around 32% of women 1589-94 listed as head of household
o   Of those: 30% appear single (1,311 women)

            Single women are twice as likely to be listed as head of household than single men

Being a Nun

  • Between 1550 and 1650 some fifty percent of Venetian noble women took the veil.
  • Many of these were forced, as families psychologically (and in other ways) coerced daughters and sisters into becoming nuns so that the family patrimony could be left to the one son permitted to marry.
  • 51 Convents founded in Venice and Tocello between 640-1600.
  • Most nuns were cloistered meaning they lived separately from lay society, and were prohibited by Canonical law from interacting with people outside of the convent. (Or were supposed to)
    • In 1514 the Venetian State had to assert authority over the convents because of lax behaviors
    • 1563 Council of Trent imposed strict cloistering on convents 
  • But there was power to be had, Abbesses were spiritually married to the Doge. Received indulgences on the first of May to anoint the governmental structure
  • ·         Convents fought state controls. For example, they successfully contested the government's attempt in 1602 to limit convent dowries to 1,000 ducats

Convertites - quasi-monastic institution for problem cases. Orphans, widows, naughty widows,  runaways, women secretly married to clerics, adulterous wives, battered women, victims of rape and incest, and women who rejected grooms selected by their fathers were routinely sent to convertites. They were the catch-all for women who couldn't live at home or didn't have a home to go to for various reasons. 

            In Venice one converite, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, was home to 400 reformed “bad girl” nuns and was violated by a priest named Giovanni Pietro Lion. Lion was a confessor at the convent on the edge of the city for nearly 20 years and he forbade that the inhabitants be confessed by anyone else. Publically known for his scholarship and piety, in private it was a different matter: he’d molest the nuns during confession, claiming that he was only testing their goodness. If a woman resisted, then he’d imprison and beat her until she caved. He would spy upon them bathing to pick out the prettiest, kidnap nuns, and forced abortions.
Finally, he was exposed and condemned to public decapitation in 1561. The executioner reportedly struck eight times, then one of the witnesses then tried with another four or five blows, and it finally took a guard with a knife to finish the job. One onlooker interpreted the grisly scene as just desserts: a quick decapitation was too light a sentence for “the most wicked man in the world.”

Arcangela Tarabotti – Rebel Nun
  • At the age of 11 (in 1617), Tarabotti was sent as a boarder to the Benedictine Convent of Sant’Anna
  •  Arcangela took vows at age 14 in 1620, but did not wear a habit or cut her hair by until forced to by Cardinal Cornaro and the Patriarch of Venice.
  • She wrote of Cardinal Cornaro, explaining that “He made me amend my vanities. I cut off my hair, but I did not uproot my emotions. I reformed my life, but my thoughts flourish rampantly, and just like my shorn hair, grow all the more.” (from Paradiso monacale or The Monastic Paradise (published 1643)
  • Arcangela once wrote that, by living as a nun, she was “living a lie.”
  • She had a large and varied correspondence and often had visitors.

The Ultimate Rebel: The Courtesan

The difference in a courtesan and a noble woman, is the courtesan looks a man in the eye
Cesare Vecellio - Cortigiana from his Habiti
Called a cortigiana, feminine of cortigiano ("courtier") came to refer to a person who attends the court, and then to a well-educated and independent woman, eventually a trained artist or artisan of dance and singing, especially one associated with wealthy, powerful, or upper-class society who provided luxuries and status in exchange for entertainment and companionship.
Renaissance Venetian society recognized three different classes of courtesans as listed in the 1518 census: the cortigiana onesta, the intellectual courtesan, and the cortigiana da lume or da candela lower-class prostitutes who tended to live and practice their trade near the Rialto Bridge  (literally meaning lantern courtesan), and finally the courtesana puttana or whore.
The difference in dress between a Venetian Noblewoman and a Venetian Courtesan would have been almost undetectable, leading to a lot of confusion for visitors. The main difference shown in Vecellio's woodcut is that the courtesan is lifting her veil and looks at a man directly in the eye.
Veronica Franco  (1546–1591) was perhaps the most celebrated member of the cortigiana onesta, her mother Paola is known to have been a courtesan as well from her listing in the Catalogo di tutte le principal et più honorate cortigiane di Venetia - The Courtesan Catalog of Venice. (A rare edition exists in Museo Civico Correr in Venice) Veronica was hardly the only onesta in 16th-century Venice who could boast of a fine education and considerable literary and artistic accomplishments. Intriguingly, she also wrote against the common prostitute in virulent tones.

Other famous Italian Courtesans:

Imperia La Divina, (Imperia The Divine), also called The Queen, (1481 - Rome, 15 August 1512),
  • She is counted as the first famous courtesan in Europe.
  • The banker Agostino Chigi was the regular and main client of Imperia.

Tullia d'Aragona (c. 1510–1556) Lived in Rome until 30, then Venice, Ferrara, Siena, Florence, and Rome
  • Writer and Intellectual
  • Daughter of a courtesan: Giulia Campana/Giulia Ferrarese

Isabella de Luna (died 1564), was an famous Italian (originally from Granada in Spain) Courtesan of Renaissance Rome
  •  Former campfollower supposedly, was present at the attack on Tunis in 1535. She bought a home in Rome in 1544
  • Main client Roberto Strozzi.

Jutta Gisela Sperling
University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2000)

Rudolph M. Bell
University of Chicago Press (October 1, 2000)

Judith M. Bennett  (Editor), Amy M. Froide (Editor)
University of Pennsylvania Press (December 1, 1998)

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy

Andrea Bayer and Beverly Louise Brown
Metropolitan Museum of Art; First Edition edition (November 25, 2008)

Mary Laven
Viking Adult; First Edition (March 10, 2003)

Joanne M. Ferraro
Oxford University Press

 John Cornwell
Basic Books (March 4, 2014)

Patricia Fortini Brown
Yale University Press; First Edition edition (July 2004)

Nicholas Terpstra

By Stanley Chojnacki
The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Vol. 5, No. 4, The History of the Family, II (Spring, 1975), pp. 571-600
Published by: The MIT Press
DOI: 10.2307/202860

By Meghan Laslocky
August 28, 2012

Deborah L. Krohn
November 2008

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