Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

T is for Lucrezia Tornabuoni

Lucrezia Tornabuoni (22 June 1427 – 25 March 1482) was a writer and influential political adviser. Connected by birth to two of the most powerful families in 15th-century Italy she later married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, connecting herself to another of the most powerful families in Italy and extending her own power and influence. She had significant political influence during the rule of her husband and that of her son, Lorenzo. She worked to support the needs of the poor and religion in the region, supporting several institutions. She was a patron of the arts, and also wrote poems and plays herself.

Lucrezia and Piero had eight children, including Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492). Piero presented Lucrezia with a desco da parto showing the Triumph of Fame by Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi, to celebrate the birth of their first son and heir. Piero and Lucrezia hired tutors, Gentile de’ Becchi and Cristoforo Landino among them, to educate their children in such subjects as philosophy, business, and politics, and to ensure that they acquired good taste in literary culture and the fine arts.

Lucrezia wrote religious stories, plays, and poetry. She read her poems to famous poets, comparing them with their compositions. Some of her poems were set to popular tunes and performed publicly, and published four years after she died.. She wrote stories about Esther, Susanna, Tobias, John the Baptist and Judith, in part to inspire and educate her grandchildren.

A significant patron of the arts, Lucrezia commissioned the Morgante by Luigi Pulci, who called her “a famous lady in our century.” She also supported the poet Angelo Poliziano, who was also a tutor for her grandchildren by Lorenzo. He would read Lucrezia’s poems to them. Lucrezia was a patron of Bernardo Bellincioni, with whom she would exchange humorous poems that they had written.

Lucrezia also supported several religious institutions. She was responsible for the addition of the Chapel of the Visitation in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. When Lucrezia recovered from an illness in 1467, she believed it was due to the intercession of Saint Romuald, and supported the hermitage at Camaldoli which he had founded.

Around 1475, Lucrezia’s brother Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned a portrait of her by Domenico Ghirlandaio, which is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She may also be represented in three scenes in Ghirlandaio’s frescos in the Tornabuoni Chapel: The Visitation, The Birth of the Baptist, and The Nativity of Mary.

Tornabuoni, Lucrezia, 1425-1482. Sacred narratives. Edited and translated by Jane Tylus. University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

S is for Tibors de Sarenom


Tibors is one of eight trobairitz with vidas, short Occitan biographies, often more hypothetical than factual. Research into Tibors the poet’s identification is hampered by the popularity of her name in Occitania during the period of her life.

Tibors was the daughter of Guilhem d’Omelas and Tibors d’Aurenga, who brought as dowry to her husband the castle of Sarenom, probably Sérignan-du-Comtat in Provence or perhaps Sérignan in the Roussillon. Sadly for historians and Occitanists, Tibors and Guilhem had two daughters, both named Tibors, after their mother.

Raimbaut d’Orange, the famous troubadour, was a younger son of Guilhem and Tibors and thus a younger brother of the two Tibors sisters. In 1150, Tibors d’Aurenga died and by her will left Raimbaut, then a minor, under the guardianship of her elder daughter Tibors and her son-in-law, Bertran dels Baus, who was Tibors’ second husband, with whom she had three sons: Uc, father of Barral of Marseille; Bertran, father of Raimon; and Guilhem, also a troubadour.

Of Tibors’ work only a single stanza of a canso with its attached vida and razo has survived. Nonetheless she is mentioned in an anonymous ballad dated to between 1220 and 1245, where she acts as the judge of a game of poetry. Her only extant work, Bels dous amics is translated below.

Sweet handsome friend, I can tell you truly
that I’ve never been without desire
since it pleased you that I have you as my courtly lover;
nor did a time ever arrive, sweet handsome friend,
when I didn’t want to see you often;
nor did I ever feel regret,
nor did it ever come to pass, if you went off angry,
that I felt joy until you had come back;
nor [ever]. . .

Looking into printed translations of Tibors, all I could find is this score.

Escot, Pozzi. Bel dous amics: soprano, oboe, viola. Publication Contact International, 1993.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

Q is for Li Qingzhao


Li Qingzhao was born in 1084, in Zhangqiu (in modern Shandong province). She was born to a family of scholar-officials, and her father was a student of Su Shi. The family had a large collection of books so that Li received a wide-ranging education in her childhood.

Before she got married, Li’s poetry was well-known in elite circles. In 1101, she married Zhao Mingcheng, with whom she shared interests in art collection and epigraphy. They lived in present-day Shandong. After her husband started his official career, he was often absent. They were not particularly rich but enjoyed collecting inscriptions and calligraphy, as well as sharing a love of poetry. Their shared interests inspired some of her later love poems.

During the Jin–Song wars, fighting took place in Shandong and Li’s house was burned. Li and her husband took many of their possessions when they fled to Nanjing, where they lived for a year. Zhao died in 1129 en route to an official post; Li never recovered from the death of her husband, but tried to keep safe what was left of their collection of bronze artifacts. Li also kept working on completing the book Jin shi lu, which was begun by Zhao, and described the calligraphy on the bronze and stones.

Only about a hundred of Li’s poems are known to survive, mostly in the ci form and tracing her varying fortunes in life. She is credited with the first detailed critique of the metrics of Chinese poetry. She was regarded as a master of wanyue pai “the delicate restraint”.

Two impact craters, Li Ch’ing-Chao on Mercury and Li Qingzhao on Venus, are named after her.

Li Qingzhao, 1081-circa 1141. Ch’ing-chao, Complete Poems. Translated from the Chinese and edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. New Directions, 1979.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

P is for Christine de Pizan


Christine de Pizan (1364-ca. 1431) was born in Venice to Tomasso de Pizzano, a graduate of the University in Bologna. In 1369, Charles V of France hired Tomasso as his medical advisor and Tomasso brought his wife and young daughter to Paris. Christine never lost sight of her Italian heritage, and is credited with introducing Dante and Boccaccio to French audiences. Although Christine was denied formal education, her father encouraged her intellectual curiosity.

In 1380, at age fifteen, Christine married Estienne du Castel, who had been appointed a secretary in the royal chancellery in that same year. However, Christine’s happy married life was short-lived. In the fall of 1390, Estienne died suddenly from an epidemic while traveling with the court. At age twenty-five, Christine was unprepared to become the sole support for her young children, as well as her mother, since Tommasso had died three years prior. Christine began writing love poems and confessional poetry, for which she received patronage from various members of the royal family, but she also began to study, beginning with Boethius and Ovid. 

From her studies, Christine became interested in the education of young people of both sexes, which remained a major theme of her writings for the rest of her life. In addition to the early works, the Epistre d’Othéa (The Letter of Othéa) and the Proverbes Moraulx (Moral Proverbs) written for her son Jean, Christine wrote two longer works on women, the Livre de la Cité des Dames ( The Book of the City of Ladies), an answer to Boccaccio’s view of women expressed in De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women) and the Livre des Trois Vertus (The Book of the Three Virtues), a guide to enable women to enjoy a more respected place in society. Christine wrote about whatever piqued her wide-ranging interests:  the art of warfare, the evils of civil war, and a biography of Charles V, commissioned by his brother, Jean, Duke of Burgundy. Several of her works found favor with many of the royal house and were dedicated to Louis d’Orleans, Philippe le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy and Isabeau de Bavière, among others.

Christine’s works were circulated in manuscript, printed, and translated well into the sixteenth century. After a period of obscurity, Christine was rediscovered for her part in the “Querelle de la rose,” a debate in which she criticized Jean de Meun’s continuation of Le Roman de la Rose for its misogyny. After this initial discovery, her works on the importance of education and the ability of women to learn have become part of the history of women writers in the medieval period.

Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards. Persea, 1982.

Christine de Pizan. A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor. Translated by Charity Cannon Willard. Edited by Madeleine P. Cosman. Persea, 1989.

Christine de Pizan. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Translated by Sumner Willard. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Christine de Pizan. The Writings of Christine de Pizan. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Persea, 1993.

Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. Persea, 1990.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

N is for Isotta Nogarola

Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466) was born to Bianca Borromeo and Leonardo Nogarola. Both her parents came from noble families with a humanist view of education, so that Isotta and her sisters studied Greek and Latin. Influenced by this classical education, Isotta wrote Latin epistles, poetry, orations, and dialogues. As one of the most famous female humanists of the Italian Renaissance, Isotta exchanged letters with other humanists, such as Lodovico Foscarini, Ermolao Barbaro, and Damiano del Borgo. Isotta inspired generations of female artists and writers. Her most influential work was a disputation between herself and Foscarini, The Dialogue on Adam and Eve, about whether Adam or Eve was the greater sinner. As defender of Eve, Isotta does mention the weakness of the female sex; however, she also argues that Eve had a compelling desire for knowledge, a desire innate in humankind. The Dialogue contributed to a debate on gender and the nature of women that lasted for centuries in Europe.

Nogarola, Isotta. Complete Writings. Edted and translated by Margaret L. King and Diane Robin. University of Chicago Press, 2003,

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

F is for Moderata Fonte

Moderata Fonte, pseudonym of Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi (or Zorzi), also known as Modesto Pozzo (or Modesta, feminization of Modesto), (1555–1592) was a Venetian writer and poet. Her uncle, Giovanni Niccolò Doglioni (1548-1629), wrote a biography of Moderata for the preface to her dialogue, Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women), which was published posthumously in 1600. Although Il Merito is Moderata’s best known work, she also wrote a romance, Floridoro and religious poetry, for which I could not find an English translation, but which is worth reading if one has Italian.

Fonte, Moderata, 1555–1592. The Worth of Women: Wherein is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Superiority to Men. Edited and translated by Virginia Cox. University of Chicago, 1997.

Fonte, Moderata,1555–1592. Floridoro: a chivalric romance. Edited with an introduction by Valeria Finucci ; translated by Julia Kisacky ; annotated by Valeria Finucci and Julia Kisacky. University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

C is for Laura Cereta

Laura Cereta (September 1469 – 1499), was a humanist, feminist scholar in fifteenth-century Italy. Cereta was among the first writers to put women’s issues at the forefront of her work. A renowned scholar in Brescia, Verona, and Venice in 1488-92, she is best known for the letters she wrote to other humanists around Italy and Europe. Laurae Ceretae Brixiensis Feminae Clarissimae Epistolae jam primum e MS in lucem productae a Jacopo Philippo Thomasino, qui eius vitam et notas addidit, which translates as An outstanding Brescian woman, Laura Cereta’s Letters now first produced into the light from manuscript by Jacobus Philippus Thomasinus, who added her life and notes was published in 1640. Authors in the 17th century were not known for their concise titles. 

Cereta discussed themes such as women’s education, war, and marriage in  her letters, although she also included childhood memories and other personal thoughts. Although these letters are addressed to particular scholars, they are also framed for a wider audience. Like her countryman Petrarch, Cereta sought fame and immortality through her writing. 

Cereta, Laura. Collected letters of a Renaissance feminist. Transcribed, translated, and edited by Diana Robin. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

B is for Juliana Berners


Juliana Berners, O.S.B., (or Barnes or Bernes), was born in 1388, and was probably the prioress of the Priory of St Mary of Sopwell, near St Albans in Hertfordshire.

It is likely that Juliana Berners was of the nobility or gentry, since most prioresses were from the gentle classes. Her love of hawking and hunting is also very common, given her upbringing. As a gentlewoman, she would not have been expected to give up her enjoyment of these pursuits upon entering the convent.  Juliana Berners is alleged to be the author of  The Boke of Saint Albans, first printed in 1486 by an unknown schoolmaster at St Albans. Although there is no title-page, the colophon at the end of the book gives “Dam Julyans Barnes” credit for writing the book.

When Wynkyn de Worde printed the book in 1496, still without a title-page, he changed her name in the colophon to “Dame Julyans Bernes.” De Worde also added other treatises: one about horses, and another about fishing. When Joseph Haslewood printed a facsimile of De Worde’s edition in 1811, he gave Juliana Berners credit for the section on hunting and part of the section on hawking, but said that the rest of the treatises were translations. I may be too sensitive, but it seems that Haslewood was trying to diminish Berners’ contribution to the work. Although she cannot be given credit for translating the treatises on horses or fishing that De Worde added to his edition, it is still an accomplishment for a woman of that period to have translated treatises on hawking or hunting as well.

I found it impossible to find a modern English rendition of The Book of St. Albans. There is a facsimile of the section by Juliana Berners, English hawking and hunting in the Boke of St. Albans by Rachel Hands, Oxford University Press, 1975. A facsimile of the entire book,  The Boke of St. Albans, was printed by Elliot Stock in 1881.