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Renowned in her day for her scholarship and eloquence, Isotta Nogarola (1418-66) remained one of the most famous women of the Italian Renaissance for centuries after her death. And because she was one of the first women to carve out a place for herself in the male-dominated republic of letters, Nogarola served as a crucial role model for generations of aspiring female artists and writers.
This volume presents English translations of all of Nogarola's extant works and highlights just how daring and original her convictions were. In her letters and orations, Nogarola elegantly synthesized Greco-Roman thought with biblical teachings. And striding across the stage in public, she lectured the Veronese citizenry on everything from history and religion to politics and morality. But the most influential of Nogarola's works was a performance piece, Dialogue on Adam and Eve, in which she discussed the relative sinfulness of Adam and Eve—thereby opening up a centuries-long debate in Europe on gender and the nature of woman and establishing herself as an important figure in Western intellectual history. This book will be a must read for teachers and students of Women's Studies as well as of Renaissance literature and history.
The early letters by and to Isotta Nogarola, sometimes jointly with her elder sister Ginevra, circulated among a close circle of humanistically trained aristocrats closely related to the Nogarola family, one of the leading noble clans of Verona. The quality of those relationships was conditioned to some extent by the longer history of the author's city and family.
Today a flourishing city of northeastern Italy, Verona was then a considerable town that had only recently lost its independence to its grander neighbor, the republic of Venice, perched on the Adriatic Sea. From its origins until the last years of the fourteenth century, Venice had looked seaward and had expanded down the Balkan coast and eastward toward the Levant. After its last mighty struggle with archrival Genoa, however, in the Chioggian war of 1378-80, Venice turned away from maritime preoccupations and launched a project of territorial expansion in northern Italy that, at its high tide, reached as far west as, and even a little beyond, the other most populous northern city, Milan. In the early years of the fifteenth century, Venice acquired the nearby strongholds of Padua (home to the major university of the region), Vicenza, and Verona (in 1405), among others. With those acquisitions, Venice became an imperial ruler of the terra ferma, or "solid land," as it had been and continued to be of its maritime colonies and protectorates.
The warrior nobility of the mainland cities, the social stratum to which the Nogarola clan belonged, underwent a significant transformation with the Venetian conquest. Previously, the supporters of the signori, or local despots, who themselves had emerged from the noble clans, they now became the loyal clients of the Venetian state, from which they could expect economic opportunities, political offices, and the possibility of advantageous marriages. The Nogarola marriages attest to the shift. From the fourteenth and into the fifteenth century, Nogarolas married into some of the major families of northern Italy: della Scala (Scaligeri), Lamberto, Malespina, della Porcia, Castronovo; and Isotta's sister Laura married into the Venetian nobility, becoming the wife of Niccolò Tron. At the same time, the Nogarola men continued to achieve important career advancement in the Veronese state (under Venetian overlordship) and the church. In addition, the Nogarolas established relationships with the Venetian military and civilian governors and diplomats who rotated into office in Venice and with a Venetian cleric who won the important position of Bishop of Verona. The letters and orations of Isotta Nogarola often commented upon these relationships and reaffirmed her family's loyalty to the dominant state that had, in fact, just a generation earlier overrun her town and that, in 1414, had caused the execution for treason of her paternal uncle, whose avocation was the writing of verse.
If the Nogarola family was deeply involved in past and present politics, another aspect of its tradition was its important participation in cultural life. In the century before Isotta's emergence as a humanist author, both male and female Nogarolas had been noted for their scholarship and literary pursuits. Early in the fifteenth century, Isotta's aunt Angela, the sister of the unfortunate Giovanni, was a productive author, largely of moralizing verse-and, having married into a Vicentine family, became mother and grandmother of learned men.
The intellectual careers of Nogarola's forebears, male and female, unfolded in an age before humanism had become the dominant intellectual tradition that it would become in the fifteenth century. The evidence of naming suggests an interest among some Nogarola ancestors in late-medieval romance literature. The name of Isotta's grandfather's grandfather, Gufredus, is the Italianized form of "Siegfried," a central figure of Germanic romance. Some family members of an older generation must have suggested the names given Isotta and her sister Ginevra, Italian forms, respectively, of the romance heroines Isolde and Guinevere. These were not names commonly chosen in the Veronese or Venetian cultural milieu, where the names of saints and exemplary ancestors were favored. They are tantalizing suggestions of the literary world of Isotta's Nogarola forebears, whose taste for ultramontane romance matter accords well with their participation in the social stratum of the warrior nobility in a northern Italian milieu more generally characterized by an urbanized and commercial culture.
Although Leonardo, the father of Isotta and Ginevra, died young (between 1425 and 1433), their mother Bianca, from the Paduan Borromeo clan (similar in many ways to the Veronese Nogarolas) actively supervised the rearing of her many children-and, conspicuously, although she herself was illiterate, the education of her daughters in the latest humanist mode. The Nogarola brothers-Ludovico, Antonio, and Leonardo (Jacopo had died young) all proceeded to important careers as statesmen, intellectuals, or clergy, attainments indicating that they had received, under a tutor or at a school perhaps chosen at Bianca's direction, a solid education through the secondary level. For her daughters, Bianca chose as tutor the Veronese teacher Martino Rizzoni (1404-88), who lived with the household for several years afer 1431. Rizzoni was himself the student of the even more famous Veronese intellectual, the greatest of the generation, Guarino Guarini, known as Guarino "Veronese" or "Guarino from Verona." Guarino, a master of Greek as well as Roman literature, was one of the major pedagogues of the first generation of mature Italian humanism (who include also Pier Paolo Vergerio, Vittorino da Feltre, Gasparino Barzizza, and the like). Isotta's sisters Bartolommea, Laura, Samaritana, and Isabella may also have studied with Rizzoni, along with Isotta and Ginevra. But it was these latter two who excelled and who in their adolescence attracted the attention of local notables and intellectuals because of their extraordinary progress in the difficult humanist curriculum-one to which at this time only a handful of privileged men had access.
Two such local figures appeared among the earliest correspondents of the two sisters. The first, Ognibene da Lonigo-or Leoniceno, an Italianized form of the Latin Leonicenus-was a humanist teacher of the Guarinian type, who would attain a wide reputation in Venice and the Veneto. A young man in the 1430s, he had received the patronage of Bianca Borromeo, the mother of the Nogarola sisters (as appears from his letter) and would later be supported in his career by Leonardo Nogarola; and at an unspecified date he would recite in Vicenza the funeral oration for Elisabetta Nogarola, the sister of Isotta's father, who had resided there, the wife of the nobleman Jacopo da Thiene. Ognibene subsequently became the teacher of Benedetto Brognoli (1427-1502), who would in 1466 become the master of Venice's publicly funded humanist school for future state secretaries; and of the eminent Venetian nobleman, humanist, and statesman Francesco Diedo (1433-84), a correspondent, in turn, of the nobleman Ludovico Foscarini, who will appear often in these pages. In 1454, he delivered an oration celebrating the award of a degree in canon law to Pietro Foscari, papal notary, primicerius (head chaplain) of the doge's vast chapel of San Marco in Venice and nephew of doge Francesco Foscari (whose son Jacopo would soon join the roster of Nogarola correspondents). To have been selected to give an oration for a person of such eminence is a clear indicator of the high reputation Ognibene had achieved a generation after his letter to the Nogarola sisters, with which their correspondence opens.
Ognibene wrote the two sisters at some point during the period 1433-36, when Isotta turned eighteen. His letter alludes to Bianca Borromeo's support for him and commends the sisters for their great accomplishments in the study of the liberal arts. As a gift to them and to their mother, he had translated from the Greek a work by the early church father John Chrysostom, On Virginity, and now sends them a copy of his Latin version. A slight thing, this first letter is nevertheless striking for two reasons: first, because of the seriousness with which the young women's studies are viewed; and, second, because of the introduction of the theme of virginity, virtually a constant in the history of the intellectual lives of women in the premodern West. Virginity was conceived of, not only by Ognibene but by centuries of male thinkers and experts, as the ideal state, especially for women, and even more so for women who had acquired literacy and aspired to higher learning.
No letter survives in which either Nogarola sister responds to Ognibene. This lacuna does not mean that such a letter was not written. The letter collections of this period are both artful constructions and the product of accident. In some cases, letters were written which their authors or others decided not to preserve. In others, letters were written, but have been lost over the course of nearly six hundred years, all the more likely to have happened in the age before print because of the rarity and fragility of manuscript versions. These comments pertain to all those situations where letters appear to be "missing" from the Nogarola correspondence.
A second local figure in communication with the Nogarola sisters was Giorgio Bevilacqua (1406 to after 1463), a Veronese nobleman of considerable humanist reputation. A student of Guarino's who studied law at Padua and Bologna, Bevilacqua later threw his lot in with the dominant Venetian Republic. He dedicated works to the Venetian noblemen Marco Donato, Zaccaria Barbaro, and Ludovico Foscarini, and became the secretary and literary counselor of another one: Jacopo Antonio Marcello, to whom Isotta also would dedicate a work many years later (see chapter 10). Like Isotta Nogarola and Ognibene Leoniceno, as a citizen of a mainland north Italian city that had come under Venetian sway, Bevilacqua's career was intricately involved with figures from Venetian political and cultural life.
In these early years of his career, however, he was a university student, the friend of Isotta's brother Antonio and of Jacopo Lavagnola, also Veronese, a fellow university student who had studied with Guarino and who, by 1438, would marry Isotta's sister Bartolommea. In the extant correspondence, he writes the Nogarola sisters three times: in February and April 1436 and in June 1437 (but possibly 1436); Isotta responds to him twice, in July 1437 (see below). In his first letter, from the university town of Padua, which trained most of the lawyers and physicians of the Veneto, and its native aristocracy, Bevilacqua recalls having seen the sisters in Verona-"and found you amid your studies and the rich books of Cicero like the handmaidens of Calliope"-and sends them a copy of a work by Lactantius and requests the return of his copy of Livy. In the second, also from Padua, he especially commends their mother, whom he likens to Cornelia, the daughter of Roman general Scipio Africanus and famed as the mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, two heroic and principled Roman statesmen who were killed for their political stands; like her, Bianca Borromeo has chosen the finest tutors for her children. In this letter, too, he praises the letter (not extant, to our knowledge) that he received from them, which testified, he believed, to their humanist achievements. In the third, from Bologna, he notes that the sisters' fame is public knowledge in that city and that Verona had won renown not only for its learned men but, because of them, for its learned women. In addition, he sends them another gift, a book, like the first, and like the Chrysostom sent by Ognibene, Christian in theme: a devotional work on the death of Saint Jerome.
It is noteworthy that these promoters of learning in the two Nogarola women, by the nature of the books they chose as gifts, fostered their pursuit of sacred literature. This pattern could indicate some underlying distrust of women's pursuit of learning, with the intent to channel those aspirations in the safe direction of sacred studies. Or it could point to standards of social decorum that would encourage young men to send books to young women that were properly devotional in nature. Whatever the intent on the part of the givers, the message to the recipients must have been clear: in response to their publicized entry into the res publica litterarum, the "republic of letters," they received mainly Christian works.
Two other correspondents of Nogarola's in these earliest years were the Venetian nobleman Ermolao Barbaro (1410-71), known to the family through Lavagnola, and the Paduan nobleman Antonio Borromeo, her maternal uncle. Borromeo, to whom Isotta writes in 1436 or 1437 and at whose Venetian home the family stays during the years 1438-40, is known only to be a substantial figure of the Paduan elite. Ermolao Barbaro, however, was a conspicuous figure. The nephew of Francesco Barbaro, perhaps the most famous Venetian nobleman of this generation when large reputations were won in the Milanese wars, Ermolao was a student at the University of Padua at least intermittently betwen 1431 and 1436. It was during this period that Nogarola wrote him, probably in 1434, at his request and that of Lavagnola. Already holding the prestigious title of apostolic protonotary (precociously, since he was only 24 years old at the time of Isotta's letter), Barbaro went on to have a notable clerical and humanist career. He was made bishop of Treviso in 1443 and Bishop of Verona in 1453; in Verona, at that much later date, he would renew his acquaintance with Isotta Nogarola (see below, chapter 8). Barbaro was also an author of several works, most notably of the Orationes contra poetas (Orations against the Poets), a humanist attack on the study of secular classical authors.
These, then, were the figures surrounding Nogarola as she and her sister first attempted to make themselves known to the male intellectuals of their era. They included teachers and students and noblemen from both the interior mainland towns and the preeminent republic of Venice. They were related to the young women as figures known to the Nogarola family, especially to mother Bianca, or vouched for by close friends or kin.
The correspondence with these figures is uncertainly dated, but its outside limits are 1434 to 1437, a period during which Isotta matured from sixteen to nineteen years of age. Although a political career was barred to the two sisters because of their gender, literary ventures were not; and there were women writers among their Nogarola forebears who could guide them on that path. It is a path they undertook together in the mid-1430s.
Isotta Nogarola to Ermolao Barbaro: Verona, probably 1434
Since he had invited her to do so, through a family friend (and future brother-in-law), Jacopo Lavagnola, Nogarola introduces herself to Barbaro as an author of letters in classical Latin style and thus a member of the coterie of youthful humanist professionals and amateurs. She praises Barbaro and his prominent Venetian noble family.
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Series Editors' Introduction
Volume Editors' Introduction
List of Works Cited
Chapter 1: Kin, Friends, and Books (1434-37)
1. Isotta Nogarola to Ermolao Barbaro (probably 1434)
Isotta Nogarola to Giorgio Bevilacqua (July 1436 or 1437)
Isotta Nogarola to Giorgio Bevilacqua (July 1436 or 1437)
Isotta Nogarola to Antonio Borromeo (1436 or 1437)
Chapter 2: Guarino's Circle (1436-38)
Isotta Nogarola to Jacopo Foscari (Verona, September 1436)
Isotta Nogarola to Guarino Veronese (Verona, shortly after 11 October 1436)
Isotta Nogarola to Guarino Veronese (Verona, April 10, 1437)
Isotta Nogarola to Girolamo Guarini (Verona, beginning of 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Ludovico Cendrata (Verona, beginning of 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Tobia dal Borgo (Verona, January or February 1438)
Chapter 3: Venice and Beyond (1438-39)
Isotta Nogarola to Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini (Verona, 29 March 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Niccolò Venier (Verona, probably after 8 June 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Feltrino Boiardo (perhaps Verona, 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Niccolò Barbo (Venice, between 9 Dec. 1438 and 25 Jan. 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Cardinal Francesco Condulmier (Venice, 1439)
Chapter 4: Damiano (1438-41)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, 10 September 1438)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, January 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Eusebio dal Borgo (Venice, January 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, February or March 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, April 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, between 5 May and 10 September 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Eusebio dal Borgo (Venice, towards the end of November 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, 3 December 1439)
Isotta Nogarola to Damiano dal Borgo (Venice, 18 April 1439 or 1440)
Chapter 5: The Book-Lined Cell (1441-early 1450s)
Lauro Quirini to Isotta Nogarola (Padua, 1445-48 or 1451-52)
Chapter 6: Foscarini (1451-66)
Isotta Nogarola to Ludovico Foscarini (Verona, 1451)
Ludovico Foscarini to Isotta Nogarola (Brescia, early 1453)
Chapter 7: The Great Gender Debate (1451)
Dialogue on the Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve (1451)
Chapter 8: The Black Swan: Two Orations for Ermolao Barbaro (1453)
Oration to the Very Reverend Lord Ermolao Barbaro, Bishop of Verona (1453)
Oration in Praise of Saint Jerome (1453)
Chapter 9: Pope Pius II and the Congress of Mantua (1459)
Isotta Nogarola to Pope Pius II at the Congress of Mantua (1 August 1459)
Chapter 10: The Consolation for Marcello and the Friuli Connection (1461)
A Consolatory Letter to Jacopo Antonio Marcello (9 August 1461)
Appendix A: Concordance between Abel Edition and the King/Robin Translation
Appendix B: A Chronological List of Sources Cited by Isotta Nogarola