Suzanne G. Cusick argues that Caccini’s career depended on the usefulness of her talents to the political agenda of Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine, Tuscany’s de facto regent from 1606 to 1636. Drawing on Classical and feminist theory, Cusick shows how the music Caccini made for the Medici court sustained the culture that enabled Christine’s power, thereby also supporting the sexual and political aims of its women.
In bringing Caccini’s surprising story so vividly to life, Cusick ultimately illuminates how music making functioned in early modern Italy as a significant medium for the circulation of power.
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Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court
Music and the Circulation of Power
By Suzanne G. Cusick
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2009 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Figliuola del celebratissimo Giulio Romano
Francesca Caccini was born Friday, 18 September 1587, six and seven-eighths hours after sunset, in the Florentine parish of San Michele Visdomini, under the sign of Virgo. The oldest legitimate child of Giulio Caccini and the firstborn of her mother, the singer Lucia di Filippo Gagnolandi, she was baptized later that day in Florence's Baptistry. Her godmother, Francesca del Signor Rustico Piccardini, the wife of a horse trainer in the Medici's service, held her at the font, along with Girolamo Guicciardini, whom her official godfather, Pandolfo de' Bardi, had sent as his substitute. Afterward, the Piccardini and Bardi families probably sponsored a banquet to honor her parents and her birth, although by tradition the festivities would have been muted because the couple's first child was a girl.
In early modern Italy the birth of a girl was taken as a sign that one parent or the other was not strong enough to have produced a fully formed male child. Moreover, unlike a male child (who would inherit, build, and pass on his father's property), a female child would drain her father's patrimony when, in keeping with the dowry system, he had to pay another family or a religious institution to accept responsibility for her in adulthood. Francesca's father took his responsibility to dower his baby daughter seriously. On 8 April 1588, when she was almost seven months old, Giulio signed contracts in his mentor Giovanni de' Bardi's city home according to whose terms land and farm buildings in Fiesole were sold to one Bartolemeo da Brucianese. Of the 1,120 scudi that Giulio realized from the sale, 600 were to be deposited in Giulio's account at the Monte di Pietà, Florence's principal dowry bank. Twenty years later, those 600 scudi would be transferred to the account of Francesca's first husband, in partial payment of her dowry.
For most of her contemporaries and for posterity, Francesca was first known in the way women in patriarchal societies usually are: as the daughter of her father, "the most celebrated Giulio Romano." What did that mean for Francesca?
To be the daughter of Giulio Caccini meant to have been born into an ambitious family of ambiguous social rank. Born in Rome on 8 October 1551, Giulio Caccini was the second son of a woodworker from Montopoli, near Pisa, so ambitious to improve his children's circumstances that he had moved his household to Rome. All three of Michelangelo Caccini's sons were successful artistic workers. The eldest, Orazio, became maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome; the youngest, Giovanni Battista, became one of Florence's most fashionable sculptor-architects; Giulio was among the most highly praised singers and singing teachers in Italian history. When Francesca was born, Giulio was thirty-six, already the father of an eight-year-old natural son, Pompeo, and the second most highly paid musician on the staff of the Medici household, earning sixteen scudi per month.
Musicians of the Medici household were construed by their masters less as employees than as members of a relational web called the famiglia. When he had entered the Medici's service in the mid-1560s, Giulio Caccini had surrendered his rights over his artistic and intellectual work, over his and his children's marriages, and over his and his family's whereabouts. In exchange, the Medici guaranteed that he and his family would enjoy the ruling family's favors, which were likely to include dowry assistance for daughters, job placements for sons, and pensions for those too old or ill to continue useful work. In addition, musical service in the Medici famiglia promised a modest but steady income, a housing allowance, and access to gifts for extraordinary service; these were as likely to come from the Medici's princely guests as from family members. Giulio's position in the Medici household thus all but guaranteed that his daughter Francesca would experience some kind of intervention by the grand duke in her education and marriage, and it guaranteed all his children access to powerful people and to dreams of their own empowerment.
Giulio Caccini was a sometimes difficult man who chafed at the gap between his actual social rank and that of people in the elite world he served. His contemporaries knew him to participate in such common but slightly disreputable activities as gambling, speculating in currency and stocks, and openly longing to be treated as an equal by the aristocrats among whom he so often moved. Giulio wrote boastful letters to his patrons, shamelessly took credit for the virtuosa performances for which his two wives and his eldest daughters were praised, and often complained to the court that he needed money. Indeed, although he had at least two sources of income other than his salary — a business trafficking in "cipolle" (probably bulb plants, an attractive commodity for investment) and the most active singing studio in Florence — his claim of financial woes may have been justified, for by 1606 he was the father of at least ten children by three women. Giulio could be a good father, tirelessly promoting the interests of his children, but he could also be a paternal tyrant and a deadbeat. In 1602, his son Pompeo allowed himself to be charged with raping Ginevra Mazziere, to whom he had been teaching a part in the opera L'Euridice, so that the courts would require him to marry the girl and thus overrule Giulio's implacable opposition to the union.
A decade later, in 1611, Giulio reneged for so long on the dowry he had contracted to pay his daughter Settimia's husband, Alessandro Ghivizzani, that the Ghivizzani family abducted her and held her for ransom in Lucca. Giulio, the twenty-two-year-old Francesca, and Settimia herself wrote to Medici cousin Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, imploring that he ask the grand duchess to order the court's payment of the balance due. Giulio's letters about the matter imply that the court's failure to honor its obligation to one of its servants was to blame for the imbroglio. Yet other letters insinuate that Giulio was at fault for supposing that his family's professional excellence entitled them to special treatment. In fact, Giulio's proud breaching of the boundaries of social rank often caused him to depend on the intercession of his social betters for rescue. At age sixty, the infirm and financially strapped Giulio was placed under house arrest for refusing to cede the right of way to the higher-born Ottavio Archilei (son of fellow court musicians Vittoria and Antonio). Nearly everyone in Florence's musical and courtly establishments wrote letters on his behalf before the city authorities would set him free.
The years of Francesca's childhood were not tranquil. In 1588 her mother Lucia — and all the rest of Florence's musical women — had been fired as part of the policy of the new grand duke, Ferdinando I, of purging Francesco I's luxuries from the court. Giulio immediately sought work that would include stipends for himself and his wife elsewhere, negotiating unsuccessfully for a position at Ferrara in 1589 and again in 1592. When Lucia died on 8 January 1593, Giulio was left with three children under the age of six, in addition to the fourteen-year-old Pompeo, and with no immediate hope of a second salary to offset expenses. Giulio was fired six months later because of a dispute over the affections of a courtesan known only as "la Gamberella," whose singing lessons with Giulio were subsidized by her lover Antonio Salviati, a patrician banker whose complaint Ferdinando I could not ignore. Struggling to support himself and his family with the revenues from his singing studio, his financial trading, and his performing, in 1594 Giulio somehow found the resources to enter a long-term lease agreement with the Arte della Lana for property near Santissima Annunziata and to marry Margherita di Agostino della Scala, "Bargialli," an eighteen-year-old singer from so poor a family she brought only one hundred scudi as a dowry. Giulio declined tantalizing offers of support from consortia of gentlemen in Florence and Genoa in 1595 but seems not to have returned to the stability of court service until October 1600. Then, only days before the wedding of Marie de' Medici to Henri IV of France, he returned to the Medici payroll with his old monthly stipend of sixteen scudi.
The Caccini household teemed with activity. It was frequented by Giulio's many music pupils and by the poets, painters, musicians and melophiles of Florence's elite classes who flocked to visit the celebrated Giulio Romano and his increasingly celebrated family. At least one such melophile, Sinolfo Ottieri, sometimes joined Francesca's and Settimia's music making, lavishing them with gifts of jewels and "treating them with such reverence and humility that he seemed to be dealing with princesses." Amid the commotion, Giulio arranged to educate his eldest daughter — whom Bronzini characterized as "a girl of the sharpest intelligence" — as if she had been a child of the propertied class destined to life as a donna at court, like Tarqinia Molza, or as a learned monastic woman, like Isotta Nogarola. Francesca studied Latin, rhetoric, poetics, geometry, astrology, philosophy, contemporary languages, "humanistic studies," and even a little Greek until the sudden death of her tutor interrupted that study. She inclined so much to her books that Bronzini would claim, "If she had been allowed (as were Lastheneia and Axiothea, the disciples of Plato) to go in boys' clothing to public school she would have done as well as other renowned women and people of our time." Especially devoted to geometry, astrology, and "the occult sciences," Francesca also acquired a fine chancellory hand. Music, Bronzini reported, was something she had at first studied "only as a pastime, and to please her father."
The effect of such a childhood on such a girl can only be imagined. It seems possible that the intellectually gifted Francesca could have internalized, along with her lessons, her father's ambition, his pride in the achievement of personal excellence, a taste for hubbub, and an anxious, internally confused sense of herself as both dependent on the power of others and worthy to be treated as if she were a princess. But because she was a daughter, not a son, of the celebrated Giulio Romano, this was not the sum of her formation. She had also been educated in the social graces expected of a gentlewoman, trained to behave in ways that would allow her a much smoother social life than that of her sometimes ill-mannered father.
The Institution of Womanhood
A rich body of advice literature concerning ways to train girls for genteel womanhood circulated in early modern Italy. Whether they were erudite letterati, enterprising publishers, or hacks, authors affirmed that three interrelated virtues constituted the center of gravity for the institution of womanhood: castità, onestà, and continenza. Together they enclosed and policed a metaphysical space that defined a woman's relationship to the authority of fathers and, eventually, of husbands. A woman of onestà was absolutely faithful to her word, to her family, and eventually to her husband and his family; accommodating no efforts to breach her fidelity to authority, she was a person of unimpeachable integrity. A woman of castità was physically and morally untouched by desire. Mere physical intactness was not the whole of chastity, nor even its most important component. The crucial element was a woman's refusal of bodily or spiritual pollution, pollution that could as easily come from ideas, from dancing, or from overly spiced food as it could from the sexual intrusions of a man's body through the perimeters of hers.
To withdraw modestly from overstimulation was both to preserve and to demonstrate one's castità, and, as almost all who wrote about the subject observed, the reputation for castità was as crucial as the fact of it. Continenza, the third of these virtues, subsumed the others, for it was the virtue of self-containment. Demonstrated and elaborated most conclusively by adult married women, continenza linked a woman's personal onestà and castità to her wifely role as conservatrix of her husband's patrimony. A woman of continenza exercised moderation in her governo della casa (oversight of household expenses), her personal adornment, and her choices of food, wines, entertainments, and household guests. From an economic and political point of view, continenza was the crowning virtue of the ideal wife, who lived to preserve her husband's property. Her personal loyalty, her physical and spiritual chastity, her protection of her husband's home against inappropriate intrusions and of his patrimony from excessive expense — each was a sign of the other, the womanly virtues inextricably linked to each other by a notion of preserving and policing boundaries.
How might a girl such as Francesca have learned these overlapping concepts of enclosure? Training in onestà began with a girl's first games and toys. She was only to play in the presence of her mother, her wet-nurse, or other girls, lest in the presence of a boy she learn inadvertently to love him and the love prove difficult to uproot. Her toys were to model the tools she would later use in household management, so she would learn by play to lead a virtuous, chaste, industrious, and useful life. She was to be told stories that would develop her devotion to God, and she was to learn obedience and the self-discipline required for excellence from her father, learning to think of him as ruling the household as a prince ruled his state, with absolute authority. Fathers were never to forget the need to demonstrate their authority, however great their affection for their child. It was fathers — the only men Dolce mentioned as present in a young girl's life — who were charged with disciplining their daughters, exhorted to ensure that their daughters "weep often, and learn sadness so they might laugh and live happily when they are old."
At the time of weaning (about age four) a girl would be taught to read and to sew. Most writers specified that women's literacy should be different from men's; it should be a matter of reading, not writing, of receiving knowledge, not producing it. Properly both an ornament and a means to deepen a self-aware spirituality, a woman's literacy was not intrinsic to her identity, and it was not, as it was for men, the crucial means by which persuasion could intervene in relationships of power. By contrast, sewing and related skills defined womanhood across the boundaries of social class. Poor women needed to know spinning and weaving to help support their families, while wealthy girls — even princesses — were to spin and weave to avoid wasting their time amid the idle talk of young female attendants and women courtiers, lest their frail minds wander off in uncontrollably frivolous directions: "What sort of talk is theirs? ... Feminine thoughts are for the most part speedy, unstable, light, erring, and they don't know where to stop. ... They [upper-class women and princesses] should not imitate the females of Persia who pass their days sitting among their eunuchs in banquets and songs and continuous pleasures and lusts." Usefully tending to her textiles to prevent her mind from wandering, a virtuous woman would learn to focus her mind as a practice of constancy, a female virtue that was prerequisite to the total loyalty implied by onestà.
Because reading, too, could focus the mind, parents were advised exactly what their daughters ought to read in order to minimize their flightiness, develop their piety, and learn the moral philosophy needed for the prudent management of a household. Patristic writings by Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, Latin histories by Cicero, Livy, and Quintus Curcius, and the ethical writings of Plato and Seneca were all recommended for girls, unlike the Horace, Ovid, and Virgil that Bronzini claimed Francesca had studied. Modern or lascivious vernacular books such as the works of Boccaccio were forbidden, although virtuous girls could read Petrarch, Dante, Bembo, the Arcadia of Sannazaro, the morali and dialogues of Sperone Speroni, and Castiglione's Il libro del cortigiano, as well as books about the Virgin Mary.
Excerpted from Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court by Suzanne G. Cusick. Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Catharine R. Stimpson
Note to the Reader
Excerpts from Francesca Caccini’s Compositions on the Accompanying CD
1 Figliuola del celebratissimo Giulio Romano
2 “To win the girl”; or, Francesca as Object of Desire
3 Power, Desire, and Women among Themselves
4 Musica to the Granducato
5 Who Was This Woman?
6 Voice Lessons: Introducing the Primo libro delle musiche
7 Being, Doing, and Allegories of Voice
8 After Arianna
9 La liberazione di Ruggiero amid the Politics of Regency
10 Performance, Musical Design, and Politics in La liberazione di Ruggiero
11 Cataclysms of Widowhood
Appendix A. Francesca Caccini’s Known Performances and Compositions
Appendix B. Letters of Francesca Caccini, 1610–1641
Appendix C. Cristoforo Bronzini, Della dignità e nobiltà delle donne, I-Fn, Magl. VIII. 1525/1, 54–77