Lucrezia Marinella

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by Lindsay Smith

Lucrezia Marinella (c.1571-1653) also known as Lucrezia Marinelli Vacca, was born in Venice, Italy[1] to the physician and natural philosopher Giovanni Marinelli.  Nothing is known of Marinella’s mother; she may have died in childbirth. [2] Giovanni Marinelli wrote several books on natural philosophy, rhetoric, and medicine, including female medicine and beauty. His professional focus on women’s health may have introduced Marinella to the plight of women in her society.[3] Marinella’s family encouraged her education, and she would later acknowledge her father’s support of women’s education in general. Her father died sometime before 1600 and Marinella may have lived with her brother Cruzio, also a physician, for many years. Marinella married another physician, Girolamo Vacca, in 1625 and had a son, Antonio, and a daughter, Paulina.[4]

Marinella’s writing demonstrated her proficiency in natural philosophy, as well as her support of women’s rights in Italian society. In 1600, Marinella wrote The Nobility and Excellence of Women, and the Defects and Vices of Men in response to Giuseppe Passi’s 1599 publication on the defects of women, Dei donneschi difetti. Passi’s treatise accused women of various negative characteristics including pride, avarice, gluttony, drunkenness, ingratitude, dishonesty, adultery, and vanity. Marinella turned the main points of Passi’s argument upside down and wrote that each “deficiency” actually rendered the female sex superior.[5] Marinella wrote, “It is the custom for those who write on any subject or topic to be driven or motivated by a specific goal…[Mine] is to make this truth shine forth to everybody, that the female sex is nobler and more excellent than the male.”[6]  She dedicated her work to a family friend, Lucio Scarano, another physician who may have had a hand in her exemplary education as a young woman. A second edition of The Nobility, with fifteen additional chapters, was published a year later.

While Marinella had many avid fans including Francesco Sansovino, Francesco Agostino Della Chiesa, and Arcangela Tarabotti, she lived a private life, and was not known to have visited academies or fellow intellectuals. It was common for Venetian women to remain in their homes for most of their lives, and her behavior was praised by men who thought she was an exemplary woman.[7] Marinella died of quartan fever, a form of malaria, in 1653.

Marinella wrote mostly religious poetry, her most popular The Life of the Virgin Mary, Empress of the Universe, which had four editions. However, her only secular, prose piece, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, is now celebrated as one of the earliest Italian feminist treatises. For the time in which she was writing, Marinella’s work is unique principally because of her treatment of female characters. Instead of women becoming inflamed with erotic love or serving as silent idols for men to worship, Marinella writes of women with emotional depth. Her female characters experience heavenly devotion as well as friendship and family adoration, and are never overcome by romantic passion or presented as inferior to male characters. Unlike the clichéd female characters created by most writers of her time, Marinella’s women do not need romance, sex, or marriage to be fulfilled, and exhibit an intellectual equality with male characters.[8]

Works:

The Holy Dove (La colomba sacra) (1595)

Life of the Seraphic and Glorious St. Francis (Vita del serafico et glorioso San Francesco) (1597)

Cupid in Love and Driven Mad (Amore innamorato eimpazzato) (1598)

The Nobility and Excellence of Women, and the Defects and Vices of Men (1600)

The Life of the Virgin Mary, Empress of the Universe (La vita di Maria Virgine Imperatrice dell’ universo) (1602)

Sacred Verses (Rime sacre) (1603)

Happy Arcadia (Arcadia felice) (1605)

St. Peter’s Tears (Le lagrime di San Pietro) (1606)

The Life of St. Justine (Vita di Santa Giustina in ottava rima) (1606)

Vite de’ dodeci heroi di Christo, et de ‘Quatro Evangelisti(1617)

The Heroic Deeds and Marvellous Life of the Seraphic St. Catherine of Siena (De’ gesti heroici e della vita meravigliosa della serafica Santa Caterina da Siena)(1624)

Henry of Byzantium Gained (L’Enrico overo Bisanzio acquistato) (1635)

Essortationi alle donne et a gl’altri se a loro saranno a grado (1645).

Holocausto d’amore della vergine Santa Giustina (1648).

[1] Mary Hays, “Lucrezia Marinella,”Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes). (London: R. Phillips, 1803), vol. 6, 474-76, on 474.

[2] Lucrezia Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, and the Defects and Vices of Men, trans. Anne Dunhill (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 14.

[3] Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, 3.

[4]Christine Ristaino, “Marinelli, Lucretia,” Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803) Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part III (Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013), vol. 9, 476-78, editorial notes, 581-82, on 581.

[5] Paola Malpezzi Price, “Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653),” Italian Women Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook, ed. Rinaldina Russell (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 1994), 239.

[6] Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, 16.

[7] Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, 6.

[8] Marinella, The Nobility and Excellence of Women, 14.

Bibliography

Catnolati, Antonella. A portrait of a Renaissance feminist: Lucrezia Marinella’s life and works. Roma: Aracne, 2013.

Cox, Virginia. Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400–1650. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World, ed. Tiffany K. Wayne. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011.

Haskins, Susan; Vittoria Colonna; Chiara Matraini; and Lucrezia Marinella. Who is Mary?: Three early modern women on the idea of the Virgin Mary. Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Hays, Mary. Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries (6 volumes). London: R. Phillips, 1803, vol. 6, 474-76.

Jordan, Constance. Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1990.

Marinella, Lucrezia. The Nobility and Excellence of Women, and the Defects and Vices of Men, trans. Anne Dunhill. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Marinella, Lucrezia; and Laura Benedetti, Centre for and Renaissance Studies. Exhortations to women and to others if they please. Toronto : Iter Incorporated, 2012.

Marinella, Lucrezia and Maria Galli Stampino. Enrico, or, Byzantium conquered: a heroic poem. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Malpezzi Price, Paola. “Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653),” Italian Women Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Sourcebook, ed. Rinaldina Russell. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Ristaino, Christine. “Marinelli, Lucretia.” Mary Hays, Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries 1803. Chawton House Library Series: Women’s Memoirs, ed. Gina Luria Walker, Memoirs of Women Writers Part II. Pickering & Chatto: London, 2013, vol. 9, 476-78, editorial notes, 581-82.

Resources:

Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Lucretia Marinelli
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/lucretia_marinelli.php

 

Page citation:
Lindsay Smith. “Lucrezia Marinella.” Project Continua (January 30, 2014): Ver. 1, [date accessed], http://www.projectcontinua.org/Lucrezia Marinella/

 

 

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