veronica franco

(1546-1591)

Veronica Franco attributed to Tintoretto

"When we too are armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards.  Women have not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow."

--Veronica Franco

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     Venice in the sixteenth century was a marvelous place for courtesans, rivaling Ancient Athens.  These Renaissance hetaira mixed with men of all sorts, from rich merchants to literary artist. They were often well educated, and capable of an intellectual, as well as sexual relationship, with their clients. A woman who succeeded in winning patrons who desired her company more than her body was called an "honest courtesan." Of course, only a select few achieved that status.
     One of these was Veronica Franco. She was trained for the job by her mother, who had in her youth been a courtesan. Veronica was an intelligent woman, and quickly became a fixture in the literary salons of Venice. Backed by her patrons, she published her poetry and letters. She was expert at a form of poetic dueling whereby she provided the female "half " of a dialogue, to which a male poet  would reply  (traditionally, male poets wrote both voices).  She used these poems to create a more positive image of courtesans in the public eye.
     Life was not all smooth for courtesans. Although they were adored by wealthy patrons, the common people saw them as symbols of vice.  They were often blamed for the moral degeneration of the city.  Veronica was forced into exile once during a plague. When she returned in 1577, she faced the Inquisition -- and charges of witchcraft. She defended herself in court using the same kind of poetic appeals she had once written playfully, but now in deadly earnest.  She won her freedom, but lost all her material goods. Eventually, her major patron died and left her with no support.  She probably died in poverty.
     Veronica was ill treated by her fellow Venetians, but Hollywood has attempted to make up for it. You can rent a movie based on her life:  Dangerous Beauty. They changed the ending a bit to make her victory more upbeat. The other ladies are understandably jealous, and seek agents.

cat at play

buttonAn essay on the practice of oratory in Renaissance Italy
buttonAn entire web site on Venetian platform shoes!
buttonThis site has translations of Veronica's poetry.
buttonWant to buy Veronica's movie: Dangerous Beauty?

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