Who Wins the Laurel?

Elena Cornaro Piscopia, that’s who. The first woman in the world to earn a university degree was from Venice.

I’ve read that some others have been named as the first woman to earn a degree, and I came across an article that outlined the competitors for the title: “Learned Women of Early Modern Italy: Humanists and University Scholars” by Paul Oskar Kristeller.

Novella d’Andrea, daughter of Giovanni, a professor of canonical law at the University of Bologna, sometimes presented her father’s lectures at the university, when he was ill or otherwise occupied. While she may be one of the first women to lecture at a university, she never was granted a degree. In a 1521 book titled “The Boke of the Cyte of Ladyes” it tells that her father “sent Nouvelle his doughter in his place to rede to ye scolers in ye chayre and to ye entente ye her beaute sholde not hurte ye thought of them she taughte she had a lytell curtyne before her and by such manere she fullylled (sic) ye occupacyons of her fader.” I guess the “scolers” were not safe from her good looks and needed a curtain to shield them so they could concentrate on their studies.

There is a Trotula who taught in a school of medicine in Salerno and supposedly composed a work on gynecology in the eleventh or twelfth century. But there is not enough solid evidence to prove that “Trotula” was a real person. She may have been an amalgam of a few people or even a title for a position rather than the name of a person. As early as 1307, there is evidence of women who were granted licenses to treat people for specific diseases, but they didn’t apparently have university degrees. Another interesting woman of note is Costanza Calenda, who held a doctor of medicine title from Salerno in 1422. Yet Kristeller argues that this university wasn’t fully organized or accredited like Padua was, so her accomplishment doesn’t fit the same definition as that of Elena Cornaro Piscopia.

We also have Alessandra Scala, who attended courses at the University of Florence, but she never attained a degree. It looks like our Venetian still holds the precedent. On June 25, 1678, Elena Cornaro Piscopia stood before her examiners and, in Latin, answered their questions on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and his Physics. They awarded her a degree in philosophy, though her initial wish was to garner one in theology. There was no question of a woman earning a theology degree because it would have allowed her to teach, and that possibility was absolutely forbidden. Elena remained the only woman to earn such a degree until 1732 when Maria Caterina Laura Bassi earned a degree in philosophy from the university in Bologna.

Venetian women may not have had many opportunities outside of marriage or the convent, but Elena Cornaro set a precedent that women could be every bit as erudite as men. An ermine mantle was place on her shoulders and a laurel wreath on her head.

Elena Cornaro commemorative plaque

Elena Cornaro commemorative plaque

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Palazzo Loredan on the Grand Canal, Elena’s home.

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Where’s Piero?

My friend Piero recently sent me this photo that he took. Can you guess where he is?

(Bert, can you give the rest of my readers a 24-hour running start before you give the answer?)   :)


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Quattro Minuti con Casanova–Palazzo Soranzo

Ready for another part of the story? You heard about Senator Bragadin and saw his palazzo where Casanova had his own apartment and a gondolier at his beck and call. But where did Casanova first meet the senator? If you read the title of this post, you probably guessed right. Spend another (approximately) four minutes enjoying story time in Venice!



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Caption Me



Provide a caption, please! What would Casanova be saying here?

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova–Palazzo Bragadin

Happy birthday, Casanova!

To commemorate him, I’ve begun a series of videos featuring Casanova locations in Venice.


These won’t be in any particular order–except what I happened to be walking by that day! I only had time to do six locations when I was in Venice last February. I hope to make more this summer (and I supposed I’ll be dressed quite differently then!)

Someone asked me, “Why four minutes with Casanova?”

The answer is not very deep. I happened to like the alliteration of “quattro,” “con,” and “Casanova.” And if you see the videos, you’ll see that four minutes is a moving target that I didn’t always hit successfully. But hopefully, you’ll learn a little something, or be entertained,  and also enjoy seeing the location rather than just reading these stories in my book.

Manuel Carrion, owner of Carrion Gallery on Giudecca, is opening a show called “Spying on History with Casanova,” and  he’ll be featuring my videos with the other artwork. Here’s a link to his event:


I wonder how Casanova would celebrate his birthday? Maybe with a glass of something yummy. Pour yourself one and enjoy a video while you sip!

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Sneaking into Casanova’s House Again!

My friend Manuel, who lives in Venice, gained access to Casanova’s final house, the place where he lived before he had to leave Venice forever in 1782. This is on Barbaria de le Tole, house #6673, behind the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo. The inhabitant graciously allowed Manuel to come in to film the interior. Here’s the link:

We know quite a few details about this place because of surviving letters. Casanova lived here with his mistress, Francesca Buschini, a seamstress, who wrote to him after he had left the city. “I kiss you with all my heart,” she wrote to her beloved after he had left. The letters tell of many mundane things, like taking care of the dog, and also the constant anxiety Francesca had about paying the rent. “Without you, my dear friend,” she wrote, “we would never have known how to pay it.”She was supporting her mother, brother, and sister, and Casanova’s financial help had been a necessity for her. She also mentioned, “The chickens are still kept in the garret; there is therefore no chicken dirt about.” The room you see in Manuel’s video is this garret. I see laundry and various household objects, but no chicken dirt. Great view, huh?

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Want to Self-Publish?

Interested in self-publishing? I’ll be making  presentation next Tuesday, April 1, at the Rose Garden branch of the San Jose Library, from 6:30 to 7:30. Come find out about all the steps–from creating a book, formatting options, printing, marketing, and sales. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned from self-publishing three books and also helping others with the process. The Friends of the Library will be selling copies of my books. Come on by or send your friends!



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