Upon entering the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, located at Campo Santo Stefano, you are greeted by a pantheon of Venice’s most illustrious scholars and thinkers. Under the arches stand busts on pedestals, honoring such luminaries as Aldo Manuzio (publisher and inventor of italic type), Carlo Goldoni (playwright), Marco Polo (explorer), Jacopo Robusti (known as Tintoretto, the painter), Tiziano, Tiepolo, Veronese, and Bellini, (more painters), Andrea Palladio (architect), and a host of others. Their busts continue up the walls along the staircases and cover the opposite walls.
Only three women are included in this pantheon. Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, has a small statue high up on the back wall. Cassandra Fedele is honored with a round stone medallion on the floor. She is best known for presenting a speech (in Latin) in Padua in 1482 to honor her cousin’s university graduation, at a time when women never were allowed to speechify in public (or even learn Latin) and could not attend the university.
Also included, on her own pedestal, is Giustina Renier Michiel. She was of noble Venetian birth and ran a literary salon straddling the years of the fall of Venice’s Republic (1797) and beyond, when the country was ruled by the French and then Austrians. Her salon kept the literary life alive (as did salons by a handful of other Venetian women). One thing that distinguishes Giustina’s work was her literary output. She is the first translator of Shakespeare into Italian, translating Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. She also wrote a history of Venetian festivals, for which she was much beloved by her fellow citizens, especially as Venetian culture and history declined after foreign rule.
There should be a host of other Venetian women here among these men so honored, but at least three made it into this pantheon. I just read that a new organization has formed: the Associazione Moderata Fonte, named for the Venetian writer from the 1500s. Perhaps one of their goals might be to bring Venice’s women more visibility in this city that they contributed so much to.