(I meant to post this on June 15, but I was traveling and didn’t get to it. Here it is, a month late.)
She is Giustina Rossi, and on June 15, 1310, she dropped her grinding mortar on the head of the rebellion’s flag bearer. This may not seem like a rebellious act. She may have been angered by the noisy ruffians outside her window on the Merceria behind the clock tower. “I’m trying to grind my cornmeal here! Quiet down, now!” I imagine her yelling. Or maybe not. But in any case, when she dropped her mortar on the flag carrier, he promptly keeled over and breathed his last. His compatriots panicked, scattered, and fled, as seen in Gabriel Bella’s painting of the scene. Notice the bleeding flag bearer on the ground, mortar by his head, and Giustina in the window above right.
Bajamonte Tiepolo had led a group of nobles and followers to try to usurp Doge Gradenigo’s power. The motley crews ran through the streets of Venice, crying out “Libertá!” while looting and setting fire to the Rialto Bridge along the way. Three groups of rebels planned to converge on the Doge’s Palace, but their poor planning and some foul weather delayed their meet up. Giustina’s mortar added to the confusion, and the group was beat back, their coup thwarted.
In thanks, the doge offered Giustina Rossi a reward of her choice. She asked to be allowed to fly Venice’s flag from her window on feast days and to have her rent fixed in perpetuity. The doge was good to his word and never raised Giustina’s rent for 487 years (until the fall of the Venetian republic ended all doges’ reigns).
Giustina, an unassuming mirror merchant, changed the course of Venice’s history, at a time when the republic was yet in its infancy. On this day think of her, but please don’t throw heavy objects on people’s heads.
You can read a fuller version of this story in my new book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice.
(Source for photo of Giustina Rossi carving: http://www.veneziatiamo.eu/BajamonteTiepolo.html
The Bella painting can be viewed at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia or on its website.)