“But in our times there are few women who apply themselves to study of the military arts, since men, fearing to lose their authority and become women’s servants, often forbid them even to learn to read or write,” (Nobility 79) wrote Lucrezia Marinella Vacca in her treatise The Nobility and Excellence of Women. She had written in response to Giuseppe Passi’s book On the Defects of Women, a misogynist tract that came out in 1600. Women should be educated, Lucrezia argued, “But man does not permit woman to apply herself to such studies, fearing, with reason, that she will surpass him in them” (140). She later wrote an epic romance featuring female warriors on the battlefield, creating characters that embodied her convictions. Lucrezia lived in a house in the Campo dei Squellini, pictured here, a quiet campo away from Venice’s bustling center.
Lucrezia Marinella was a feminist hundreds of years before the term was ever dreamed up. She benefitted from the Humanist tradition and a well-educated father who believed that his daughter should receive an education just like his son. She studied during her youth and began writing early on, though she apparently did not participate in the literary salons that were such a part of intellectual life in Venice at the time.
After marrying and having two children, Lucrezia later lived apart from her husband and took up her pen again in her seventies. She then wrote Exhortations to Women and to Others, which seems to recant some of her earlier ideas. “As I faithfully love you,” she addressed her female readers, “I desire that you put aside your vain passion of literature and thereby escape the damage, distaste, and resentment that always accompanies it” (Exhortations 61). In this book, she seems to be warning women writers and intellectuals to steer clear of the literary life, as it led to scorn and disappointment. I hate to think that the same woman who spoke out so unsparingly for women’s equality had become so beaten or bowed by ridicule as to warn others against recording their beliefs.
Lucretia Marinella Vacca died on October 9, 1653, and was buried at Venice’s church of San Pantalon. The marker that used to be there was lost during renovations, but the church is still worth seeing for its magnificent enormous canvas ceiling. On this day, 362 years after her death, please consider thanking Lucrezia for her part in furthering women’s rights.
For a fuller story on Lucrezia Marinella Vacca, see my chapter in A Beautiful Woman in Venice.