Many Americans think of today as tax day since our income tax returns are due. But I’d like us to commemorate two remarkable Venetian women instead.
On this day in 1703, Luisa Bergalli was born. Noteworthy, considering she was not born into the noble class, Luisa entered the world of letters and was warmly welcomed into the literary academies, befriending such luminaries as Apostolo Zeno, Antonio Sforza, and Alvise Mocenigo. Besides being a swift playwright, prolific translator, theater manager, and stage manager, Luisa’s income and household management skills largely held together the Palazzo Gozzi and the Gozzi clan, the family she had married into. Sadly, her husband Gasparo didn’t appreciate his jewel of a wife, and Gasparo’s brother, the playwright Carlo Gozzi, defamed her more than once. Luisa did was Luisa did well–she persevered.
More than all this, though, Luisa deserved honor for the honor she bestowed on others. In 1726 she published Componenti poetici delle piu illustri Rimatrici d’ogni secolo (Poetic Compositions of the Most Famous Women Poets of all Ages), a poetry anthology in two volumes. She holds the distinct accomplishment of being the first woman to design and produce an anthology of women writers. The Republic of Letters, overwhelmingly populated by men, needed to provide a place for its female inhabitants, and Luisa’s collection would rectify this omission. Another woman would not collate such an anthology until Jolanda De Blasi, two hundred years later in 1930. Luisa included such lights as Modesta Pozzo, Lucrezia Marinella, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, Gaspara Stampa, Sarra Copia, Veronica Franco, and Isabella Andreini.
Despite the grief her husband and his family caused her, Luisa found solace in female friendship. Whenever she could, she carved out time to spend at the Carriera household with her dear friend Rosalba and her sisters. A true gift in Luisa’s life, the painter Rosalba Carriera and her family appreciated Luisa’s friendship and talents. Luisa dedicated her play I due fratelli (The Two Brothers) to Rosalba and called the Carriera family a model for the feminine sex, with a mother who educated and nurtured her daughters. These sisters “confirm that our sex is as good as men for intellectual work,” wrote Luisa. Further, Luisa honored the three sisters in a 1726 poem, where she challenged those who believe that women cannot excel in the arts as men do, to “Come and admire the works / Of Angela, Rosalba, and Giovanna; / And further say if heaven condemns us women / To working just with needle and with thread.”
Which brings us to the second important date: Today is also the death date for none other than Rosalba Carriera. Born around 1675, Rosalba eschewed marriage and instead devoted herself to art. She began by painting miniatures, innovating in this medium by switching from vellum as a canvas to using tempera paint on ivory for sharper, longer-lasting images.
But she is definitely best known for her pastel portraits. Rosalba traveled Europe capturing the likenesses of dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, even the child King Louis XV. In 1713 she painted King Augustus III of Poland, who went on to collect over 150 of her pastels, the greatest collection of her work. In Venice, the Ca’ Rezzonico museum, not far from Rosalba’s own palace, next door to Peggy Guggenheim’s Palazzo Leoni, dedicates a whole room to her works.
Rosalba died on April 15, 1757, just four months after she had written in her will that she thanked God “who has made [my] life rich through [my] painting.” At the end of her life, she tragically lost her sight. Enjoy viewing a few of her works here, while we honor these two friends and vanguards.
(Some excerpts, facts, and quotes all come from my book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Citation details are available there or by email request. The book may be purchased in bookstores in Venice or through my website at http://kathleenanngonzalez.wix.com/beautifulwoman)