“And it’s with great delight that I talk with those who know so as to have further chances to learn,” wrote Veronica Franco about gaining education among those in a literary salon, “for if my fate allowed, I would happily spend my entire life and pass all my time in the academies of talented men.” Though Veronica worked as a courtesan, she wished she could spend all her time discussing literature and ideas. Her profession did offer entree into these spaces, usually prohibited to women.
In this video, part of my new series about Venetian women, you’ll see Calle Franchi, where Veronica’s family lived when she was young. She and her family attended the nearby Church of Sant’Agnese, where Veronica was baptized and where a medallion over the side door once showed the family coat of arms (though time has erased the painted details).
Quote about her passion for love:
Veronica worked as a courtesan, a highly skilled and educated sex worker during Venice’s heyday. Her clients were the city’s most powerful men. While a number of them supported her literary career as a poet and essayist, her profession still was not without danger.
“This is a life that always turns out to be a misery,” she wrote. “It’s a most wretched thing, contrary to human reason, to subject one’s body and labor to a slavery terrifying even to think of. … What wealth, what luxuries, what delights can outweigh all this?” Though her life appeared glamorous, she tried to dissuade others from following in her path, and she also attempted plans to open a home for women who wished to leave the profession. “There are many women who, having led a dishonest life because of poverty, sensuality, or other reasons, are sometimes touched by the Spirit of his Divine Majesty,” wrote Veronica, “and thinking of the miserable end to which the path most often leads them with regard to body and soul, would easily change their wicked ways if they had some reputable place to repair to, and support themselves and their children.”
You may have seen the film about Veronica’s life, Dangerous Beauty, which contains some inaccuracies and exaggerations, though the basic outline of her life is true. Here is a website with detailed analysis of the costumes in Dangerous Beauty (plus a few other peeks into the facts behind Franco’s life):
This review summarizes Franco’s life and how that differs from the film:
And another film review that touches on the inaccuracies.
(Interested in a tour of sites related to Venetian women? Check my friend Vonda’s tour company: http://www.abeautifulwomaninvenice.)