Aragona, Tullia d' (ca.1510-1556)

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Tullia d'Aragona was a well-known, prolific author who published a canzoniere and a neo-Platonic dialogue in 1547 and an epic poem posthumously in 1560. Her status as a writer has been recognized since her inception as an author, although, as a courtesan, she was also subject to derision by some sixteenth-century men of letters.

Numerous documents attest d'Aragona's presence in various cities in the peninsula, yet parts of her life have been reconstructed by literary evidence. She is thought to have been born in Rome sometime between 1505 and 1510 to Giulia Campana, a courtesan from Adria, a small town near the mouth of the Po, who was working in Rome. A document in Siena identifies her father as Costanzo Palmieri d'Aragona , yet d'Aragona and her admirers claim that her father was Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona, illegitimate grandson of Ferdinando d'Aragona, King of Naples. One scholar has hypothesized that Giulia Campana's marriage to Costanzo Palmieri d'Aragona may have been a family strategy to cover up the Cardinal's liaison which permitted him to continue to frequent her without interference.

D'Aragona spent the first part of her childhood in Rome and, upon Luigi d'Aragona's sudden death in 1519, supposedly left the city to spend a number of years in Siena. By June 1526, she is back in Rome in the company of Filippo Strozzi, as attested by his letter to Francesco Vettori. In 1528, she is assumed to be in Venice where Sperone Speroni's Dialogo d'amore, in which d'Aragona appears as one of the interlocutors, was written and is situated. Evidently, she did not remain long in Venice for a pasquinade of 1529 refers to her leaving Rome for Bologna, where Pope Clement VII and the Emperor Charles V were to meet to iron out details in the final negotiations after the Sack of Rome. By 1531, d'Aragona is back in Rome and again in Filippo Strozzi's company.

In 1535, d'Aragona and her mother leave Rome and repair to Adria for the birth of Penelope d'Aragona. Scholars disagree whether Penelope is d'Aragona's sister or daughter. Although twenty to twenty-five years is a significant age difference between siblings, it is not an entirely implausible gap. Yet one might question the need to leave Rome for the birth, if the mother were in truth Giulia Campana.

In June 1537, her presence in Ferrara is documented by a letter of Battista Stambellino (alias Apollo) to Isabella d'Este in Mantova. While in Ferrara, d'Aragona heard the reformist Bernardo Ochino preach and later addressed a sonnet to him on the importance of free will. Curiously enough, Vittoria Colonna was also present in Ferrara at the same time, although it is safe to say that the two women never met.

On 8 January 1543, in Siena, d'Aragona married Silvestro Guicciardi of Ferrara, although nothing more is known of this relationship, except for a malicious comment by Agnolo Firenzuola that d'Aragona let her husband die of hunger. The marriage was useful to d'Aragona, for later she used it to exempt herself from living in the neighborhood designated for prostitutes and from wearing apparel designed to differentiate them from noblewomen. From d'Aragona's will, preserved in the State Archives in Rome, we learn that she eventually had a son, named Celio, although given that he was young and in the care of Pietro Chiocca in 1556, we do not know if Guicciardi was indeed his father.

In late 1545 or early 1546, because of political uprisings, d'Aragona fled Siena to seek refuge in Florence in the court of Cosimo I. By August 1546, she was living in a villa just outside Florence, near the Mensola River, where she received numerous visitors, many of them poets who later exchange verse with her in her choral anthology. In 1547, she is once again attacked for disobeying sumptuary legislation. She appeals directly both to Eleonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence, and to Cosimo I, who exempts d'Aragona due to her rare knowledge of poetry and philosophy. Subsequent to this episode, d'Aragona publishes both her sonnet sequence and dialogue with Gabriele Giolito in Venice. In October 1548, she announces in a letter to Varchi that she is leaving Florence for Rome, where she remains until her death in 1556. D'Aragona's epic poem Il Guerrino, altramente detto il Meschino is published posthumously by Sessa in 1560.

D'Aragona's canzoniere Rime della Signora Tullia di Aragona e di diversi a lei is comprised, as its title suggests, of poems--mostly sonnets--written by d'Aragona or addressed to her by a number of Italian men of letters or members of the Florentine ruling class. These poetic recipients, correspondents, and dedicators include Girolamo Muzio, Benedetto Varchi, Ercole Bentivoglio, Francesco Maria Molza, Giulio Camillo, Anton Francesco Grazzini, Ludovico Martelli, Benedetto Arrighi, Latino Giovenale as well as Cosimo I de Medici, Eleonora di Toledo, Maria Salviati de Medici, and Cardinal Ippolito de Medici. D'Aragona's text also contains a long biographical eclogue by Girolamo Muzio. At least since 1535, d'Aragona had been in poetic correspondence with a number of men and adroitly makes use of the poems they dedicated to her to establish her identity as a woman of letters in sixteenth-century Italy.

D'Aragona's neo-Platonic dialogue On the Infinity of Love relates a philosophical conversation that takes place in d'Aragona's home between Lattanzio Benucci, Benedetto Varchi, and d'Aragona, in the presence of a number of other men whose names are not recorded regarding the nature of love. The text partakes of a flourishing intellectual tradition and genre in Cinquecento Italy and represents the first exemplar by a woman. Like d'Aragona's sonnet sequence, it too was published in 1547 by Gabriele Giolito.

D'Aragona's last work is an epic poem--yet again the first of the genre to be written by a woman--Il Meschino, altramente detto il Guerrino. To compose her poem, d'Aragona transposed into octaves Il Meschino di Durazzo, a popular, late fourteenth-century chivalric prose text written by Andrea da Barberino. The hero of both poems, Guerrino, is a character of noble blood, who is captured by pirates as an infant and sold into slavery. His famous adventures in search of his parents take him to various parts of Europe, Turkey, Africa, India, and even Purgatory and the Inferno. Il Meschino treats topics of interest to twentieth-century readers such as the search for personal and religious identity, the representation of the religious and cultural Other, homosexuality, and the performative nature of gender identity.

Suggested Readings on Tullia d'Aragona:

  • Allaire, Gloria. "Tullia D'aragona's Il Meschino as Key to a Reappraisal of Her Work."Quaderni d'Italianistica 16, no. 1 (1995): 33-50.
  • Bausi, Francesco. "'Con agra zampogna'. Tullia d'Aragona a Firenze (1545-48)." Schede umanistiche 2 n.s. (1993): 61-91. Shorter version published as "Le rime di e per Tullia d'Aragona." In Les femmes écrivains en Italie au Moyen Age et à la Renaissance, 275-92. Aix-en-Provence: Université de Provence, 1994.
  • Biagi, Guido. "Un'etèra romana. Tullia d'Aragona."Nuova antologia series III, 4, no. 16 (1886): 655-711. Later reprinted and slightly revised as "Tullia d'Aragona." In Fiorenza, fior che sempre rinnovella: quadri e figure di vita fiorentina, 137-261. Florence: Battistelli, 1925.
  • Bongi, Salvatore. "Documenti senesi su Tullia d'Aragona." Rivista critica della letteratura italiana IV, no. 6 (1887): 186-88.
  • ------. "Il velo giallo di Tullia d'Aragona." Rivista critica della letteratura italiana 3, no. 3 (1886): 85-95.
  • ------. "Rime della Signora Tullia di Aragona; et di diversi a lei." In Annali di Gabriel Giolito de' Ferrari, 150-99. Rome: Principali Librai, 1890.
  • Hairston, Julia L. "Out of the Archive: Four Newly-Identified Figures in Tullia d'Aragona's Rime della Signora Tullia di Aragona et di diversi a lei (1547)." MLN 118 (2003): 257-63.
  • Jones, Ann Rosalind. "New Songs for the Swallow: Ovid's Philomela in Tullia d'Aragona and Gaspara Stampa." In Refiguring Woman: Perspectives on Gender and the Italian Renaissance, edited by Marilyn Migiel and Juliana Schiesari, 263-77. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • ------. "The Poetics of Group Identity: Self-Commemoration through Dialogue in Pernette du Guillet and Tullia d'Aragona." In The Currency of Eros: Women's Love Lyric in Europe, 1540-1620, 79-117. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
  • Smarr, Janet L. "A Dialogue of Dialogues: Tullia d'Aragona and Sperone Speroni." MLN 113 (1998): 204-12.
Submitted by Julia Hairston, The University of California, Rome Study Center, 2005.


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