Aragona, Tullia d' (1501/5-1556)
Tullia d'Aragona was a well-known, prolific author who published a sonnet sequence and a 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 some parts of her life have been reconstructed by literary evidence. She is thought to have been born in Rome sometime between 1501 and 1505 to Giulia Pendaglia, daughter of an otherwise unknown Orsino Pendaglia from Ferrara, possibly a member--natural or legitimate--of a noble Ferrarese family of the same name. Her mother later appears with the surname Campana in a floor tomb in the Church of S. Agostino in Rome. A document in Siena identifies d'Aragona's father as Costanzo Palmieri d'Aragona, from Naples, yet she 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'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, but she and her mother likely left Rome for Siena soon after Cardinal Luigi's departure for his well-known journey through northern Europe, and in November 1518 Giulia married Africano Orlandini, from the noble Orlandini family. Possibly back in Rome by 1524 when she is immortalized in a madrigal by Philippe Verdelot, Tullia is definitely there by June 1526, in the company of the Florentine banker Filippo Strozzi, as attested by his letter to Francesco Vettori. D'Aragona's association with Filippo Strozzi continues for years, and they spend time together in numerous cities throughout Italy until his death by suicide in 1538.
Various literary texts place d'Aragona in Venice, although it is not entirely clear when she was there--likely in the early 1530s, possibly the spring of 1532--as Filippo Strozzi mentions in a letter. D'Aragona appears, together with Bernardo Tasso, in Sperone Speroni's Dialogo d'amore, which is situated in Venice. Although Speroni supposedly began composing the dialogue in 1528, he didn't add Tullia's name as one of the interlocutors until later, certainly by June 1536 when Aretino mentions the text that was circulating in manuscript in a letter to Speroni.
On 10 March 1535, Penelope d'Aragona was born. Scholars disagree whether Penelope is Tullia's sister or daughter. Although twenty to twenty-five years is a significant age difference between siblings, it is not an entirely implausible gap. Nonetheless, by late July 1535, Tullia is back in Rome, as revealed by a letter she wrote to Francesco de' Pazzi, a friend and companion on Piero Strozzi, Filippo's eldest son.
In June 1537, Tullia's recent arrival in Ferrara is documented by a letter of Battista Stabellino (alias Apollo) to Isabella d'Este in Mantova. Apparently Tullia had come to Ferrara to see Filippo Strozzi, but while there, she heard preach the reformist Bernardo Ochino, to whom she later addressed a sonnet on the importance of free will. Curiously enough, Vittoria Colonna was also present in Ferrara at the same time, although it seems unlikely that the two women ever 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 charged 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 choral anthology and dialogue with Gabriele Giolito in Venice. In October 1548, she announces in a letter to Varchi that she is leaving Florence. She appears in Rome in 1549, living near Monsignor Annibale Caro near Palazzo Carpi. D'Aragona dies in Rome in March or April of 1556. Her 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 varied members of the elite circulating in Florence, Siena, and Rome. These poetic recipients, correspondents, and dedicators include Girolamo Muzio, Benedetto Varchi, Ercole Bentivoglio, Francesco Maria Molza, Giulio Camillo, Anton Francesco Grazzini, Simone Porzio, 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 Neoplatonic dialogue On the Infinity of Love relates a philosophical conversation that takes place in her home between Lattanzio Benucci, Benedetto Varchi, and Tullia, 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 who also participates actively in the epistemological exchange. Like d'Aragona's choral anthology, it too was published in 1547 by Gabriele Giolito and was reprinted several times in the sixteenth century.
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 Guerrin Meschino, a popular, early fifteenth-century chivalric prose text written by Andrea da Barberino. The hero Guerrino is a character of noble blood, who is captured by pirates as a child and sold into slavery. Eventually freed for his military prowess, his famous adventures in search of his parents take him to various parts of Europe, Turkey, Africa, India, and even Purgatory and the Inferno. In creating her poem, d'Aragona adds details regarding the emotional life of various characters and provides insight into the effects of topics discussed at the Council of Trent on Italian culture. Il Meschino treats matters 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:
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