Pulci, Antonia (1452?-1501)

Biographic Details     Digitized Texts    Editions of Works

Antonia Pulci was born Antonia Tanini around 1452, the daughter of Francesco d'Antonio Tanini and of Jacopa di Torello di Lorenzo Torelli, a Roman woman whose family was from Trastevere. Antonia had five sisters and a brother, and another half-brother and sister, natural children of her father. Her father, a merchant, died in 1467 and was buried in an elegant marble floor tomb in Santa Croce, paid for by his eldest child, his natural son Guilio. According to Giuseppe Richa, in a brief biography of Antonia included in his history of the Florentine Church, three of the Tanini sisters married in Florence and another in Pisa, all to persons of their same merchant-class status. The eldest girl, Girolama, married Roberto Bisdomini, and in 1470 or 1471 Antonia married Bernardo di Jacopo Pulci, a well-known literary figure who became an important administrator of the Florentine University. One of the Tanini sisters, but probably more, entered local convents. Antonia's brother Niccolò married Girolama di Battista di Francisco Strozzi.

Antonia married Bernardo Pulci either in 1470 or 1471, a time when his family's fortunes were in disarray. His brother Luca had bankrupted the family and he died shortly thereafter in 1470, leaving his brothers with the debt and dishonor. Bernardo and his brother Luigi supported Luca's widow and his children and worked to restore the family name. Antonia probably brought Bernardo a dowry of a thousand florins, which was a good dowry for a merchant's daughter at the time.

All of the Pulcis were writers and by 1483 Antonia too had written a quite accomplished sacra rappresentazione, or mystery play, the Rappresentazione di Santa Domitilla (The Play of Saint Domitilla). Sometime in the 1490s she published several plays, at least three, but probably four, in the famous early anthology of sacre rappresentazioni, often called, perhaps erroneously, the 'Raccolta Miscomini', because it was thought to have been published by Antonio Miscomini, though the press of Francesco Bonaccorsi and that of Bartolomeo de' Libri have also been mentioned lately as the possible publishers of the two-volume anthology of plays. "Antonia donna di Bernardo Pulci" is named as the author of three of the plays, the Rappresentazione di Santa Domitilla (dated 1483), the Rappresentazione di Santa Guglielma, and the Rappresentazione di San Francesco. Bernardo Pulci's Rappresentazione di Barlaam e Giosafat is also included in the anthology, as is another play that was perhaps written by Antonia, the Rappresentazione di Giuseppe figlio di Giacob. A play on this subject was attributed to Antonia by her close friend fra Antonio Dolciati in the dedication to Antonia of a work he wrote several years after her death. In that dedication he also mentions that she wrote other plays including one on the subject of the Prodigal Son and another on Saul and David. An edition of the Rappresentazione del figliuol prodigo was published c. 1550 and attributed to Antonia, so it would seem to be the play to which Dolciati refers. There is only one extant play on the other subject, the Destruzione di Saul e il pianto di Davit; and it had three early editions, an incunable published between 1490 and 1500 and two sixteenth-century editions, 1547 and 1559. This play too seems certainly to have been written by Antonia.

Antonia and Bernardo were childless, and, when Bernardo died in 1488, Antonia became an ammantellata, a tertiary, or third-order sister, living some of the time at the Dominican convent of San Vincenzo, known as Annalena, and some of the time at her mother's home, which was near Piazza della Signoria. It was then that she hired a young boy from the Cathedral school to teach her Latin. This was Francesco Dolciati, whom she convinced to enter the religious life, and who took the religious name of fra Antonio in her honor. Fra Antonio Dolciati writes that at this time, while Antonia was awaiting the restitution of her dowry, she lived at home with her mother and brother, but alone on the upper floor where she did penance and studied Sacred Scripture. She seems also to have continued to write, though perhaps she no longer wrote plays. Dolciati mentions a copy of a lauda she had written on the subject of corpus domini, which she gave him and he kept as a treasure and in memory of her, whom he calls his teacher in religion.

When Antonia received her dowry money from the Pulcis, she bought a house and some attached buildings just outside the gate of San Gallo between the monastery known as Lapo and the Mugnone. It was here that in her will she founded a house of Augustinian tertiaries called Santa Maria della Misericordia (and sometimes referred to as the Assunta) in 1502, the year of her death. She stipulated in her will that she wanted to be buried in the Chapel of Santa Monica in the Church of San Gallo (unfortunately, both the church and the friary of San Gallo were destroyed in the early sixteenth century). The convent Antonia founded lasted only about thirty years; because of the dangers of remaining outside the city walls, it closed and the nuns moved into the convent of San Clemente, which was located in Via San Gallo next to the friary of San Gallo where Antonia still had many friends and relatives, including fra Antonio Dolciati, who was the prior for several years.

Antonia's plays are well-written; her verse is pleasant and easily recitable. Like most Florentine writers of mystery and miracle plays of her time, for her plots she generally kept quite close to her sources -- only the David and Saul play contains some original scenes, one entirely invented on the martyrdom of the wife of Saul, who appears only as a name in the Biblical account. The St. Francis play contains what may be autobiographical references to her family, certainly the appearance at Francis' deathbed of his friend Jacopa da Settesoli, called 'Jacopa da Roma,' is there in homage to her mother, another Jacopa from Rome. Antonia's plays were published again and again throughout the sixteenth century (their popularity may derive from a large audience of convent women who still sought such plays in the sixteenth century for their convent theater). Most of the early editions were of the Santa Domitilla, the San Francesco, and the Santa Guglielma, and the latter two plays have also appeared in anthologies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Confusion regarding Antonia's name entered into literary history in the late nineteenth century, and from that time on she was thought to have belonged to the Giannotti family. This was the result of a misinterpretation of her father's name, undoubtedly based on a document from the period when he did not use a surname but two patronymics, the second of which was 'di Giannotto'. He appears in early tax records as Francesco d'Antonio di Giannotto in order to distinguish himself from others in his gonfalone (district of the city) named Francesco d'Antonio. When the family began to use a surname they took it from an earlier ancestor named Tanino.

Suggested Reading on Antonia Tanini Pulci:

  • Ponte, Giovanni. Attorno a Savonarola. Castellano Castellani e la sacra rappresentazione fiorentina tra '400 e '500, Genoa: Fratelli Pagano Tipografi Editori, 1969, pp. 101-102, 123-25.
  • Cardini, Franco, "La figura di Francesco d'Assisi nella 'Rappresentatione di Sancto Francesco' di Antonia Pulci," in Il Francescanesimo e il teatro medievale. Atti del convegno nazionale di studi, San Miniato, 1982, Castelfiorentino: Società storica della Valdelsa, 1984, pp. 195-207.
  • Ulysse, Georges. "Un Couple d'écrivains: les sacre rappresentazioni de Bernardo et Antonia Pulci," in G. Ulysse ed., Les femmes écrivains en Italie au Moyen ge et à la Renaissance, Aix-en-Provençe: Publications de l'Université de Provençe, 1994, pp. 177-96.
  • Martines, Lauro. Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2001), pp. 64-69
  • Weaver, Elissa. Convent Theatre in Early Modern Italy: Spiritual Fun and Learning for Women (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 97-104.
  • ---------. "Antonia Pulci e la sacra rappresentazione al femminile," in La maschera e il volto. Il teatro in Italia, Francesco Bruni, ed. (Venice: Fondazione Giorgio Cini: Saggi Marsilio, 2002), pp. 3-19.

Submitted by Elissa B. Weaver, The University of Chicago, 2004.

Produced by the University of Chicago Library.
Send questions or comments about IWW to ets@lib.uchicago.edu.
PhiloLogic Software, Copyright © 2001 The University of Chicago.
PhiloLogic is a registered trademark of The University of Chicago.