Bigolina, Giulia (ca.1518-ca.1569)

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Giulia Bigolina wrote a prose romance, some novellas and a number of poems in Tuscan and perhaps also in Latin. She was known during her lifetime, but never published, and her name was soon forgotten. She has been rediscovered recently as the only short story and prose fiction woman writer of the Italian Renaissance.

Giulia Bigolina was born most probably in Padua of a noble father, Gerolamo Bigolin, and of an equally noble mother, Alvisa Soncin. Both parents came from families of legislators well connected with the local university. We do not know exactly the date of her birth but from family documents we can surmise that she was born around 1518 and was married to Bartolomeo Vicomercato by 1534. We also know of a younger brother, Socrate. She was educated and was in contact with Paduan intellectuals, such as Sperone Speroni, corresponded with Pietro Aretino, and knew Titian. All were members of the Accademia degli Infiammati in Padua. Giulia Bigolina is mentioned as one of the female intellectual glories of that city as early as 1560 by the historian Bernardino Scardeone, who also was a member of the influential academy. In a manuscript, "Cronica delle famiglie di Padova," she is said to be "virtuosa poetessa, dotta delle lingue tosca e latina, et scrisse opere diverse (G. Zabarella, Biblioteca Civica di Padova, BP 2055, 14v). She had at least one child, a son Silvio who reached adulthood. Her husband must have died sometime after 1555 and she did not remarry. The only document that allows us to guess when she died is a tax estimo dated March 21, 1569, probably compiled soon after her death to determine the extension of her property (she is referred to as "quondam Giulia Bigolina"). More than two centuries later, she started to be confused by critics with another Giulia Bigolina (1563-1623), the daughter of her first cousin, Polo, perhaps because the only surviving 17th century family tree of the already extinct family only mentioned this other Giulia.

Although Giulia Bigolina was known as a poet, one poem alone of hers survives: it is an enigma inserted at the end of her only novella to have surfaced, "Giulia Camposampiero e Tesibaldo Vitaliani." This novella was published for the first time in 1794 by Anton Maria Borromeo. It seems to have been part of a group of novellas, because it uses the Boccaccian fiction of a "cornice" and a gathering of men and women, one of whom, as in the case at hand, is elected "regina," to supervise the telling of the stories of the day. We are thus led to assume that this novella was part of a more consistent "novelliere," which has not yet been found. When Pietro Piranesi published this novella in the 19th century in Paris, however, he chose to print it without the "cornice" and the final poem.

Bigolina's major work, Urania, is a prose romance of some length and breadth, written probably around 1556-1558. The protagonist is a woman poet who leaves her home cross-dressed as a man when the man she loves, Fabio, a youth of equal intellectual gifts but of fluttering affections, leaves her for another beautiful but vapid woman. In her travels from Salerno to Naples and Tuscany, Urania is described as a young woman of moral rectitude and unwavering faithfulness. Riding alone one day in the woods around Naples, she meets a group of five women whom she instructs--Fiammetta style--on what kinds of love are best suited to women. She then meets five young men whom she lectures on the worth of women and on why they should be properly educated. Chronologically speaking, Urania thus constitutes both the first female fictional long prose narrative and the first female treatise on the worth of women in Italian. In the second part of the narrative Urania defends herself from the advances of a lovely noblewoman, Emilia, who thinks she is a man, until she returns to Salerno and has a chance to reclaim her beloved, Fabio, now in prison. The romance, which also has a second story line running for part of the narrative, ends with a triple marriage, like much of the future woman-authored European narrative of the 18th century.

Urania survives in the original manuscript in the Trivulziana library in Milan, dedicated to Bartolomeo Salvatico, and in an 18th century copy in the Fondo Patetta of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome. This copy was most probably made when "Giulia Camposampiero" was readied for publication but was then left unedited, perhaps because of its length. It has now been published by Valeria Finucci (Rome: Bulzoni, 2002). Another novella often cited in the centuries after Bigolina's death, "Le avventure di Panfilo," heavily indebted to Boccaccio in the choice of the title, has never been found. An unedited treatise on love, "A ragionar d'amore," in which Bigolina is the only female interlocutor, composed most probably around 1555 by Mario Melechino, has recently surfaced in the Bešancon library, thanks to the work of Oskar Kristeller. Here Bigolina shows that she is well versed in Neoplatonic philosophy and very much adept at talking about Leon Ebreo.


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  • Assarino, Luca. Ragguagli di Cipro. Bologna: Turini, 1642.
  • Bigolina, Giulia. Urania. Edited by Valeria Finucci. Rome: Bulzoni, 2002.
  • Borromeo, Anton Maria. Notizia de' novellieri italiani. Bassano: Remondini e figli, 1794.
  • Della Chiesa, Agostino. Theatro delle donne letterate con un breve discorso della preminenza, e perfettione del sesso donnesco. Mondovì: Ginaldo and Rosci, 1620. 171-72.
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  • Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Iter Italicum. London: Warburg Institute, 1963-95.
  • Mancini, Vincenzo. Lambert Sustris a Padova. La Villa Bigolin a Selvazzano. Comune di Selvazzano Centro: Biblioteca Pubblica Comunale, 1994. 130ff.
  • Masetti Zannini. Gian Ludovico, Motivi storici dell'educazione femminile. Scienza, lavoro, giuochi. Naples: D'Auria, 1982. 35-36 and 195.
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  • Pietrucci, Napoleone. Delle illustri donne padovane: cenni biografici. Padova: Tip. Penada Ed., 1840. 28-30.
  • Piranesi, Pietro. Bellezza delle novelle tratte dai più celebri autori antichi e moderni. Paris: Barrois, 1823.
  • Piranesi, Pietro. Scelta (nuova) di novelle, tratte di più celebri autori antichi e moderni. Paris: Paudry, 1852.
  • Porro, Giulio, ed. Trivulziana. Catalogo dei Codici Manoscritti. Turin: Paravia, 1884. 31.
  • Quadrio, Francesco Saverio. Della storia e della ragione d'ogni poesia. 2 Vols. Milan: Agnelli, 1741. 1: 271.
  • Ribera, Pietro Paolo. Le glorie immortali de' trionfi, et heroiche imprese d'ottocento quarantacinque donne illustri antiche, e moderne. Venice: Deuchino, 1609. 287.
  • Scardeone, Bernardino. De antiquitate urbis Patavii et claris civibus patavinis. Basel: Nicolaum Episcopium, 1560. 368.
  • Tomasini, Jacopo Filippo. Bibliotheca Patavina manuscripta publica et privata. Udine: Schiratti, 1639. 128.
  • Vedova, Giuseppe. Biografia degli scrittori padovani. Padua: Minerva, 1832-36. 112-13.
Submitted by Valeria Finucci, Duke University, 2002.

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