Frescobaldi, Fiammetta (1523-1586)

Fiammetta Frescobaldi was born in Florence on January 17, 1523, one of the six children of Lamberto Frescobaldi and Francesca Morelli. She was christened Brigida but took the name Fiammetta when she entered the Dominican convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence in 1536. She professed her vows in July of 1537. At twenty-five she was taken ill and became lame in one foot and unable to walk. From that time on to make herself useful to her convent sisters she dedicated herself to writing and translating for them. Convent documents tell us that she was self-taught and that her memory and her mind were sharp. She obtained books for herself and the convent through relatives (especially from a brother) and friends; she translated many of them, from others she drew information with which she made compilations for the convent library. San Jacopo had perhaps a better library than many convents, since it had been the site of one of the first printing presses in Florence in the 1470s.

Her works include a chronicle of the Dominican order from the birth of St. Dominic in 1170 to 1579, and a diary in which she documented life in her convent from 1575 until a few days before her death in 1586. She translated and compiled works on a wide variety of subjects, history (she made a reduced version of Guicciardini's History of Italy, which is lost today), saints lives, geographic descriptions of most of the known world (based on letters, travel journals, and contemporary studies of natural history); two of these in the genre of the selva (Selva di cose diverse and Prato fiorito) contain notions of ancient history, geography, customs of various peoples, descriptions of art and architecture, and in one there is a brief Spanish grammar with phrases for the use of nuns. She always scrupulously cited her sources which included Columbus, Vespucci, Cortes, Pizzarro, Oviedo y Valdes, Palladio, Vasari, Lorenzo Surius, and others. None of her work has been published but much of it survives in very fragile manuscripts, penned by her own careful, beautiful hand with title pages and colophons in a form that imitated that of printed books. She is mentioned in some early works of erudition, but primarily as a translator, though her "translations" are compilations of many sources and very different from any one of them. She was first studied by Giovanna Pierattini, who published several articles on her between 1939 and 1941 in Memorie domenicane.

Works by Fiammetta Frescobaldi:

  • Cose prodigiose e calamitose del mondo cominciando dal Diluvio infino ai tempi nostri, 4 vols. in 5 parts, holograph ms, dated 1577-79, wanting vol. 3, part 3, Frescobaldi Archives, Poggio a Remole (Florence); 18th-c copy of part 2, Cod. Moreniano 96, Riccardiana and Moreniana Library, Florence.
  • Compendio della storia di M. Francesco Guicciardini, 8 books, listed in 1886 by Ferdinando de' Frescobaldi among the works of Sister Fiammetta in possession of the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence.
  • Cronaca del sacro ordine di San Domenico, holograph ms., dated 1579, Archives of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
  • Diario dall'anno 1575 fino all'anno 1586 e varie memorie, holograph ms., Archives of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
  • Mutazione della chiesa patriarcale di Venezia, holograph ms., 1576, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Prato fiorito, holograph ms., Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence. Conventi soppressi, C. 2. 504.
  • Selva di cose diverse, holograph ms., 1562-85, Frescobaldi Archives, Poggio a Remole (Florence).
  • La Sfera dell'universo, 5 vols., 9 parts, holograph ms., [post 1561]-1580, wanting vol. 2, part 6, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Storia generale delle Indie Occidentali, 1 vol., 4 books, holograph ms., n.d. but post 1556, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Storia generale delle Indie Orientali, 1 vol, 4 books, holograph ms., 1565, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • La Storia dei re di Persia, holograph ms., 1576, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Vite di X beati, holograph ms., 1585, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Vite di XVII santi monachi europei, holograph ms. containing only nine lives, one or more vols. missing, 1584, Frescobaldi Archives.
  • Vite di XXIX santi quasi tutti vescovi, holograph ms., 1582, Frescobaldi Archives.

Secondary Sources:

  • Pierattini, Giovanna, "Sister Fiammetta Frescobaldi cronista del monastero domenicano di Sant'Iacopo a Ripoli in Firenze (1523-1586)," Memorie domenicane 56 (1939): 101-16, 233-40; 57 (1940): 106-11, 260-69; 58 (1941): 28-38, 74-84, 226-34, 258-68.
  • Viviani Della Robbia, Enrica, Nei monasteri fiorentini (Florence: Sansoni, 1946), p. 196.
  • Weaver, Elissa B. entry for Fiammetta Frescobaldi in Katharina M. Wilson, ed., An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, vol. 1 (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991), pp. 426-7.
  • Weaver, Elissa B., "Le muse in convento," in G. Zarri and L. Scaraffia, eds., Donne e fede (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1994), pp. 253-5, 259-60. In English translation: "The Convent Muses," in Women and Faith (Harvard U. Press, 1999).

Submitted by Elissa B. Weaver, The University of Chicago, 2003.


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