Debate about Women in Trecento Florence

  • Pamela Benson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Formal defenses of woman during the Middle Ages and Renaissance were not uniform throughout Europe. Republican Florentines, reacting to courtly defenses that advanced woman’s capacity to play a political role, advocated improving the practical circumstances of women’s lives but did not provide the grounds for any political reform that might undermine the institution of the family.


Fourteenth Century Intellectual Capacity Domestic Life Moral Capacity Good Woman 
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  1. 2.
    On the wide diffusion of the Fiore, see Nicholas Fersin, trans., The Florentine Fior di Virtu of 1491 (Library of Congress, 1953), p. vii. The case for women was probably widely known throughout the century through its inclusion in sermons, written along the lines laid out by Humbert de Romans, master general of the Dominican order, 1254–63. In “Ad Omnes Midieres” [To Women in General], sermon xciv, Humbert cites the privileges and says: “Haec autem omnia movere debent mulieres ad Dei dilectionem, qui haec contulit eis, et retrahere ab eis quae mala sunt, et ad sectandum, quae bona sunt in muliere, et ejus amore” (Carla Casagrande, ed., Prediche alle donne del secolo XIII: Testi di Umberto da Romans, Gilberto da Tournai, Stefano di Borbone [Milan: Bompiani, 1997], p. 44) [All of this ought to encourage women to love the God who gave them all this, and to pursue for love of him all that is good in a woman; it should also deter them from all that is evil (Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, ed. Simon Tugwell, O.P., Classics of Western Spirituality [New York: Paulist Press, 1982], p. 330).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    On the “democratization of the polis” in the second half of the fourteenth century, see Marvin Becker, Florence in Transition, vol. 2, Studies in the Rise of the Territorial State (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins, 1968), p. 49; for the association of this greater democratization with a movement away from aristocratic forms and concerns in literature, see pp. 49–55.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 10. For a useful explanation of the Florentine/Milanese competition in the latter fourteenth century, see pp. 9–65. On Florentine republicanism, anti-magnate feeling, the importance of civic commitment, and the concept of liberty, see also Becker pp. 55–61.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    On these aspects of the style of Pucci’s younger contemporary Sacchetti, see Antonio Lanza, Primi secoli: saggi di letteratura italiana antica (Rome: Archivio Guido Izzi, 1991), pp. 139–72.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    An extended examination of Boccaccio’s Corbaccio is beyond the scope of this paper, but it seems to me that it could be very profitably considered in this context. It not only excoriates women primarily through calling attention to their physicality and materialism but it also attacks the literary elevation of them in courtly literature. It is surprising that the Corbaccio, which seems to have been widely circulated, did not stimulate defenses of women as did the similar Araignment of Lewde, idle, froward, and unconstant Women did in the early seventeenth century in England; on the Swetnam controversy, see Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    On the Renaissance case for women, see my The Invention of the Renaissance Woman: The Challenge of Female Independence in the Literature and Thought of Italy and England (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), and Constance Jordan, Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Agenore Gelli, Fiore di virtù, testo di lingua ridotto a corretta lezione, 2nd ed. (Florence: Le Monnier, 1856), p. 18.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Francesco da Barberino, Reggimento e costumi di donna, 2nd ed. rev., ed. Giuseppe E. Sansone (Rome: Zauli, 1995), p. 213.Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Antonio Pucci, Il contrasto delle donne, ed. Antonio Pace (Menasha, Wis.: George Banta, 1944), 1.3. All translations are mine.Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    For the text of sumptuary statutes passed in Florence in 1355 and 1356, around the time of the Contrasto, see the appendix to Giovanni Boccaccio, The Corbaccio, ed. and trans. Anthony K. Cassell (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), pp. 153–64.Google Scholar
  11. 33.
    For a brief account of slavery in Florence, see John Larner, Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch, 1216–1380 (London and New York: Longman, 1980), pp. 199–200; for an extended account, see Iris Origo, “The Domestic Enemy: Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the 14th and 15th Centuries,” Speculum 30 (1955): 321–66.Google Scholar
  12. 34.
    The former interpretation is Larner’s; for the latter, see Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 104.Google Scholar
  13. 35.
    Pucci seems to have been especially interested in the challenge female domestic slaves posed to Florentine values and institutions. His poem “Le schiave hanno vantaggio in ciascun atto” [Slaves have the advantage in every act] argues that slave women have the advantage over married women because married women have to buy their husbands (by giving them a dowry), yet slaves satisfy their own sexual appetites better than wives do; though slaves work harder, they eat better; if slaves break something, they are scolded less than “una fiorentina.” The poem ends, “Uccida la contina/que’ che ’n Firenze prima le condusse,/ché si può dir che la città distrusse” [May continual fever kill/whoever first brought slavewomen to Florence,/because it can be said that he destroyed the city]; see G. Corsi, ed., Rimatori del Trecento (Turin: UTET, 1969), p. 812.Google Scholar
  14. 37.
    For a definintion of “honor” and its role in Florentine marriage, see Julius Kirshner, Pursuing Honor While Avoiding Sin: The Monte delle Doti of Florence (Milan: Dott. A. Giuffre: 1978), pp. 5–7.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    Ibid., p. 15.Google Scholar
  16. 39.
    Antonio Pucci, “Per ricordo de le bele done ch’erano in Firenze nel MCCCXXXV,” in La poesia popolare in Antonio Pucci, ed. Ferruccio Ferri (Bologna: Libreria L. Beltrami, 1909), pp. 255–60.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    Franco Sacchetti, La Battaglia delle belle donne di Firenze, ed. Sara Esposito (Rome: Zauli, 1996), and Franco Sacchetti, Le Trecentonovelle, ed. Emilio Faccioli (Turin: Einaudi, 1970).Google Scholar
  18. 42.
    Francesco Petrarca, Le Familiari, 21.8, ed. Vittorio Rossi, vol. 4, ed. Umberto Bosco (Florence: Edizione Nazionale delle opere di Francesco Petrarca, 1942), pp. 61–8, and Francesco Flamini, “Due Canzoni di Andrea da Pisa d’argomento storico,” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 15 (1890): 238–50.Google Scholar

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© Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees 2002

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  • Pamela Benson

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