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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Dangerous Beauty - Serenissima Veronica Franco 韦罗妮卡·佛朗哥

Updated: Jan 14

Veronica Franco (1546–1591) was an Italian poet and courtesan in 16th-century Venice. She is known for her notable clientele, feminist advocacy, literary contributions, and philanthropy. Her humanist education and cultural contributions influenced the roles of Courtesans in the late Venetian Renaissance.

In her notable works, Capitoli in Terze rime and Lettere familiari a diversi ("Familiar Letters to Various People"), Franco uses perceived virtue, reason, and fairness to advise male patricians and other associates. She exercised greater autonomy in her authorship than any other traditional Venetian woman due to her established reputation and influence. She is remembered for the publication of her lyrical works as well as for her commitment to old and destitute courtesans, for whom she had planned to build a house to accommodate them.

In 1575, during the epidemic of plague that ravaged the city, Franco was forced to leave Venice and lost much of her wealth when her house and possessions were looted.Upon her return in 1577, she defended herself against charges of witchcraft before the Inquisition, a crime commonly lodged against courtesans in those days. The charges were dropped. There is evidence that her connections among the Venetian nobility helped in her acquittal. Her later life is largely obscure, though surviving records suggest that although she won her freedom, she lost all of her material goods and wealth. Eventually, her last major benefactor died and left her with no financial support. There is little information for her life after 1580. Records suggest that she was less prosperous in her later years and is believed to have died in relative poverty.

n 1575, Franco's first volume of poetry was published, her Terze rime, containing 18 capitoli (verse epistles) by her and 7 by men writing in her praise. That same year saw an outbreak of plague in Venice, one that lasted two years and caused Franco to leave the city and to lose many of her possessions. In 1577, she unsuccessfully proposed to the city council that it should establish a home for poor women, of which she would become the administrator.

In 1580, Franco published her Lettere familiari a diversi ("Familiar Letters to Various People") which included 50 letters, as well as two sonnets addressed to King Henry III of France.

Franco's success was not limited to being a coveted courtesan. It was her wittiness and often criticized voice that was immortalized by way of being published that brought forth much recognition. Records indicate that the number of actual publications was limited as they were thought to have been at her own expense or private publications. Her work is known to have been included in an anthology of women poets in the 18th century (1726) that was edited by Luisa Bergalli.

"When we too are armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards. Women have not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow." — Veronica Franco

This is just another streetside portrait for a local Venetian lady during Carnevale. Historical costumes and painted faces are actually much more popular with the locals…

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