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Julia Lombardo, “Somtuosa Meretrize“: A Portrait by Property

  • Cathy Santore (a1)


The examination of the life and times of Julia Lombardo through the inventories of her possessions (Appendices I & II) enhances our understanding of the role of the courtesan in sixteenth-century Venetian society. Conserved in the archives of the Istituzioni di Rico vero e di Educazione, they are the only inventories of a Venetian courtesan from the Renaissance which have come to light. These documents afford an intimate glimpse into the interior of a prostitute's home in a city renowned for such services. Julia herself invites a closer look by what she reveals and conceals in her Condiccion(Appendix III). In composing this statement of her assets, written in her own hand, she puts to use the wiles needed for success in her mestiere. Other documents excluded from the appendices but utilized in the text aid in developing a picture of this woman. The comments of her contemporaries augment the image.



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1 I. R. E. was formally established in 1939 but its archives have only been organized and opened for research since 1978. The institution was originally founded by Napoleon in 1807 when all the various charitable institutions of the city were united as the Congregazione di Carità. Since a charitable institution was heir and administrator of the iombardo estate the documents are preserved at I. R. E. I would like to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for providing the funds which made it possible for me to research this article. I am indebted to Gino Corti and Giovanni Dall'Orto, from whom I learned so much, for their assistance in the transcription of the appendices. I wish to especially thank Giuseppe Ellero, archivista at Archivio I. R. E., for his knowledgeable comments and patient responses to my numerous queries. Warm gratitude, as always, to Colin Eisler for his steadfast support and for the prod that propelled me to undertake this project.

2 Marino Sanuto, I Diarii, ed. Rinaldo Fulin et al., 33 (Venice, 1879-1902): 9Maggio 1522.

3 Ibid., ioMaggio 1522.

4 Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Provveditori Sopra la Sanità, Capitolare, I. C. 33. Cited in: Pavan, Elizabeth, “Police des moeurs, societe et politique à Venise à la fin du Moyen Age,” Revue Historique, 264 (1981): 241-288.

5 Notatorio 5, Provveditori alia Sanità, 1542-1554, 22 Maggio 1543, carta 30V, in Leggi e Memorie Venete sulla Prostituzione fino alia caduta della Republica (Venice, 1870- 72) 274.

6 Archivio I.R. E., Venice, Derelitti, Commissaria Leoncini, busta II. In 1548 the average yearly rent for a casa signorile in Venice was about 44 ducati. A modest home rented for a third of that price (Michelangelo Muraro, “I conti in tasca a Lorenzo Lotto” in Notizie da Palazzo Albani, 13.1 [1984] 150). Lorenzo Lotto rented living quarters in Venice in 1547 for as little as 14 ducati a I'anno (Lorenzo Lotto, II Lihro di spese diverse, ed. Pietro Zampetti [Venice-Rome, 1969] 27). Titian lived more comfortably paying 60 ducati a I'anno for his home. He spent an additional 32 ducats a year for the ground floor rooms of the house in which he lived. He sublet those rooms to two gentlemen charging 14 and 16 ducats apiece, absorbing a 2 ducat loss in the transaction. Titian claims he did this so that the rooms would not be let to prostitutes (Titian, Tiziano: Le Lettere, ed. C. Gandini [Belluno, 1977] 232).

Julia's rent would be well beyond the means of a working class person. A common laborer was paid about 3 ducats per month. A master's garzone earned a bit more than 5 ducats a year in Venice plus room and board (Muraro 149) making Michelangelo's wage paid to a servant of a little less than a ducat a month seem generous (E. H. Ramsden, trans, and editor, Letters of Michelangelo [London and Stanford, 1963] Appendix III, 223). Lotto paid an elderly female servant only 4 ducats a year (Lotto 126-27). Moving up the social ladder Ludovico Ariosto, as factotum to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este earned 25 scudi every four months. The scudo was the gold coin which superseded the ducat. The Venetian scudo was first minted in 1528 and was worth slightly more than the ducato.

From the c. 1565 Catalogo de Tutte he principal et più honorate cortegiane di venetia we learn it numero de li dinari che hanno da pagar quelli gentilhomeni che desiderano entrar nella sua gratia was between 1 and 30 scudi per encounter. One-tenth of the 215 women listed in this catalogue charged more than 8 scudi. Eight of the women earned fees between 15-30 scudi. However, the crème de la crème could earn even more. Graf, A., Attraverso il Cinquecento (Turin, 1888) records that in 1549 a certain prostitute demanded 80 scudi when in vogue, and 16 scudi when she fell out of favor. The cortegiana onesta would also be rewarded with expensive tokens of her lover's affection.

In comparison, during the early sixteenth century, Venetian law limited a wealthy woman's dowry to 5,000 ducati (a sum which a popular courtesan could earn in six mclhths), but there were exceptional dowries of 8,000 and 10,000 ducats (Stanley Chojnacki, “La posizione della donna a Venezia nel cinquecento,” in Tiziano e Venezia [Vicenza, 1980] 69).

7 Archivio I. R. E., Venice, Derelitti, Comm. Angelica Leoncini, busta I, n. 27.

8 The transcription of the documents in the appendices is true to the text with the exception of contractions and abbreviations formed by symbols; the symbols are not retained and the word is spelled out. A glossary defining the more obscure words of Venetian dialect is provided.

9 Measurements in the inventory are given in quarte and braccia. A quarte = c. 17 cm., and a braccio = c. 59 cm.

10 Levi-Pisetzsky, Rosita, Storia del costume in Italia, 3 (Milan, 1966): 76-77.

11 Cognasso, Francesco, L'ltalia nel Rinascimento, Società e costume 1 (Turin, 1965): 149.

12 Levi-Pisetzsky 77 and n. 151.

13 La Tariffa delle puttane … [Venice] (1535): cited in Luzio, Alessandro, Pietro Aretino neiprimi suoi anni a Venezia e la corte dei Gonzaga (Turin, 1888) 122.

14 Archivio I. R. E., Venice, Derelitti, Comm. Angelica Leoncini, busta I, n. 27. Copia tratta de libro de catasticho di Padoana existente in l’officio di Died Savii, sopra la decima, A.C. 419.

15 The values given in Appendix II are in lire and soldi which were monies of account. Official bookeeping was done according to the old Lire, soldi, denari system. 240 denari = 1 lira, 20 soldi = 1 lira. At the time the inventory was compiled a ducato of real gold was valued at approximately 7 lire. (William A. Shaw, History of Currency, 1252 to 1894 [New York: 1899] 313-16).

16 Archivio I. R. E., Venice Derelitti, Comm. Leoncini, busta I, n. 28.

17 In this atmosphere Anton Francesco Doni could publish his Pistolotti, a book of letters addressed to courtesans. Venice is the city which allowed Antonio Brocardo to deliver his oration In lode delle cortegiane. Speroni comments on the oration to Tullia d'Aragona, a courtesan visiting Venice, saying that Brocardo so exalted the courtesan, that if the Roman Lucretia came back to life and heard the speech she would lead the life of a courtesan. Speroni argues that Brocardo demonstrated that to live otherwise is to violate nature and that “egli pruova, in che modo li costumi cortigianeschi (se quelli bene istimiamo) sono via e scala alia cognitione di Dio … ” in Sperone Speroni, I Dialegi di Messer Speron Sperone, Dialogo d'Amove (Venice, 1542) fols. 2IV-22.

18 Tomas Coryat, Crudities, 2nded. ( l6u ; rpt . New York, 1905) 405.

19 Brantôme, The Lives of Gallant Ladies, trans. A[lec] Brown (1665; London, 1961) 167.

20 Pictro Aretino, I Ragionamenti/Dialogues, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (1534; New York, 1973) 262. Roman courtesans, too, flaunted their literacy. Bandello, Le Novelle, 42 (1554), describing the home of the famous Imperia, writes that on a table covered with green velvet, “V'erano poi parecchi libretti volgari e latini riccamente adornati.” In Flora, Francesco, ed., tutte le opere di Matteo Bandello, 2 (Milan, 1952): 462.

21 Cropper, Elizabeth, “On Beautiful Women, Parmigianino, Petrarchismo and the Vernacular Style,” Art Bulletin, 58 (1976): 385, discuses the foggia Petrarca. She cites Graf, A., Attraverso il Cinquecento (Turin, 1916) and Aretino, P., I Ragionamenti (Bari, 1962), 9495 .

22 In Leggi e Memorie … 268. Letter from Francesco Mazardo to Thoma Tiepolo recorded by Sanuto, Diarii, 54: carta 215.

23 Archivio I. R. E., Comm. Leoncini, busta I, n. 51.

24 Ibid.

25 Julia Lombardo was not the first or only 16th-century prostitute to be entombed within the walls of a church. Sanuto, Diarii, 19: 16 ottobre 1514 remarks that the courtesan Lucia Trevisan “fo sepulta a Santa Caterina.” Brantome, Lives of Gallant Ladies 359, cites the epitaph of a courtesan buried in S. Maria del Popolo, Rome. Casagrande, Rita, La Cortegiana Veneziana nel Cinquecento (Milan, 1968) 232 , notes that in 1556 Tullia d'Aragona was entombed in the church of S. Agostino, Rome, alongside her mother (who also had been a courtesan) and her sister. The famous Imperia's last resting place was San Gregorio, Rome in 1511 (G. Biagi, “Un'etera romana” in Nuova Antologia, ser. 3, 4 (1886): 656-711.

26 Archivio I. R. E., Com. Leoncini, busta I, n. 66.

27 Sansovino, Francesco, Venetia, citta nobilissima et singolare, ed. Giovanni Stringa (Venice, 1604) 117 .

28 Domenico Martinelli, Il ritratto overo le cose piu notabili di Venezia … (1682; Venice, 1705) 218.

29 Moschini, Giannantonio, Guida per la città di Venezia all'amico delle belle arti, I . I (Venice, 1815); 39 .

30 An alternative idea is that the “quadreto” was the gift and likeness of a friend— one not too concerned with remaining in Julia's favor.

31 Coryat, Crudites 403.

32 Gamba, Bartolommeo, Lettere di donne italiane del secolo XVI (Venice, 1832) 199 201 . Records letter of Veronica Franco thanking Tintoretto for the portrait.

33 Philip Rylands, “Palma Vecchio (i48o?-i528),” diss., Kings College, Cambridge Univ. 1980, 104. Rylands notices an item in the 1528 inventory of Palma's studio which reads, “retrato de la car.” con cavelj butadj su le spale et vestida de verde meza facta … “ and explains that the abbreviation car.a means carampana which was a Venetian colloquialism for prostitute. In the Quattrocento, there was an attempt to confine prostitutes to the Cà Rampani quarter of the city, whence the term derives. The etymology of the word is discussed in Sansovino, F., Delle Cose Notabili delta citta di Venetia (Venice, 1583) 24 .

34 An illustration of the engraving can be found in Antonio Barzaghi, Donne 0 cortigiane? la prostituzione a Venezia document! di costume dal XVI al XVIII secolo (Verona, 1980) pl. 24.

35 This was a common Renaissance practice; such covers by Lorenzo Lotto are to be found in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

36 It is noteworthy that in some seventeenth-century Dutch paintings depicting the interiors of courtesans’ homes pictures of nudes decorate the walls. One such work by MichieKvan Musscher, The Doctor's Visit, private collection, U.S.A. (illustrated in Philadelphia Museum of Art, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting; March 18-May 13, 1984, ed. Jane Iandola Watkins [Philadelphia, 1984] pi. 80) includes a painting of a Venetian type of reclining Venus stylistically reminiscent of Palma Vecchio. As Dutch painting sometimes reflected sixteenth-century Venetian prototypes, perhaps works such as these reflect a seventeenth-century Dutch reality which derived from Venetian origins.

37 Giuseppe Ellero, “L'oro dei ricche e Tore dei Poveri,” Oro di Venezia 5a Mostra dell'Oreficeria, Gioielleria, Argenteria: Antichi Argenti Veneti, VeneziaCà Vendramin Calergi, 29 Marzo-12 Aprile 1981, 59-60.

38 A procuress in Aretino's Ragionamenti 176, assures her friend that such a misdemeanor can be absolved “with the petition of a little penance and two drops of holy water.”

39 References to these rulings are noted in Leggi e memorie 274, 276, 279 and in Barzaghi23, 24.

40 Vecellio, Cesare, Degli habiti antichi e moderni di diverse parte del mondo (Venice, 1580) 147V.

41 Moryson, Fynes, Shakespeare's Europe: A Survey of the Condition of Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, being unpublished chapters ofFynes Mory son's Itinerary (1617) (New York, 1967) 457 .

42 Bertelli, Pietro, Diversarum Nationum Habitus (Padua, 1589).

43 I589. 14 Iuglio. Registro 33, Communi Consiglio de'Dieci, carta 167 v. In Leggi e memorie … 121.

44 Aretino, Ragionamenti 206 and 133.

45 Ibid. 250-51 and 262. Nanna understands the treacheries of musical enchantment and warns, “Any whore who starts singing songs and can read music from a book at sight, stay away from her—in fact run as fast as you can, even in your bare feet.” 138.

46 Aretino, Pietro, The Letters of Pietro Aretino, ed. Thomas Caldecot Chubb (New Haven, 1967) 294 .

46 Casagrande, Cortegiana 197. Parabosco dedicated his Prima Libro dei Madrigali to La Stampa the “Divina sirena.” He praises her musical talents in a letter: 197-98. 48Sanuto, Diarii, 19, 16 ottobre 1514.

49 Bongi, S., Il veto giallo di Tullia d'Aragona (Florence, 1886) 5 contains a letter of 1546 from Niccolo Martelli to Tullia in which he praised her playing and singing. Cartwright, Julia, Isabella d'Este, 2 (London, 1907): 384, letter of 1537 from Stabellino to Isabella in which he praises Tullia's musical abilities.

50 Coryat, Crudities 405.

51 Franco, Giacomo, Habiti d'Homini et Donne Venetiane (Venice, 1610) pl. 35.

52 B. Castiglione allows a more liberal-minded interlocutor in the Book of the Courtier (1528) to defend the right of ladies to play music, but demands that they perform modestly and shyly. He considers wind instruments and drums improper for women. Trans. George Bull (1967; Middlesex, Eng. and New York, 1983) 215.

53 Dolce, Lodovico, Paraphrasi nella sesta satira di Giuvenale (Venice, 1538) unpaginated. 54 Ferrero, Giuseppe Guido, ed., Letteredel Cinquecento (Turin, 1948) 56 . Yet another Italian father, Guasco, Annibal, in Ragionamento del Sig. Annibal Guasco ad Lavinia sua figliuola, della maniera del governarsi ella in corte; andando, per dama alia Serenissima Infante D. Caterina Duchessa di Savoia (Turin, 1586), advises his 12-year-old daughter to assiduously practice her music so as to win praise at court. Cited in Kelso, Ruth, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance 1450-1600 (Urbana, 1978) 228 .

55 In Trissino's Ritratti (1513), Bembo says of Isabella d'Este, “And if you had once heard her sing to the lute you would, like the Sirens, forget home and country to follow its enchanted melody.” Quoted from Cartwright, Isabella d'Este 103-104. Cartwright at 385 cites letter from Benedetto Accolti, Cardinal of Ravenna to Ercole Gonzaga describing the entertainment provided by Duke Ercole d'Este's six-year-old daughter who played the gravicembalo to the delight of all at a courtly gathering.

56 Rodocanachi, E., La Femme italienne avant, pendant et après la Renaissance (Paris, 1922) 41 n. 3 quotes letter by Lucretia in which she defends her decision.

57 The Roman Imperia, on the same table on which she displayed her books, kept “sempre … liuto o cetra con libri di musica e altri instrumenti musici.” Bandello, Novelle 462. Surely the Renaissance courtesan's self-conscious concern with music stemmed, in part, from an awareness of the esteem in which her ancient predecessors were held as musicians.

58 Ellero, “L'oro dei ricche” 59.

59 Giacomo Franco, Habiti Delle Donne Venetiane intagliate in Rame (undated, c. 1591?)pl.II.

60 Some of the birds may also carry symbolic meaning. The doves are the birds of Venus, and the peacock can symbolize Pride and Vanitas. This painting is catalogued in the Correr Museum, Venice as Due Dame Veneziane, but is widely known as Two Courtesans. There is a continuing debate as to whether the women portrayed are courtesans or gentildonne. The Torella stemma appears in the painting and it has been argued that the women are ladies of that family. However, the relaxed, inelegant posture of the two figures is so radical a departure from the canonical self-composed, lady-like attitude assumed by gentildonne in Venetian portraiture, as to be a glaring admission of their exceptional status. For a definitive discussion of this painting see the forthcoming article by this author in Arte Veneta, 1988.

61 Aretino, Ragionamenti 126.

62 lbid. 264.

63 Ellero, “L'oro dei ricche” 59-60.

64 Andrea Calmo, Le lettere di messer Andrea Calmo, ed. Vittorio Rossi (c. 1547; Turin, 1888)285.

65 F. Vecellio, Degli habiti, in the chapter “Cortegiana fuori di casa.” See also Casagrande, La Cortegiana Veneziana 131-32, and Barzaghi, Donne 0 cortigiane 23.

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Julia Lombardo, “Somtuosa Meretrize“: A Portrait by Property

  • Cathy Santore (a1)


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