Tullia d'Aragona

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Tullia d'Aragona, portrayed as Salome L'Erodiade by Moretto da Brescia

Tullia d'Aragona (c. 1510 – 1556) was a 16th-century Italian poet, author and philosopher. Born in Rome in 1510, Tullia traveled throughout Venice, Ferrara, Siena, and Florence before returning to Rome. Throughout her life Tullia was esteemed one of the best female writers, poets, philosophers, and charmers of her time. Influencing many of the most famous male philosophers, Tullia’s work raised the status (in literature) of women to be on an equal footing as men. Her fame and success made her into the most celebrated of Renaissance poet-courtesans. With her intellect, literary abilities and social graces, she entertained powerful men and famous poets.

Early years[edit]

Tullia was born in Rome around 1510, to Giulia Campana, a courtesan of the time. Also known as Giulia Ferrarese, her mother was lauded as "the most famous beauty of her day". Her father was thought to be Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona, who was himself the illegitimate grandson of Ferdinand I of Naples. Allegedly in order to cover up the scandal, Campana married Constanzo Palmieri d’Aragona. While it is not confirmed, many researches predict that this was a way for the family to save face, while also allowing Ferdinand to continue to see Campana. The Cardinal provided for Tullia her classical education in the humanities; young Tullia proved to be a child prodigy who amazed even her mother's 'guests.' Because Tullia's mother was not married to her father, Tullia's life was marked by the stigma of her illegitimate birth to a courtesan mother.

Years in Rome[edit]

Tullia d'Aragona

Entering into the world as courtesan at age 18, Tullia became successful as a writer and an intellectual. She was often seen in the company of poets, such as Sperone Speroni. After the Cardinal's death in 1519, Tullia spent seven years in Siena, before she returned to Rome in 1526. Available evidence suggests that she was highly mobile and stayed in Bologna in 1529, where Pope Clement VII and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were engaged in negotiations after the Sack of Rome in 1527.

In 1531, she became involved with Filippo Strozzi, a Florentine banking magnate who had been famous for a short-lived affair with Italy's most beautiful courtesan, Camilla Pisana. Strozzi became so enamored with d'Aragona that he shared state secrets with her and had to be recalled to Florence. Other lovers included Emilio Orsini, who founded a Tullia Society of six cavaliers who protected her honor.

In 1535, Penelope d’Aragona was born in Rome. Scholars debate whether Penelope d'Aragona was Tullia's daughter (Tullia at the time was 25 years old), or her sister, as the family claimed.

Later years[edit]

The title page of a 1552 edition of her Dialogues on the Infinity of Love.

At age 30, Tullia moved to Venice, where she became involved with poet Bernardo Tasso.

In 1537, Battista Stambellino's correspondence to Isabella D'Este suggests she was living in Ferrara. Ferrara was a capital for arts and culture, and d'Aragona made full use of her skills for singing and sharp-tongued entertainment. Two of Italy's literary giants, Girolamo Muzio and Ercole Bentivoglio, both fell in love with her. Muzio wrote five ardent eclogues to her, naming her as "Thalia", while Bentivoglio went so far as to carve her name on every tree on the Po River. When she left Ferrara four years later, reportedly more than one man had attempted suicide for her.

In 1543, she is recorded to have married Silvestro Guiccardi of Ferrara, whom we do not know anything about. The only evidence of their relationship is a malicious comment that was made by Agnolo Firenzuola who claimed that Tullia let her husband die of hunger. For Tullia, this marriage acted as a way for her to “exempt herself from living in the neighborhood designated for prostitues,” and allowed her to wear clothing that distinguished her as a noble woman. Tullia did, however, have a confirmend son Celio, who is mentioned in her will, but it is unconfirmed whether or not Guiccardi was the father.

In 1545/6, she was again in Siena, but fled civic unrest there and arrived in Florence, where she became an attendant at the court of Cosimo I de Medici, then Grand Duke of Tuscany.

While there, she composed Dialogues on the Infinity of Love (1547), which is a Neo-Platonist assertion of women's sexual and emotional autonomy within exchanges of romantic love. Initially published in Venice, Italy in 1547 (in Italian), the novel has been translated in recent years in English for the first time by Rinaldina Russell and Bruce Merry in 1997. This book of philosophy was the first of its kind, for it cast a female rather than a male as the main commentator/ knowledge holder on the ethics of love. During Tullia's life, all forms of sensual experiences were considered sacrilegious, but Tulia argues in her work that all sexual drives are uncontrollable and blameless, and that they combined with spiritual needs create the only moral form of love. The only way for love to be honorable, according to this piece, is if both males and females accept and acknowledge their sexual and spiritual desires (of their body and soul). This concept not only validated the importance of sexual desires within a society that choose to repress such things, but also vindicated the role and power of women in a society that viewed women as less than. Tullia brings women to an equal level with men in regards to both their sexual nature and their intellect.[1]

During the preceding century, the Medici court had sponsored considerable revival of Neo-Platonist scholarship, particularly Marsilio Ficino, who had also written on the nature of sexual desire and love from this perspective. At the same time, she wrote a series of sonnets that praised the attributes of prominent Florentine noblemen of her era, or celebrated contemporary literary figures. Her last known work, Il Meschino, is an epic poem, which related the experiences of a captive youth, Giarrino, who was enslaved and journeyed across Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as Purgatory and Hell, trying to find his lost parents.

As an aging forty-year-old, d'Aragona continued writing sonnets, especially to historian and poet Benedetto Varchi, who inspired her. With his patronage and her intellect, she turned her house into a philosophical academy for the cognoscenti, and she continued to thrive as a writer.

After this, d'Aragona returned to Rome from Florence, and little further is known about her life. She died in 1556 in Rome. After her death, there were posthumous editions of her work in Italian, in 1552, 1694, 1864, 1912, 1974, 1975 and 1980. Her work has been discussed in the University of Chicago's "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe" series, which deals with texts from Renaissance era female authors, as well as male advocates of women's emancipation from that era.


  • Rime della signora Tullia d'Aragona e di diversi a lei (1547); translated as Dialogues on the Infinity of Love (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1997, ISBN 0-226-13639-6)
  • Dialogo dell'Infinità d'Amore (1547)
  • Il Meschino, o il Guerino (1560)


  1. ^ Aragona, Tullia D' Preface. Dialogue on the Infinity of Love. Trans. Rinaldina Russell and Bruce Merry. Chicago: U o


  • Julia Hairston: D'Aragona, Tullia: c1510-1556: An article in the database of Italian women writers hosted by the University of Chicago Library.
  • Georgina Masson: "Tullia d'Aragona, Intellectual Courtesan" in G.Masson (ed)Courtesans of the Italian Renaissance: London: Secker and Warburg: 1975: 91–131: ISBN 0-436-27352-7
  • Elizabeth A. Pallitto, "Laura's Laurels: Re-visioning Platonism and Petrarchism in the Philosophy and Poetry of Tullia d'Aragona," PhD Dissertation in Comparative Literature, City University of New York Graduate Center, 2002.
  • Elizabeth A. Pallitto (trnsl/ed): "Sweet Fire: Tullia d'Aragona's Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose": George Braziller: 2006: ISBN 0-8076-1562-5
  • Rinaldina Russell: "Tullia d'Aragona" in R.Russell (ed) Italian Women Writers: London: Greenwood: 1994: 26–34. ISBN 0-313-28347-8
  • Sunshine for Women: Tullia d'Aragona: 1510–1556: Concise biographical account and excerpts from Dialogues of the Infinity of Love
  • Authors in Rooms of Their Own ‘Shakespeare’s Sisters’ at the Folger Shakespeare Library (Exhibit of Tullia's original works)
  • Monika Antes, “Die Kurtisane. Tullia d'Aragona”, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2006. ISBN 978-3-8260-3333-9
  • (in Italian) Monika Antes, “Tullia d'Aragona, cortigiana e filosofa” Mauro Pagliai Editore, Deizione Polistampa, Firenze 2011. ISBN 978-88-564-0170-7
  • Aragona, Tullia D' Preface. Dialogue on the Infinity of Love. Trans. Rinaldina Russell and Bruce Merry. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1997. N. pag. Print.
  • Pallitto, Elizabeth. "Tullia D'Aragona." Tullia D'Aragona. Project Continua, 2016. Web. 19 Oct.2016.
  • Hairston, Julia A. "Tullia D'Aragona." Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press, 28 Apr. 2016.Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

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