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Veronica Franco : a profile of a Cortigiana Letterata of the late renaissance Niccoli, Gabriel Adriano

Abstract

One of the most significant trends in contemporary literary criticism, both in Italy and abroad, is constituted by the effort to review the previous critical approach to the literature of the Italian sixteenth century, which is generally considered as one of the richest and most varied in the entire literary history of that country. The results of the works of the new generations of students of the Italian Cinquecento are already evident: former attitudes are corrected, or modified; major authors are seen in greater depth; writers, little known before or practically forgotten, are rediscovered and re-evaluated. In a sense Veronica Franco can be considered as one of the poets of the Cinquecento who begins only now to be seen in a full light. As we read older critical works on this Venetian writer we can see that she is frequently treated as a kind of historical curiosity, as a symbol, or a personification, of the alleged immorality of the time and of the society to which she belonged. The purpose of the present work is to outline an intellectual profile of Veronica Franco in order to define the actual character of her poetry and her prose and to determine her contribution to the development of Cinquecento lyrical poetry and more specifically to what is known as the crisis of the Petrarchan tradition. The investigation of the contributions of Veronica Franco to Italian literature is made more difficult by the fact that her reputation has been for a long time obscured by her avowed profession as a courtesan. This fact may determine a priori either a negative attitude, based on moralistic preconceptions, or an excess of enthusiasm, which is again of noncritical nature, as it may derive from the admiration for a free, unashamed and libertine conduct both in private and in public. In order to avoid these excesses the present work begins; with an analysis of the intellectual milieu in which Veronica Franco lived. Particular attention is given to the illustration of the concept of cortigiana letterata or cortigiana onesta. This appears to be quite necessary once we consider the fact that in her poetry and even in some of her letters Veronica Franco openly admits that she is professionally a prostitute and even declares that she frankly enjoys the pleasures of the flesh. Artistic endeavours on the other hand constitute for Veronica a way to redeem herself and to acquire a special kind of nobility. Indeed, the Venetian poetess may be considered 'honest' because of her sincere and profound appreciation of cultural values, because of her determination to acquire and refine the techniques of expression indispensable to the professional writer, and finally because of her sincerity, which constitutes one of the more relevant qualities of her literary production The second part of the present study is devoted to the close analysis of the prose work, and the third to the evaluation of Veronica's poems. Recent critics have repeatedly stressed the frankness and candor with which Veronica speaks about herself and about the circumstances of her life. Indeed, the literary production of Veronica is mainly of autobiographical and we might even say confessional nature. Contrasted with the artificiality of some of the sixteenth century collections of lyrical poetry, written in the manner peculiar to the Petrarchan tradition, the poems of Veronica, as well as some of her letters, impress the reader first of all because of their utter spontaneity. This is one of the more relevant novelties of Veronica's poetry. Franco's lack of affectation and pretentiousness, what we might call her inner coherence, permits her in her most felicitous moments to anticipate some of the conquests brilliantly exemplified in the lyrical production of Torquato Tasso. Franco attitude towards the Petrarchan tradition is independent and intelligent: rather than passively repeating situations and forms of expression typical of that tradition, Veronica strives to adapt the Petrarchan language to the expression of her personal world. In doing so she emerges as one of the most original and significant among the minor poets of the Italian sixteenth century. The methods of investigation followed in the course of the present work do not adhere strictly to the doctrines of any specific school of criticism. The investigation follows the lines of development usually adopted by contemporary scholars in studies of monographic nature as the present one. Particular attention was paid, both in the phase of preliminary research and in the actual writing, to the primary sources; namely, to the texts of Veronica Franco. The text itself, therefore, is considered the most important document. Also great attention has been paid to the bibliography: all the studies on Veronica Franco have been read and considered, except perhaps for some minor contributions difficult to obtain through the usual sources. Important works on the literary currents of the sixteenth century, of interest for the clarification of the position of Veronica Franco, have also been duly consulted.

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