Isabella Andreini

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Isabela Andreini. Print of 1588.

Isabella Andreini (Padua, 1562 – 10 June 1604),[1] also known as Isabella Da Padova, was an Italian actress and writer.

Isabella Andreini was a member of the Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi, an important touring theatre company that performed for the highest social circles of Italy and France. Famous in her time, and ever distinguished alike for her acting and her character, the Isabella role of the commedia dell'arte, was named after her.


Presumed portrait by Paolo Veronese, c. 1585–1588[2]

Isabella Andreini was born Isabella Canali in Padua, to Venetian parents.

In 1578, Isabella Andreini was hired by the troupe of Flaminio Scala, the Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. The Gelosi were patronized by the aristocracy of northern Italy, usually performing for the gentry of Italy and France. Henry III of France was fond of the troupe, and Isabella performed for him in those very early years.

The plays were mainly scripted, but improvisation played an important role within the commedia dell'arte style. From the beginning, Isabella particularly performed the role of the enamored woman, the prima donna innamorata, and she liked to improvise so the traditional character was less dull and more savvy. She was daring and memorable, sometimes taking off or tearing her clothes onstage. Additionally, Isabella was recognized for her flexibility, an important skill for all commedia dell'arte characters, regardless of sex. Isabella worked with the Gelosi until her death.

In 1578 Isabella Andreini met and married Francesco Andreini, who would become the director of the company (1589). Isabella became both the leading lady and an important voice within the Gelosi company. Together with her husband she managed the troupe's activities and she negotiated with possible patrons.[3]

Isabella bore seven children, three boys and four girls, while touring in the Gelosi. She was a dedicated mother. While her firstborn son, Giambattista, continued the theatrical tradition, all her other children were raised by the aristocracy of Mantua to become clergy in Italian monasteries, except one son who became a guard of a duke.

The commedia dell'arte troupe of the Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting (Musée Carnavalet, Paris). The woman is usually identified as Isabella.

In 1589, Isabella Andreini performed her comic work Pazzia d'Isabella (Isabella's madness) for the Florentine court during the wedding of Ferdinando I de' Medici and Christina of Lorraine, and the details of the mostly improvised play have endured until modern times. Fluent in several languages, she was renowned for her intellectual presentation and refined presence. In this play she creates madness by using several languages and then imitating dialects of the other characters on stage.[4]

In 1599, Isabella Andreini performed before Henry IV, King of France, and his wife Maria de Medici.

Isabella performed at least once for two other troupes: the Confidenti of the Duke of Mantua in 1589, and the Uniti in 1601.

In 1602, Isabella toured northern Italy, and in 1603 she performed again for Henry IV, Marie de' Medici and a local audience at Fontainebleau and Paris. This would be her last tour, because early in 1604 she died near Lyon, on her way back to Italy, when she miscarried her eighth child.

The death of Isabella was observed by the people of Lyon, with a public funeral and an engraved medallion of that year which featured Isabella's portrait on one side, and the figure of Fame on the reverse with the words aeterna fama. Although Francesco Andreini dissolved the Gelosi after her death, their son Giambattista Andreini, who was an actor and a playwright, started his own company, the Fedeli, with the original troupe of the Gelosi.

Literary works[edit]

Portrait from Rime, engraved by Raphael Sadeler, 1602

Beside performing on stage, Isabella Andreini was a recognized intellectual who dedicated much of her time to literature. The themes of her plays were shaded with some notions questioning the situation of the woman in the society of that epoch. Indeed, after publishing Mirtilla (1588) she began corresponding with contemporary intellectuals, attending their forums, and -an uncommon achievement for a woman in her era- in 1601 she was integrated into the literary society of the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia, for which she adopted the nickname of Accesa. In a poetry contest held by the Cardinal Giorgio Cinthio Aldobrandini of Rome, Isabella Andreini attained second place, only behind the Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso. Like the Tasso, both Gabriello Chiabrera and Giambattista Marino have praised her.

Apart from writing plays, Isabella also wrote poetry and corresponded with a great variety of people[4]


  • Her sonnets were published in diverse Italian books of anthology. (since 1587)
  • Mirtilla, a pastoral drama, with some feminist advocacy. (1588)
  • Rime, a collection of 359 poems (1601, in Italian language). In 1603, the French version was published for her tour of France.
  • Rime..., Parte seconda. (posthumous, 1605)
  • Lettere di Isabella Andreini padovana comica gelosa, a collection of fictional correspondence, about her personal life and art in general, for being performed as monologues onstage. (posthumous, 1607)
  • Fragmenti de alcune scritture, a collection of improvised dialogs (contrasti) of Isabella's Inamorati characters, gathered by her husband. (posthumous, 1617)


She inspired many French poets, notably Isaac du Ryer (d. c. 1631).

The commedia dell'arte stock character Isabella, used by subsequent commedia troupes, is named in her honor. In particular, this school of theater has studied the posthumous works of Isabella Andreini, Rime, Parte seconda and Fragmenti de alcune scritture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Savoia 2008, p. 28.
  2. ^ Aliverti 2008.
  3. ^ Robin, Larsen & Levin 2007, p. 9.
  4. ^ a b Robin, Larsen & Levin 2007, p. 11.


  • Aliverti, Maria Ines (2008). "An Icon for a New Woman: A Previously Unidentified Portrait of Isabella Andreini by Paolo Veronese", Early Theatre, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 159–180. doi:10.12745/et.11.2.789.
  • Biography Italian Women Writers, at the site of the University of Chicago.
  • Delplano, Roberto (1998). About the Innamorati characters and Isabella Andreini
  • Robin, Diana Maury; Larsen, Anne R.; Levin, Carole (2007). Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. ABC-CLIO, Inc. 
  • Savoia, Francesca (2008). "Isabella Andreini (1562? – 10 June 1604)", pp. 28–40, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 239: Seventeenth-Century Italian Poets and Dramatists, edited by Albert N. Mancini and Glenn Palen Pierce. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 9780787681579.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Andreini, Francesco". Encyclopædia Britannica 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]