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, she lived in Venice, Ferrara, Siena, and Florence before returning to Rome. Scholars debate whether Penelope d'Aragona, born in 1535, was her daughter rather than her sister, as they claimed. She also had a son, Celio, who is mentioned in her will. Because Tullia's mother was not married to her alleged father, Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona, Tullia's life was marked by the stigma of her illegitimate birth to a courtesan mother, on the one hand, and literary fame, on the other.


Tullia was born in Rome around 1510, to Giulia Campana, a courtesan. Also known as Giulia Ferrarese, the mother was lauded as "the most famous beauty of her day". Her father is claimed to be Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona, who was himself the illegitimate grandson of Ferdinand I of Naples. The Cardinal provided for her classical education in the humanities; young Tullia proved to be a child prodigy who amazed even her mother's 'guests'.

Her fame and success made her into the most celebrated of Renaissance poet-courtesans. With her intellect, literary abilities and social graces entertained powerful men and famous poets.

Years in Rome[edit]

Tullia d'Aragona

After the Cardinal's death in 1519, she spent seven years in Siena, before she returned to Rome in 1526. Entering into the world as courtesan at age 18, became successful as a writer and an intellectual. She was often seen in the company of poets, such as Sperone Speroni. 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.

Later years[edit]

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

At age 30, she 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.

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. 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 she 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)


External links[edit]