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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Laura Cereta

b. 1469, Brescia, Italy; d. 1499, Brescia, Italy

Sent to a Brescian convent at the age of seven, Laura Cereta discovered the joys of learning thanks to an acute case of insomnia. The sympathetic prioress advised Laura to put her sleepless nights to use by studying, and gave the child a sound basis for scholarly pursuits by instructing her in Latin grammar. Cereta married at fifteen but was widowed eighteen months later when her husband died of the plague. Active in the humanist intellectual circles of Brescia, in about 1485 she began writing essay-like, often polemical, letters to fellow scholars, addressing a variety of social and personal issues that placed her squarely in the feminist camp of the debate about womanhood launched by Christine de Pisan’s Book of the City of Ladies. Cereta published the letters in 1488 in a series of manuscripts entitled Epistolares familiares. When she died suddenly, at the age of thirty, the city of Brescia honored her with a public funeral.