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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Olympia Morata

b. 1526, Ferrara, Italy; d. 1555, Heidelberg, Germany

The court of Ferrara, where Olympia Morata was born, became a hotbed of evangelical Protestantism when the duke of Este married Renée of France in 1534. The new duchess of Ferrara established a “court within a court” that functioned as a center of Calvinist and Reformation ideas in papist Italy. Renée’s court came under papal scrutiny and charges of heresy were a constant danger. This is the atmosphere in which Olympia Morata spent many of her formative years. Educated by her father, a tutor at the court and a humanist scholar sympathetic to the new religious currents, Olympia was a precocious child, excelling in the study of Homeric poetry, Latin, and philosophy. Her youthful erudition made her something of a celebrity at court. Her conversion to Protestantism, however, placed her in an increasingly precarious position, as the pope began to demand an Inquisition against Renée and her entourage. In 1549/50, Olympia married Andrew Grunthler, a German physician who shared her religious commitments, and they moved to Schweinfurt, which had been declared a Protestant town in 1541. It was here that Olympia rededicated her life to biblical scholarship and corresponded with the leading Protestant theologians of the day. The couple’s respite was temporary; they fled to Heidelberg in 1554, when Schweinfurt was attacked in the German wars of religion. Olympia died several months later, probably of tuberculosis. Beloved in learned circles throughout Europe as a magnificent scholar, reviled by critics as a “Calvinist Amazon,” Olympia’s writings were published by friends in 1558.