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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Tarquinia Molza

b. 1542, Modena, Italy; d. 1617, Modena, Italy

Poet, musician, composer, classical scholar, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician—Tarquinia Molza inspired admiration not only for her agile intellect but for her independent spirit. Born into an artisan family of Modena, she was a renowned singer and published poet by the early 1570s. At the age of forty, a childless widow of independent means, she nevertheless accepted a salaried position at the court of Ferrara with a chamber ensemble, as a soprano vocalist and player of the lute and viola. That she was highly regarded is indicated by her salary—300 scudi a year, more than twice that of the court composer. This esteem, however, did not prevent her dismissal in 1589, when it was discovered that she was having an affair with a fellow musician. She returned to Modena, where she hosted lively salons and remained a central figure in the cultural life of northern Italy until her death. In 1600, the Roman Senate declared her an honorary citizen of the city, dubbing her “L’Unica.”