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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Tullia D’Aragona

b. circa 1510, Rome; d. 1556, Rome

In Renaissance Italy, upper-class courtesans—the cortegiane honorate, or honorable courtesans—often received an education comparable to that of noblewomen. Although they enjoyed a certain degree of social independence not granted to the matron or widow, the cortegiane honorate tread a thin line between respectability and pariah status. Tullia d’Aragona was one such courtesan. Her name derives from the presumption that she was the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Luigi of Aragon, her mother’s lover. She became a poet much praised by fellow literati. Her frequent moves from city to city—Venice, Ferrara, Siena, Florence, Rome—were in part attempts to escape restrictions imposed on the courtesan, such as dress codes, and in part motivated by a desire to find a sympatico environment for her intellectual abilities. She published two works in 1547: Rime, a collection of sonnets written by Tullia or addressed to her by prominent men of letters; and the Dialogue on the Infinity of Love, Neoplatonic essay on the nature of love in which she insists on women’s autonomy in romantic relationships.