Monday, February 2, 2015


This painting of Veronica Franco is attributed
to the artist Tintoretto

Venice, Italy
Her mother, Paola Fracassa, had been a courtesan before she was married.  When Veronica left her marriage to a Doctor Panizza, a marriage which her mother had arranged, and not long after she married him, Veronica became a courtesan too.  In the seaport that was 16th century Venice, out of a population of about 100,000, some estimate that there were 10,000 - 11,000 prostitutes.  How many of these were elevated to the status of Courtesan? 
Well, a woman's reputation and social standing were better if she was married or protected by the politicians, and yes some of those prostitutes and Courtesans were married women.  It was sex work but being a Courtesan was a way of being and living that wasn't just about the sex.  The politicians who made the rules and the laws were intently interested in the place of women in their society, while no doubt some of them took advantage of their position.  Venice had always been a seaport town, a place of trade, and poorer women didn't have the opportunities for marriage that richer women did.  To marry a noble or aristocrat a woman had to have a dowry that would impress his family.  Veronica's mother, though married and thus ending her days as a woman who could be respected, had still scraped together a dowry for her daughter, and clearly Veronica was not the recipient of an inheritance that might have allowed her to write without being a Courtesan.
In 1542 authorities determined that a Meretrice was a woman who was either not married at all, sexually active with one or more men (like many women are today), or married but not living with her husband, while a Cortigiana, was well, a woman who accepted patronage, money, gifts, from men for sex, though this could be one man or many, and she could be living with her husband.
In her fertile years, Veronica Franco gave birth to six children by six different men, three who lived past infancy and her husband was not father to any of them.  To me the fact that three of her children died is telling.  Though one of the children is said to have been fathered by a nobleman from one of the most powerful families in the city,  it is not known if any of her children made it to adulthood to help her in her old age when she struggled financially.  During her best years in which she had achieved fast upward mobility due to the quality of her patrons, Veronica was wealthy and not only supporting the children but herself and a large household that included tutors for the children and servants, and she was writing and publishing poetry and literature, mingling with the artists, politicians, and other mostly male poets, asking for work as an editor, and giving handouts to the poorer prostitutes who were worn out. 
By being an artist and poet and openly competing with men for public work and patronage,  unlike a submissive wife, Veronica was able to speak her mind among the intelligencia, and her way with words and her honesty is what saved her.  She was judged honest by men in her dealings with them in the sex trade and she was able to elevate her reputation through intelligence and talent. When Venice was in a decline, which some religious authorities blamed on its evil, as evidenced by it's prostitution, Veronica Franco was called to defend herself by the frightening Inquisition.  In 1580 she was accused of performing incantations in her house and being a heretic.  Denounced as a witch, Veronica got free by not denying what she was, thus she has been called "The Honest Courtesan."
C 2014  / Missy Rapport  All Rights Reserved including International and Internet Rights.
Interested in other Mistresses?  Try using the search block on the sidebar of this blog using the words "Historical Mistresses"  or page through past archives!

No comments: