Moderata Fonte

Venice, 1555 – 1592

"The heart that dwells within my breast is free: / I serve no one, and belong to no one but myself. / virtue exalts me and chastity adorns me. / […] Beauty, youth, pleasures, and pomp are nothing to me, / except as a trophy to my pure thoughts, / offered up of my own free will and not through chance."

Moderata Fonte was born in Venice in 1555 and is recognized as one of the most original feminine voices of 16th century Italy. Her best-known work, Il merito delle done. Ove chiaramente si scuopre quanto siano elle degne e più perfette de gli huomini, was published posthumously in 1600.

Moderata Fonte was Modesta Pozzo de’ Zorzi’s pseudonym; she wrote, among others, the epic poem Tredici canti del Floridoro (1581), as well as religious poems such as La Passione di Christo (1582) and La Resurrettione di Giesu Christo Nostro Signore (1592). In these she describes in detail the emotional reactions of the main women who appear in the gospels: Virgin Mary and Maria Magdalene in the Passion; Magdalene in the Resurrection. Il merito delle donne remained unknown until 1988, when it was edited again by the scholar Adriana Chemello, who prefaced the book with an enlightening essay on the author which became fundamental to all subsequent studies on Moderata Fonte.

Il merito delle donne is a dialogue in which the author expresses her discomfort with men for their negative opinion on women. At the same time, it conveys a beautiful outline of her thought, undoubtedly involved with the debate on the value of the feminine figure which at that period had reached a violently misogynous tone. This is the debate known as the querelle des femmes, started by Christine de Pizan at the beginning of the 15th century. Nonetheless, it should be underlined, without undermining Moderata Fonte’s link to the querelle, that the interest of her work exceeds the dispute. Il merito is an attempt to defend women’s freedom, freedom that they deserve both for their actions and their qualities. According to Moderata, a careful—and critical—look at history and at her contemporaries would confirm the correctness of her claim.

Selected Works

Tredici canti / del Floridoro, / di Mad. Moderata Fonte. / Alli Sereniss. Gran Duca, et / Gran Duchessa di Thoscana / Con privilegio / In Venetia m.d.lxxxi.

Le Feste / Rappresentazione / avanti il Serenissimo / Prencipe di Venetia / Nicolo da Ponte / Il giorno di S. Stefano 1581 / di Moderata Fonte / [colophon:] In Venetia, appresso Domenico e Gio. Bat / tista Guerra, fratelli.

La / Passione / di Christo / Descritta in ottava rima / da Moderata / Fonte / Con una Canzone nell’istesso soggetto / della medesima / Con privilegio / In Venetia, Presso Domenico e Gio Batti / sta Guerra, fratelli. m.d.lxxxii.

La / Ressurrettione / di Giesu Christo / Nostro Signore / Che segue alla Santissima Passione / descritta in ottava rima / da / Moderata Fonte / Con privilegio / In Venetia / Appresso Gio. Domenico Imberti / m.d.xcii.

Il / Merito delle / Donne, / scritto / da Moderata Fonte / In due giornate. / Ove chiaramente si scuopre quanto siano elle degne, / e più perfette de gli huomini. / Con privilegio / In Venetia m.dc / Presso Domenico Imberti.

Secondary Literature

CHEMELLO, Adriana, 1983, “La donna, il modello, l’immaginario: Moderata Fonte e Lucrezia Marinella”, in: Zancan, Marina (ed.), Nel cerchio della luna. Figure di donna in alcuni testi del XVI secolo,Marina Zancan (ed.),Venice: Marsilio, pp. 95-170.

CHEMELLO, Adriana, 1992, “Il ‘genere femminile’ tesse la sua ‘tela’. Moderata Fonte e Lucrezia Marinelli”, in: Miscellanea di Studi, Spinea-Venice: Multigraf, pp. 85-197.

CHEMELLO, Adriana, 1997, “Moderata Fonte, ‘donna colta’ a la Venècia de finals del XVI”, en: Rius Gatell, Rosa (ed. y trans.), D’unes veus no previstes. Pensadores del XIII al XVII, Barcelona: Columna.

MALPEZZI-PRINCE, Paola, 2003, Moderata Fonte: Women and Life in Sixteenth-century Venice, Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.


Italian modern edition of Il merito delle donne:

Il merito delle donne over chiaramente si scuopre quanto siano elle degne e più perfette de glui uomini, Adriana Chemello (ed.), Mirano – Venice, Eidos, 1988. This edition is preceded by an essay by Chemello entitled «Gioco e dissimulazione in Moderata Fonte», pp. ix-lxiii. Ginevra Conti Odoisio previously edited an anthology with texts form Merito in Donna e società nel Seicento, Rome, Bulzoni, 1979, pp. 159-196.