Diana Wright

title.none: Hurlburt, The Dogaressa of Venice (Diana Wright)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.003 07.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Diana Wright,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Hurlburt, Holly S. The Dogaressa of Venice, 1200-1500: Wife and Icon. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2006. Pp. 304. $69.95 0-312-29447-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.03

Hurlburt, Holly S. The Dogaressa of Venice, 1200-1500: Wife and Icon. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2006. Pp. 304. $69.95 0-312-29447-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Diana Wright

A woman was dogaressa not only because she was married to the man who was doge, but because she held a legal and political office, requiring a formal oath and participation in certain formal state events. The formalizing of her office--ducissa is the term used--is first noticed in the 1229 promissione, or oath, of Jacopo Tiepolo. Updated at the death of each doge to reflect developing concerns, the aspects of the promissione that involved Maria Storlado Tiepolo concerned the giving and receiving of gifts, political influence, economic activity, and dress and ceremony. Appendix II contains the surviving promissione and protocols for dogaresse: that it is three pages long should be a distinct clue as to just how much regard Venice had for its dogaresse.

Where gifts were concerned, Tiepolo was to make his sons and the dogaressa (and the explicit control of a woman by her husband is a perpetual theme in these documents) swear that they would not "receive any gifts, presents or services other than those allowed to the doge," even by means of a third party. The issue of gifts was addressed again and again over the years with qualifications, such as saying that the dogaressa and family might accept animals, birds and food presented to them outside the confines of Venice (21). She might accept certain gifts when she first formally entered the palazzo, and lists from various dates show that gifts she might receive from various guilds and towns included linen worth a hundred ducats; a double, good, striped piece of fabric; "a bag worked in gold...of four ducats value, with eight soldi nuovi inside it"; and tanned skins for the use of the family in the palazzo (23).

The available biographical data--names, dates of husband's period in office, and children, in Appendix I--for thirty-three dogaresse between 1200-1500, indicate how extremely limited is the personal information for these women. Although the data could have been presented more clearly, there is interesting and sometimes disturbing information. No one bothered to record the names of the wives of Enrico Dandolo (1192-1205) and Giovanni Dandolo (1280-89), mothers of their eight children. There is a category for "Estimated age at entrance" for those women who were living when their husbands were elected but for none of these thirty-three women did anyone bother to record a specific date or age. These non-recorded ages show an interesting trend upwards. For the four in the thirteenth century whose ages Hurlburt could estimate, three were in their twenties, one in her thirties. In the fourteenth century, four are in their thirties, with two each in the twenties and forties, while in the fifteenth century, seven of the nine are in their sixties. Six dogaresse did not have (recorded) children, but one had eight, and at least three had seven. If I spend so much time on an appendix, it is because it shows so dramatically the considered unimportance of the lives of Venetian women, even at the highest level, and gives an image of what Hurlburt was up against in her research.

Hurlburt considers that the oath of the dogaressa, her entrance into the palazzo and the reception of gifts was intentionally staged to parallel the sequence of events of a patrician wedding, using descriptions of both kinds of events to bring out the similarities. The dogaressa's role in the city was an intensified version of the role of the good wife in a patrician marriage: to maintain the dignity of the family and to produce heirs, while managing the household well and otherwise maintaining a decent invisibility. Hurlburt also claims (70) that similar language and sentence constructions are used to describe both events, although she does not give the language used. Hurlburt also calls attention to the various nuptial-type ceremonies in which each doge participated--the festival of the Twelve Marys (until 1379), and "marrying" each new abbess of the convent of Sta. Maria delle Vergine, or the sea on Ascension Day (71-73).

In her chapter on "The Dogaressa's Office," Hurlburt tries to construct for the dogaressa a position of power within the Venetian state. She has already compared the dogaressa's situation with that of consorts of other Italian rulers who were seen as mediating advantageous political alliances and promising to bear heirs, much to the dogaressa's disadvantage, and concluded that Venetian ritual, by way of the dogaressa, emphasized the importance of the family as a political model and protector of the social networks that preserved Venetian stability. The dogaressa had certain roles in ceremonies at S. Marco. She was required to pay certain fees and homage for certain services from the canons, and to provide two candles for the main altar every Saturday (85). She had to kiss the Gospels, after her husband and the vicar, during the Gospel portion of the Mass. And she had to host a meal for the clerics of S. Marco and exchange gifts with the nuns of S. Zaccaria on the feast day of S. Clemente. Exchanging gifts with the nuns, however, seems less a demonstration of authority than a recognition that the palazzo and church of S. Marco (with the chapel of S. Clemente) were built on land originally belonging to S. Zaccaria. [1] Hurlburt suggests that this connection to S. Clemente as patron saint of boatmen linked the dogaressa to an important element of the Venetian working class. Still, after mentioning other ceremonies which involved the dogaressa, the best Hurlburt can do for political power is to say that her presence was "anticipated and customary."

A discussion of the dogaressa's space in the palazzo suggests that there was a private passageway constructed which the dogaressa could use to reach S. Marco without going outside, that there was minor legislation to protect the family apartments from public access, and that the dogaressa was required to wear particular robes when going outside. These events occurred "within the same time period (1420- 1470)" and, according to Hurlburt, illustrate a concern to protect the dogaressa and symbolically separate her as a woman and symbol of state from the dangerous public world (92). This may be, but it is difficult to regard three events over fifty years as happening within the same time period. Again, when state visitors came to Venice with their wives, or even when the occasional female state visitor arrived, the dogaressa and selected suitable women were part of the official welcome. Chroniclers recorded these women for their numbers--200 or 53, and their dress--gold brocade, gold silk, black, "well decorated in jewels," but not their identities. These decorative women were to demonstrate the affluence of the state. On the single occasion of the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and Empress Leonora in 1452, Dogaressa Foscari and three other women (names noted, for once, since they were replacing the doge's daughter-in-law who could not appear because her husband had been indicted for treason) were allowed to do more: they were to meet the empress and "speak beautiful words and make official greetings" (100). At other times, the dogaressa might show visiting ladies the sights of Venice--the Merceria, the treasury of S. Marco, the Arsenale, and then take them shopping. Her public appearances always had in some way to do with the enhancement of trade.

Foscari's successor, Pasquale Malipiero (1457-1462) made a unique innovation in the public face of the dogaressa by the simple act of portraying his wife, Giovanna Dandolo, on two portrait medals. On one her portrait is on the reverse of his, on the other, on the reverse of an allegory of good will. (The jacket of the book shows this allegory reproduced several times around the reverse portrait. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, September 2007, Palgrave Macmillian has not managed to put the cover on its web site, though it says "coming soon," for this book published in February 2006.) The dogaressa looks worn and gaunt rather than regal, gaunt perhaps to the point of terminal illness. "Even as she had served the Venetian republic through motherhood before her office, now she personified female virtues to the public at large." This may be. But Hurlburt's problem seems to be that because there is so very little material available on dogaresse at all, she has felt obliged to buy a great deal of theory with very small change. There is too much theory in the book, as if the author is trying to fill up the gaps in the information.

Hurlburt has pieced together many fragments that give a sense of the quality of the dogaressa's life--the control of her participation in family and public events, her rare bequests or artistic commissions, and then her effective eviction from the palazzo within three days of the death of her husband. Perhaps one of the few advantages she had-- apart from the respect-- was that because her clothes could be seen to represent the well-being and honor of the republic, she and her family were exempt from various laws about dress and jewelry while living in the palazzo. But then, this privilege is, in a sense, canceled when it is noted that in votive paintings showing a doge and dogaressa, he wears the red and ermine robes of his office, and she wears plain black or brown emphasizing humility--again showing the proper marital relationship. A thudding suggestion of the ultimate dullness of her position comes in a comparison between the role of the dogaressa and the consorts of the rulers of Milan, Mantua, Ferrara, and Florence, all of whom wrote numerous letters and recorded all those wonderful small details about children and dress and books and money and painters that have made writing renaissance history so much fun. Hurlburt writes, "If the dogaresse corresponded with men or women, whether Venetian or foreign, no record remains."

The dogaressa ended her tenure with death, either her own or her husband's. For all the ceremony at her entrance to the palazzo, there was nothing but hurry at her departure as she (presumably) supervised the removal of a large household, servants, furniture and clothes. Her husband was removed from her physically at the moment of death and her last act as dogaressa was when she went into S. Marco to see, and perhaps mourn, him lying in state. Each woman chose a slightly different option for her life as widow, whether going into a convent, or living quietly with the family, or making some display of rank and title--was this when her individualism was finally allowed to show? In the sixteenth century, the state, after some persuasion, allowed ducal widows pensions so that they could dress and employ servants in a way that would bring honor to the state and the memory of their husbands. Widowed dogaresse had one additional form of expression: in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries they were often among their husbands' executors and so participated in decisions about their burial monuments. Still, the degree to which they might be considered artistic patrons is very small.

Dogaresse in this period (1200-1500) are only slightly more visible in death than other Venetian women. Hurlburt has tracked their tombs, most of them familial. Marina Steno in 1422, had an independently monumental burial that can be tracked, but her stone has not survived (141). Agnese da Mosto Venier, 1410, has her own tomb in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, apart from her husband: it is shared with her daughter and granddaughter (fig. 4.4). One dogaressa was buried in S. Marco-- Felicia Michiel, but that was 100 years before the period in this book. These last two seem to cover the surviving dogaressa tombs.

Memories of dogaresse Alucia Gradinigo Falier (in office, 1354- 55) and Marina Nani Foscari (1423-57) have colored views of dogaresse in history and fiction, because each was married to a man forced out of office--Falier for attempting a coup and assassinations, and Foscari for a series of offenses, and mostly those of his son. Alucia Falier had a wealthy, though troubled, thirty-three-year widowhood and died highly-regarded. Marina Foscari apparently spent her remaining twenty-seven years wealthy and quietly. Both women were considerably younger than their husbands: themes of sexuality and plotting came into both of their legends. Later chronicles, poetry, fiction, and painting found them subjects for romance and imagination. Byron, Hoffman, Delacroix would have been heartbroken to read what Holly Hurlburt has written.

This is a well-researched book with well-analyzed material. The absence of much information for Hurlburt to work with itself gives important information about Venetian culture and she has done Venetian scholars a great service with her meticulous work.

The end-notes are extremely interesting, and useful, and make good reading on their own. The book would have been more enjoyable had some of the liveliness in the notes been incorporated in the text. The copy-editing is not perfect. In particular, Appendix I has several inconsistencies, and Appendix II has the phrase "cum barchis et burchis in mango et solenni gaudio." Venetians were refreshingly relaxed in their spelling but, I suspect, not to this degree in the Liber Promissionum from which this is taken.

The Dogaressa is an attractive example of book-making, one in the Palgrave-Macmillan series, The Early Middle Ages, bound in black cloth and stamped in silver. Unlike some, the binding shows no sign of wear after the many openings and bendings and pencils left inside during the review process. The illustrations are comfortably located in the text where they are relevant. The font is elegant: it is a pity someone decided the colophon could be omitted. It would be nice to know its name. The designer should be complimented, and the designer's name included.



[1] John Warren, "La prima chiesa di San Marco Evangelista a Venezia," Storia dell'arte marciana: l'architettura, ed. Renato Polacco (Venice, 1997) 184-200, fig. 1.