A "distinctly theatrical text" by the most celebrated actress of the commedia dell'arte

Andreini Isabella (1562-1604)

Lettere Della Signora Isabella Andreini padouana, Comica Gelosa, [et] Academica Intenta, nominata l'Accesa. Aggiuntoui di nuouo li Raggionamenti Piaceuoli dell'istessa. Con due Tauole vna delle Lettere, e l'altra de' Raggionamenti, che nell'Opera si contengono. Di nuouo ristampate, & con ogni diligenza ricorrete [sic]. [With:] Fragmenti.

Venice: Appresso li Guerigli, 1647


Octavo: 14.6 x 7.5 cm. Two parts in one: [26], 15-487, [3] pp.


A nice copy, bound in early stiff vellum (some soiling). The text is in nice condition with an almost imperceptible damp stain, and very minor worming.

The first edition of Isabella Andreini's collection of letters appeared in 1607, four years after the author's death, edited by her husband, Francesco. In 1617, with the assistance of Flaminio Scala, Francesco published the "Fragmenti". For a discussion of both works, see below.

"Born in Padua to Venetian parents in 1562, Isabella Andreini (née Canali) would become the most celebrated commedia dell'arte actress of her century by the time of her death in 1604. Praised by contemporaries such as Tasso, Marino, and Chiabrera and famed in France as well as Italy, Andreini was renowned both for the prima donna innamorata role she played on the stage and for the erudition she displayed in her written works. These included a pastoral play, a volume of poetry, a collection of Lettere, and a compilation of Fragmenti; the last two works published posthumously by her husband. Her verse was second only to that of Tasso in a poetic contest sponsored by Cardinal Giorgio Cinthio Aldobrandini in Rome and later described by one of her sons. She was one of few women to be admitted into a literary academy in Renaissance Italy: the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia, which she joined with the name "Accesa." After her death at age forty-two, not only was Andreini's legacy felt in the realms of theater and literature, but a number of her madrigals and other poetic compositions were set to music (MacNeil 2003).

The Lettere:

"In 1601, Isabella signaled, in a letter to the humanist Erycius Puteanus, that she had undertaken a third literary project, a collection of letters. This work, the Lettere di Isabella Andreini padovana comica gelosa, was edited and published three years after Isabella's death by Francesco Andreini, with an apocryphal dedicatory letter composed by him under her name. Despite the title, the Lettere are, like Isabella's other works, a distinctly theatrical text. A series of dramatic monologues clearly derived from the on-stage discourse of commedia dell'arte's innamorati characters, these highly stylized compositions address all aspects of the love relationship, with heavy doses of Petrarchism and neoplatonism. Most interestingly, these fictive missives are written in both male and female voices, echoing Isabella's skill for adopting a hermaphroditic persona as she did when performing her Pazzia.

The Fragmenti:

"Francesco also collected a number of contrasti, or dialogues, that Isabella had created from her commedia dell'arte experience. These were published some years later in 1620, with the participation of Flaminio Scala, under the title Fragmenti di alcune scritture della Signora Isabella Andreini comica gelosa e academica intenta. Francesco Andreini's editing of his wife's work in both instances has been characterized as part of a larger project on the actor's part to preserve and promote not just the memory and legacy of his wife, but that of commedia dell'arte in general. (Meredith Kennedy Ray)