The First Edition of Tullia d’Aragona’s Poetry. Including Her Love Poems

Aragona, Tullia d' (c. 1510–1556)

Rime della Signora Tullia di Aragona; et di diversi a lei.

Venice: Appresso Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari, 1547


Octavo: 14.5 x 10 cm. [80] p. A-E8

FIRST EDITION, dedicated to the Spanish noblewoman Eleonora de Toledo, Duchess of Florence and wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici.

Recently rebound in older vellum. Contents in good condition, some leaves lightly washed. Light staining and soiling, a few short marginal tears. Giolito’s woodcut device adorns the title page. Ornamental woodcut initials.

"With Vittoria Colonna’s disappearance in 1547, the world of Italian publishing was bereft of its figurehead female author, and the search for a successor appears to have been intense. The first secular poetic collection by a woman other than Colonna to be published was brought out by Gabriele Giolito in Venice, under the title Rime della signora Tullia di Aragona; et di diversi a lei(1547).” (V. Cox, Women’s Writing in Italy 1400-1650, Baltimore, 2008, p. 81).

In addition to forty-nine rimeby Aragona, this volume also includes the long eclogue “La Tirrhenia", written for Aragona by her friend (and former lover) Girolamo Muzio; and a further fifty-five poems, written by men, many of which are responses to Tullia’s own poems. In addition to her sonnets, “there are also seven heterogenous compositions, two madrigals, one song, and some terzinesestine, and ottave, which testify to her range of technical skill.”(Russell)

“As a courtesan, Tullia d’Aragona was an admittedly public woman, a sexual professional whose capital consisted in successfully manipulated display: spectacular appearances in processions and at banquets, a high intellectual style. Her reputation, on which she based the high fees that distinguished the courtesan from the common prostitute, depended on a male clientele, the Venetian and Florentine literati and courtiers with whom she traded sexual favors in return for literary recognition.”(Miller)

“The high percentage of epistolary and complimentary sonnets, and the order alternating those written by Tullia with the responses of her correspondents, create a net of reciprocating praise, at the center of which stands Aragona in her enhanced status and fame. Given the circumstances that led her to publish her work, her poems are unsurprisingly and impeccably correct. Their characteristic flavor derives from a persistent preoccupation with literary recognition and fame. In some sonnets she expresses satisfaction with her correspondent’s proper praise of her and returns his compliment. In others, she disclaims all literary merit and asks her friend to immortalize her in his carte. In sonnet 38, Pietro Manelli is queried as to why he marvels at her wish to acquire fame by writing poetry, since she was created by God and nature in the same way he was. Two sonnets, addressed to Pietro Bembo and Bernardino Ochino, have no corresponding poem by the great men in question. Their inclusion was obviously calculated to bolster Aragona’s literary legitimacy.

“Conspicuous is the opening set of thirteen sonnets, addressed to Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and to his wife, Eleonora de Toledo, followed by two poems addressed to a religious lady of the Medici family, and by two others for Luigi and Pedro of Toledo, kin to the duchess Eleonora. In the sonnets to the reigning couple, she is openly thankful for the favor received. [Tullia had been denounced to the Florentine authorities as a courtesan; based on her status as a poet, the Duke granted her an exemption from the requirement that all courtesans wear a yellow veil, thus saving Tullia from public humiliation.] May it please Cosimo to soothe the anguish caused by her malevolent detractors, and may he allow her to remain in Florence and achieve fame by writing poetry…. Notwithstanding their profuse adulation, most of these celebratory sonnets are noteworthy for the skill with which the graceful compliments are tied into unerring logical structures that are sometimes openly and sometimes implicitly syllogistic.

“We have only ten love sonnets by Aragona. In them we find a few Platonic commonplaces: spiritual love is inspired by the virtues of the beloved and must be kept unsullied by sensual passion (sonnet 33); love is the soul’s desire to enjoy beauty (sonnet 34); by means of love, the lover ascends to the contemplation of a higher beauty, of which the beloved is the reflection. The poet is at her best when she sings of love without philosophical trappings. In sonnet 32, she expresses gratitude for the love that Girolamo Muzio [her former lover and devoted friend] still feels for her and for his many kindnesses: ‘Gentle Muzio, so kind a soul as yours/ is of sweet comfort to my heart… The honorable love that inflamed you for me/ on the banks of the River Po has lived for a long time, I do not think/ that such clear flame is totally extinguished.’ Sonnet 42 is addressed to Manelli: if she is guilty, may she find no pity in him and may she cry forever, but if she is not guilty, may his coldness metamorphose into sweet love. Sonnet 43: A mother may want to be comforted for the loss of her child; a defeated captain may still hope to escape his captors; and a shipwrecked pilot may strive for a safe harbor; but if her love is lost, she neither hopes nor wants to be comforted. Sonnet 39: Once love had her in his thrall but then the flame subsided and she went freely singing. Now a hostile destiny has forced her back to her old ways and passion makes her cry for respite. The theme of short-lived freedom finds an elegant variation in sonnet 44, her most famous one, in which Tullia compares herself both to Philomela, fleeing from her cage into the trees and grass, and implicitly to a victorious amorous Amazon, when she retrieves her trophies from the temple of the goddess of love.”(Russell)

Brunet I, 373: "assez rare"; Salvatore Bongi, “Annali di Gabriel Giolito de' Ferrari da Trino di Monferrato stampatore in Venezia.” (Roma: 1890-95) p. 150 ff. (with a long essay on Aragona)