Fiora A. Bassanese
Veronica Franco was one of the last illustrious courtesans of Renaissance Italy, born into a society changing socially, culturally and religiously. Famed for both beauty and wit she was a recognized figure among the literati of late sixteenth-century Venice, actively pursuing writing as a complement to her profession. As the central protagonist of two published works, a volume of poetry and an epistolary, Franco created an ideal self-representation. The dimensions of this constructed identity are indebted to the literary and spiritual discourse of her time. Thus, while Franco's works owe much to literary canon, they also propose a highly personal interpretation and rendition of her models. As semiotician Cesare Segre has rightly noted, in the history of poetics [due weight must be accorded to the dialectic between conservation and innovation, norm and transgression, tradition and invention. This is a dialectic which is brought into play by any activity but by artistic activity in particular.]1
Veronica Franco (1546–91) was a cortigiana honesta, one of the ambitious and talented professionals who inhabited the margins of high society from the late fifteenth century well into the Baroque period. Such 'honored courtesans' were far more than prostitutes: their role was to beguile and entertain as well as service. The successful courtesan adapted a persona which fulfilled social and aesthetic expectations normally reserved for aristocratic ladies but, unlike the beloveds of courtly love and Neoplatonism, she also allowed full erotic expression and gratification. As literary historian Adriana Chemello has pointed out, while the palace lady embodied the 'highest point in the idealization and conceptualization of love,' only the courtesan 'added skill in seduction and availability for love' to the feminine qualities of 'courtesy, refinement, beauty, wit, and culture.'2 Occasionally, women
1 Segre (1988), 148.
2 Chemello (1980), 127. [Se la donna di palazzo, rinviando alle teorie neopla-
toniche e alla dottrina del fin amour poteva essere considerata il punto più alto di
idealizzazione e concettualizzazione dell'amore, la cortigiana, d'altro canto, conser-
vando gran parte delle doti di cortesia, raffinatezza, bellezza, ingegnosità e cultura,