Poet and Courtesan
Veronica Franco was a poet and citizen of Venice and one of that city's most famous cortegiane oneste, or honored courtesans, a distinction given to higher-class courtesans known for their intellectual gifts, wit, and fashionable appearances. The cortegiane oneste enjoyed a unique status apart both from the lower-class prostitutes and from the married women of Venice's upper class who were generally confined to private, domestic lives.
Although Franco and her three brothers were not born into the Venetian nobility, they did belong to a respectable class of merchants and professional men. When Veronica was young she was married to Paola Panizza, a physician; although the reasons are not known, they soon separated. Franco and Panizza did not have any children together, but Franco later had six children, three of whom died in infancy. The father of one of her children was Andrea Thon, a prominent Venetian nobleman.
Although marriage was considered the more socially and economically prudent choice for women, Franco remained single for the rest of her life, supporting herself and her children through her own career as a courtesan. Venice had a particularly high number of courtesans; this may have been due to the fact that the city was a crossroads for a variety of foreign travelers or because of the custom of relatively late marriages among Venetian upper-class men. Scholars have also suggested that the government may have condoned the cortegiane oneste because of the tax revenues they produced. The city's attitude toward this class of women, however, was generally ambiguous; Venice both boasted and lamented the cortegiane oneste, who were said to rival the upper-class matrons in their sumptuous wardrobes and surpass them in their conversational gifts. It was apparently Franco's mother who introduced her to the profession, for by the time Franco was twenty, she and her mother were both among the