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Venice 2014

Women in 16th-century Venice

Venice in the sixteenth century was a global center for trade and commerce. The city bustled with the activity of native Venetians as well as foreigners of all classes. The streets were full of different costumes, languages and accents. Noble Venetian women at this time were kept in a form of domestic clausura. They did not leave the home of their male relative, be it father, brother or husband, except to attend appropriate social events or church services, and even then, they traveled heavily veiled and in private gondolas from doorstep to doorstep. Even the clothing women wore outside their homes was designed to be restrictive. Ladies did not venture outside without a heavy veil and fashionable chopines[1]- a type of overshoe with a thick cork sole. 

The ideal Venetian woman was quiet, subservient and focused on the home- her role was to manage the home and family. She rarely ever left, and was identified through her relationship to her male relatives. She was not a person in her own right, but rather someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister. The most important aspect of a Venetian woman was her chastity, which meant not just virginity, but also modesty, ladylike behavior and good manners and etiquette. Poetry of the time describes these characteristics in terms of beauty. Beautiful looks were considered to be a reflection of virtue and chastity. Marco Venier stated as much in his poem Veronica Franco:“So, bright and resplendent inside and out, you will be the true ornament of every age, not only of this present century.”[2]


[1] Joan Nunn. Fashion in Costume 1200-2000. (Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000), 44

[2]Veronica Franco was one of the most famous and celebrated courtesans in Venice during the late 16th century. She published poetry and correspondence which reflects her view of women and their roles in Venice. The quote in the original Italian is- “Così dentro e di fuor chiara e splendente sarete d’ogni età vero ornamento, non pur di questo secolo presente.” Veronica Franco. Poems and Selected Letters. ed. and trans. Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 50-51


Women in 16th-century Venice