Modesta Pozzo, better known by her pen name, Moderata Fonte, was born in 1555 in Venice. Her parents, Marietta dal Morro and lawyer, Girolama Pozzo, belonged to an educated and wealthy class in Venice referred to as the cittadini originari. After Fonte’s parents died within the first year of her life, she was taken in by her maternal grandmother, Cecilia di Mazzi. Fonte received an education at the Santa Marta convent until the age of 9 and then continued an informal education with the help of Prosperi Saraceni, her grandmother’s second husband, and her brother, Leonardo. She was known as an extremely bright student, writing poetry of her own very early in her childhood. In her twenties, Fonte moved in with Saracena Saraceni, the daughter of Cecilia and Prosperi Saraceni, and Saracena’s husband, Giovanni Niccolò Doglioni. Doglioni, with his many connections to Venice’s literary circles, encouraged Fonte to write and helped her to publish. Much of what we know of Fonte comes from Doglioni’s Vita, a biography written on Fonte’s life published in 1600. At the late age of 27, Fonte married Filippo Di'Zorzi, a lawyer and government worker. After only a year and a half of marriage, Di'Zorzi returned Fonte’s dowry as a show of his deep admiration and appreciation of her. Fonte died in 1592, seemingly after complications with the birth of her fourth child.
By the time she was married, Fonte was well established as an exceptionally skilled poet in Venice. Throughout her lifetime, Fonte wrote various romantic and biblical sonnets, ballads, philosophical dialogues, and dramatic plays. Most famously, Fonte wrote a feminist text entitled, The Worth of Women, published after her death in 1600. The Worth of Women is a dialogue between seven Venetian women who discuss the abuse women face in light of the widely held belief that women are, by nature, inferior to men. The women discuss subjects that include the inequality in education, the abuse women endure in their marriages, and other injustices faced regularly by women in Venice. I will be looking at selected passages in The Worth of Women to explore Fonte’s philosophical analysis of gender relations and her response to the injustices faced by Venetian women.
Image info: Moderata Fonte (Modesta Dal Pozzo, 1555-1592). The frontispiece of Il merito delle donne. Venezia, Domenico Imberti, 1600.
Olivia Branscum is a PhD student in Philosophy at Columbia University. She is co-producer of the ENN New Voices podcast