The excitement of another Venetian Easter has passed, and my thoughts have turned again to what I’ll do when I finish my schooling. I’ve wondered if I’d ever find a woman whose career I’d want to emulate, but then my tutor recommended I study poetry with Modesta da Pozzo, a rising young poet in Venice. I’ve loved to read and write poetry since my first schoolmaster introduced me to it. From the ancient Greeks to my compatriots Dante, Petrarco, and Boccaccio, I enjoy them all.
When I met Modesta da Pozzo, I was shocked to discover she’s only six years older than me. Her parents died when she was very young, but her extended family looked after her well. She credits her interest in poetry to her grandfather (who gave her books and urged her to read and write poetry), her brother (who taught her what he learned at Latin school), and her uncle (who took her in and supported her efforts as a poet after her grandparents died). They all did a wonderful job—I’ve never met a woman as talented and thoughtful as Modesta. She’s not only a gifted poet who writes in Latin and the common tongue, but she also plays the lute, sings, and sews.
Now Modesta will help me improve my own verse. Someday maybe schoolgirls will read my poems and remember me, just as I’ll never forget Modesta.
“Have you heard about an illustrious young lady in Venice, not much older than you? Nobles and emperors compete to sit before her. Shall I tell you more?” My father had just delivered glum news about my prospects for a university education, and I knew he wanted to cheer me up.
One of Venice’s great painters, Jacopo Tintoretto, had a favorite daughter he called Marietta. (People also called her “la Tintoretta,” because her grandfather was a fabric dyer.) By dressing as a boy, she could stay with her father and learn at his side.
Marietta must have learned well, because Emperor Maximilian and Spain’s King Philip II requested her as a painter at their courts. But Marietta’s father didn’t let her leave Venice, so she’s still in our city, busy painting portraits for the nobles.
I enjoyed hearing about a successful Venetian woman, and I’m glad Marietta is getting the attention she deserves. But Papa’s not an artist, and I can’t hope someday to become a respected physician like he is—so I’m still searching for my place in the world.
I know I’m fortunate my father allows me to study with a tutor (most girls don’t get this chance), and I dream about attending the University of Padua in a few years. My father says it’s the best university in the world, and he should know, since he took his medical degree there. Not only that, Padua is a short boat ride from Venice and has an amazing botanical garden.
The university’s motto is Universa universis patavina libertas (Paduan Freedom is Universal for Everyone). But as far as my father knows, no woman has ever graduated from a university.
I hear that most young Venetian women become wives, nuns, shopkeepers, lace-makers, weavers, or laborers in a workshop—but not one of those choices appeals to me.
How I wish for the freedom to study at Padua! If I can’t attend, somehow I must find a way to keep learning!