In anticipation of the publication of my (Laurie’s) book in two weeks’ time, I thought I’d share some of the stories I’ve unearthed and insights I’ve had about Ferrara’s singing ladies and their families.
Things are going to get busy in October, so we’ll see how many I can pack in!
My women’s lives seem to have aspects that reach across the years – we have seen and heard similar experiences in our own world – and would not seem out of place in the lifestyle pages of a weekend paper or glossy magazine. Many of the stories come from sources that are not dissimilar from a gossip column: letters and chronicles that are meant to have all the news that is fit to send home. The writers choose words that are meant to keep the reader interested – and so we get all the colour of the events, and sometimes a judgement or two. Where the letters were addressed to someone important – a cardinal, a prince, or a duchess – it is possible to find them in the archives.
Take the unfortunate Ginevra Avogadri, the youngest of the three sisters who played and sang in the household of the ageing Lucrezia d’Este, Duchess of Urbino – the last Princess of Ferrara. Lucrezia was fond of the girl, so she provided a generous dowry for her in her will, along with sufficient funds to ensure that Ginevra could complete her education in a convent before marriage, or stay in the convent if she found her vocation as a nun.
Duchess Lucrezia died in 1598, and presumably Ginevra was found a suitable convent in which to reside: she may even have gone to live in Corpus Domini, where her sister Suor Lucrezia Margarita (also a singing lady of the Duchess’s) was already professed. In 1603, however, it appears she was found a husband. In a letter addressed to the dowager Duchess of Ferrara, we find:
The son of Lady Florida Mozzarella, whose uncle Lord Luigi Mozzarello chose in his infancy for his sole heir in an estate of great value (and which son is known to have grown into more of a plant or an animal than a nobleman) has proposed marriage to a sister of Suor Lucrezia Margarita Avogara, once lady and noble singer of the Duchess of Urbino, as you know, and I’m certain that the Mozzarelli family have derived great pleasure from this, as this terrible young man (giovinaccio) was asking to marry a public concubine.
I’ve puzzled over this passage, wondering if what made this young man so terrible was brutish manners or an intellectual disability. The letter does not say whether Ginevra accepted the proposal, either. We can only hope that whatever decision she took – marriage or convent – she took it gladly and lived out her days without regrets.