As humanity’s most significant intellectual and artistic revolution, the Renaissance is rich with tales of remarkable individuals and accomplishments. Women in the Renaissance were typically overlooked in historical research since they did not have the same power and victory as males. Women still had no political rights and often had to choose between marriage or becoming a nun.
As more historians look back at this period, they discover more about women who achieved incredible feats. Despite social constraints, women were challenging gender stereotypes and making their impact on history throughout this period.
This article will examine three notable women who contributed to Europe’s great cultural and creative revival.
Isotta Nogarola (1418-1466)
Isotta Nogarola was an Italian writer and intellectual, considered to be the first female humanist and one of the most important humanists of the Renaissance.
Isotta Nogarola was born in Verona, Italy, to Leonardo and Bianca Borromeo. The couple had ten children, four boys, and six girls. Despite her illiteracy, Isotta’s mother understood the importance of education and ensured that her children received the best education that they could. Isotta and her sister Ginevra would go on to become well-known for their classical studies, writing poems in Latin.
In her early writings, Isotta referred to Latin and Greek writers such as Cicero, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, Petronius, and Aulus Gellius. She became well-versed in public speaking and would deliver speeches and conduct debates in public. However, the public’s reception of Isotta was hostile – she was not taken as a serious intellectual because of her gender. She was also accused of a number of sexual misdemeanors and treated with derision.
Isotta eventually retired to a quiet location in Verona, where she ended her career as a secular humanist. But it was here that she wrote her most famous work – De pari aut impari Evae atque Adae peccato (Dialogue on the Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve).
- Her most famous work was a literary conversation called De pari aut impari Evae atque Adae peccato (trans. Dialogue on the Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve), published in 1451.
- She argued that a woman couldn’t be weaker and yet more responsible when it came to original sin.
- Twenty-six of Isotta’s Latin poetry, orations, dialogues, and letters remain.
- She would become an inspiration to subsequent female artists and writers.
Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549)
Marguerite of Navarre, also called Marguerite of Angoulême, was an author and patron of humanists and reformers, who made became a prominent figure during the French Renaissance.
Marguerite was born on April 11, 1492, to Charles d’Angoulême, a descendent of Charles V and Louise of Savoy. She became the only sister of Francis I, the future king of France, a year and a half later. Even though her father passed away when she was still a child, Marguerite had a happy and affluent upbringing, spending most of her time in Cognac and afterward in Blois.
Following her father’s death, her mother assumed control of the home. At the age of 17, Marguerite married Charles IV, Duke of Alençon. Her mother Louise instilled in Marguerite the importance of knowledge, which was extended by Marguerite’s own passion for ancient philosophy and the scriptures. Even after her marriage, she stayed loyal to her younger brother and accompanied him at court in 1515 once he became the French monarch.
In her position as an affluent woman of influence, Marguerite assisted artists and scholars, and those who advocated for reform within the church. She also wrote many important works, including Heptaméron and Les Dernières Poésies (Last Poems).
- Margeurite was a poet and short-story writer. Her poetry represented her religious non-orthodoxy since she was inspired by humanists.
- In 1530, she wrote “Miroir de l’âme pécheresse,” a poem that was condemned as a work of heresy.
- Marguerite’s “Miroir de l’âme pécheresse” (1531) was translated by England’s Princess Elizabeth as “A Godly Meditation of the Soul” (1548).
- In 1548 following Francis’s death, her sisters-in-law, both Navarre-born, published their works of fiction under the pseudonym “Suyte des Marguerites de la Marguerite de la Navarre”.
- She was called the First Modern Woman by Samuel Putnam.
Christine de Pizan (1364-1430)
Christine de Pizan was a prolific poet and author, today considered the first female professional writer of the Medieval period.
Although she was born in Venice, Italy, her family soon moved to France, as her father took on the position of astrologer in the court of the French king,Charles V. Her early years were happy and pleasant, as she grew up in the French court. At the age of 15, Christine married Estienne de Castel, a court secretary. But ten years later, de Castel died of the plague and Christine found herself alone.
In 1389, at the age of twenty-five, Christine had to support herself and her three children. She began to write poetry and prose, going on to publish 41 separate works. Today she’s popular not just for these works, but also for being a forerunner of the feminist movement, which would come into effect 600 years later. She’s considered by many to be the first feminist, even though the term didn’t exist during her time.
- De Pizan’s writings include a wide range of feminist subjects, from the origins of women’s oppression to cultural practices, confronting a sexist culture, women’s rights and achievements, and ideas for a more equitable future.
- De Pisan’s work was favorably appreciated since it was grounded on Christian virtue and morals. Her work was particularly effective in rhetorical tactics that academics have subsequently examined.
- One of her most renowned works is Le Dit de la Rose (1402), a stinging critique on Jean de Meun’s wildly successful Romance of the Rose, a book about courtly love that portrayed women as seducers.
- Because most lower-class women were uneducated, de Pisan’s work was crucial in promoting justice and equality for women in medieval France.
- In 1418, de Pisan joined a convent in Poissy (northwest of Paris), where she continued to write, including her last poem, Le Ditie de Jeanne d’Arc (Song in Honor of Joan of Arc), 1429.
Although we hear much more about the men of the Renaissance period, it’s fascinating to learn about the women who fought against injustice, prejudice, and the unfair gender roles of their time to still leave their mark on the world.