Renaissance and Reformation Cassandra Fedele
Diana Robin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0339


Cassandra Fedele (b. 1465–d. 1558) was the most renowned female scholar of Latin and Greek in Europe by 1500. On her death she left a book of 121 Latin letters and three orations, published posthumously in 1636. She was born to citizen-class parents Angelo Fedele and Barara Leoni in Venice, neither of them scholars. Her father hired a Servite friar, Gasparino Borro, to teach her Latin and Greek. She delivered her first public oration in Latin at the University of Padua in 1487: published in Modena in 1487, Nuremberg in 1488, and Venice in 1489. Fedele delivered her second Latin oration before the doge Agostino Barbarigo and the Venetian senate in 1487. After her marriage to the physician Gian-Maria Mappelli, she disappeared from the public arena until 1556 when she delivered an oration in honor of Queen Bona Sforza of Poland on her arrival in Venice. The biographical tradition attests to her having written poetry and a book titled Ordo scientiarum (The order of the sciences) but no trace of this work survives.

Women and Italian Humanism

King 1976 on six 15th-century women writers of Latin letters inaugurates the study of Renaissance humanist women in Italy. King 1978 and King 1980 portray the female humanists Nogarola and Fedele as iconic figures celebrated not only for their erudition but also their youthful charm. Focusing on 16th-century Venice as a key locus for the cultivation of erudite women, Labalme 1981 studies three famous women writers of that city: Tarabotti, Fonte, and Marinella. Allen 2002 examines the philosophical contributions of the early Italian women humanists who challenged Aristotelian theories on gender.

  • Allen, Sister Prudence. The Concept of Woman. Vol. 2, The Early Humanist Reformation, 1250–1500. Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, UK: W. B. Eerdmans, 2002.

    Historian Sister Prudence Allen argues that Cassandra Fedele, like her fellow female humanists Laura Cereta and Isotta Nogarola, joined the new philosophical discourse on the formation of identity (pp. 1045–1047). Fedele, like Cereta and Nogarola, was accepted in elite circles of learned men because of her knowledge of the ancient philosophers. Her writings, however, undercut Aristotle’s philosophy of gender polarity and the inferiority of women.

  • King, Margaret L. “Thwarted Ambitions: Six Learned Women of the Italian Renaissance.” Soundings 59.3 (1976): 280–305.

    Margaret King’s inaugural article on six early humanist women writers who struggled against barriers to learned-women advancement, among them Cassandra Fedele, Isotta Nogarola, and Laura Cereta, continues to shape the study of intellectual women in early modern Europe.

  • King, Margaret L. “The Religious Retreat of Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466): Sexism and Its Consequences in the Fifteenth Century.” Signs 3 (1978): 807–822.

    DOI: 10.1086/493539

    Margaret King argues that Isotta Nogarola, like Cassandra Fedele and other women humanists, found early fame as a child prodigy, a gifted scholar and writer, but when she grew older, she withdrew from the limelight.

  • King, Margaret L. “Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early Italian Renaissance.” In Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past. Edited by Patricia H. Labalme, 66–90. New York: New York University Press, 1980.

    King chronicles the barriers to advancement that such classically educated women scholars and writers as Cassandra Fedele and Isotta Nogarola confronted in 15th-century Italy.

  • King, Margaret L. Humanism, Venice, and Women: Essays on the Italian Renaissance. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.

    Originally published between 1975 and 2003, King’s essays have continued to shape studies in early modern European women intellectuals since the 1970s. This retrospective collection of King’s works also includes her analysis of the social role of Renaissance women intellectuals in terms of Gramscian theory.

  • Labalme, Patricia H. “Venetian Women on Women: Three Early Modern Feminists.” Archivio Veneto 5.117 (1981): 81–109.

    Labalme’s article examines the interplay of humanism and early feminism in the lives and works of three learned Venetian women writers who followed Cassandra Fedele: Moderata Fonte, Lucretia Marinella, and Arcangela Tarabotti.

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