In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Moderata Fonte

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Encyclopedias
  • Modern Editions
  • Translations
  • Anthologies and Abridgments
  • Creative Works Inspired by Fonte’s Life and Writing

Renaissance and Reformation Moderata Fonte
Suzanne Magnanini
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0416


Moderata Fonte was the pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo (b. 1555–d. 1592), a gifted poet and proto-feminist who championed equal access to education for women. Her pen name (Moderate Fountain or Spring) suggests flowing water, an image often associated with eloquence, and it functions as a clever recasting of the still, unassuming waters suggested by her given name (Modest Well). Celebrated by her contemporaries for her poetic skill, today Fonte stands alongside other Venetian women writers, including Veronica Franco, Lucrezia Marinella, and Arcangela Tarabotti, as a seminal voice of European feminism. (See the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles in Renaissance and Reformation “Lucrezia Marinella” and “Arcangela Tarabotti.”) Orphaned at a young age, Fonte received her earliest education at the Venetian convent of Santa Marta and then through her maternal grandmother’s second husband, Prospero Saraceni, who granted her access to books and encouraged her literary endeavors. Sometime after 1576, Fonte joined the household of her step-grandfather’s daughter Saracena Saraceni and her husband Niccolò Doglioni, an active member in Venetian literary circles who promoted Fonte’s career. In 1581, Fonte published I Tredici canti di Floridoro (The Thirteen Cantos of Floridoro), a chivalric romance in the Ariostan tradition. Projected to be fifty cantos but never finished, Fonte’s poem foregrounds the actions and adventures of the female protagonists, whose depictions challenge both literary and gender norms. The same year her banquet play, Le feste (The Feast Days), was published and performed before the Doge Niccolò da Ponte, testifying to her status in Venice’s literary culture. Fonte’s most productive literary period coincided with the years she spent in Doglioni’s household before marrying the lawyer Filippo Zorzi in 1583, though she continued to write and publish throughout her life, including two religious poems, La passione di Christo (The passion of Christ) (1582) and La resurrettione di Giesu Christo nostro Signore (The resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord) (1592). Today, Fonte is best known as the author of the witty dialogue Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women), which she completed in 1592 shortly before dying from complications of the birth of her fourth child. The controversy sparked by Giuseppe Passi’s virulently misogynist treatise I difetti donneschi (The defects of women) (1599) provided Doglioni and Fonte’s children the perfect opportunity to publish her dialogue in 1600, which features seven women engaged in a dialogic game in which one group denounces all the vices and evil of men, while the other side seeks to defend them. During the second day of the dialogue, the discussion broadens to cover a vast array of subjects, as the women instruct each other in topics typically excluded from female education. Since the 1980s, interest in Fonte’s life and writings on the part of artists and scholars of literature, history, and philosophy has grown.

General Overviews

The earliest serious considerations of Moderata Fonte’s life and literary career, Odorisio 1979 and Labalme 1981 simultaneously explore the works of her contemporaries Lucrezia Marinella and Arcangela Tarabotti, whose pro-women texts entered the querelle des femmes, or the debate on the status of women, in the first decades of the 17th century, an approach also favored by Lesage 2001. (See the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles in Renaissance and Reformation “Lucrezia Marinella” and “Arcangela Tarabotti.”) Fonte and her writings feature prominently in studies that explicitly seek to make visible women’s history and writing (Ruis Gatell 1995 and Zimmerman 1999). As more female-authored texts from the Early Modern period were recovered, edited, translated, and published during the 1990s and early 2000s, it became possible to study Fonte’s writings alongside those by a greater variety of female authors, as occurs in Panizza and Wood 2000. Much of what we know about Fonte’s life comes from the biography penned by Niccolò Doglioni which was written in 1593 but printed with her dialogue Il merito delle donne in 1600. Doglioni’s biography can be found in numerous editions and translations of Fonte’s dialogue. (See Fonte 1988, cited under Modern Editions and Fonte 1997 and Fonte 2002a, both cited under Translations). New archival discoveries facilitated the creation of a more detailed, nuanced biography of Fonte in Cox 2004. The only monograph dedicated entirely to Fonte, Malpezzi Price 2003, undertakes an analysis of Fonte’s cultural and historical context to interpret her writings, while Martelli 2011 performs a reverse operation, using Fonte’s own words as a springboard for examining the lives of Venetian women in the Early Modern period.

  • Cox, Virginia. “Fonte, Moderata (1555–1592).” Italian Woman Writers Project. Chicago: University of Chicago Libraries, 2004.

    Provides a concise yet highly detailed biography of Fonte and an overview of her major literary works. Includes a brief bibliography.

  • Labalme, Patricia. “Venetian Women on Women: Three Early Modern Feminists.” Archivio Veneto 117 (1981): 81–109.

    One of the first articles in English to explore the lives and works of three Venetian proto-feminist writers, Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, and Arcangela Tarabotti, and the social-historical conditions of Venice in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that allowed them to flourish.

  • Lesage, Claire. “Femmes de lettres à Venise aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles: Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, and Arcangela Tarabotti.” Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire 13 (2001): 1–8.

    Focuses on arguments that unite these three authors, including women’s access to education and the press, as well as the authors’ unanimous denunciation of the gender inequality that made their own status as writers and intellectuals a rarity among women.

  • Malpezzi Price, Paola. Moderata Fonte: Women and Life in Sixteenth-Century Venice. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.

    First and only monograph to date devoted exclusively to Fonte and her works. Provides social-historical context for Fonte’s biography through overviews of social, economic, cultural, and spiritual aspects of life in Venice during the second half of the 16th century.

  • Martelli, Daria. Polifonie: Le donne a Venezia nell’età di Moderata Fonte (seconda metà del secolo XVI). Padua, Italy: CLEUP, 2011.

    Fonte’s dialogue The Worth of Women serves as a frame through which to view the history of women in Venice in the Early Modern period. Synthesizes recent historical research on Venice while exploring the stages of women’s lives (childhood, marriage, widowhood) and women’s roles in Venetian society (nun, actress, courtesan, artisan). Includes a biography of Fonte. Illustrated with extensive bibliography.

  • Odorisio, Ginevra Conti. Donna e società nel Seicento: Lucrezia Marinella e Arcangela Tarabotti. Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 1979.

    See, especially, pp. 57–63. An early consideration of Fonte and her work. Uses Fonte as a point of comparison while describing the writing and thought of Marinella and Tarabotti. Includes brief discussion of Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women).

  • Panizza, Letizia, and Sharon Wood, eds. A History of Women’s Writing in Italy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Collection of essays by various authors organized by literary genre and period. Fonte’s writing is considered alongside that of her contemporaries in two chapters: “Fiction, 1560–1650” by Virginia Cox (pp. 52–64) and “Polemical Prose Writing, 1500–1650” by Letizia Panizza (pp. 65–78).

  • Ruis Gatell, Rosa. “Del secreto a la voz: Moderata Fonte y el mérito de las mujeres.” In El género de la memoria. Edited by Fina Birulés, 61–83. Illustrated by Luana Dogwiler. Pamplona-Iruña, Spain: Pamiela, 1995.

    Furnishes a basic introduction to Fonte’s biography and The Worth of Women aimed expressly at transmitting knowledge of Fonte and her writing to a Spanish-speaking public.

  • Zimmerman, Margarete. “Moderata Fonte (1555–1592).” In Frauen der italienischen Renaissance: Dichterinnen, Malerinnen, Mäzeninnen. Edited by Irmgard Osols-Wehden, 95–109. Darmstadt: Primus, 1999.

    A collection of fourteen biographies of Italian women poets, painters, and patrons. Chapter on Fonte includes an analysis of key pro-woman arguments in The Worth of Women. Briefly considers the representation of Fonte and her literary career in texts from the late 17th century through the 19th century.

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