FRANCO, Veronica

Veronica Franco was famous in her time as one of the leading female poets of the Italian Renaissance and as one of Venice's most illustrious courtesans. Franco was born into a respectable subpatriciate Venetian family. At a young age she was married to a physician, but the marriage was short-lived. Following in her mother's footsteps, Franco became one of the city's cortegiane oneste, or honored courtesans, a group of women whose brilliant salons, elaborate ward­robes, intellectual gifts, and conversational abilities granted them a status su­perior to that of other prostitutes. Franco remained in her profession all of her life and never remarried, though she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. A prominent Venetian nobleman, Andrea Thon, fathered one of the children.
During the 1570s Franco became associated with the literary circle of poet and patron Domenico Venier, an affiliation that fostered Franco's literary pro­duction and reputation. In 1575 Franco compiled a collection of poems that included nine of her own sonnets as well as works by other poets; she also published some of her poems in other anthologies. During the same year she published Terze rime, her own book of love poems, which she dedicated to Guglielmo Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. In 1580 Franco published a collection of her personal letters, one of the first such publications by a woman. A particularly interesting letter is one in which Franco urges a woman not to allow her daughter to become a courtesan. Although Franco's position as a cortegiana onesta granted her some intellectual and social advantages, she was aware that cour-tesanship was often an abusive and oppressive profession, and she criticized Venetian society for exploiting impoverished young women who had few other ways in which to support themselves. In 1577 Franco petitioned the government to establish a home for women who needed financial assistance to live honest, chaste lives.
Franco knew many of the important artistic, intellectual, and political figures of her day. She met Henri III of Valois in 1574 when he was on his way from Poland to France to be crowned king. After he visited her, she wrote two sonnets to celebrate the occasion. She was also the subject of a painting by Tintoretto* and sent a copy of her published letters to Michel de Montaigne.* Her life, however, was not entirely glamorous; she was responsible for supporting not only her children but, after her brother's early death, his children as well. Franco had to defend herself from public attacks, including slanderous poems and charges of heresy, which she did with dignity and eloquence. Veronica Franco died in Venice at the age of forty-five.
V. Franco, Poems and Selected Letters, ed. A. Jones and M. Rosenthal, 1998.
M. Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-Century Venice, 1992.
Jo Eldridge Carney

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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