In 1564, a priest from Fabriano, a small town in central Italy, addressed a speech to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in which he advocated for his hometown to be recognized as an independent city. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned that Fabriano claimed a tradition of fourteenth-century female poets (“rimatrici”), one of whom had exchanged poems with none other than Francesco Petrarca. A sonnet sequence attributed to these poets—Ortensia di Guglielmo, Leonora della Genga, and Livia del Chiavello—appeared in print in 1580, captivating readers for centuries.
This workshop will present the rimatrici as a case study in early modern medievalism that fabricated subversive women’s voices for political purposes. The sonnets attributed to Ortensia, Leonora, and Livia have been either celebrated for their seemingly pioneering feminist claims or dismissed as a Renaissance forgery. Moving past these polarizing interpretations, we will read these sonnets as a fictional canzoniere to answer the following questions: What tools can we use to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a literary artifact is inauthentic? Who wrote this sonnet sequence, and why? In answering these questions, we will explore the patterns through which early modern Petrarchism fetishized women’s voices and core arguments of female-authored poetry, such as the denunciation of gender inequalities and the poet’s struggle to claim authority within literary conventions.