Created by the famous Giovanni Boccaccio: the first book in western literature dedicated exclusively to biographies of women

On Famous Women by Boccaccio

On Famous Women by Boccaccio

On Famous Women by Boccaccio

  1. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) was one of the most important authors of the Late Middle Ages

  2. These 106 biographies contrast the deeds of wicked women with those of virtuous women

  3. The Spanish edition at hand was published on October 24th, 1494 by Pablo Hurus (d. 1505) in Zaragoza

On Famous Women by Boccaccio

I-1921 (ff. I-CII and ff. CIV-CV) e I-2444 (ff. CIII and CVI-CIX) Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
On Famous Women by Boccaccio – I-1921 (ff. I-CII and ff. CIV-CV) e I-2444 (ff. CIII and CVI-CIX) – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Between 1361 and 1362, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) wrote one of this most popular and widely circulated works: De Mulieribus Claris or On Famous Women in English. The 106 biographies contained in the work contrast the deeds of wicked women with those of virtuous women and in doing so, aimed to cover all types of women. Boccaccio was inspired by classical authors in creating his work, as well as Petrarch (1304-74), his contemporary. Continuously appended for over a decade, the work appeared in numerous translations, including both handwritten manuscripts and printed editions like the Spanish specimen at hand. It is noteworthy as the first book devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature.

On Famous Women by Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) was one of the most important authors of the Late Middle Ages, most famous for The Decameron. His treatise De Mulieribus Claris or On Famous Women in English, is noteworthy as the first book devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature. It was composed by Boccaccio between 1361 and 1362 in the Tuscan commune of Certaldo, although he continued to revise it up to 1375. The 106 biographies contained in the work contrast the deeds of wicked women with those of virtuous women and in doing so, aimed to cover all types of women. Boccaccio dedicated the work to Andrea Acciaioli, Countess of Altavilla, and hoped that it would help to promote virtue and curtail vice. The work enjoyed great popularity and appeared in numerous translations and editions, both handwritten manuscripts and prints.

Inspirational Biographies

Boccaccio stated that he was inspired by De Viris Illustribus, a collection of famous men and women from antiquity, mythology, and the Bible written by Petrarch (1304-1374). The biographies recorded by Boccaccio range from mythological and historical women to Renaissance contemporaries. Each story begins with the subject’s name, parentage, rank or position in society, and the reason for their fame. They usually end with a lesson of a philosophical or moralizing nature. Analysis of the work indicates that he had access to plentiful classical sources including Valerius Maximus, Pliny, Livy, Ovid, Suetonius, Statius, Virgil, Lactantius, Orosius, and Justinus, Church Fathers like Saint Paul and Saint Jerome, and of course the Bible. Boccaccio’s biographies inspired characters in Le Livre de la Cité des Dames by Christine de Pizan (1364 – ca. 1430), as well as influencing other similar works as far away as England such as Defence of Good Women by Thomas Elyot (ca. 1490-1546), a text advocating the education of women, and the Legend of Good Women and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400). This work was clearly one of the most influential of the Late Middle Ages and continues to be fascinating for modern readers.

The Spanish Incunabulum

Although already a popular text in the last golden age of manuscript production, the invention of the printing press only fueled this popularity. A printed book predating 1501 is known as an incunabulum, and this specimen falls under that category. The Spanish edition at hand titled Delas mujeres ilustres en romance was published on October 24th, 1494 by Pablo Hurus (d. 1505) in Zaragoza. It contains 75 fine engravings, mostly depicting social scenes, whose Germanic character reflects the origin of the printer, whose true name was Paul and came from Constance in southern Germany. The Gothic script in which the text is printed also reminds us that printing was still dominated by German craftsmen in this time, who had spread across Europe setting up printing houses. Today, this gorgeous incunabulum is the proud possession of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „On Famous Women by Boccaccio“

On Famous Women by Boccaccio
On Famous Women by Boccaccio – I-1921 (ff. I-CII and ff. CIV-CV) e I-2444 (ff. CIII and CVI-CIX) – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
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On Famous Women by Boccaccio

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1994
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