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Women’s Work – Italian Stories

Women's Work - Italian Stories

Like other parts of Italian tradition, ideas about ladies’s work have changed over time. The phrase is now old fashioned and, in fact, it brings to mind the home work of the “casalinga”: housewife. But even prior to now, ladies additionally worked outdoors the home. The painting above by Filippo Palizzi exhibits ladies at work in the course of the excavation of Pompeii. Palizzi was not the one painter to seize this theme. Under we see Eduard Sain’s painting of the identical matter. Few of the hundreds of thousands who visit Pompeii every year would think about the hundreds of girls whose labour was a part of clearing the traditional streets on which they walk.

It is in fact part of a broader pattern of the invisibility of girls’s tales, in addition to the purposeful exclusion of girls from points of public life in most of historical past and in nearly each tradition.

Ladies’s Work Among the many Poor

As we discover this matter we find that we are as more likely to encounter a “contadina” as typically as a “contadino” within the historical report.

Ladies and Males harvesting, from the medieval Taccuino Sanitatis

The American traveller John Headley, in his 1842 Letters From Italy, describes quite a lot of “ladies’s work”. He remarks that in contrast to his personal nation where area work: “is mainly confined to men (besides within the slave districts), [it] is here additionally carried out by ladies.” He portrays a posh picture of joyfulness and dignity coupled with the exploitative economic difficulties of life, notably as they affected ladies.

The peculiar costumes of the peasantry typically provides them a very picturesque appearance within the fields. I have seen in the wheat fields near Naples twelve or fifteen ladies in a gaggle, each with a napkin folded on the top of her head, to guard it from the solar — while the darkish spencer and pink skirt open in entrance and pinned back in order to disclose a blue petticoat beneath — contrasted superbly with the brilliant inexperienced area that unfold away on each aspect.

They often go to their work within the morning with their distaffs in their arms, spinning as they walk. … Within the nation between Naples and Rome, some elements of that are very lovely, the wages of a lady in the area is a Carline, or eight cents per day, and she or he finds herself. One can hardly conceive how eight cents would buy her day by day meals, a lot much less dress and shelter her, but it’s unimaginable on what a small sum an Italian will reside. …

… return into the mountains and the acute politeness and civility you meet at each flip endear them to you before you comprehend it. Female and male salute you as you move, and in such a pleasing manner that you simply scarcely regard yourself as a foreigner.

Visiting the silver mines on the borders of Lucca and Carrara, … the pleasure I acquired was quickly forgotten in the unhappy spectacle that met me as I approached the mines. I never noticed paler and extra woe-begone faces than those of the females I found myself amongst. They have been principally younger ladies, but poor, with sunken eyes, and colorless cheeks, and a perfect marble expression of features. They’re employed in numerous departments, but mainly in washing silver mud. Whether it’s the cold mountain water during which their arms are continually bathed, or the affect of the metallic they separate, or each, I know not — however our hard-driven manufacturing unit women seem like rose-buds, in comparison with them. …

The subsequent day we went into the mountains to visit the Seravezza quarry, and in addition the Mercury mines …, I solely misplaced monitor of my companions. … while I stood midway on the mountain uncertain what course to take, a young lady about eighteen years of age overtook me. She was decidedly pretty, with a slight and sleek type. The eternal distaff was in her hand, and she or he spun away as she slowly ascended the zigzag path. I inquired the street to the quarries, she informed me she was on her method there and would accompany me. … I asked her if she was carrying the dinner to her associates in the quarries. ” Oh no,” she replied. Ah, stated, I, in true Yankee inquisitiveness, I suppose you are going up to visit your husband? She burst into a clear snigger and replied, ” Oh, no, I’m not married.” Properly, then, stated I in good marvel, what are you climbing this super hill for? ” Oh, I carry quadrette,” she answered. ” Quadrette!” I exclaimed, what’s that?

On inquiry I found that she was employed all day in bringing sq. blocks of marble dressed for pavements from the quarry to the plain. A thick napkin was folded on the highest of her head, on which she positioned the ” quadrette,” sq. items of marble, and descended with them to the manufactory under. It was a mile from the bottom to the top, and she or he spun as she ascended the mountain, and then returned together with her “quadrette.” A mile up and a mile again, made each trip two miles long. She made seven a day, and acquired for each solely a cent and a half. Thus she travelled fourteen miles a day, and carried seven miles, a heavy stone, and acquired for it ten cents. I looked at her with astonishment. Her options and type have been delicate, and her voice and manner and all have been so mild and sweet, that I could not conceive for a moment that such a life of drudgery was her lot. But she seemed cheerful and completely satisfied. The wages of the lads have been about twenty cents per day.

John Tyler Headley, Headley’s Letters from Italy, pp 211-214

In Black Bread, the nineteenth century Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga presents a fairly totally different image, stripping his characters of all humanity, decreasing “Purple Head” a younger mom who’s breastfeeding her baby on the best way to the fields to “an actual beast of burden … hoeing, mowing, sowing, better than a person, when she pulled up her skirts.”

Eduoard Sain, Excavations at Pompeii (1865)

Ladies’s Work in Literature: Trotula, Isotta Nogarola and Laura Terracina

These photographs of the life that was the widespread lot of the overwhelming majority of girls, is just not nevertheless the complete story as far as “ladies’s work” is worried.

We’ve seen the celebrity of the writings attributed to the medical physician Trotula of Salerno. Obstetrix (or midwifery), “ostetricia” in Italian, was long an virtually an solely feminine career. Ladies also dominated other professions similar to “sarta” (tailor) and “tessitora” (weaver), “filatora” (spinner) and because the twentieth century approached instructor and nurse.

Italy has additionally had ladies who excelled (even in the Center Ages) in fields comparable to science or literature, though in fact far much less well-known than their male counterparts and sometimes enterprise their work towards societal and male opposition.

Isotta Nogarola (1418-1466) of Verona is such a case. A humanist and feminist she argued in one among her most well-known works towards the doctrine that Eve was primarily (if not solely) liable for the “fall of man”. She wrote her argument in the form of a debate with Ludovico Foscarini. In the context of the time Isotta used male belief within the inferiority of girls to argue for the higher duty of Adam. Her activity is a troublesome one. She makes use of Foscarini’s words in the direction of the conclusion of the talk. “The primary mom set torch to an excellent hearth which, to our spoil, has not yet been extinguished.” Towards such misogyny little might be executed.

Hostility from the male humanists led her to withdraw into a life of spiritual seclusion on her household estate. Her writings from that time turned to spiritual themes.

Laura Terracina (1519 – 1577) of Naples was more fortunate in her career and have become probably the most revealed Italian poet (male or female) of her century. He biggest work was her response to Orlando Furioso. In it (among other things) she calls for ladies to go away behind the “needle” and “thread” and take up literature in defence of their sex. In her work she castigates violence and mistreatment of girls and different social ills of her time. The video under demonstrates the persevering with relevance of her work. It presents a studying of extracts from her work and is about to music.

Ladies’s work in Italy is in fact a much bigger matter than the temporary dimensions explored right here. It consists of the work of many eminent ladies all through historical past and in our own time. It consists of position of household, the economic methods through which it was embedded, and the political actions of the 20 th century.


From Filippo Palizzi (1818-1899) – “Fanciulla pensierosa agli scavi di Pompeii” (1870) (Considerate Lady on the Excavation of Pompeii). For a discussion see Artwork in Drugs: Pompei attraverso lo sguardo di Palizzi

Éduoard Sain, Excavations at Pompeii, (1865).

Video: Chi Nemico è di Donna” – Rime contro la violenza – Enna, eight Marzo 2013 extracts from verses of Laura Terracina

Veggio il mondo fallir, veggiolo stolto,
e veggio la virtute in abandono,
e che le Muse a vil tenute sono,
tal che l’ingegno mio quasi è sepolto.

Veggio in odio ed invidia tutto volto
Il pensier degli amici, e in falso tono
Veggio tradito dal malvagio il buono,
E tutto a nostri danni il ciel rivolto.

Nessun alben comun tien fermo segno,
Anzi al suo proprio ognun discorre seco,
Mentre ha di vari alletti il petto pregno.

Io veggio, e nel veder tengo odio meco;
Talche vorrei vedere per disdegno
O me senz’ occhi, o tutto il mondo cieco.


Ben vi percuote il cor d’invidia il telo,
Che tenete le donne si vilmente.
A la femina il maschio non fa guerra
Tutti gli altri animali in terra.

O nimico del cielo, e di natura,
Come hai baldanza tu di por la mano
Sopra di bella & giovenil figura?
Onde ti vien questo tuo ardir si strano?

Ti fè de la tua costa il buon fattore
Uscir la donna con si bel disegno,
Acciò, che d’una fede, e d’uno amore
Voi foste uniti in questo regno!

Ben ti poi annoverar, con darti vanto
Tra crudeli Leoni, e maligni Orsi,
Quantunque di natura sia mordace
A la femina il maschio non la face.

Ne sarai forse primo, ne secondo,
Darai a tuo malgrado quel che dei:
Deh vivi tu con la tua donna in tempo:
La Leonessa appresso il Leon giace.


John Tyler Headley, Headley’s Letters from Italy, Baker and Scribner, New York, 1848

Black Bread in Giovanni Verga, Little Novels of Sicily, translated by D.H. Lawrence, 1883

Rinaldina Russell (ed), Italian Ladies Writers – A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut (1994)

Rinaldina Russell (ed), The Feminist Encyclopedia of Italian Literature, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1997

Virginia Cox, Ladies’s Writing in Italy (1400-1650), John Hopkins University Press, 2008