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Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance

By Meredith K. Ray

Meredith came to Bellagio in November 2022 to study and write about the profound and collective impact of women on the seismic developments of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a leading scholar of Italian Renaissance literature and culture. Her work explores the role of women and gender within the literary, philosophical, and religious networks of early modern Italy, revealing a “long Renaissance” with women as central actors.

A few words with Meredith:

“The introduction was the most challenging part of writing this book, but it all clicked during my residency at Bellagio. It was difficult to decide how to frame such a wide-ranging book – which covers Renaissance women artists, musicians, scientists, political figures, and early feminists – and how to present contextualizing information in a way that is accessible to readers. The presentation I gave to my Bellagio cohort ended up being hugely helpful in thinking through these questions, and I was grateful for the feedback and encouragement I received.”

A Quote from Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance:

“As we continue working toward gender parity in the present and the future, we must also re-center women in our narratives of the past. […] When we see women represented in history – and when women see themselves there – it alerts us to their collective impact in shaping our world in profound and important ways.”


Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance takes readers on a journey through early modern Italy that places women at the heart of the artistic and cultural developments of this transformative era. Highlighted here are figures like Caterina Sforza, who defended her city against an invading army; Veronica Franco, the Venetian courtesan whose erotic verse enthralled Europe; Sofonisba Anguissola, acclaimed for her arresting portraits; Isabella Andreini, the original “prima donna” of Italian theater; and Margherita Sarrocchi, the epic poet and mathematics prodigy who corresponded with Galileo Galilei.

Though many of their names have been neglected by history, the artists, writers, performers, leaders, and feminists of Twenty-Five Women Who Shaped the Italian Renaissance overcame daunting obstacles to find their own voices. Excluded from the educational opportunities granted to men, often compelled into arranged marriages or confined to the convent, and subject to ingrained hostility toward female sexuality, each dared to challenge entrenched ideas about what a woman should or could do or be. Springing from a range of backgrounds and circumstances, these women defied conventions about the “proper” place of their sex to make their own mark on the Renaissance.

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Learn more about Meredith’s work on her website.