Print, Manuscript and the Education of Women in Renaissance Italy

Houghton Library Blog 2016-05-06

Houghton Library has recently acquired a copy of an important book in the history of the education of women, Annibale Guasco’s Ragionamento. Annibale Guasco (1540-1619) composed this educational treatise for his eleven-year-old daughter, Lavinia, as she entered the service of the Duchess of Savoy.


Annibale recorded her humanist education at home and under his direction in music, mathematics, social games, polite speech and reserved conduct. He then framed the elements essential to her success at court — faith, chastity, service to her mistress, continuing her own education, health, hygiene and diet, attention to her personal possessions (clothing, jewelry…), amiable relations and fair treatment of servants. To advance she must be discreet, useful and entertaining, strengthen her musical skills on the viola da gamba and clavichord and in counterpoint. His tips also included diluting wine at meals and mastering Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano.

1200x630bfAnnibale asked that Lavinia make a copy of this text which he presented to her as a parting gift and suggested she use the chancery cursive script that he has taught her with the aid of the examples in Giovanni Francesco Cresci’s Il perfetto cancelleresco corsivo (1579). Lavinia took advantage of the flourishing printing industry in Turin and had her father’s text printed rather than copying it herself in manuscript. It was published in Turin in 1586 by the printing firm of Bevilacqua.

The text has been edited and translated with an introduction by Peggy Osborn at the University of Chicago Press in 2003 in the series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe.

This post was contributed by William P. Stoneman, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts.