Chiara Matraini (1515-1604) was from Lucca, born into a wealthy, non-noble family, who had originally made their living as weavers. She was married to Vincenzo Cantarini in 1530 when she was fifteen years old, and gave birth to a son in 1533. Nearly everything else about her life was unconventional. A year after her marriage a number of members of her family were involved in a failed uprising to seize power from the elites in Lucca, ending in exile for some, imprisonment or death for others. Though disgraced, the Matraini family name was the one that the young woman chose to use throughout her career. In 1542 her husband died and by 1547 the young widow was involved in a scandalous affair with a married man, the poet Bartolomeo Graziani. The two lived openly together, entertaining intellectuals including young men from the nearby University of Pisa in a private academy in their home. At these gatherings, notorious for their extreme freedom of speech, Matraini recited poetry, played the keyboard, and sang. Several years later Graziani was murdered, perhaps out of revenge by members of his wife’s family. In 1555 Matraini published her first literary work Rime e prose, a book of poetry and prose, which both celebrates her love for Graziani and laments his death. From this point on Matraini pursued a literary career, unusual for a woman, but especially for one of her class. In 1556 she published a translation from Latin of ancient Greek rhetorician Isocrates’s (436-338 BCE) Oration to Demonicus, a work of advice to a young man. In addition to secular poetry, Matraini wote many devotional works during the final two decades of her life. In 1595 Matraini published a collection of letters on a variety of subjects, addressed to identifiable individuals such as Cangenna Lipomanni, Lodovico Domenichi, and her son Federigo Cantarini, as well as anonymous individuals.
1595 edition of Matraini’s letters Alessandro Ardente Chiara Matraini as the Cumaean Sibyl c.1545
Daniela Marcheschi. Chiara Matraini: poetessa lucchese e la letteratura delle donne nei nuovi fermenti religiosi del ‘500 Lucca : M. Pacini Fazzi, 2008
Giovanna Rabitti “Le lettere di Chiara Matraini tra pubblico e privato,” in Per lettera: la scrittura epistolare femminile tra archivio e tipografia: secoli XV-XVII, ed. Gabriella Zarri, Rome: Viella, 1999.
Chiara Matraini Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. and trans. Elaine Maclachlan, introduction by Giovanna Rabitti. University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Chiara Matraini, Rime e lettere, edizione critica a cura di Giovanna Rabitti. Bologna: Commissione per i Testi di Lingua, 1989.
“The Poet as Sibyl: Chiara Matraini,” in Jaffe, Irma. Shining Eyes, Cruel Fortune, The Lives and Loves of Italian Renaissance Women Poets, Fordham Univ. Press, NY, 2002.
Lettere della signora Chiara Matraini, gentildonna Luchese. Lucca: Busdrago, 1595 is available online on Google Books
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