The Dogaressa’s Office

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the above quotation, typical of prescriptive literature of late medieval Italy, Francesco Barbaro linked female authority and influence with the confined space of the home, urging wives to aspire to political greatness within their limited sphere. Yet with his simile Barbaro joined, as had many before him, the fields of family and state, recognizing from his own membership in the Venetian governing elite that family dynamics shaped politics even as governmental influence increasingly made itself felt in the home. The family as a metaphor for government was a common medieval construction used by humanists such as Barbaro and Caldiera to bolster notions of patriarchy and was repeated multiple times in Barbaro’s treatise. Even though he generally pointed towards the home as the correct domain for women, Barbaro recognized female influence there, and used the overtly political metaphor of government to characterize woman’s place within it.1 This overlap and interaction of private and public was evident in the lives of many Venetian women, elite and common, and was thus doubly true for the unique circumstances of the office of dogaressa. Even as her gender and the additional restrictions of the oath of office marginalized her, her very residence in a space that was both family compound and state house placed her center stage. This chapter will investigate the dogaressa’s tenure at the hub of the Venetian state, illustrating yet further that the office of dogaressa placed the women who held it beyond the restrictions dictated to their gender even as they sought to conform to the familial ideal prescribed for them.


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  1. 21.
    Butler’s Lives of the Saints, eds. Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, vol. 4 (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1963), pp. 405–408. Gina Fasoli and other scholars have speculated that elements of the dogaressa’s entrance into the palace are drawn from much older, no-longer-documented traditions—the same must be true of her association with the feast of San Clemente. Fasoli, “Liturgia,” p. 555.Google Scholar
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    Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. William Granger Ryan, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 323–30; Butler’s Lives, p. 406.Google Scholar
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    Patricia Simons, “Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye and the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture,” in Expanding the Discourse: Feminism and Art History, ed. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (New York: Icon Editions, 1992); pp. 38–57; and Goffen, Titian’s Women, pp. 86–106.Google Scholar

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© Holly S. Hurlburt 2006

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