Recalling the Dogaressa

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


The dogaressa’s official identity was flexible and complex. At times, doge and dogaressa represented macrocosmic parental figures, who were themselves drawn from the city’s most elite families, and thus stood for the interests of the patriciate and the success of elite social networks. As a couple the ducal pair interceded for the city with foreign visitors and its patron saint. The dogaressa’s sex automatically enhanced this family metaphor, recalling women’s place in social networks and procreation. The dogaressa tread a fine line: her office might suggest abstract, idealized Venetian family values to some, while to others it might imply and enhance the dynastic ambitions of an individual family that created a threat to the sometimes-fragile republic. Her gender that allowed the positive associations of marriage and family so prevalent in her ritual persona and in Venetian life also posed risks; not only of familial favoritism and the dangers of usurpation by a ruling dynasty—but also the challenges of dangerous public femininity and the possible resultant loss of civic honor. The shaping of the dogaressa’s identity and its deployment was thus a cautious balancing act for the Venetian state, her family, and the dogaressa herself.


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© Holly S. Hurlburt 2006

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