The Mimosa Annual Award

Happy Women’s Day

Every March 8, I’m giving recognition to one of the many women that contributed greatly to their society, but we’re never recognized for their actions. 

Maybe, a bit, or because they were ”the wife of… 

History is full of fascinating women; some names pop up immediately: Isabella d’Este; Lucrezia Borgia; Artemisia Gentileschi; Simonetta Cattaneo; or Lucrezia Tornabuoni who had significant political influence during the rule of her husband and then in raising her son, Lorenzo, known as ”the Magnificent.”

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The author of this painting is Alberto Zorzini.

And The Winner Is

But the first woman to get this prestigious prize will be Gemma Donati. 

I suspect fee people even know who she was, her husband instead is the most famous Italian: Dante Alighieri. 

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Gemma Donati is the only woman Dante Alighieri never speaks of in his writings, which made immortal female figures such as Francesca, Pia, Costanza, Cunizza da Romano, Matelda and even Piccarda Donati, cousin of the same Gemma and torn from the monastery for an imposed marriage from relatives.

Gemma Donati was born in Florence on March 3, 1265, daughter of the noble Ser Manetto Donati, and was just a year older than Beatrice Portinari, the woman who stole her place in history. 

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She was betrothed at a young age—about 12—to Dante, in 1277, the year in which the dowry deed was drawn up, on 9 February, by a notary, then married between 1283 and 1285. 

Certainly, poor Gemma should not have been too happy that all of Florence spoke of her husband’s immortal love for Beatrice.

We can easily imagine a dinner conversation between husband Dante and wife Gemma; faced with Gemma’s objections, Dante as the head of the family would have replied that “women do not understand these things. The love I am writing about is a different thing. You are my wife, you are the mother of my children!

Yet the Strings of the Purse

It may be that Gemma was not a good choice of a wife for Dante. According to Boccaccio, the relationship between husband and wife deteriorated irretrievably with the poet’s exile. It seems that from this point on, the couple never wished to see each other again. 

But sure enough, her money and powerful family was the deciding point. The Alighieri family was not a wealthy one. 

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Donati Family Power 

Contrary to the Donati, Dante was also on the wrong side of the political fence; hence the exile. But regardless of different political views; Gemma’s father did his best to help his son-in-law Dante with various cash benefits, and even a loan in 1295, both when he was still in Florence, and during the first phase of exile. 

The couple managed to have four children;  Giovanni, Pietro, and Iacopo, and a daughter, Antonia, who entered the convent of Santo Stefano degli Ulivi in Ravenna at a young age, taking the name of sister Beatrice. I bet Gemma was not too happy about that choice of name!

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The “Commedia” Manuscripts

Dante’s writing was certainly outrageous for those times, and they were not kidding times! He could have been burned at stake for less than that. His manuscripts were therefore hidden. It was again Gemma and her sons that kept the writings for posterity. 

After her Husband Death

Following Dante’s death, Gemma petitions the judge requesting that a sum equal to the amount of her dowry be refunded to her from her husband’s patrimony, which the municipality had confiscated after he had been sentenced. 

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

2 thoughts on “The Mimosa Annual Award

  1. To be precise, Dante in his “Commedia” speaks only of dead people. Gemma survives him, so he has a good excuse right there.

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    1. There are also good reasons to believe that he was not entirely faithful to his wife (ok, the exile was long… 😉), but just wondering where he would have put himself in his inferno. Or purgatorio? He was a rather harsh judge…

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