Barbara Strozzi's Mother: Class, Race, and Female Performance in 17th-Century Italy

APR 08, 2021 | 6:00 PM TO 7:30 PM



Online Event


April 08, 2021: 6:00 PM-7:30 PM




Society for the Study of Women in the Renaissance and The Center for the Study of Women and Society


In this talk, Emily Wilbourne focuses on Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), a familiar figure to feminist historians of early modernity: a singer, a courtesan, and a published composer of eight volumes of vocal music. Barbara Strozzi's career as a professional musician is unusual among her contemporaries, not only because of her gender, but also for her independence from institutional support, including courts, churches, and the public opera houses of her native Venice. Biographical explanations of Strozzi’s unusual success have focused on her adoptive (and presumed natural) father, Giulio Strozzi. Giulio was a prominent intellectual in Venice, and during Barbara’s adolescence sponsored a musically minded academy in his own house; Barbara participated in meetings, serving as something of a “master” of ceremonies, and frequently performed. Giulio was also presumably responsible for the young girl’s education, including her lessons with the renowned opera composer Francesco Cavalli. Yet, in the excitement to have found historical traces of such a talented female musician, scholars have glossed over some of the stranger aspects of Giulio’s behavior towards Barbara, which include effectively sponsoring his adoptive daughter into prostitution. In this talk, Wilbourne will put pressure on questions of musical signification and cultural norms in order to think differently about Barbara’s access to musical performance and pedagogy, including a rethinking of the status of Barbara’s mother, Isabella, a servant in Giulio’s household, considering her within a racialized structure of unfree labor, trafficked women, musical performances and sexual availability.

Emily Wilbourne was born in Australia and has lived, worked, and studied in NYC since 2003. She is fascinated by sound in relationship to bodies and particularly with the ways in which theatrical and musical sounds convey and construct information about race, class, gender, and sexuality. Most of her writing is focused on sonic objects and practices from the Italian seventeenth century. On the day Biden and Harris were inaugurated, Acoustemologies in Contact: Sounding Subjects and Modes of Listening in Early Modernity, a collection of essays co-edited with Suzanne G. Cusick, was published in an open-access edition ( []). Emily is looking forward to seeing your real face, not your Zoom face.

This is an online event. Register online to participate via Zoom.

Co-sponsored with the Society for the Study of Women in the Renaissance (SSWR) and the CUNY Academy for Humanities and Sciences.

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