Abrabanel, Benvenida (d. 1560)

views updated

Abrabanel, Benvenida (d. 1560)

Jewish noblewoman of Italy. Born in Naples, Italy; birth date unknown; died in 1560 in Ferrara, Italy; daughter of Joseph Abrabanel; married first cousin Samuel Abrabanel (d. 1547), before 1541 in Naples.

Benvenida Abrabanel, a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur and benefactor, came from a family that had enjoyed great prosperity and royal favor in Spain until 1492, the year the Spanish monarchs Isabella I and Ferdinand expelled all practicing Jews from the Iberian peninsula. Although the king and queen offered the Abrabanels the opportunity to remain in their native land, the family left Spain and made Naples, Italy, their new home. In Naples, young Benvenida received an excellent education. Her intelligence and learning led the Spanish viceroy to request that she tutor his daughter Eleonora de Medici (1522–1562), later duchess of Tuscany.

Benvenida eventually married her first cousin, the merchant Samuel Abrabanel, with whom she moved to Ferrara in 1541, when the government of Naples expelled the Jews from that city. Samuel's business thrived in Ferrara, allowing the highly educated Benvenida the opportunity to create a sort of salon, opening her home to scholars and artists from across Italy. After Samuel died in 1547, Benvenida took over his commercial enterprises, which prospered under her management, partly due to important trading rights she earned from her former student, Eleonora de Medici. Abrabanel gained renown for her learning, business acumen, and charity, for she gave freely of her wealth to aid the less fortunate Jews of Ferrara.

Laura York , Anza, California