Nogarola, Isotta (c. 1416–1466)

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Nogarola, Isotta (c. 1416–1466)

Italian scholar and writer. Born around 1416 in Verona, Italy; died in 1466, buried in Santa Maria Antica in Verona; daughter of Bianca (Borromeo) Nogarola and Leonardo Nogarola; sister of Angela and Ginevra Nogarola; educated by tutors.


a philosophical dialogue on Adam and Eve (written in 1451 and published in 1563); an oration on the life of St. Jerome (1453); Opera quae Supersunt Omnia (1886); and many letters.

Isotta Nogarola was born around 1416 in Verona, Italy. The Nogarolas were of noble lineage, and her aunt, Angela Nogarola , was a poet. Isotta received the same Renaissance education under Matteo Bosso and Martino Rizzoni as her sisters, Angela and Ginevra . Early on, she was renowned for her intellect and for her beauty, which brought with it several offers of marriage, but she was no longer looked upon as an attractive novelty as she grew older. At age 23, her youth and attractiveness were considered to have gone, and her women friends mocked what were regarded as her intellectual pretensions. Although she continued to write poetry, oration, and dialogue, Nogarola could find no place in the community of humanist scholars, men who praised her only as an unusual woman and refused to accept her as a peer. She complained of suffering "men's denigrations in words and fact."

Sexual slander against her and her siblings, particularly bad for Nogarola who was already perceived as something of a freak, increased her social difficulties. Moved by the desire to clear the haze of ensuing scandal, she chose to become a virgin scholar of religion, attached to no particular order. Nogarola—feeling the need to choose between the comforts of ordinary life, including companionship, and her love of scholarship—found in religious study a more acceptable course for a woman to pursue than humanism. As she did so, her scholarship was accepted and praised by both men and women.

In 1438, she moved to Venice to escape the war between the Venetian Republic and Milan. She returned to Milan in 1441, befriended Ludovico Foscarini, a public official who was the son of the doge of Milan, and ran a salon for intellectual discussion. Foscarini became her close friend and confidant. Although he admired and supported her choices in life, he refused to make similar ones for himself when she encouraged him to abandon his worldly career. Foscarini and a female contemporary, Costanza Varano (Costanza Sforza ), saw Nogarola's lifestyle as a stroke of independence, but for her it was a choice that bowed to convention. She lived on her own property, probably with her mother, Bianca Borromeo , and spent most of her time in a "book-lined cell." Her life was progressively more solitary and meager, the latter being a result of choice rather than poverty, as at least a certain amount of luxury was still at her disposal. She corresponded with, and was visited by, the intellectuals of the region, especially Foscarini. Much admired for their elegance and insight, Nogarola's letters were distributed widely, even outside of Italy. In the late 1600s, 564 of her letters could be found in one Parisian library.

Among Nogarola's works, of particular interest is her dialogue on Adam and Eve, composed in 1451 and based on a correspondence with Foscarini, which was published posthumously by her descendent Count Francesco Nogarola. Foscarini held the conventional position, based on the Bible and Saint Augustine's commentary, that Eve was responsible for the fall of humanity, but Nogarola argued that Eve was less responsible than Adam because she was weaker and had less knowledge. As Adam was stronger, she reasoned, he committed a greater sin and was responsible for the misery of all humanity, whereas Eve was responsible only for herself. Moreover, Eve succumbed only to the innate human desire for knowledge.

Nogarola's life became increasingly bleak, despite her intellectual success once she turned to religious study. Foscarini left Milan for another posting in Brescia and her mother died, leaving her alone. She had been chronically ill at least since 1453, possibly as a result of emotional hardship, complaining of pain particularly in her stomach. Her immersion in her studies had always been to the neglect of her health, and after her doctor died her health further declined. She died in 1466.


Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

King, Margaret L. "The Religious Retreat of Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466): Sexism and Its Consequences in the Fifteenth Century," in Signs. Vol. 3, 1978, pp. 807–822.

Russell, Rinalda. "Isotta Nogarola," in Katharina Wilson, ed., Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. NY: Garland, 1991.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada