Sanuti, Nicolosa (fl. 1453)

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Sanuti, Nicolosa (fl. 1453)

Bolognese writer . Flourished around 1453 in Bologna, Italy.

A Bolognese aristocrat, Nicolosa Sanuti was a learned writer who composed several treatises. She is mostly remembered for an essay she published in response to sumptuary laws enacted in Bologna in 1453. Sanuti, like many wealthy noblewomen, disagreed strongly with male attempts to regulate the dress and jewelry women were allowed to wear. In particular, the Bolognese code specifically denied even aristocratic women the right to wear cloth of silver or gold, but allowed men to do so. The sumptuary code she opposed delineated a careful hierarchy of materials, styles, and colors women of each social class could adorn themselves with; the premise was that women were too concerned with material beauty, which was sinful since it both took women's minds from the spiritual world to come, and, like Eve , tempted men as well.

Sanuti used her classical education to argue against this popular premise; she created a theory of fashion which spoke of broader issues of women's virtue and of the unfair treatment of women in the law. Her treatise proposed that fashionable clothing and fine jewelry must be considered a reward given to virtuous women, who were denied the financial and political rewards and offices given to virtuous men. Nicolosa felt that fine garments were the only status symbol women were allowed to have, and that if denied such garments, women would be stripped of the signs of their virtue; she supported her arguments with numerous examples from the ancient and contemporary worlds of noble and pious women. Lastly, Sanuti made the somewhat radical statement that women were humanity's only hope of surviving male destructiveness, for women's work and fertility rebuilt families and nations after men's warfare, and brought humanity to a higher moral level. She continued to write for some time, but no other treatise was as widely read as this well-articulated essay.


Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, ed. A History of Women in the West: Silences of the Middle Ages. Vol. II. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard, 1992.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Sanuti, Nicolosa (fl. 1453)

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