Zuzoric, Cvijeta (c. 1555–1600)

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Zuzoric, Cvijeta (c. 1555–1600)

Croatian poet and salonnière whose intelligence and beauty inspired significant literary works. Born in Dubrovnik around 1555 (some sources cite 1550 and 1552); died in Florence, Italy, in 1600; married Bartolomeo Pescioni.

Although the Italian Renaissance made few marks on the cultural life of the South Slavic region, it did spark a remarkable explosion of literary creativity on the Dalmatian coast—a region physically barren and rocky but surprisingly rich in artistic and political energies. When the Slavic Croats reached the Adriatic shores during the 7th century ce, they found old or newly fortified Latin towns. At first, the encounters between these two groups were tense and culturally confused. Typical was the story of the city that would one day be known as Dubrovnik. First a Greek, then later a Romanized colony named Epidaurus (Cavtat), its civilized but fearful Latin-speaking citizens had rapidly built a new city called Ragusium protected by high fortified walls. Inside this stronghold civilized Christians trembled, while outside in the meadows (dubrava, hence Dubrovnik) numerous newcomers camped, poor Slavic pagans eager for a better life. Life based on mutual suspicion could not go on forever, nor would it bring either peace or wealth. For economic and social reasons, both groups chose to cooperate and learn from each other, realizing that only through this strategy could both survive and even prosper.

Following their princes, the Croatian people accepted the Roman Catholic faith, thus finding in their new religion a belief they could share with their Latin neighbors, that of a God of love and brotherhood. Although the Croatian nation lost its political independence in 1102, being forced to join with the Hungarian crown, Croatians remained culturally free and creative in the thriving towns of medieval Dalmatia. Venice dominated Dubrovnik (then called Ragusa) from 1205 to 1358. Biologically, however, during these years the Slavic majority triumphed over the Latin urban elements of Dubrovnik and other cities, as Latin-speaking men intermarried with Croatian women, bringing about what literary scholar Ante Kadic has called "the first peaceful Slavic victory." The Dalmatian cities gradually became bilingual, and although Latin (and later the Venetian dialect) remained the official medium of communication, the Croatian tongue became more and more common in private life. Under Hungarian control from 1358 to 1526, from that point on the Republic of Dubrovnik enjoyed political independence that was reflected in a vigorous cultural life. It was able to preserve its status as a free city until Napoleon finally extinguished its independent status in 1808.

Dubrovnik enjoyed an enviable location in the Adriatic Sea, and thanks to the ability of a patrician ruling class that knew how to maneuver among the various political forces of the region, either bowing or bribing depending on the circumstances, the Republic's prosperity was maintained for centuries. Dubrovnik gained renown as "the Croatian Athens" and "the Crown of all Croatian Cities," and was indisputably the cultural heart and soul of the South Slavic region of Europe. The Adriatic was not a barrier between the South Slavs on the one side and the Italians on the other, but a connecting bridge between two vigorous peoples. Whatever matters of cultural importance took place in Italy would soon come to the attention of the small but alert educated Croatian elite. Cultural exchanges were constant and fruitful, with many Italians coming to Dalmatia to have careers as clerics, teachers, physicians, notaries, or chancellors. At the same time, many gifted and ambitious Croats studied in Italy at theological seminaries and universities, mostly in Bologna and Padua.

Cvijeta Zuzoric was born in 1555 into this rich and complex blend of cultures and traditions.

She later moved with her family from her hometown of Dubrovnik to the Italian port city of Ancona. Grown up and now a noted beauty, Cvijeta met and married the Florentine aristocrat Bartolomeo Pescioni. In Florence, she presided over an influential salon that attracted many of the city's most gifted writers and artists. Among these were the great poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), who wrote a number of sonnets and madrigals in her honor, as well as Croatian writers, including Miho Bunic Babulinov and Miho Monaldi. The noted philosopher Niko Vitov Gucetic dedicated his Dialogo d'amore to her. Another smitten writer was fellow Dubrovnikian Dominko (Dinko) Zlataric (1558–1613), the "last Croatian Petrarchist," whose name was linked romantically to that of Zuzoric by some contemporaries, and who dedicated his poem Smrt Pirama i Tizbe (Death of Pyramus and Thisbe) to her.

As well as inspiring literature, Cvijeta Zuzoric is known to have written herself, works both in Croatian and Italian. These have unfortunately been lost to posterity. Highly regarded in the cultural history of Croatia, she was honored on April 11, 1996, by being depicted on a Croatian commemorative postage stamp.


Barac, Antun. A History of Yugoslav Literature. NY: The American Council of Learned Societies, 1955.

Bogisic, Rafo. Tragovima Starih. Split: Knjizevni Krug, 1987.

Butler, Thomas, ed. Monumenta Serbocroatica: A Bilingual Anthology of Serbian and Croatian Texts from the 12th to the 19th Century. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1980.

Franges, Ivo. Geschichte der kroatischen Literatur: Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Trans. by Claudia Schnell and Jutta Bozic. Cologne: Verlag Böhlau, 1995.

Kadic, Ante. "Croatian Renaissance," in Studies in the Renaissance. Vol. 6, 1959, pp. 28–35.

——. "The Croatian Renaissance," in Slavic Review. Vol. 21, no. 1. March 1962, pp. 65–88.

——. "Cvijeta Zuzoric, legenda i stvarnost," in Hrvatska Revija. Vol. 5, no. 3, 1955, pp. 285–290.

——. The Tradition of Freedom in Croatian Literature: Essays. Bloomington, IN: The Croatian Alliance, 1983.

Novak, Viktor. "The Slavonic-Latin Symbiosis in Dalmatia during the Middle Ages," in The Slavonic and East European Review. Vol. 32, no. 78. December 1953, pp. 1–28.

Pavlovic, Dragoljub. Dubrovacka Poezija. 3rd ed. Belgrade: Prosveta, 1963.

Simunkovic, Ljerka, and Miroslav Rozman. "Ecrits de Femme a Femme: Marija Gundulic a Cvijeta Zuzoric," in Michel Bastiaensen, ed. La Femme lettree a la Renaissance/ De geleerde Vrow in de Renaissance/ Lettered Women in the Renaissance. Louvain: Peeters, 1997, pp. 63–74.

Svelec, Franjo. Hrvatska epika XVI i XVII stoljeca prema evropskpj knjizevnoj bastini. Zadar: Sveuciliste u Zagrebu, Filozofski fakultet, Zadar, 1973.

Tadic, Jorjo. Cvijeta Zuzoric. Belgrade: n.p., 1939.

——. Dubrovacki Portreti. Belgrade: Stamparsko Izdabacko Preduzece "Zadruzna Knjiga," 1948.

Torbarina, Josip. Italian Influence on the Poets of the Ragusan Republic. London: Williams & Norgate, 1931.

——. "Tassovi soneti i madrigali u cast Cvijete Zuzoric," in Hrvatsko Kolo. Vol. 21, 1940, pp. 69–96.

Zivaljevic, Danilo A. Cvijeta Zuzoriceva i Dominko Zlataric. U Srem. Karlovcima: Srpska Manastirska Stamparija, 1900.

"Zuzoric, Cvijeta," in Enciklopedija Jugoslavije. Vol. 8, p. 635.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia