Francesco Barbaro: The Wealth of Wives: A Fifteenth-Century Marriage Manual
146 pages, 6" x 9"
- Published: December 2015
In 1415, Francesco Barbaro produced a marriage manual intended at once for his friend, a scion of the Florentine Medici family, and for the whole set of his peers, the young nobility of Venice. Countering the trends of the day toward dowry chasing and dowry inflation, Barbaro insisted that the real wealth of wives was their capacity to conceive, birth, and rear children worthy of their heritage. The success of the patriciate depended, ironically, on women: for they alone could ensure the biological, cultural, and spiritual reproduction of their marital lineage. The Wealth of Wives circulated in more than 100 manuscript versions, five Latin editions, and translations into German, Italian, French, and English, far outstripping in its influence Leon Battista Alberti’s On the Family (1434).
Barbaro’s work is such an important and influential work on marriage and women that it is surprising that it has not been translated earlier. But the wait was worth it. Margaret King provides a fluent, clear, and accurate translation. Moreover, as a supremely knowledgeable historian on Barbaro, Renaissance women, and Venice, she describes very well the historical circumstances of the work, the context of Renaissance humanism, and Venetian policies and practices. She also provides a great deal of information concerning the diffusion and influence of Barbaro’s work. Scholars will be surprised to learn that Erasmus, Juan Luis Vives, and practically every other Renaissance commentator on women and marriage borrowed from or was influenced by this book. This is a very welcome addition to a distinguished series.
Paul F. Grendler, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Toronto 2014 International Galileo Galilei Prize for Contributions to Italian Scholarship