Madonna Bellina, ‘astounding’ Jewish musician in mid-sixteenth-century Venice

Madonna Bellina, ‘astounding’ Jewish musician in mid-sixteenth-century Venice

Harran, Don

Renaissance Studies Vol. 22 No. 1(2007)


Around 1550, the Venetian playwright and satirist Andrea Calmo (d. 1571) wrote a love letter to a certain Madonna Bellina, a Jewess, commending her for her skills as singer and instrumentalist. There were doubtless other Jewish women who knew how to sing and play instruments in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy, probably as amateurs. Of those who reached a professional standard, however, only two are mentioned by name: Madama Europa, a singer on the payroll of the Mantuan court together with her brother the Jewish composer Salamone Rossi in the late 1580s and early 1590s (she can be traced until 1608); and Rachel, for whom there is some information as a singer – accompanying herself on a guitar perhaps – in Venice during the years 1609–14 (along with her father and brother she entertained Christians upon their invitation).

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