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Livia d'Arco was the daughter of a minor Mantuan noble, who was sent to Ferrara in the household of Margherita Gonzaga, at the time of her marriage to Duke Alfonso in 1579.  Livia was still a very young girl, perhaps only fifteen or sixteen years old, but probably was chosen to accompany the young Duchess at least partially for her musical potential.  On arrival at Ferrara, she immediately began to learn to play the viol, under the instruction of Luzzasco Luzzaschi and the Ferrarese maestro di cappella, Ippolito Fiorino.
It was some time before Livia became a regular participant in the concerto di dame; presumably, she was not put on display until her skills had become advanced enough for her to join with Peverara and Guarini.  Her performances begin to be mentioned in reports and correspondence at the beginning of 1582.  Her playing and her singing are praised in verse; her most enthusiastic encomiasts were Angelo Grillo (under the pseudonym Livio Celiano) and Torquato Tasso.  Musical encomia to her are not plentiful; perhaps the earliest that could be a play on her name is found in the Biblioteca Estense manuscript MSF1358, a setting of Guarini's poem 'Un arco è mia vita'. Un arco è la mia vita,
lo strale è l’opra il nervo è ’l mio pensiero;
et è la gloria il segno, io son l’arciero.
Con quanta il ciel mi die forza et ingegno
drizzerò il colpo, et se non giungo al segno
non sarà colpa mia,
ma di fortuna ria.
L’arco non curo e nel segnar non erro;
il tenderò fin da l’orecchia il ferro.

Giambattista Guarini

Like Laura Peverara, Livia remained a Mantuan citizen (and therefore the 'property' of the Mantuan court) until she could be married to a Ferrarese vassal.  But unlike Laura, and like Anna Guarini, she was at prime marriageable - and child-bearing - age.  Livia and Anna were kept unmarried for as long as possible, before their spinster status became questionable; through the experience of Leonora Sanvitale, Duke Alfonso had already learned that pregnancy could threaten the stability of his musical establishment.  Eventually, marriages were arranged for both Livia and Anna.  Livia was betrothed to Conte Alfonso Bevilacqua, from an eminent family with important branches in both Ferrara and Verona.  The engagements were announced together in 1584, and the marriages solemnized in 1585.
There is no record of Livia ever having had children, but her marriage appears to have been happy enough.  At the very least, she did not fall victim to the precarious nature of her employment at Ferrara, like so many of her colleagues.  She died in 1611, and she was mourned in verse by many poets, including Giambattista Guarini and the Florentine Ottavio Rinnucini.


Bibliography references (primary sources): I-Moe F1358

Bibliography references (secondary sources):  DurMart, 1989; Newcomb, 1981

Written by Laurie Stras.

Last updated 04 October, 2002.

The views expressed in this document are those of the author and not those of the University of Southampton.