Tarquinia Molza Porrina (1542-1617)

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Early years

Tarquinia Molza as a young girl, artist unknown.  By kind permission of Contessa Molza.

Tarquinia Molza Porrina was born in Modena on November 1, 1542, the eldest child (of nine) of Cavaliero Camillo Molza and Isabella Colomba Molza, and granddaughter of the celebrated poet Francesco Maria Molza. Her early life is reported in a manuscript treatise, L’amorosa filosofia, written by her friend and teacher, the Ferrarese philosopher and scholar Francesco Patrizi.  Tarquinia was a precocious child who yearned for knowledge; her mother frequently caught her hiding books under her skirts, even before she could read.  Against her mother's wishes, her father allowed her to be taught with her two younger brothers, and she became proficient in Greek, Latin and Hebrew at an early age.
Tarquinia's father died in 1558, whilst on a journey to Venice bearing a volume of his father's poetry for publication.  With his death, Tarquinia's humanist education ceased, and she returned to learning more traditional women's crafts under her mother's care.  However, Camilla Molza found herself, if not destitute, in nonetheless severe circumstances with three of her surviving children left to support – Tarquinia herself, who at sixteen had still not yet been required by her father to take a husband, and her two brothers (her sisters had already been married).  Camilla turned to the Farnese family for support: although Modena was within Ferrarese jurisdiction, Tarquinia’s father was a sworn vassal of the Farnese court and a regular visitor to Parma; furthermore, her grandfather had relied on Cardinal Alessandro Farnese as his most stalwart patron. Camilla wrote to the Cardinal, pleading with him to take her three ‘poveri fanciulli’ into his protection, a request which he granted within a matter of weeks. For two years, Tarquinia was the Cardinal’s ward, until her marriage in 1560 to Paolo Porrino.   Porrino was a younger relation of one of Francesco Maria Molza's closest friends and allies in Rome.  Perhaps he, too, was a friend of the family and Tarquinia had chosen him for herself; it appears that the bond between them was very strong.

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Bibliography references (primary sources): Patrizi, 1577

Bibliography references (secondary sources):  DurMart, 1989; Riley, 1980; Vandelli, 1750

Archival sources:
Archivio di Stato Parma:  Epistolario Scelto, Carteggio Farnesiane Estero

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.