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

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Jewish female musicians were a rarity in the sixteenth century, let alone later times. All the more interest attaches to the description of Madonna Bellina, in an ardent ‘love letter’ that the renowned Venetian playwright and satirist Andrea Calmo wrote to her (in Venetian) around 1550, as a Jewess who ‘astounded her listeners’ (meraveiar i auditori) by her singing and playing. As the only known document about her, the letter deserves closer investigation to establish as much as one can of her person (age, appearance, character) and musical talents; to gauge the attitude of its author toward singing or playing Jewesses and, more generally, toward Judaism; and to probe the question whether Madonna Bellina was real or a figment of his imagination. The study concludes with an appendix, in which Calmo's letter to Bellina is transcribed in the original and translated.

Keywords: Andrea Calmo; Jewish female musicians (singers, instrumentalists); Judaism vs. Christianity; Madonna Bellina; love letters

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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