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Marianna D'Ezio

Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi’s Venetian Salon: A Transcultural and Transnational Example of Sociability and Cosmopolitanism in Early Nineteenth-Century Europe


The phenomenon of the British Grand Tour during the eighteenth century took a vast number of travellers to both the heart of Europe as well as the “warm South”. Following a well-established “beaten track,” travellers would then return to Britain in order to write a narrative documenting their adventures. Although initially an experience restricted predominantly to men, it very soon came to be enjoyed and exploited also by women.

First and foremost, during this period, learned eighteenth-century British women achieved a social status which had previously always been denied to them: that of intellectual leaders of their own literary coteries. They were soon emerging as distinguished salonnières who utilized their private circle of friends to devote it to sociability and “advertise” their own works through publication by subscription. Within these literary salons the exchange of books and the practice of writing comments and opinions in the margins (“marginalia”) were the norm.

The result was a wide circulation not only of European novels, essays and volumes of prose and poetry, but also of translations and original versions of French, English, German and Italian works. The flourishing of literary circles thus became a European trend, with men and women gathering together to enjoy learned conversation, and promoting a transcultural and transnational image of the intellectual woman. These circles may have differed from one another in a number of aspects, but they all undoubtedly contributed towards the diffusion of new ideas in an age of radical social, political and cultural change and revolution.

My paper will specifically look at the “myth” - in Byron’s words, who named her the “Venetian Madame de Staël” - of Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi’s aristocratic and intellectual salon of the early nineteenth century, which unquestionably represented the most formidable example of transnational cultural and literary exchange. Teotochi Albrizzi’s vivacious mind seduced and inspired writers and poets from all over Europe, and her salon in turn became an international stage for Italian artists and writers such as poets Ugo Foscolo and Ippolito Pindemonte and sculptor Antonio Canova, who then became famous all over Europe.

SvD, November 2012

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