chapter  12
21 Pages

Convent Alternatives for Rich and Poor Girls in Seventeenth-CenturyFlorence:TheLayConservatories of Eleonora Ramirez di Montalvo (1602–1659)

ByJennifer Haraguchi

On August 30, 1620, at eighteen years of age, the Florentine noblewoman Eleonora Ramirez di Montalvo married Orazio Landi against her will, having been forced by her relatives to leave the Poor Clares at the convent of San Jacopo in Via Ghibellina, where she had intended to profess solemn vows. Approximately five years later, Montalvo left her husband, moved in with her brother, and decided to establish a religious house for poor young women.1 As a married woman, Montalvo was not permitted to govern a convent, so she formed a small school in her brother’s home, eventually founding a lay conservatory for underprivileged girls called Il Conventino. Twenty-four years later, in 1650, with the support of the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere (1622-1694), wife of Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Montalvo established another lay conservatory-this time for elite women-at Villa La Quiete in the northeast environs of the city.2 Il Conventino and La Quiete functioned like convents in administrative matters, except that the women who resided there were called ancille (handmaidens) instead of monache (nuns) and they made simple promises of obedience to a superiora (superior) instead of professing solemn vows before a priest.3