Shelved Dolls: Veronica Franco – And Will You Be A High Class Call Girl With Me?

veronica franco tintoretto

Another picture by Tintoretto. Also, breasts!

Like all courtesans Veronica expects compensation for her favors but I think she’s wildly different than most of the mistresses we’ve considered up until this point. Not only because I truly believe that Madame Pompadour loved King Louis XV (I think Madame du Barry at least felt a kind of gratitude that was probably very similar to love) but also because Veronica Franco was not reliant on one man. I mean, if kings left their mistresses, or somehow turned against them, the mistresses were doomed to a miserable life of poverty. You could rise very quickly by aligning yourself with a powerful man, but it could also be a very dramatic fall.

Veronica Franco is unique in terms of women we’ve looked at up to this point as, while she had to rely on men in general, she didn’t have to depend on one in particular. Even Henri III – whom she certainly liked. She did compare him to a God, though, writing in one poem that it was:

“”As from heaven down to a humble roof
Beneficent Jove descends to us here below

But she didn’t need him.

She could write letters about how she wanted to be compensated and the conditional nature of her affections that Madame Pompadour and du Barry really, really couldn’t.

In that way, she’s probably one of the earliest un-aristocratic (here I am, strangely, thinking of Elizabeth Bathory) who had any significant degree of independence.

And yet, a single man was able to take her down.

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    • Ellen W.

      And a peacock. Of course they make terrible pets, but they’er so pretty. When I was younger, like high school-aged (& after watching “Dangerous Beauty”), I thought I would be a really, really great courtesan if it weren’t for the having-to-have-sex-with-people-I-didn’t-love part. I couldn’t do that. But I would rock the hell out of pretty dresses and witty banter!

      • Jennifer Wright

        Being a courtesan is mostly about beating people in impromptu poetry contests! Dangerous Beauty really threw me off on what a life of high class prostitution entailed.

      • Naomi

        And fencing matches with chubby insecure rival poets who get pissed when you blow them off.

      • Jennifer Wright

        And winning fencing contests I think WITH ONE HAND. Veronica Franco is kind of a Mary Sue in that movie.

    • Ice

      i am an escort, and i actually really resent your statement that being a courtesan/escort/call girl/whatever means the only talent you are respected for is ‘having sex’. a GOOD ____(i’m not listing all of those again) is not only a fantastic lay, but also has extraordinary people skills – you have to be able to read someone’s mood, nonverbal cues, or even their subtle verbal wordplay – in an instant. salesmanship? we have it out the ass. charisma? all over the place. intelligence? i like to think so. i have had more clients return to me because they enjoyed the fact that i sat, talked to them, looked them in the eye, then just because of my (admittedly fantastic ;P) bedroom skills.
      so don’t give me that shit about all you have to do is get ‘em off and leave them kinda breathless. that’s an element, but that’s like saying all you need to know how to do to run a restaurant is to be able to cook everything on the menu. that will get you only so far…before people start complaining that your plates are served messily, and your server’s attitude leaves something to be desired.
      oh, and one other thing…business acumen. all the best escorts i’ve seen have it in spades…and they are putting away for when they either choose to leave the business, or, as you so quaintly put it, when their ‘beauty fades’ (the fact that stereotypical feminine beauty is, again, only worth so much is another rant entirely).
      just my $0.02…and a few things i’m particularly prickly about. otherwise, very interesting, and i have a new role model to emulate.

      • Cate

        I don’t think that’s what Jennifer was saying at all. In fact, she says, and I think she is quite correct to say this, that women like Veronica Franco (the courtesan) were the ladies who paved the way for women now to be respected and valued for talents BESIDES just having sex.

    • Magda Nunez

      I actually saw this movie! My mom made me watch it with her on Netflix. So I vaguely know what you’re talking about. But her real life seems way more interesting and appealing than the “hollywood-ed upped” version. Its, whats the word I’m looking for?? Real. And I always find that more interesting than made up stuff.

    • Amy

      I think the plague came to Venice in 1575 before her trial? It was the plague that provoked the city to increase the role of the Inquisition; until then it had held off because the Republic of Venice was a separate nation not beholden to the Catholic Church in Rome and there was diagreement over interference by the Holy See in Venetian affairs. Venice was a separate state for a long time until the Republic fell to Napolean in 1797 after which it went back and forth between France and Austria until it became part of the new Kingdom of Italy in the 1860′s.
      I love the idea of Veronica Franco, she always struck me as being so bold and bright for her era. Also, she started a charity for courtesans and their children when she was in her heyday – she was socially minded and always concerned about the fate of women whom she felt were disadvantaged by a society that was inequitable (the long ordeal of her divorce probably gave her good insight!). I believe she had six children over her life, three of whom died in infancy which must have been very hard.
      The movie version of her life was fantastic, although Marco’s hypocrisy grated on me a bit.

    • Lerie

      Another nice one. You should do Thelma Todd next (if you are taking suggestions). Or Tallulah Bankhead, or maybe some of the Bright Young People? Just thinking out loud here.

    • kf

      Can you guys please stop paginating these types of articles. Waiting for a page to load after almost every single paragraph is a little excessive. How about 5 pages instead of ten. Because my preference is one page, we’ll compromise.

      • Formerly Known As

        I totally agree. I usually end up reading a page or two and then give up because it’s so annoying. I’m sorry to say that I’m completely serious.It’s like those Readers Digest “Ten things Your Server Won’t Tell You” type things–I get to 2 or 3 and nothing can make me wait for another page to load.

    • NicholeDawn Donnelly

      Thank you, since I have been reading your column I have been saying “She should do Veronica Franco!”. I squealed in delight when I saw the title my husband looked at me like I was crazy! Dangerous Beauty has been one of my favorite movies since I was 14.

    • Clare Dorries

      Jennifer I just wanna say ‘I love Shelved Dolls’ Please keep on doing exactly as you have been doing as I love these articles. Thank you x

    • Greer

      Am I the only grown woman who fell in flaming lust with Rufus Sewell after seeing this picture? Man, he was my screensaver for months. Because of this film I tracked down every obscure production he’s ever been in and, from my perspective, the hotness continues. Here’s a question I’ll throw out to your readers: What exactly did she do to King Henri? Did she spank the hell out of him or what?

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