1552 – 1648 / 1557 – unknown
There has been no greater love nor a firmer friendship between two women than ours under the sun, and there never will be.
Maruša Gučetić wrote this of her fellow writer Cvijeta Zuzorić, thus summing up a relationship that left an indelible mark on the Renaissance in Dubrovnik, as well as the history of Croatian literature in general. Maruša’s dedication to Cvijeta is considered to be one of the earliest examples of women’s writing in Croatia.
It is believed that Cvijeta Zuzorić (Flora Zuzzori) was born to a wealthy family in Dubrovnik in 1552. When she was still a child, the family moved to Ancona on business. There, Cvijeta received a much broader and more liberal education than her female peers in Dubrovnik. She spoke Italian and Latin, as well as Croatian, and was well-versed in literature, art, and philosophy.
In 1570, Cvijeta married Bartolomeo Pescioni, a Florentine nobleman recently appointed consul, and in October that year, the couple returned to Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, Pescioni fell on hard times in their new homeland and was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy, losing his consular status in the process. In 1583, the couple moved back to Ancona, still the home of five of Cvijeta’s sisters. Several years later, Bartolomeo passed away, leaving Cvijeta a widow at the relatively young age of 41.
Cvijeta’s life in Dubrovnik is documented only in the works of her contemporaries such as Maruša Gučetić, née Gundulić (Maria Gondola-Gozze), the wife of philosopher Nikola Gučetić. Zuzorić’s arrival in Dubrovnik, her beauty, wit, and education, were a breath of fresh air for her hometown. Her firm friendship with Maruša was immortalized in Nikola Gučetić’s two philosophical dialogues O ljepoti (On beauty) and O ljubavi (On love), both of which were published in Venice in 1581. Nikola’s depictions of his wife and her friend discussing philosophy in the idyllic environment of the family’s arboretum in Trsteno reflect his affection and high regard for the two women.
By the early 20th century, Zuzorić was described as an erudite poet and painter, a lady with a great reputation who exhibited a natural writing talent. However, since none of her poems survive, many scholars have neglected to include her in historical overviews of Croatian literature of the Renaissance, even expressing doubts that she ever wrote at all.
Others, on the other hand, cite the references to her writings in the works of her famous contemporaries as conclusive evidence that Zuzorić was indeed a poet. Unfortunately, the fate of her works remains a mystery, although Maruša’s preface to her husband’s 1584 treatise Razgovori o Aristotelovoj Meteori (Discussions of Aristotle’s Meteorology) seems to shine some light on the matter. The preface features a dedication to Zuzorić, in which the author attacks the malicious tongues that tarnished her friend Cvijeta’s reputation. Furthermore, the author attempts to prove, drawing on the works of ancient philosophers, that woman is equal, and in some respects even superior, to man.
It is likely that the compliments Zuzorić received from her contemporaries (for instance, Torquato Tasso dedicated several poems to her) were a source of jealousy and envy in some of her contemporaries. This prompted Maruša to stand in her defense. While doing so, she also became one of the first voices in Croatian history to address the women’s issue. While defending women as a gender, their intellect, and gentleness, she became the first documented female voice in Croatian history. The controversy of Maruša’s words is reflected in the fact that the second edition of her husband’s treatise contained a different version of the preface, one that was two pages shorter and written at a later date. The pages that contained a defense of Zuzorić are the very ones that are missing. The instigator of these changes remains unknown, but there can be no doubt that Dubrovnik’s authorities at the time did not take kindly to being called out in literature, especially considering that the preface was written in Italian— which represented a blow to the city’s reputation on an international level. So, that’s the story of how the first protofeminist article in Croatian history was written and then suppressed for many centuries.
Zuzorić never returned to Dubrovnik. She passed away at the age of 96. The year of Maruša Gučetić’s death is unknown. She was absent from the history of Croatian philosophy until 2000.
Trsteno is a town near Dubrovnik, known for being home to the oldest public garden in Dalmatia and currently the only arboretum on the Croatian coast. Two great Oriental plane trees that are over 450 years old grow there. The arboretum was established in the 15th century by local aristocrats, the Gučetić family. Today, this historic site is a monument of garden architecture, notable for its assortment of Mediterranean and exotic plants. However, nowadays it is perhaps most famous for being one of the filming locations for the TV show Game of Thrones.