Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, July 5, 2019

Francisca de Nebrija, Humanist and Academic

Francisca de Nebrija/Lebrija (5 July)

Francisca de Nebrija was the daughter of the humanist scholar Antonio de Nebrija and Doña Isabel Montesinos de Solis. Her father was born Antonio Martínez de Cala, but Latinized his name as "Aelius Antonius Nebrissensis"--"Nebrissensis" the Latin version of his native birthplace, Lebrija. In Spanish, he was thus known as Antonio "de Nebrija" or "de Librija." His daughter's name is similarly confusing, at times given as "de Nebrija," at times as "Lebrija."*

The list of female writers and scholars
appended to Nicolás Antonio's 1672
Modern Spanish Writers
(image from Google Books)
Aside from the name of her father and mother, little else is known about Francisca's life. The reason for posting about Francisca de Nebrija today is thus a bit odd--her father died on 5 July 1522. Since I can find no dates for Francisca's life,  not even a birth date nor death date, I am posting about  her  today.

Although no biographical information survives, Francisca de Nebrija does occupy a place in history, however scant the evidence. What is said about her is brief but often repeated: she was tutored by her father, a distinguished poet and lexicographer, she substituted for him as a teacher of rhetoric at the University of Alcalá, and she may have assisted him in his research and writing. 

The entry for Nebrija in The Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature indicates she was born in the sixteenth century, but since her father was born in 1444 and died in 1522, at the age of 78, it seems likely that Francisca was born in the late fifteenth century. 

As Emilie Bergmann notes in "Spain's Women Humanists," although "[c]enturies of repetition established the commonplace" about both Francisca de Nebrija and her contemporary, Luisa de Medrano--that they lectured on rhetoric at the University of Salamanca--little evidence survives.

For example, in his massive Modern Spanish Writers (Bibliotheca hispana nova, first published in 1672), Nicolás Antonio includes an appendix, "Gynaeceum Hispanae Minervae," listing the names of Spanish women known for their writing--but whose work had (already) been lost (if you click this link, the appendix begins on p. 337). The five-line entry for "Francisca de Lebrixa" notes that she is the daughter of Antonio "Nebrissensis," that she taught the art of rhetoric, and that her teaching was applauded by all. 

The entry for Francisca "de Lebrixa" in Nicolás Antonio's
1672 Modern Spanish Writers
(image from Google Books)
Such an account of Francisca de Nebrija was still being given in the nineteenth century. In his Escritoras y eruditas Espanolas (Spanish [Women] Writers and Scholars), Diego Ignazio Parada included a brief account of Francisca de Nebrija among other "teachers and writers in Latin prose," writing that she substituted for her father when he was ill and when he was occupied with other business. While noting that no work by her hand survives, Parada suggests that she may well have contributed to some of her father's works.

A note of caution is sounded by Mary Agnes Canon in her 1916 The Education of Women in the Renaissance. In a chapter on the educated women in Spain and Portugal during the Renaissance, she calls Francisca de Lebrija "her father's right hand in his literary labors." She also notes that some scholars have "conjectured" that she might have contributed to her father's work. but, Canon observes, there seems to be "no warrant for the conjecture," since nothing survives.

Which takes us back to Bergmann. Like the scholar Beatriz Galindo, "La Latina," Francisca de Lebrija is a female scholar whose scholarship, unfortunately, has been lost. 

*I am using "Nebrija" as this is the way her name is spelled by Elizabeth T. Howe in her brief entry in The Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature.

The name of Francisca "de Lebrija" is included on the Heritage Floor in Judy Chicago's massive art installation, The Dinner Party.