Italian author Maria Teresa Cometto writes about two trailblazing women in 19th century Italy. The book La Marchesa Colombi was published in 2020 and her book on Emma Stebbins will be published in fall 2022.
About Maria Teresa Cometto
Maria Teresa is from Novara Italy but has lived with her husband in New York for the past 21 years. She’s a journalist for the Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s top newspapers with the largest circulation. She is the author of a number of books including her two most recent publications, La Marchesa Colombi and Brothers of the Mountain.
La Marchesa Colombi was published in 2020 in Italian, and will eventually be translated into English. Brothers of the Mountain was published in 2019 in both Italian and English.
You can find Maria Teresa on both Instagram and Facebook.
La Marchesa Colombi, a Trailblazing Woman in 19th Century Italy
The Marchesa Colombi was born in 1840 and died in 1920 at age 80. Her career was mainly in the second half of the 19th century. She was the very first woman journalist for the Corriere della Sera. She wrote numerous books (over 40) most of which were translated into French, German and English - published in both Great Britain and America.
The Marchesa Colombi was born in Novara, which is also Maria Teresa Cometto’s hometown.
During her lifetime most women married and had children but the Marchesa Colombi’s interests were elsewhere. She wanted to be a journalist and an author.
She became friends with Anna Maria Mozzoni, one of the first Italian feminists whose goal was to advance the rights of women. Together the two women tried to start a high school for women in Milan because at the time women’s education only went through middle school. They were unsuccessful but they continued to attend and speak at many conferences throughout Italy.
Eventually she became friends with (and eventually married) Eugenio Torelli Viollier, the Naples born founder of Corriere della Sera in 1876. She wrote articles about fashion and social life for the newspaper and she tried to interject women’s issues into whatever she wrote.
She adopted the pseudonym of a noblewoman as she felt that would enable her to write whatever she wished without encountering criticism; her real name is Maria Antonietta Torriani.
The Marchesa Colombi was a prolific writer - 40 plus books - and she adopted a modern writing style that was highly successful. She often wrote about women’s issues, like her book In Risaia which used a fictional format to talk about women’s poor working conditions in the rice fields of Novara in northern Italy. The book was so important at the time that it was cited during a hearing at the Italian parliament regarding the working conditions of women in the rice fields.
Probably her best known work, edited by Italo Calvino, is A Small-Town Marriage.
The Marchesa Colombi published an etiquette book, La Gente per Bene, at the same time another etiquette book was published but the two books offered very different outlooks on etiquette. The book by Nera offered a conventional approach to etiquette and Nera said women should stay home and take care of husband, family and home. La Marchesa Colombi’s book said instead that women should pursue their own interests and that both home and work were fully compatible and not mutually exclusive.
Emma Stebbins, a Trailblazing Woman in 19th Century Italy
Another unconventional and trailblazing woman who lived at the same time was Emma Stebbins. Stebbins is best known for her Central Park sculpture, the Angel of the Waters. Stebbins was the first female sculptress in America to obtain such an important sculpting commission.
The Angel of the Waters (Bethesda) Fountain in Central Park is a bronze, blue stone and Westerly granite sculpture. This sculpture drew Maria Teresa Cometto to explore the life of Emma Stebbins and eventually to write a book about her.
The sculpture is a celebration of the arrival of drinking water via the Croton Aqueduct to New York in 1842. It was sculpted shortly after the park’s foundation and financed with public funds. The fact that Angel of the Waters was sculpted by a woman was highly unusual for the times. If truth be told Emma Stebbin’s brother, Henry Stebbins, was an important New York banker and also on the board of commissioners that oversaw the creation of Central Park and this undoubtedly had an influence on the choice of sculptor.
Stebbins was born in New York in 1815 into an upper class family of eight children. Emma studied painting and drawing and developed a passion for sculpture. At the encouragement of her brother Henry she moved to Rome in 1856 to study sculpture. At that time in the United States women were not allowed to attend sculpture courses.
It was during her years in Rome that Emma Stebbins conceptualized the Angel of the Waters sculpture.
Stebbins also sculpted in marble and she was the first woman ever to sculpt a nude man. Additionally she was also the first woman to sculpt workers. Her two most famous sculptures of workers are The Sailor and The Miner both commissioned by an American entrepreneur.
In Rome Emma Stebbins met her lifelong partner, actress Charlotte Cushman. They were part of an unconventional ex patriot group of women sculptors and artists in Rome where they were able to enjoy greater artistic and lifestyle freedom.
A great book was written about these trailblazing women in 19th century Italy, A Sisterhood of Sculptors: American Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome.
Although Emma Stebbins and Charlotte Cushman were not officially married they considered themselves as such and exchanged vows informally, and were known quite openly in Europe as a couple. They lived together in Rome for 12 years until Charlotte Cushman developed breast cancer. The couple then moved back to the United States. Emma abandoned her work as a sculptor to take care of Cushman who eventually died in 1876. Stebbins died three years later from lung disease.
Maria Teresa Cometto’s book about Emma Stebbins will be published in October or November 2022, first in Italian and then in English.
Brothers of the Mountains
Maria Teresa Cometto is also a passionate mountain climber and she wrote another fascinating book about the two Italian mountain climber Squinobal brothers, Brothers of the Mountains, published in 2019 in both English and Italian.
Other books about Italian women
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