De mulieribus claris

14th-century who's who by Giovanni Boccaccio

De Mulieribus Claris or De Claris Mulieribus (Latin for "On Famous Women") is a book by Giovanni Boccaccio, from Florence. Bocaccio started to write it in 1361 and 1362, in Latin. In the book, he writes biographies of "famous women". Boccacio wrote the book in Latin prose. He seems to have made several changes, until his death in 1375. It was first published in 1374. It tells 106 short biographies of historically important women. Some of these women really existed, others are mythical. About a century later, in 1473/74 it was translated into German as Von den synnrychen erluchten wyben. Other translations into German were made 1479 and 1488. In 1483 a French translation was made, a Spanish one in 1484. Donato Albanzani translated it into Italian in 1397. The first translation into English is in the Canterbury Tales, the biography of Zenobia is part of The Monk's tale. As there are many prints and translations from the 14th to the 16th century, the book was probably popular. Bocaccio calls it The first book that is exclusively about women. At the same time Boccauio also wrote a collection of biographies of famous men, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (On the Fates of Famous Men).

A miniature depicting a queen with four musicians from a c. 1440 illuminated version of the De Claris Mulieribus held by the British Museum
Manuscript, witohut illustrations, dating to about 1425. Today, at Houghton Library, at Harvard University.
Page of an anonymous french translation, of 1401. The illustration (by Colin d’Amiens?) shows King Herod the Great (left) with his wife, Mariamne, before their execution. Geneva UIniversity library, Ms. 191, fol. 221r. Dated to 1465-1470

When Boccaccio selected the women to write about, he wanted those that could serve as an example, also from a Christian and ethical point of view. For some women, he re-used some of the content of his other book De casibus virorum illustrium that he had written earlier.

The book is notable, because is is the first collection of biographies of women in post-ancient Western literature.[1]

The famous women

The Banquet of Cleopatra and Antony, a woodcut from a 1479 version of Giovanni Boccaccio's De Mulieribus Claris published in Ulm, Germany, which also depicts the suicides of Cleopatra and Antony[2]








  • Anderson, Jaynie (2003), Tiepolo's Cleopatra, Melbourne: Macmillan, ISBN 9781876832445.
  • Boccaccio, Giovanni (2003). Famous Women. I Tatti Renaissance Library. Vol. 1. Translated by Virginia Brown. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01130-9.
  • Boitani, Piero (1976). "The Monk's Tale: Dante and Boccaccio". Medium Ævum. 45 (1): 50–69. doi:10.2307/43628171. JSTOR 43628171.
  • Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen (2010), Beauty Or Beast?: The Woman Warrior in the German Imagination from the Renaissance to the Present, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199558230

Other websites