Corilla, Maria Maddelana Fernandez

, a late celebrated improvisatrice, was born at Pistoia in 1740, and gave, in her infancy, the most unequivocal marks of uncommon genius; and her acquirements in natural and moral philosophy, and ancient and modern history, were at the age of seventeen very remarkable. At the age of twenty she began to display that talent for extempore composition which is so common in Italy, and so uncommon elsewhere as to be questioned. Of this lady’s abilities, -however, we are not permitted to doubt, if we give any credit to the popularity she gained among all classes, and especially among persons of the highest rank. The empress Maria Theresa offered her the place of female poet laureat at court, which she accepted, And went to Vienna in 1765. Previously to this she had married signer Morelli, a gentleman of Leghorn; but her conduct after marriage became grossly licentious, a circumstance which does not appear to have diminished the respect paid to her | by all ranks. At Vienna, she wrote an epic poem and a volume of lyric poetry, both which she dedicated to the empress. She attracted the enthusiastic admiration of Metastasio himself, and rendered the taste for Italian poetry more predominant than it had ever been in Vienna. Soon after 1771, she settled in Rome, was admitted a member of the academy of the Arcadi, under the name of Gorilla Olympica, and for some years continued to charm the inhabitants of Rome by her talents in improvisation. At length when Pius VI. became pope, he determined that she should be solemnly crowned, an honour which had been granted to Petrarch only. An account of this singular transaction, beautifully printed at Parma, by Bodoni, in 1779, contains her diploma and all the discourses, poems, sonnets, &c. written on the occasion, with the examination which she underwent, concerning her knowledge of the most important subjects upon which she was required to Improvisare, or treat extemporaneously, in verse publicly at the Campidoglio in Rome. The Italian title of this narrative is, “Atti della solenne coronazione fatta in Campidoglio della insigne poetesia D-na. Maria Maddalena Morelli Fernandez Pistoiese, Tragli Arcadi Gorilla Olimpica.” Twelve members of the Arcadian academy were selected out of thirty, publicly to examine this new edition of a Tenth Muse which has been so often dedicated to ladies of poetical and literary talents. Three several days were allotted for this public exhibition of poetical powers on the following subjects: sacred history, revealed religion, moral philosophy, natural history, metaphysics, epic poetry, legislation, eloquence, mythology, fine arts, and pastoral poetry.

In the list of examiners there appear a prince, an archbishop, three monsigneurs, the pope’s physician, abati, avocati, all of high rank in literature and criticism. These, severally, gave her subjects, which, besides a readiness at versification in all the measures of Italian poetry, required science, reading, and knowledge of every kind. In all these severe trials, she acquitted herself to the satisfaction and astonishment of all the principal personages, clergy, literati, and foreigners then resident at Rome; among the latter was our sovereign’s brother, the duke of Gloucester. Near fifty sonnets by different poets, with odes, canzoni, terse rime, ottave, canzonette, &c. produced on the | subject of this event, are inserted at the end of this narrative and description of the order and ceremonials of this splendid, honourable, and enthusiastic homage, paid to poetry, classical taste, talents, literature, and the fine arts.

This renowned lady merits some notice as a musician, as well as poetess; as she sung her own verses to simple tunes with a sweet voice, and in good taste. She likewise played on the violin; hut at Florence, in 1770, she was accompanied on the violin by the celebrated and worthy pupil of Tartini, Nardini.

Towards the close of 1780 she left Rome, with the intention of passing thfe remainder of her life at Florence, nor did she practise her art much longer, aware that youth and beauty had added charms to her performance which she no longer possessed. She died at Florence Nov. 8, 1800. 1

1

Athenaeum, vol. IV. Rees’s Cyclopædia.