Bust and plaque of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia – 1727

On the second pillar on the left of the basilica, the marble bust by Giovanni Bonazza perpetuates the memory of the first woman in the world to graduate. Her name was Elena Cornaro Piscopia and she was born in 1678.

Natural daughter of the nobleman Giovanni Battista Cornaro and of the commoner Zanetta Boni, Elena was really passionate about studying, demonstrating early in life a lively attitude and will to learn, studying Latin, philosophy, theology, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and acquiring a vast musical culture. She lived as a Benedictine oblate, displeasing in this her parents who wished for her a marriage that, together with her fame, would have revived the family’s prestige.

In 1677, she submitted an application to graduate in theology, but Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, Chancellor of the Paduan Studio, rejected it. On 25 June 1678, however, Elena Lucrezia was granted a degree in philosophy. She died in 1684. After graduation, she had moved from Venice to Padua where she lived in the Cornaro Palace, near Saint Anthony’s. She was buried in the Basilica of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Giovanni Bonazza, the founder of one of the most important families of Venetian sculptors between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, executed this bust in 1727. Perhaps a student of Giusto Le Corte in Venice, he settled in Padua in1696, carrying out, shortly after, the decoration of the entrance pillars of the Chapel of the Relics at Saint Anthony’s, acquiring suggestions from Filippo Parodi, artist of the chapel itself, and performing several other works (sculptures and tombstones) in the basilica in the following years.