Phillida mia, più che i ligustri bianca,
Più vermiglia che ‘l prato a mezzo Aprile
She may have shared a name with a pale-skinned, rosy-cheeked, golden-haired shepherdessly love-interest in Jacopo Sarazzano’s seminal pastoral poem Arcadia —a prose poem considered to be the first literary work of the Renaissance which was wildly popular at the time of its publication and whose influence can be heard in the work of, among others, William Shakespeare, John Milton and Philip Sydney (who wrote a version of his own)—but Caravaggio’s model Fillide Melandroni, at home among the drinking dens and brothels in the medieval heart of sixteenth century Rome, was an altogether more streetwise creature.
Although she was born in Siena, Fillide had been in Rome since she was a youngster. When she was barely in her teens, she was put to work as a prostitute by her mother. The traces of her that can be found in the archives and the court records show that she was frequently in trouble with the authorities, and not simply for prostitution.
By all accounts, Fillide was a girl with attitude. Take the incident in December 1600 when she suspected that the relationship between her pimp, Ranuccio Tommasoni, and another of his ‘girls’, Prudenza Zacchia, was more than simply transactional. Continue reading “Fillide Melandroni: Caravaggio’s crooked-fingered courtesan”