turn the girls into good wives and housekeepers. But, despite their
waggling hips and seductive necklines, not every girl is chosen.
Some are so marred by the pox and so little endowed with
physical charms that potential husbands turn their heads away
when introduced to marriageable members of the Figlie, and even
the dowry offered by the Pietà is not enough to make him see
otherwise and change the man’s mind.
For those that have been repeatedly rejected there remains
only a lifetime spent in the institution. Then it becomes their turn
to initiate the younger girls in the art of household tasks and wifely
duties: a dream world from which they themselves are forever
But there is one other possible route to freedom. Music!
The most talented girls get the chance to join the Figlie di Coro.
Depending on their gifts, they learn to sing or to play one or several
instruments. The putte, as these girls are called, provide the music
for all the religious festivities taking place in their church.
Nobody’s quite sure who started it, but at some point people were
asked to pay an entrance fee for certain performances and, believe
it or not, they appeared more than happy to do so! Over the years
the Ospedale della Pietà, like the other three such institutions in
Venice, has built up quite a name for itself. People come faithfully
from far and near to listen to the concerts here. The management
had soon realised that if this rich source of income was not to dry
up, musical standards had to be attained and maintained. So, one
teacher after another brings their expertise to bear upon the Coro,
enhancing its success. By now it is impossible for any institution to
manage ﬁnancially without a choir. Every tourist that sets foot in
Venice attends at least one performance at one of the ospedaletti.
The concerts provide a constant stream of income from ticket sales,
but programme booklets, spontaneous donations and legacies also
bring in much needed capital. The extra income allows the
orphanages to appoint the best teachers, so that standards keep
rising. The women and girls of the choir are, however modestly,
kept in clover; better and more food at mealtimes, good wine and
98-154 Chapter 3.indd 131 22-11-2007 14:09:33