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Original scientific paper

Some Contributions to the Biography of Maria (Mimi) von Born, Wife of the Croatian Exponent of the Enlightenment Tomo Bassegli

Viktoria Franić Tomić ; Hrvatski studiji Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, Zagreb, Hrvatska

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This article presents and interprets the sources that elucidate the biography of Maria (Mimi) von Born, wife of the Dubrovnik exponent of the Enlightenment Tomo Bassegli. The only data hitherto available to the history of Croatian culture and literature on this interesting woman has been derived from Dubrovnik sources dating from the period 1786-1792, the time of her married life with Bassegli. The bulk of the material upon which this study is based is housed at the archive of the Danish writer and theologian Friedrich Münter, with whom Mimi Born maintained correspondence until her death. The couple first lived in Dubrovnik for a short while, which proved an unpleasant small-town episode for the newly-wed bride, then in Naples, where she tried to assume the position of a lady-in-waiting, and lastly in Vienna for three years, where the couple stayed with Maria’s father, Ignaz von Born, eminent mineralogist, writer and head of the central masonic lodge of Vienna. Since the publication of Muljačić’s monograph on Tomo Bassegli back in 1958, some gaps regarding the biography of Maria von Born remain to be filled, such as her activity in the United States, the circumstances surrounding her return to Europe in 1815, legal battles over her husband’s legacy, and finally her death in Nice in 1830. Following her failure to adjust to the provincial attitudes of Dubrovnik, disappointment in marriage, along with financial problems after her father’s death, in 1792 she decided to desert her husband. That same year she arrived in the United States where she committed bigamy by marrying John Jacob Ulrich Rivardi, who was engaged in the development of the American Army posts during Jefferson’s presidency. In accord with her liberal views, Maria von Born, in America known as Mary Rivardi, soon after her husband’s retirement opened a French school for girls in Germantown in 1802, today’s suburb of Philadelphia. Her boarding school was partly inspired by Benjamin Rush’s book Thoughts upon Female Education, as well as new teaching experiences of the European encyclopaedists. Based on the teaching of French within an artistic and humanistic spirit, the school of Maria von Born aimed to educate prospective brides of the young American upper class men, who at the time studied at the new universities on the American east coast. The curriculum of Madam Rivardi’s Seminary included subjects such as music, dancing, foreign languages, along with classical and contemporary literature. The author pinpoints all the crucial moments that marked the biography of this interesting woman who left a stamp on a number of European cultures, notably Austrian, Croatian and Danish, as well as the early history of modern education in America. She met many prominent figures of the time, from Croatian polyhistor Julije Bajamonti to Austrian writer Aloys Blumauer, Mozart and the American presidents Washington and Jefferson, inventor Wolfgang Kempelen and orientalist Hammer-Purgstall.


Tomo Bassegli, Friedrich Münter, Maria Von Born, Rivardy’ seminary, Ignaz von Born, Aloys Blumauer, Žarko Muljačić, Enlightenment

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