I am rather in love with this painting of the Women's Regatta in Venice by Gabriele Bella, 1730-1799 (click on for a larger view). I had no idea that women were accomplished rowers, though it does on reflection make a certain amount of sense. If one lives on the waters and the canals, or course every woman would have to know how to manage her own small boat if she wanted to get any where important. (This is the problem of being a tourist in Venice -- one always assumes someone else will row one around).
Here's a bit more information from a nice post in Seductive Venice (indeed it is).
"Women had raced in regattas (boat races) since 1493. An island community like Venice, where every nonna knew how to row a boat, allowed its women to enter the races and processionals (or at least the women from the working class). The priests even blessed them. Regattas were usually held when a visiting dignitary came to town, and rowers showed off their skills or challenged others in order to keep fit for their jobs, such as did the gondoliers or workers at the Arsenale where they made boats."
The post also includes a lovely painted portrait of an especially skilled woman, five-time regatta winner Maria Boscola: "Maria had first raced in 1740, winning the red pennant for first place, with her partner and friend Emma, nicknamed La Garbina. But 24 years passed before women participated in the races again. These may have been the years that Maria bore and raised her children. She also grew enough vegetables that she could bring in to the Rialto market to sell, keeping her rowing arms strong for the 25 kilometer trip each market day."
So, she took a little time off to keep up with her produce business and raise children -- but she kept herself in shape and ready for the day she could return to race. Pretty remarkable and determined!
I do recommend having a read through the Seductive Venice blog -- it has lots of historical gems about women lives and activities in Venice and it is a delight to read.