Ritratto fotografico di Eleonora Duse, del 1896, fotografata da Aimé Dupont (all'epoca fotografo ufficiale del Metropolitan Opera di New York).

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Nasce a Vigevano (Pavia), il 3 ottobre 1858, da una famiglia di attori girovaghi originari di Chioggia e, a causa del nomadismo della compagnia teatrale dei genitori, non riceve alcuna istruzione. Figlia d’arte, esordisce giovanissima (quattro anni) coprendo il ruolo di Cosetta, in una riduzione de I miserabili di Victor Hugo messa in scena a Chioggia.

A 12 anni, copre la sua prima parte da protagonista: interpreta Francesca da Rimini di Silvio Pellico, sostituendo la madre malata. Ingaggiata stabilmente nella Compagnia Pezzana-Brunetti dal 1878, ottiene il suo primo gra

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