COLONNA, Vittoria

COLONNA, Vittoria
One of the most celebrated women of the Italian Renaissance, Vittoria Co-lonna was famous for her poetry, her close friendship with Michelangelo,* and her connection with the Italian reform movement. She was a member of the illustrious Colonna family from Rome. Her father, Fabrizio Colonna, a famous military general, was one of the interlocutors in Niccolo Machiavelli's* Art of War. Her mother, Agnese de Montefeltro, was the sister of Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, whose court was the setting for Baldesar Castiglione's* The Courtier. When Vittoria was seventeen, she was married to the marquis of Pescara, a marriage intended to ally the Colonna family to Pescara's powerful Neapolitan family. Pescara was also a military man and was away at battle during most of their marriage. Colonna passed the time in extensive traveling and writing; many of her poems focus on the loneliness of separation.
As Colonna's poetry gradually became known, she made the acquaintance of many other authors who paid tribute to her in their works. She was particularly close to Pietro Bembo,* the famous humanist and poet who later became a cardinal with Vittoria's influential help. Bembo encouraged Colonna's writing, and she dedicated a sonnet to him. Through Bembo, Colonna met Castiglione, who asked for her opinion of his manuscript of The Courtier. In her enthusiasm for the work, Colonna began to share it with her friends; fearful that a corrupt edition might be published, Castiglione quickly published the book himself in 1528. She also met Ludovico Ariosto,* who singled out her poetic talents for special praise in Orlando Furioso.
When Colonna was thirty-three, her husband was killed in battle; she lived in various convents for the rest of her life and never remarried. Colonna became interested in matters of church reform and developed many close friendships with some of the leading reformists and religious figures of the day, especially Cardinal Reginald Pole. She also continued to encourage and inspire writers and artists, especially Michelangelo. Colonna served as both muse and critic for Michelangelo during the many years of their close but platonic relationship.
Colonna's own creative output resulted in a book of poems, Rime spirituali, published in 1538. This collection of almost four hundred poems comprises sonnets on both human and spiritual love and a long poem in terza rima about Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Her great friend Michelangelo was at her side when she died in 1547.
R. Bainton, Women ofthe Reformation in Germany and Italy, 1971.
J. Gibaldi, ''Vittoria Colonna: Child, Woman, and Poet,'' in Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, ed. K. M. Wilson, 1987.
Jo Eldridge Carney

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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