Vittoria Colonna, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1520
|Died||1547 (aged 56–57)|
|Spouse(s)||Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos|
Agnese da Montefeltro
The daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, grand constable of the kingdom of Naples, and of Agnese da Montefeltro, Vittoria Colonna was born at Marinoa fief of the Colonna family in the Alban Hills near Rome. Betrothed when four years old at the insistence of Ferdinand, king of Naples, to Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos, son of the marquis of Pescara, she received the highest education and gave early proof of a love of letters. Her hand was sought by many suitors, including the dukes of Savoy and Braganza, but at nineteen, by her own ardent desire, she was married to d'Ávalos on the island of Ischia. There she became part of the literary circle of Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla, her husband's aunt.
There the couple resided until 1511, when her husband offered his sword to the League against the French. He was taken captive at the battle of Ravenna (1512) and conveyed to France. During the months of detention and the long years of campaigning which followed, Vittoria and Ferrante corresponded in the most passionate terms both in prose and verse. They saw each other but seldom, for Ferrante was one of the most active and brilliant captains of Charles V; but Vittoria's influence was sufficient to keep him from joining the projected league against the emperor after the battle of Pavia (1525), and to make him refuse the crown of Naples offered to him as the price of his treason.
In the month of November of the same year, he died of his wounds at Milan. Vittoria, who was hastening to tend him, received the news of his death at Viterbo; she halted and turned off to Rome, and after a brief stay, departed for Ischia, where she remained for several years. She refused several suitors and dedicated herself to writing poetry. In 1529 she returned to Rome, and spent the next few years between that city, Orvieto, Ischia and other places.
In 1535, her sister-in-law Giovanna d'Aragona separated from Vittoria's brother Ascanio and came to Ischia. Vittoria tried to reconcile them, but even though Giovanna refused, they became close. They both supported Juan de Valdés and tried to intercede for Ascanio when he refused to pay salt tax to the pope.
At the age of 46, in 1536, she was back in Rome, where, besides winning the esteem of Cardinals Reginald Pole and Contarini, she became the object of a passionate friendship on the part of 61-year-old Michelangelo. The great artist addressed some of his finest sonnets to her, made drawings for her, and spent long hours in her company. Her removal to Orvieto and Viterbo in 1541, on the occasion of her brother Ascanio Colonna's revolt against Paul III, produced no change in their relations, and they continued to visit and correspond as before. She returned to Rome in 1544, staying as usual at the convent of San Silvestro, and died there on 25 February 1547.
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Pietro Bembo, Luigi Alamanni and Baldassare Castiglione were among her literary friends. She was also on intimate terms with many of the Italian Protestants, such as Pietro Carnesecchi, Juan de Valdés and Ochino, but she died before the church crisis in Italy became acute, and, although she was an advocate of religious reform, there is no reason to believe that she herself became a Protestant.
- Robin, Larsen and Levin 2007, p. 9.
- Robin, Larsen and Levin 2007, p. 23.
- Robin, Diana Maury, Larsen, Anne R. and Levin, Carole (2007). Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. ABC-CLIO, Inc.
- Abigail Brundin, Vittoria Colonna and the Spiritual Poetics of the Italian Reformation (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2008) (Catholic Christendom, 1300–1700).
- Virginia Cox, Women's Writing in Italy, 1400–1650 (Baltimore, John Hopkins UP, 2008).
- Anderson Magalhães, All’ombra dell’eresia: Bernardo Tasso e le donne della Bibbia in Francia e in Italia, in Le donne della Bibbia, la Bibbia delle donne. Teatro, letteratura e vita, Atti del XV Convegno Internazionale di Studio organizzato dal Gruppo di Studio sul Cinquecento francese, Verona, 16-19 ottobre 2009, a cura di R. Gorris Camos, Fasano, Schena, 2012, pp. 159-218.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.