Vittoria Colonna

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Vittoria Colonna
Marchesa di Pescara
Sebastiano del Piombo - Vittoria Colonna (?) - Google Art Project.jpg
Vittoria Colonna, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1520
BornApril 1490
Marino, present-day Italy
Died25 February 1547 (aged 55)
Rome, Papal States (present-day Italy)
Noble familyColonna
Spouse(s)Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos, Marquis of Pescara
Alfonso d'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto (adopted)
FatherFabrizio Colonna
MotherAgnese da Montefeltro

Vittoria Colonna (April 1492[1] – 25 February 1547), marchioness of Pescara, was an Italian noblewoman and poet. As an educated, married noblewoman whose husband was in captivity, Colonna was able to develop relationships within the intellectual circles of Ischia and Naples, her early poetry began to attract attention in the late 1510s[2] and she ultimately became one of the most popular female poets of sixteenth-century Italy. Upon the early death of her husband, she took refuge at a convent in Rome. Although she remained a laywoman, she did experience a strong spiritual renewal and remained devoutly religious for the remainder of her life. Colonna is also known to have been a spiritual mentor to Michelangelo Buonarroti, himself a poet.


Early life and marriage[edit]

Colonna was born at Marino in 1490, a fief of the Colonna family in the Alban Hills near Rome, she was the daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, grand constable of the kingdom of Naples, and of Agnese da Montefeltro, daughter of the Duke of Urbino. She was engaged in 1495 at the age of 3 years old to "Ferrante" Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos, son of the marquese di Pescara, at the insistence of Ferdinand, King of Naples.[3][2]

In 1501, the Colonna family's possessions and land were confiscated by Pope Alexander VI, and the Colonna family moved to Ischia, home of Colonna's betrothed. In Ischia, Colonna received a typical humanist education in literature and the arts from Costanza d'Avalos, the aunt of her betrothed[4] 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 17, of her own choice, she married d'Ávalos on the island of Ischia, on 27 December 1509.[3][5] In Ischia, Vittoria Colonna became part of the literary circle of Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla, her husband's aunt.[6]

The couple resided together in Ischia until 1511, when her husband offered his sword to the League against the French, he was taken captive in 1512 at the Battle of Ravenna and was conveyed to France. During the months of detention and the long years of campaigning which followed, Colonna and d'Avalos corresponded in the most passionate terms both in prose and verse,[3] but only one poetic 'Epistle' to her husband has survived.[7] Joseph Gibaldi has noted that Vittoria's poem to Ferrante was a direct imitation of Ovid's Heroides, in which famous ancient women such as Dido and Medea address complaints to their absent lovers;[8] because this is the only extant poem by Vittoria Colonna before her husband's death, one may question whether her passionate verse reflected her true passion for her husband or were merely a stylish and scholarly reaction to a particular event. Also, it is known that Ferrante was not the most faithful husband, having had an affair with one of Isabella d'Este's ladies in waiting.[9]

Between 1516 and 1522, Colonna lost three members of her family, her younger brother Federico died in 1516, her father Fabrizio in 1520 and her mother Agnese in 1522.[5]

Colonna and d'Avalos seldom saw each other during their marriage, for he was one of the most active and brilliant captains of Emperor Charles V.[10] However, Colonna's influence was sufficient to keep her husband 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 towards the French.[3]

Colonna spent the summer of 1525 at her father's castle in Marino, where she fell ill, after which she suffered illness throughout her life, it was during this time that she received an early manuscript copy of Baldessare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, which she had circulated around Naples. On 21 September, Castiglione writes her a letter lamenting that she had thus enabled the unpublished work to be partially transcribed and this pirated version thus pushed Castiglione to hasten the publication of his book.[5]

Widowhood (1525–1547)[edit]

On 3 December 1525, Fernando died at Milan from the wounds he had sustained at the Battle of Pavia. Colonna, who was hastening to tend him, received the news of his death at Viterbo;[3] she halted and retreated to the church of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome where there was a convent in the order of Santa Chiara, her request to take her vows and enter the convent was refused by Pope Clement VII and her brother Ascanio,[11] after which she returned to Ischia, where she remained for several years. Abigail Brundin has suggested Clement and Ascanio's motivations for refusing Colonna's request may have been that they hoped a future marriage would create another desirable political alliance.[12] However, she refused several suitors and dedicated herself to writing poetry.

The Sack of Rome in 1527 gave the Colonna family the opportunity to improve the relationship between them and the Medici pope Clement VII by offering help to the Roman population. However, when the French army attacked Naples, the whole house of Avalos took refuge on the island of Ischia.

Nine months after the sack of the papal city, the historian Paolo Giovio arrived on Ischia after being invited by Colonna, where he stayed until 1528. During his stay on the island, he wrote his unpublished Dialogus de viris ac foeminis aetate nostra florentibus, which is set on Ischia between the end of September and the beginning of December 1527. In the third book of this dialogue, Giovio includes a ten-page encomium of Colonna.[13]

In 1529, Colonna returned to Rome, and spent the next few years between that city, Orvieto, Ischia and other places.[3] Moreover, she tried to correct the wrongs of her late husband by asking the house of Avalos to return to the abbey of Montecassino some wrongfully seized land.[5]

Vittoria Colonna, drawing by Michelangelo. Colonna is approximately 50 yrs old, and Michelangelo 65 at the time of the drawing as dated.

In 1535, her sister-in-law Giovanna d'Aragona separated from Colonna's brother Ascanio and came to Ischia. Colonna tried to reconcile them, but even though Giovanna refused, the two women became close, they both supported Juan de Valdés and tried to intercede for Ascanio when he refused to pay salt tax to Pope Paul III.[14]

In 1537, Colonna was in Ferrara, where she made many friends and helped to establish a Capuchin monastery at the instance of the reforming monk Bernardino Ochino, who afterwards became a Protestant.[3]

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. She created a gift manuscript of spiritual poetry for him,[15] 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.[3]

On 8 May 1537, she arrived in Ferrara with some other women, with the intention of continuing to travel to Venice and then to the Holy Land,[16] it has been suggested that her aim in Ferrara was to establish a Capuchin monastery for Bernardino Ochino.[17] Given her health, Vittoria stayed in Ferrara until February the next year,[18] her friends dissuaded her from travelling to the Holy Land, after which she returned to Rome in 1538.[19]

She returned to Rome in 1544, staying as usual at the convent of San Silvestro, and died there on 25 February 1547.

Pietro Bembo, Luigi Alamanni, Baldassare Castiglione and Marguerite de Navarre were among her literary friends, she was also on intimate terms with many of the members of the Italian reform movement, such as Pietro Carnesecchi and Ochino, but she died before the church crisis in Italy became acute. Although she was an advocate of religious reform, there is no reason to believe that her religious convictions were irreconcilable with those of the Catholic church and that she herself became a Protestant.[3]


Though it was long believed that Colonna's poetry fell out of fashion after the sixteenth century, her poetry has been republished every century since, often in multiple editions.[20]

List of works[edit]

The title page of a 1559 edition of Colonna's poetry.


  • Rime de la Divina Vittoria Colonna Marchesa di Pescara. Nuovamente stampato con privilegio (in Italian), Parma: Al Dottisimo Messer Allessandro Vercelli Philippo Pirogallo, 1538
  • Rime de la Diva Vettoria [sic] Colonna, De Pescara inclita Marchesana, Nuovamente [sic] aggiuntovi. XVI. Sonetti Spirituali, & le sue stanze (in Italian), Florence: Nicolo d'Arisotile, detto il Zoppino, da Ferrara, 1539
  • Rime de la Divina Vettoria [sic] Colonna de pescara inclita Marchesana nuovamente aggiuntovi XXIIII. sonetti Spirituali, & le sue stanze, & uno triompho de la croce di Christo non piu stampato con la sua tavola (in Italian), Venice: Per Comin de Trino ad instantia de Nicolo d'Aristotile detto Zoppino, 1540
  • Dichiaratione fatta sopra la seconda parte delle Rime della Divina Vittoria Colonna [sic] Marchesana di Pescara. Da Rinaldo Corso... (in Italian), Bologna: Gianbattista de Phaelli, 1543
  • Le rime spirituali della illustrissima Signora Vittoria Colonna Marchesana di Pescara (in Italian), Venice: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1546

Published posthumously[edit]

  • Le rime della Sig. Vittoria Colonna Marchesana Illustrissima di Pescara. Correte per M. Lodovico Dolce (in Italian), Venice: Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari et Fratelli, 1552
  • Pianto della Marchesa di Pescara sopra la passione di Christo. Oratione della medesima sopra l'Ave Maria... etc (in Italian), Bologna: Manutio, 1557
  • Tutte le Rime della Illustriss. et Eccellentiss. Signora Vittoria Colonna, Marchesana di Pescara. Con l'Espositione del Signor Rinaldo Corso, nuovamente mandate in luce da Girolamo Ruscelli (in Italian), Venice: Giovan Battista et Melchior Sessa Fratelli, 1558
  • Pianto della Marchesa di Pescara, sopra la Passione di Christo, con una Oratione della medesima, sopra l'Ave Maria. Oratione fatta il venerdi santo, sopra la passione di Christo (in Italian), In Vinegia appresso Gabriel Giolito de' Ferrari, 1563
  • Quattordeci sonetti spirituali della illustrissima et eccellentissima divina Vittoria Colonna d'Avalos de Aquino Marchesa di Pescara (in Italian), Venice: Scotto, 1580
  • Rime spirituali della S. Vittoria Colonna, Marchesana Illustrissima di Pescara (in Italian), Verona: Discepoli, 1586
  • Alan Bullock, ed. (1982), Rime (in Italian), Rome: Laterza
  • Tobia R. Toscano, ed. (1998), Sonetti in morte di Francesco Ferrante d'Avalos, marchese di Pescara: edizione del ms. XII.G.43 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli (in Italian), Milan: Mondadori
  • Abigail Brundin, ed. (2005), Sonnets for Michelangelo (in English and Italian), Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press


  1. ^ Some sources claim Vittoria Colonna was born in 1492. See Brundin, Abigail (2005). "Colonna, Vittoria (1492–1547)". Italian Women Writers. University of Chicago Library. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b Gibaldi, Joseph. "Vittoria Colonna: Child, Woman, and Poet." In Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Katharina Wilson. Athens, GA, 1987: pp. 23-24.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ Trollope, T. A. The Life of Vittoria Colonna. New York, 1859: p. 31.
  5. ^ a b c d Patrizi, Giorgio (1982). "Colonna, Vittoria". Trecanni, l'enciclopedia Italiana. Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian). Rome.
  6. ^ Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin (2007). ""Colonna, Vittoria" by Abigail Brundin". Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. ABC-CLIO. pp. 87–90. ISBN 9781851097722.
  7. ^ Brundin, Abigail (2005). "Colonna, Vittoria (1490–1547)". Italian Women Writers. University of Chicago Library. Retrieved July 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. ^ Gibaldi, Joseph. "Vittoria Colonna: Child Woman, and Poet." In Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Katharina M. Wilson. Athens, Georga, 1987: p 29.
  9. ^ Luzio, Alessandro. "Vittoria Colonna." In Rivista Storica Mantovana. Volume I. (1885), 4-8.
  10. ^ Charles V (1892). "Letter, no. 20, Emperor Charles V to Vittoria Colonna, 26 March 1525". In Ferrero, Ermanno and Giuseppe Müller, with a supplement by Domenico Tordi (ed.). Carteggio (2nd ed.). Turin: Loescher. pp. 28–9 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ von Reumont, Alfred (1892) [1883]. Müller, Giuseppe and Ermanno Ferrero (ed.). Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara: Vita, fede e poesia nel secolo decimosesto (in Italian). Loescher. p. 88. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Brundin, Abigail (2008). Vittoria Colonna and the Spiritual Poetics of the Italian Reformation. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 23. ISBN 9780754690214.
  13. ^ Robin, Diana (2012). "The Breasts of Vittoria Colonna". California Italian Studies (3.1): 5. ISSN 2155-7926.
  14. ^ Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin (2007). "Aragona, Giovanna d'". Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. ABC-CLIO. p. 23. ISBN 9781851097722.
  15. ^ [Vittoria Colonna. Sonnets for Michelangelo. Ed. Abigail Brundin. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005.]
  16. ^ Colonna, Carteggio, letter no. 85, pp. 143–6.
  17. ^ von Reumont, Alfred (1892) [1883]. Müller, Giuseppe and Ermanno Ferrero (ed.). Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara: Vita, fede e poesia nel secolo decimosesto (in Italian). Turin: Loescher. pp. 163–5.
  18. ^ von Reumont, Alfred (1892) [1883]. Müller, Giuseppe and Ermanno Ferrero (ed.). Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara: Vita, fede e poesia nel secolo decimosesto. Turin: Loescher. pp. 159, 169.
  19. ^ Millington, Ellen J. (1865). "Vittoria Colonna, Marchesana di Pescara". In Yonge, Charlotte Mary (ed.). Biographies of Good Women. London: J. and C. Mozley. p. 26.
  20. ^ Cox, Virginia (14 June 2013). Lyric Poetry by Women of the Italian Renaissance. JHU Press. ISBN 142140950X.


  • Brundin, Abigail (2005), 'Colonna, Vittoria (1490–1547)', Chicago: University of Chicago Library
  • Brundin, Abigail (2008), Vittoria Colonna and the Spiritual Poetics of the Italian Reformation, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing
  • Colonna, Vittoria (1892), Ermanno Ferrero and Giuseppe Müller (ed.), Carteggio, with a supplement by Domenico Tordi (in Italian and Latin) (2nd ed.), Turin: Loescher
  • Cox, Virginia (2014), Lyric Poetry by Women of the Italian Renaissance, ed., Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Cox, Virginia (2008), Women's Writing in Italy, 1400–1650, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Magalhães, Anderson (2009), "All'ombra dell'eresia: Bernardo Tasso e le donne della Bibbia in Francia e in Italia", in R. Gorris Camos (ed.), 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 (in Italian), Fasano: Schena, pp. 159–218
  • Musiol, Maria (2013), Vittoria Colonna: A Woman's Renaissance, An Approach to Her Life and to Herself, Berlin: Epubli
  • Patrizi, Giorgio (1982), "Colonna, Vittoria", Dizionari Biografico degli Italiani (in Italian), 27, Rome: Instituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana
  • Reumont, Alfredo (1883), Giuseppe Müller and Ermanno Ferrero (ed.), Vittoria Colonna. Vita, fede e poesia nel secolo decimosesto (in Italian), Turin: Loescher
  • Robin, Diana (2012). "The Breasts of Vittoria Colonna". California Italian Studies (3.1): 1–16. ISSN 2155-7926.
  • Robin, Diana Maury, Anne R. Larsen and Carole Levin (2013), Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England, ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Colonna, Vittoria" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 715.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Vittoria Colonna" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

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