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Damon Dimauro: Vittoria Colonna In Orvieto


Damon DiMauro is a professor of French and Italian at Gordon College, with particular interest in prominent figures in Renaissance Italy who were influenced by, and in turn influenced, the ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

On March 17, 1541, a noblewoman of a certain age in widow’s weeds appeared before the door of the Convent of San Paolo in Orvieto, seeking refuge. According to Jacob Burckhardt, she was “the most famous woman” of sixteenth-century Italy.[1] Indeed, the circle of her intimates reads like a who’s who of the foremost cultural, political, and religious protagonists of the age, including leading Petrarchist Pietro Bembo, renowned courtier Baldassare Castiglione, Queen Marguerite de Navarre, celebrity preacher Bernardino Ochino, and English cardinal Reginald Pole, not to mention “il divino” himself, Michelangelo, who was something of a soul mate.[2][Michelangelo's drawing of Vittoria Colonna]

She also hailed from an ancient and illustrious Roman family, which counted in its bloodline several cardinals and one pontiff, and which continued to be embroiled in the ever-evolving power struggles between Papacy and Empire. Finally, she was highly esteemed as a belle-lettrist in her own right, as affirms Ariosto, in a memorable digression of his romantic epic Orlando furioso, wreathing her with laurel above all her female counterparts:

I will choose one and she whom I will name
No envious disdain or scorn will stir.
No other women will be put to shame
If I omit them all and praise but her.
Not only has she won immortal fame
With her sweet style – no sweeter do I hear;
To him of whom she speaks or writes, she gives
New life: awakened from the tomb, he lives. (37.16)[3]

Ariosto witholds her name as his encomium builds to a crescendo when at last, two stanzas later, he proclaims: “Vittoria è ‘l nome.”[4]
[Portrait of Colonna by Sebastiano del Piombo]

Vittoria Colonna was born in 1490 at the family seat in Marino atop the forested slope of the Alban Hills near Rome. Historically, the proximity of the hereditary estates to the Curia, as well as the Colonnese penchant to maintain whatever autonomy possible from the same, resulted in numerous papal excommunications and seizures of property, though, at the start of the sixteenth-century century, relations had stabilized.[5] Not much is known about Vittoria’s upbringing, although her later writings reveal that she benefited from a broad humanistic education. At age four, she was betrothed to a descendant of the highest of highborn Spanish and Neapolitan families, Francesco Ferrante d'Avalos, the future Marquis of Pescara, who was five at the time. King Ferdinand of Naples seems to have had a hand in arranging this union between the Colonna and d’Avalos Houses in order to solidify the loyalty of the former to the Spanish throne. After the marriage of Francesco and Vittoria in 1509, the couple resided but one year together before Francesco left for northern Italy to wage war against the French under Emperor Charles V’s standard. The military campaign lasted fifteen years, during which time Vittoria remained predominantly at the court of her husband’s aunt Costanza d’Avalos on the island of Ischia. It may have been during this time that her muse was first stirred, for she was surrounded by a vibrant cultural life and rubbed shoulders with the leading poets of the day, including Jacopo Sannazaro.

In 1525, the French forces were at length vanquished, though Francesco died of injuries sustained in the final battle, leaving Vittoria childless. She would remain a widow for the next twenty-two years of her life (†1547). Her consort’s tragic demise nevertheless afforded her both the independence and the wherewithal to devote herself to a life of letters. Vittoria multiplied amorous sonnets in his memory, for which she at once attained literary stardom, capturing the imagination of a sympathetic public as the mournful and chaste univira, forever bound to one man.[6] There is some question as to whether Francesco was in fact worthy of such posthumous devotion, and yet under her Petrarchizing plume, he became the paragon of every manly virtue—her magnificently resplendent Sun—an exalted image which transformed him into a Christ-like figure. As befitted Vittoria’s reputation for wifely allegiance, she dressed modestly and peregrinated from convent to convent, where she resided as a “secular nun.” At one point, during her stay at the San Silvestro nunnery in Rome, she requested to take the veil, but was promptly rebuffed by Pope Clement VII as well as by her brother Ascanio, who, for their own ends, wished to have her remarry so that they might forge new political coalitions.[7] Vittoria’s disdain for worldly acclaim extended to her published works, from which she distanced herself, even refusing to collaborate with editors. Her poetry thus found its way into print through intermediaries.[8]

Sometime in the early 1530’s, Vittoria came into contact with “evangelical” circles in Naples and Rome. The term evangelismo has been employed by modern scholars in reference to that very particular pre-Tridentine and proto-Reformation movement in Italy which fused humanistic learning and Augustinian theology, with decided Savonarolan overtones.[9] The hallmark of evangelismo nevertheless was its emphasis on the inner life, since the soul’s relation to God was deemed more important than the formal trappings of the Church. Its foremost proponent was Juan de Valdés, an ardent admirer of Erasmus and an exile from the Spanish Inquisition, established in Naples from 1535.[10] As one scholar writes: “The concept of faith as an existential experience of the believer ‘incorporated in Christ’ and the description of the dramatic journey from regeneration to sanctification, together with his uncommon capacity for the introspection of the mind, were among the most successful contributions of Valdés to the rich and varied religious panorama of the sixteenth century.”[11] While he was careful to avoid anti-Roman polemic, and while he never condoned the renunciation of rite and sacrament, Valdés called for a return to the primitive gospel and looked to Scripture alone to condition Christian consciousness. In his seaside home near Naples, he welcomed the spiritually restless from every corner of the Peninsula, drawn by his reputation as an exegete and a religious guide, for the many crises of European society as well as new humanistic sensibilities had tilled the soil for renewal. Indeed, many of these “evangelicals,” or rather “spirituals” (It. spirituali) as they styled themselves, seem to have come to central New Testament doctrines such as sola fide in part through the influence of Neoplatonism, although cross-pollination with Lutheran teaching was certainly paramount.[12]

Already, this sort of Christian humanism had been modeled in the previous century by Lorenzo Valla who had sought to renew theology through a rigorous reexamination of the original biblical texts. Valla’s exegetical program was later to gain the approval of key reformers such as Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin, and his example alone shows that early sixteenth-century reformist spirituality in Italy could be a homegrown phenomenon—as opposed to merely an echo of developments in the German states.[13] It bears remarking as well that another indigenous reform-minded movement, in France, known as the “Circle of Meaux,” may have spurred on Valdesian evangelismo, with the Neapolitan poet Jacopo Sannazaro serving as a possible link between the two.[14] Among its main figures were Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of Meaux, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, the first translator of the Bible into French, and Queen Marguerite de Navarre, with whom Vittoria Colonna sustained a close correspondence. At first, these transalpine “evangelicals,” as they have been dubbed in modern times, strove for reform from within and did not intend to break with the Mother Church. By 1525, the Meaux Circle was forced to disband. Briçonnet, Lefèvre, and Queen Marguerite never did leave the Catholic fold, while a number of the Meaux Circle felt compelled to follow a heterodox course.

With respect to cisalpine evangelismo, chief among Juan de Valdés’ followers were Bernardino Ochino[15], Pietro Carnesecchi[16], Marcantonio Flaminio[17], Pier Paolo Vergerio[18], and Pietro Vermigli[19]. It has not been established whether Vittoria Colonna ever actually met Valdés, though she appears to have possessed a copy of his commentary on Saint Paul’s epistles.[20] What is beyond dispute is that Vittoria gravitated in the same circles as Valdés, and that many of his intimates were her intimates, above all the Capuchin General Bernardino Ochino, with whom she was especially close. Indeed, some critics believe that much of Valdesian spirituality came to Vittoria through the circuitous route of Ochino’s undulating and suave sermonizing and prose.[21] Later, after Valdés’ death in 1541, a circle of spirituali regrouped around the exiled Reginald Pole, along with Vittoria Colonna herself in a central role, in the city of Viterbo, where the English cardinal had been appointed governor. In the few years leading up to the Council of Trent, this reformist cenacle, which has been called the ecclesia Viterbiensis, gathered regularly for colloquia in which participants gave informal sermons and delved into different matters of renewal. But they were not merely a quiet conventicle, basking in the beatitude of their studies. Rather, they set about the business of spreading Valdesian theology, mainly through their efforts to revise and publish Benedetto da Mantova’s Il Beneficio di Cristo,[22] which had been circulating among them in manuscript form and which was tantamount to their manifesto.[23] The formula “the benefit of Christ” had frequently been on Valdés’ lips, for it summed up for him the evangelical teaching of gratuitous salvation. According to one theory, the plan was also hatched to flood the market with the treatise—indeed, tens of thousands of copies were printed[24] —in order to pressure, if possible, the upcoming Council of Trent into approving the doctrine of justification by faith.[25] And as a delegate to the council, Reginald Pole would soon seek a compromise with the Protestants on just this point, a position that would later cause him to be in very bad odor with the Roman Inquisition.

In all events, much scholarly ink has been spilled over Il Beneficio di Cristo, which was the most popular and influential devotional work of sixteenth-century Italy.[26] Its success was due in part to the unpretentious way in which it presented itself to its readership, eschewing theological jargon for clear and engaging exposition. Its lively and compelling style is evident from the outset when, after having hammered home the consequences of original sin and the misery of man, the free gift of salvation is pressed with urgency: “Let us run to him with the feet of living faith, into the arms of the one who invites us, crying: ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”[27] The concentric aims of Il Beneficio di Cristo are to edify, to transmit the joy of divine grace, and to exhort to live by justified faith. If the doctrine of sola fide is carefully supported by appeal to the authority of Church Fathers, the reformed sources—Luther, Melanchthon, Valdés, and Calvin—are just as carefully concealed. Nowhere to be found are references to the Institutional Church. Not surprisingly, the Council of Trent condemned Il Beneficio di Cristo in 1546, and it was put on the Index of prohibited books in 1549. Translations in Croatian, English, French, and Spanish soon proliferated throughout Europe, but in Italy the Inquisition’s ferocious pursuit of the text was so unremitting that within a few decades almost all copies had disappeared.

Suffice it to say, Vittoria Colonna found in evangelismo a new outlet for her poetry, well suited to her own religious and lyric sensibilities. Her rime spirituali would “grow organically”[28] out of her earlier rime amorose in that there was a natural transfer from the apotheosized image of d’Avalos to the ultimate object of her affections, the Son of God. The very first sonnet of her spiritual canzoniere attests to this Christocentric shift:

Since my chaste love for many years
kept my soul aflame with the desire for fame, and it nourished
a serpent in my breast so that now my heart languishes
in pain turned towards God, who alone can help me,
let the holy nails from now on be my quills,
and the precious blood my pure ink,
my lined paper the sacred lifeless body,
so that I may write down for others all that he suffered.
It is not right here to invoke Parnassus or Delos,
for I aspire to cross other waters, to ascend
other mountains that human feet cannot climb unaided.
I pray to the sun, which lights up the earth and the
heavens, that letting forth his shining spring
he pours down upon me a draught equal to my great thirst.[29]

The final tercet announces as well her most telling adaptation, for the previous Petrarchan solar imagery associated with her departed will be reworked into a leitmotiv for her “vero Sol.” Henceforth, hers will be a reformist Petrarchism. The whole panoply of stock phrases and images will continue to be employed, but infused with New Testament accents as well as the very sensuous and mystical language of Valdesian spirituality.

It would now be well to return to where we initially left Vittoria, at the door of the San Paolo convent in Orvieto.[30] Her removal to the Umbrian hill town in 1541 was occasioned by her brother Ascanio Colonna's revolt against Paul III, in a conflict known as the “Salt War,” in which the Farnese pope sought to impose a new tax on salt in the Papal States.[31] The stated purpose for the additional revenues was so that the Roman Curia might counteract the rising threat of Turks and protestant heretics. It was an open secret, though, that the Farnese were more interested in supporting their lavish courtly life. Ascanio forbade his subjects residing within the Papal States from complying with the levy and, when the high pontiff incarcerated some Colonna vassals who had indeed refused to pay the duty, he retaliated by staging a raid and seizing papal cattle grazing near Colonna territory. In return, Paul III summoned him to Rome.[32] Instead, Ascanio barricaded himself in his castle at Genazzano with a motley crew of two thousand troops. He undoubtedly hoped to prevail upon Charles V for aid and protection, in recompense for the Colonna family’s previous service to the Imperial Crown. Vittoria would do what she could to encourage her hotheaded brother to settle the matter peacefully, chiding him at one point that “there was no need for so much war over thirty cows.”[33] Her pleas fell on deaf ears. Paul III was only too eager for a chance to humble the powerful Colonna House and ordered his natural son Pier Luigi Farnese to march his ten-thousand-strong army of Swiss and German mercenaries against Ascanio.

It is not believed that Vittoria had before set foot in Orvieto. The main reason she retired to Orvieto at the start of the “Salt War” was precisely because, quite paradoxically, it had longed been linked to the Farnese family.[34] Indeed, before his election to the tiara, had Alessandro Farnese not been the Archpriest of the Duomo in Orvieto? Since his enthronement, had he not showered special favors and privileges on the Orvietans?[35] And had he not recently visited the city with his entire court, conducting important diplomatic and ecclesiastical business there?[36] In the present dispute, Vittoria thus hoped to prove her neutrality to the pope and, by the same token, to spare the subjects in her own lands any trouble on her account.[37] The other factor likely influencing her decision to withdraw to Orvieto, as opposed to the Kingdom of Naples where she also had fiefs, was its very proximity to Rome. In the event that her brother might sue for peace, she could be available to help negotiate a settlement.[38]

As was her wont, Vittoria repaired to a Dominican convent for her abode.[39] Though originally incorporated in 1221 as a branch of the Benedictine San Paolo in Rome, at the instance of a certain Fra Pietro Bonaguida, a native of Orvieto, Benedict XI gave it over to the rule of St. Dominic in 1303. The San Paolo convent also happened to be renowned for the saintly lives of its inhabitants, often drawing noblewomen in quest of quietude from the neighboring Roman and Tuscan provinces. One of its most outstanding inmates had been Suora Daniella, the close associate of Santa Caterina da Siena, from whom she received several devotional epistles.[40] But, in the Dominican annals, many other names from the San Paolo sisterhood, distinguished for their deeds, have come down to us: Brigida de’ Manetti, Caterina Pollidori, Serafina Bottifango, Domenica Tarugi, Angelica Arciti, Dorotea Marabottini, etc.[41] Moreover, San Paolo had been one of the first monasteries to be swept up in the winds of renewal inspired by Savonarola, and from it a number of reform-minded nuns had been sent out to direct or found other houses. Among these houses were the Convertite della Maddalena in Rome, San Tommaso in Perugia, Sant’Agnese in Montepulciano, and Santa Caterina in Viterbo, where Vittoria would soon reside when the ecclesia Viterbiensis gathered in that city. Shortly after her arrival at San Paolo, Vittoria wrote to Reginald Pole of her rapt delight to be surrounded by such saintly souls; indeed she “…reckoned to converse with so many angels.”[42]

It would appear that the citizens of Orvieto were caught unawares by Vittoria’s arrival in their midst. Two days later, on March 19, 1541, the town fathers, along with the newly appointed governor, Brunamonte de’ Rossi, came together in secret session and unanimously agreed that, given the standing and quality of the gentildonna, who was as well in good graces with Paul III and Cardinal Farnese,[43] it was only fitting that they pay her homage and present her with some provisions as a gift.[44] The plan of action was executed without delay. From the town records, we know that the foodstuffs cost ten florins, and that she received exactly four pair of fowl, fourteen a half pounds of sweetmeat and marzipane, and thirty pounds of fish.[45]

But against the backdrop of Ascanio Colonna's high-stakes contest with Paul III, the events attending Vittoria’s five-month sojourn in Orvieto were especially marked by trial. The herald of the evangelical movement to which she adhered, Juan de Valdés, died just two months after her arrival, in May 1541. In the same month, the Countess of Salisbury, the mother of Vittoria’s other spiritual mentor, Reginald Pole, was martyred at the hands of Henry VIII, in part because the English cardinal had spoken out boldly against the king’s divorce. The irony does not escape us that it was in Orvieto that the protasis of this many-act drama had occurred, when Clement VII, finding himself exiled the city in 1527, had snubbed Henry VIII’s petition to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. In any case, Vittoria quickly dispatched a letter to Reginald Pole expressing her condolences, which, alas, has not survived. On the other hand, we have his long reply, which begins thus: “As there are few things these days which I read or hear in the discourse of others that can please or console me, your Excellence’s letter was all the more agreeable, for it not only consoled me but pleased me as well.”[46] He concludes by requesting that Vittoria take the place of his mother, whom Henry VIII has ripped away from him, just as cruelly as Pharaoh deprived Moses of his birth mother.[47] Responding to Pole from Orvieto on June 21, Vittoria immediately lays claim to the title of “mother.” In that capacity, she takes the opportunity to send him a gift of provisions, but tries to head off any sense of obligation on his part, playfully noting that, according to St. Paul, “…parents must give to their children, and not children to their parents.”[48] She signs her letter “serva et madre, la Marchesa di Pescara.”[49]
[Portrait of Cardinal Pole by Sebastiano del Piombo]
During her Orvietan sojourn, Vittoria was also under constant surveillance by the Farnese network. Their chief spy was none other than the new governor of the city, Brunamonte de’ Rossi, a gentleman from Assisi and a Paul III appointee. He had assumed his functions just the previous year, in March 1540, but, within one month of his arrival, the General Council had already made him an Orvietan citizen, with all its rights, privileges, immunities, prerogatives, etc.[50] As soon as April 1, De Rossi made his first report to Cardinal Farnese:

I have not failed, nor shall I fail, to visit the Signora Marchesa di Pescara continually with the greatest possible solicitude, in the name of your most reverend Lordship. As much in her speech as in her actions she demonstrates more devotion and attachment than one can say to his Holiness and to your most reverend and most illustrious Lordship. Her Excellence has cloistered herself in the monastery of San Paolo with only two maidservants, and keeps two menservants outside to provide her with the necessities. She lives that kind of devotion which persons of holy and upright life are wont to live…[51]

In spite of Vittoria’s blameless conduct, Cardinal Farnese was keenly interested in the comings and goings of her visitors at San Paolo, and the obsequious De Rossi played all the angles to worm out what information he could, writing on April 9:

Seeing how much your most reverend and most illustrious Lordship, in your letter of the 8th of this month, has written me with respect to the Signora Marchesa di Pescara, I have not failed to execute and satisfy your wish. In brief, I surreptitiously discovered and learned from the Bishop of Orvieto that about eight days ago, there was an agent, a secretary or a servant of the most reverend Cardinal Fregoso, who spoke with the Signora Marchesa, and stopped and lodged one night with the menservants of the said Signora… The Bishop tells me that he came only to apprise her Excellence of the progress of the war. Having obtained this news, I was going to the citadel, passing in front of the monastery of San Paolo where the said Signora is staying, and I happened upon a gentleman with a sword and spurs on that had just arrived, and who was speaking at the grating with the aforesaid Signora… and I saw when he gave her a package, which he put through the grating, two boxes high, stacked one on top of the other and stitched together in a certain cloth linen. What it was, I do not know, because one couldn’t see, and he put it through the grating as soon as I arrived there.[52]

The Bishop of Orvieto[53] again becomes a useful source of information for De Rossi, all the more so that the Bishop has Vittoria’s confidence and has been privy to some of her letters. Writing to Cardinal Farnese on the 20th of April, De Rossi gleefully informs him that he has managed to pry from the Bishop the fact that Charles V had been in contact with Vittoria while at San Paolo. The sum of the letter was that the Emperor wanted to encourage her to be of good cheer:

…because his Majesty, having written to Signor Ascanio that he might do all that His Beatitude wanted, and having recommended Signor Ascanio to his Holiness, hoped affairs would come to a good conclusion, and that arms would be laid down, because her Excellence should consider that his Majesty could not fail the House of her Excellence.[54]

But the progress of war was not going well for Ascanio, and Paul III was in no mood to give up on such a prize possession as the Colonna castles surrounding Rome, which seemed to him a permanent threat, now that they were within his grasp. Several strongholds[55] had already fallen to the papal forces. Only Paliano and Rocca resisted, but it was precisely these of which Paul III was the most covetous, since they were the key to the Colonnese defenses. When Paliano was taken, De Rossi tells Cardinal Farnese in a letter dated May 14 that he has not failed to make known the news to Vittoria. He also reports her terse reply: “Property may come and go, provided that people are safe.”[56]

Rocca finally fell as well, when the seventy or so remaining Colonna supporters, besieged by eight thousand papal troops, negotiated a surrender and were allowed to retire peacefully. Ascanio’s ruin was also the ruin of the entire Colonna House, and he was forced into exile in the Kingdom of Naples. For what it is worth, the sycophant Farnese spy, Brunamonte de’ Rossi, lasted in Orvieto only as long as the Salt War lasted. Paul III appointed another governor on June 9, a Florentine named Francesco Valori, who reached the city on June 20 and presented himself to the town fathers with a letter of recommendation from Cardinal Farnese.[57] The hapless De Rossi, on the other hand, was eventually appointed governor of Ascoli in January 1564 by Pius I. However, the city was in full sedition and De Rossi had to enter the city with a soldier escort. Three months later, on Holy Friday, he was almost killed by a fractious mob at the Holy Water font. By May, he was replaced again and was never again employed by the Curia.[58]

As the papal armies were systematically despoiling the House of Colonna, seizing castle after castle, Vittoria, in her secluded San Paolo retreat, must have taken due note of fragilitas humanarum rerum, for she came to count her worldly possessions as so much dross, writing thus to the Duke of Ferrara on June 28: “May your Excellence know that I am greatly consoled in these travails, and I thank God that, in losing the goods of fortune, he should give me the occasion to acquire those of the soul, and I am in a holy place.”[59] Indeed, her soul was perhaps well-prepared for such rude blows. It is not without interest that it was at about this time that Vittoria composed one of her greatest works, the Trionfo di Cristo, a poem in terza rima concerning the victory purchased on Calvary’s tree.[60] It was published in 1540, hence the year just before her Orvietan sojourn, in two Venetian editions. The central tableau, which is strongly reminiscent of Savonarola’s 1497 Trionfo della Croce, presents Christ as a heavenly charioteer who comes to humanity’s rescue:

I then saw a chariot of such bearing
It seemed to circle heaven, earth, and sea
With its bright splendor, fair and mirthful.
Upon it was the Emperor of Heaven,
He who descended among us to save us
From severe bondage and woeful death.
For many have indulged their envy and avarice
With the goods of others, exulting in arrogance,
Vile strivers after a greedy, godless reign;
But this One conquered and his kingdom bequeathed
When in sacrifice he himself gave,
Wth his pure blood washing away our stain.
His was the victory and ours the reward,
So that we might obtain life from his death,
We upon whom the great enemy preyed.[61]

In the succeeding tableaus, Vittoria revisits the Passion account and develops a beatified vision of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene who follow in the Redeemer’s train. The Mary Magdalene figure, in particular, had previously been an object of Vittoria’s especial veneration. As early as 1531, she had written to Federigo II that he might procure for her a painting of Saint Magdalene. The Duke of Mantua then enlisted the services of Titian, arguably the greatest painter of the time, who completed the piece and dispatched it to her shortly thereafter.[62] So it is not indifferent here that Vittoria concludes the Trionfo di Cristo by portraying herself, along with Mary Magdalene, in rapt thralldom on the other side of the grave, before the risen Lord:

I, who saw a more beautiful dawn
Illumined by another Sun, with another heat
Than that which unfolds and colors our flowers,
Held here my eyes and my mind transfixed.[63]

As the mystical bent of her writings, if not the very choice of San Paolo as an abode, would seem to make clear, Vittoria had a marked predilection for the vita contemplativa. However, her spirituality was never such that she neglected the duties of the vita activa. So, while in Orvieto, even though she was increasingly in straits due to the aid heaped on her brother Ascanio as well as the subsequent loss of revenue from her fiefs in the papal states, she did what she could to minister from afar to her Neapolitan subjects, in recognition for their previous loyalties to her House.[64] For instance, on June 18, she formally ratified the transfer of a Colonna castle to the community of Pesco Costanzo, a process which long had been in preparation.[65] In another vein, nor was Vittoria removed from the hotly debated topics of the day. As a case in point, while she was still in Orvieto, Cardinal Gasparo Contarini published his Epistola de justificatione ex fide et operibus, which was an attempt at a compromise on the thorny issue of faith versus works. Cardinal Bembo immediately had it sent to her, as one who could properly judge its contents, not mention as one also whose influence could be used to promote its doctrine in reform-minded circles.[66]

Sometime in the summer of 1540, Vittoria sent a gift manuscript of 102 poems to Marguerite de Navarre, who had requested a personal copy of the fruits of her plume through the French ambassador to Rome. Earlier that same year, the Queen of Navarre had also initiated a correspondence with Vittoria and had expressed a desire to meet face to face.[a] On one level, nothing would appear more improbable than a friendship between the two noblewomen, since their husbands had fought on opposing sides in the battle of Pavia (1525), during which, as well, Marguerite’s brother, King François I, had been taken prisoner by the imperial forces and subsequently sent into captivity in Spain. On another level, though, Marguerite and Vittoria were destined to find themselves on intimate terms, since they participated in parallel reform circles within their respective countries and shared common spiritual and literary sensibilities. Moreover, in precisely 1540, both Marguerite and Vittoria were increasing beset with various sublunary wrongs and woes, which drove them each to find a refuge in the otherworldly comforts of religion. Theirs was thus a veritable sisterhood of misery.

For instance, in France, following the “Affair of the Placards,” François I’s policy toward Protestants became more entrenched and persecutorial. His “Edict of Fontainebleau” in June 1540 initiated summary procedures and gave broad powers to civil and ecclesiastical courts in heresy proceedings. In fact, when Vittoria’s gift manuscript arrived at the French court, it was intercepted by the Grand Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency, who scoured its contents in search of evidence of heretical doctrine, with an eye towards accusing Marguerite herself, but Francis I laughed off the charges and ordered the confiscated manuscript delivered to his sister. On her own end, as we have seen, Vittoria’s relationship with Paul III and the Farnese family was strained to the breaking point due to political and other conflicts, eventually culminating in her irascible brother Ascanio’s ill-advised war on the papacy, which, in turn, resulted in the loss of much of the Colonna family’s land and wealth. It is against this backdrop that three of the five surviving letters between Marguerite and Vittoria were composed. V.-L. Saulnier has dated all three as having been sent to or from Orvieto.[b]

Regrettably, here we have to correct the legendary French critic, for Vittoria did not arrive in San Paolo until March 1541. Vittoria was more likely in Rome at the time of the correspondence in question. Nevertheless, there is every reason to believe that the two female poets remained in contact throughout Vittoria’s Orvietan stay and beyond, for in the third letter Marguerite manifests an ardent desire for the relationship to continue, either in print or in person:

"…it is necessary that you continue to pray and write your useful letters without becoming tired of sending them, since the friendship that was started by reputation has now grown so much because I have it reciprocated in your letters. I therefore desire your letters more than ever, but my greater wish is to be so fortunate as to hear you speak in this world of the happiness of the one to come."[c]

However, the true value of the 1540 epistolary exchange between Vittoria and Marguerite is that it sets into relief the état d’âme of both women on the eve of Vittoria’s San Paolo retreat, in that current circumstances had forced temporal concerns to recede from view and had given primacy to the spiritual. Thus Marguerite writes to Vittoria, thanking her for showing, “…the difference that exists between worldly and external triumphs and honors, and the beauty and loveliness of the daughter and true spouse of the one and great King, God, which are interior and well-hidden qualities."[d]

Perhaps no other aspect of Vittoria’s life has been more scrutinized than her association with Michelangelo. This is in part because their relationship sheds light on Valdesian spirituality in Italy prior to the formation of the Roman Inquisition (1542) and the convocation of the Council of Trent (1545). We know that Vittoria and Michelangelo were in frequent contact during her stay at San Paolo. In a letter to his nephew Lionardo Buonarotti, composed in 1551, Michelangelo states: “I have a little book in parchment that she gave me about ten years ago, in which are a hundred and three sonnets… I have in addition many letters she wrote me from Orvieto and Viterbo…”[67] Regrettably, these missives are now lost. We can only guess something of their tenor based upon what we know of the ascendancy Vittoria had over Michelangelo’s soul. It is not certain when the two first met, although from the moment Vittoria took up residence at the San Silvestro convent in Rome (1538-1539), they were in regular communication. In spite of what we might consider the prerogatives of artistic genius, Vittoria was Michelangelo’s social superior and, since having frequented reformist circles, was also somewhat of an authority in matters of faith. This is why Michelangelo speaks of her as his spiritual mentor, even addressing her in one sonnet in the most hyperbolic terms:

A man within a woman, or rather a god
speaks through her mouth, so that I,
by having listened to her,
have been made such that I’ll never be my own again.[68]

Sometime in 1540, which is to say, just prior to her Orvietan retreat, Vittoria composed a collection of one hundred and three devotional sonnets and sent the manuscript to Michelangelo as a gift. (This is alluded to above in the letter to Lionardo Buonarotti.) In reply, the overwhelmed artist confessed that his initial reflex was to reciprocate. However, he soon perceived that the practice of exchange and along with the ensuing sense of obligation violate the very notion of a gift, and he thus draws an explicit parallel with divine grace: “Then, having recognized and seen that the grace of God cannot be bought, and that to have it with discomfort is a grave sin, I say the fault is mine and willingly I accept these things.”[69] Fortunately for us, Michelangelo did reciprocate, and the “presentation drawing” which he composed for Vittoria in return constitutes perhaps the quintessential example of Italian Reformation art. The Colonna Pietà now hangs in the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston:In a sonnet accompanying the piece, Michelangelo further muses on the nature of gift giving or, more exactly, on the gifting of creative works, for these are not like other commodities of exchange, but are themselves gift-like, in that their worth is incommensurable. Again he draws a parallel with divine grace: “For a heavenly gift cannot, even with a thousand attempts, be paid by the sole efforts of one who is mortal.”[70]

Scholars have shown that in the “Colonna” Pietà Michelangelo intended in some measure to reflect back to Vittoria the reformist teachings which he had found in her own writings. To be sure, the “Colonna” Pietà stands in stark contrast to Michelangelo’s earlier and more famous rendition, currently in St. Peter’s, in which the deposed Christ lies cradled in the Virgin’s lap. While the latter group is Marian in orientation, with a configuration that is foreshadowed by that of the Madonna and child tradition, the former is consciously Christocentric. Michelangelo’s new depiction is enigmatic in that the front-facing Christ, his arms still in sacrificial pose, appears deceased yet strangely recumbent, pathetic yet somehow victorious. Michelangelo has focused on that most self-revelatory moment of Salvation History, which was so pregnant with meaning for Vittoria, namely the interval between Crucifixion and Entombment, in which true “evangelical” faith could be tested. In her own works, Vittoria celebrated those biblical figures such as the Virgin Mary, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Mary Magdalene who manifested belief or displayed courage when all seemed lost, post mortem and ante resurrectionem. Similarly, in the “Colonna” Pietà the Virgin’s effort to uphold the Man of Sorrows, her gaze and arms lifted toward heaven in a mingled expression of joy and grief, nevertheless points to the efficacy of his sacrifice as well as the triumph of her faith. In spite of her boundless suffering, she manages to hope against hope and to find life in the Savior’s death.

Not only does the Colonna Pietà illustrate the “evangelical” doctrine of sola fide, but Michelangelo’s representation of a powerful and confident Virgin, who, rather than collapsing in anguish over the Crucified, now upholds him in majesty, mirrors as well Vittoria’s own “reformed Mariology,”[71] as elaborated in her works. In a latter prose meditation Pianto sopra la passione di Cristo, Vittoria emphasizes the Virgin’s multifaceted relationship to Christ as mother, wife, daughter, and disciple, thus proving to be a role model for women and an exemplar for all believers. No longer does Mary appear as the Mediatrix of salvation, but she becomes the maestra who disseminates the Gospel message, in that she leads the way to a living faith. As Vittoria writes: “For, since all the treasure that the Christian may obtain is born of a true faith, and since we have received that faith from the Virgin, for without her it would have been extinguished, then we must remember how great is our obligation to her…”[72]

Had Vittoria lived long enough, alas, she would most certainly have been tried for heresy, for we know that the Inquisition opened a posthumous file on her.[73] Her departure from this transitory existence in her fifty-fifth year was probably a mercy, for the day of evil was indeed drawing nigh. In her last will and testament, six years after her sojourn in Orvieto, she did not forget the faithful sisters of San Paolo, according them one hundred crowns, a conspicuous sum given her relatively short stay.[74] For her, their company must have been a haven in the most troubling of troublous times.

An essay on Vittoria Colonna in Orvieto would be incomplete without due mention of Domenico Tordi, who was born in Orvieto in 1857, and who remains to this day the most important Colonna scholar to have ever put pen to paper.[75] As a young man, Tordi chose a career in the Italian civil service and, by 1912, had worked his way up to become Head Postmaster of Florence, retiring there in 1923. In his spare time, he devoted himself to scholarly research, publishing documents he uncovered in archives and libraries and contributing articles to learned journals and newspapers. Over the years, he also patiently gathered an impressive collection of rare books and manuscripts, as well as some five thousand autograph letters from various writers of note. In his own last will and testament, which, as is fitting, was reproduced in pamphlet form after his death by the town fathers of his native city,[76] Tordi donated his entire stock of materials to the Orvietan municipal library “Luigi Fumi,” except, alas, those pertaining to Vittoria Colonna, which he gave instead to the National Library in Florence. His stated reason for setting apart the Colonna collection at the National Library was only so that future scholars might have more ready access to it.[77]

But Orvieto remained the closest to Tordi’s heart, since he designated its soil to be his final resting place.[78] In fact, as early as 1886, in a letter to his wife Erminda, he lamented the woeful neglect in which Vittoria Colonna’s memory had fallen, that “not even a stone is left to signal her passage on earth,”[79] and thereby expressed the desire to see her commemorated in some way by his home town: “I have endeavored and do endeavor to give my country the honor of her rightful rehabilitation, by putting perhaps a small marble tablet in the Convent of San Paolo where she repeatedly sought refuge.”[80] It is not clear whether Tordi ever realized his design to erect a monument to Vittoria in Orvieto. But by the time of his death in 1933, after four decades of painstaking research and document gathering, he was to bequeath a legacy for future generations of scholars which was to fulfill his plan in ways that he could not have imagined.


Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando furioso. Ed. by Marcello Turchi, Milan: Garzanti, 1974, 2 vol.

-- . Trans. Barbara Reynolds, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977, 2 vol.

Bainton, Roland H. Bernardino Ochino esule e riformatore senese del cinquecento, 1487-1563. Firenze: Sansoni, 1940.

Il Beneficio di Cristo con le versioni del secolo XVI, documenti e testimonianze. Ed. Salvatore Caponetto, Firenze: Sansoni; Chicago: Newberry Library, 1972.

Brundin, Abigail. Vittoria Colonna and the Spiritual Poetics of the Italian Reformation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.

Bullock, Alan. “Domenico Tordi and Vittoria Colonna: Forty Years on,” Italica, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Spring, 1978), 20-35.

Buonarroti, Michelangelo. The Poetry of Michelangelo. Ed. and trans. James M. Saslow, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1945.

Campi, Emidio. Michelangelo e Vittoria Colonna: Un dialogo artistico-teologico ispirato da Bernardino Ochino…, Turin: Claudiniana, 1994.

Cantimori, Delio. Eretici italiani del Cinquecento, Florence: Sansoni, 1939.

Caponetto, Salvatore. The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy, trans. Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi, Sixteenth-Century Essays and Studies, 43 (Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1999.

Carteggio di Vittoria Colonna Marchesa di Pescara, 2nd edition. Edited by Ermanno Ferrero and Giuseppe Müller with a supplement by Domenico Tordi. Turin: Ermanno Loeshcer, 1892.

Casapullo, Rosa. “Per una lettura del Trionfo di Cristo di Vittoria Colonna,” in Storia della lingua e storia, Atti del II Convegno ASLI (Catania, 26-28 ottobre 1999), a cura di Gabriella Alfieri, Firenze: Franco Cesari (2003), 337-355.

Collett, Barry. A Long and Troubled Pilgrimage: the Correspondence of Marguerite d’Angoulême and Vittoria Colonna, 1540-1545. Studies in Reformed Theology and History, new series, 6, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2000.

Colonna, Vittoria. Rime. Ed. Alan Bullock. Rome: Latereza, 1982.

-- . Sonnets for Michelangelo. Ed. and trans. by Abigail Brundin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Firpo, Massimo. Tra alumbrados e ‘spirituali’: studi su Juan de Valdés e il valdesianesimo nella crisi religiosa del ‘500 italiano. Firenze: Olschki, 1990.

Fumi, Luigi. Orvieto, note storiche e biografiche, Città di Castello: S. Lapi, 1891.

Gibaldi, Joseph. “Vittoria Colonna: Child, Woman, Poet,” in Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Katharina M. Wilson, Athens: University of Georgia Press (1987), pp. 22-46.

Il Gr. Uff. Domenico Tordi e il suo testamento. Pubblicazione fatta a cura del comune di Orvieto. Firenze: Mori, 1937.

Jerrold, Maud F. Vittoria Colonna, Her Friends and Her Times. New York, Freeport, 1906.

Luzio, Alessandro. “Vittoria Colonna,” Rivista Storica Mantovana, Vol. I (1885), 1-52.

Nagel, Alexander. “Gifts for Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna,” Art Bulletin 79 (1997), pp. 647-668.

Pagano, Sergio M. and Concetta Ranieri. Nuovi documenti su Vittoria Colonna e Reginald Pole. Città del Vaticano: Archivio Vaticano, 1989.

Ranieri, Concetta. “Premesse umanistiche alla religiosità di Vittoria Colonna,” Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa 32 (1996): 531-548.

Reumont, Alfredo. Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, Vita, Fede, and Poesia nel Secolo Decimosesto, trans. into Italian by Giuseppe Müller and Ermanno Ferrero. Seconda Edizione. Torino: Ermanno Loescher (1892)

Robin, Diana. Publishing Women: Salons, the Presses, and the Counter-Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Saulnier, Verdun-Louis. “Marguerite de Navarre, Vittoria Colonna et quelques autres amis italiens de 1540,” in Mélanges à la mémoire de Franco Simone: France et Italie dans la culture européene. Vol. I: Moyen Age et Renaissance, Genève: Slatkine, 1980, pp. 281-295.

Simoncelli, Paolo. Evangelismo italiano del Cinquecento, Rome: Istituto storico italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 1979.

Tordi, Domenico. Il codice delle Rime di Vittoria Colonna…, Pistoia: Flori, 1900.

-- . “Vittoria Colonna in Orvieto durante la Guerra del Sale,” Bollettino della Società Umbra di Storia Patria I (1895), 473-533.


1 Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, New York: Oxford University Press (1945), 234.

2 For a more extensive account of her connections with the litterati and glitterati of her time, see Joseph Gibaldi, “Child, Woman, Poet: Vittoria Colona,” in Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, ed. Katharina M. Wilson, Athens: University of Georgia Press (1987), 23-28.

3 Sceglieronne una; e sceglierolla tale,
che superato avrà l'invidia in modo,
che nessun'altra potrà avere a male,
se l'altre taccio, e se lei sola lodo.
Quest'una ha non pur sé fatta immortale
col dolce stil di che il meglior non odo;
ma può qualunque di cui parli o scriva,
trar del sepolcro, e far ch'eterno viva.
Orlando furioso, ed. by Marcello Turchi (Milan: Garzanti, 1974), Vol. II, 1000. Ariosto’s text is here Englished by Barbara Reynolds (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), Vol. II, 383.

4 Ibid., 37.18.

5 For an historical sketch of the Colonna House, see Alfredo Reumont, Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, Vita, Fede, and Poesia nel Secolo Decimosesto, trans. into Italian by Giuseppe Müller and Ermanno Ferrero. Seconda Edizione. Torino: Ermanno Loescher (1892), 3-18

6 On this score, see Abigail Brundin, “The Making of a Renaissance Publishing Phenomenon,” in Vittoria Colonna and the Spiritual Poetics of the Italian Reformation. Aldershot: Ashgate (2008), 15-36.

7 Concerning the pope’s letter, in which he expressly forbad the sisters from receiving Vittoria’s vows, see Alfredo Reumont, op. cit., 88

8 The first edition of her works was published in 1539. But much of her poetry had been making the rounds in manuscript for some time, as is evidenced by the fact that Ariosto sang of her lyric powers in the 1532 edition of his Ariosto furioso cited above.

9 The locus classicus on the subject is Delio Cantimori’s Eretici italiani del Cinquecento, Florence: Sansoni (1939). For a more up-to-date treatment, see Paolo Simoncelli, Evangelismo italiano del Cinquecento, Rome: Istituto storico italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea (1979).

10 For a recent treatment of Valdesian theology, see Salvatore Caponetto, The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy, trans. Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi, Sixteenth-Century Essays and Studies, 43 (Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1999), 63-75.

11 Ibid., 66.

12 On Neoplatonism’s role, see Concetta Ranieri, “Premesse umanistiche alla religiosità di Vittoria Colonna,” Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa 32 (1996): 531-548.

13 On this subject, see Brundin, op. cit., 40-41.

14 See Brundin, ibid., 41-42.

15 Capuchin preacher known for his eloquence and zeal. When summoned to Rome in 1542, suspecting a charge of heresy for his tendency to the doctrine of justification sine operibus, he fled to Geneva and embraced Protestantism. He eventually ran afoul of the Reformers for his views on divorce and the Trinity, and died in obscurity. For a full biography, see Roland H. Bainton, Bernardino Ochino esule e riformatore senese del cinquecento, 1487-1563 (Firenze: Sansoni, 1940).

16 Thrice tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition, he was executed in 1567.

17 Humanist poet thought to have revised and published Benedetto da Mantova’s Il Beneficio di Cristo, the most popular devotional book of the sixteenth century in Italy.

18 Jurist, papal nuncio, and later bishop. He was investigated by the Venetian Inquisition and fled Italy to avoid persecution.

19 Augustinian preacher and abbot influenced not only by Valdés, but by Martin Bucer and Zwingli as well. He came under suspicion for heresy and, summoned in 1542 to appear before a chapter of his order in Genoa, fled to Zurich. In 1547, he was invited by Thomas Cranmer to England and was appointed Professor of Divinity at Oxford.

20 See Carteggio di Vittoria Colonna Marchesa di Pescara, 2nd edition. Edited by Ermanno Ferrero and Giuseppe Müller with a supplement by Domenico Tordi. Turin: Ermanno Loeshcer (1892), CXLII, 240. The manuscript copy was a gift from Giulia Gonzaga, to whom Valdés had dedicated the commentary. It wasn’t published until 1566, by his followers, in Venice.

21 See in particular Emidio Campi, Michelangelo e Vittoria Colonna: Un dialogo artistico-teologico ispirato da Bernardino Ochino…, Turin: Claudiniana (1994).

22 Don Benedetto was a Benedictine black monk who had composed the treatise while staying in a monastery of his order near Mt. Etna in Sicily. He later yielded it to his friend Marcantonio Flaminio so that it could be corrected and polished.

23 The Viterbo circle’s program has been featured in a rather portentous PBS documentary Secrets of the Dead which was broadcast in May 2009.

24 If we are to believe some sources, 40,000 copies were printed in Venice alone, a number which must be inflated, which doesn’t negate the fact that the imprint was omnipresent and went through several editions.

25 See Massimo Firpo, Tra alumbrados e ‘spirituali’: studi su Juan de Valdés e il valdesianesimo nella crisi religiosa del ‘500 italiano, Firenze: Olschki (1990), 127-153.

26 On its fortune, see Il Beneficio di Cristo con le versioni del secolo XVI, documenti e testimonianze, ed. Salvatore Caponetto (Firenze: Sansoni; Chicago: Newberry Library, 1972), 497 sq.

27 “Corriamo con li passi della viva fede a lui nelle braccia, il quale ci invita gridando: ‘Venite a me tutti voi che siete affannati e aggravati, e io vi recrearò,” ibid., 19. The refence is to Matthew 11:28.

28 The expression is from the pen of Abigail Brundin, Sonnets for Michelangelo, ed. and trans. by Abigail Brundin, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2005), 20.

29 Ibid., 57. The original Italian reads as follows:
Poi che ‘l mio casto amor gran tempo tenne
L’alma di fama accesa, ed ella un angue
In sen nudriò per cui dolente or langue
Volta al Signor, onde ‘l rimedio venne,
I santi chiodi omai sian le mie penne,
E puro inchiostro il prezioso sangue,
Vergata carta il sacro corpo exangue,
Sì ch’io scriva ad altrui quel ch’ei sostenne.
Chiamar qui non convien Parnaso o Delo,
Ch’ad altra aqua s’aspira, ad altro monte
Si poggia, u’ piede uman per sé non sale.
Quel sol, che alluma gli elementi e ‘l cielo,
Prego ch’aprendo il suo lucido fonte
Mi porga umor a la gran sete eguale.

30 For the main sources on Vittoria’s sojourn in Orvieto, see Alfredo Reumont, op. cit., 211-213 and especially Domenico Tordi, “Vittoria Colonna in Orvieto durante la Guerra del Sale,” Bollettino della Società Umbra di Storia Patria I (1895), 473-533. Her correspondence from the period can also be found in the Carteggio, edited by Ferrero and Müller, op. cit., 213-235 and in Sergio M. Pagano and Concetta Ranieri, Nuovi documenti su Vittoria Colonna e Reginald Pole, Città del Vaticano, Archivio Vaticano, 1989, 95. For an abbreviated account in English, see Maud F. Jerrold, Vittoria Colonna, Her Friends and Her Times, New York: Freeport (1906), 225-237.

31 On Vittoria’s intense diplomatic efforts to reconcile her brother and the Farnese pope, see “Rome: The Salt War Letters of Vittoria Colonna,” in Diana Robin, Publishing Women: Salons, the Presses, and the Counter-Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2007), 79-101.

32 The papal brief is reprinted in full by Ferrero and Müller: Carteggio, op. cit., 215-216.

33 “Non bisognava tanta guerra per trenta vacche,” ibid., 218.

34 See Luigi Fumi, Orvieto, note storiche e biografiche, Città di Castello, S. Lapi (1891), 99-103.

35 The Orvietans were granted relief or a delay from some taxation. Paul III also supported building renovation.

36 Paul III arrived with his court in Orvieto in September 1540 for an eight-day stay. While there, he received ambassadors from several cities and signed a papal bull on September 13 (Bullarium a Gregorio sept. usque ad S. D. N. Sixtum quintum).

37 And yet, she did not forbid her subjects in the fiefs of Monte S. Giovanni, Campano, Aquino, Palazzolo, and Pesco Costanzo to serve under Ascanio’s standard. See Tordi, art. cit., 490.

38 This theory has been advanced by Tordi, ibid., 491.

39 The information on San Paolo derives mostly from Tordi (art. cit., 489-490, 499-500), who, in turn, had in his hands a rare history of the monastery: Bottini Tomaso da Lucca, Memorie dell’origine e progressi delle Monache di S. Paolo d’Orvieto dell’ordine di S. Domenico, in Orvieto, per Rinaldo Ruoli, 1631.

40 Saint Catherine of Siena as Seen in Her Letters, trans. and ed. with introduction by Vida D. Scudder, New York: Dutton & Co. (1906), 66-70, 143-153, 293-297.

41 See Tordi, art. cit., 499-500.

42 “…ut cum tot angelis se versari existimet.” The letter from Vittoria is now lost, though Pole relates its contents to his friend and fellow “spiritual” Cardinal Contarini: Carteggio, op. cit., 230.

43 According to a letter from Cardinal Gonzaga written in 1546, Paul III would even have consulted Vittoria on the choice of a papal successor: See Alessandro Luzio, “Vittoria Colonna,” Rivista Storica Mantovana, Vol. I (1885), 49.

44 The minutes of this meeting are republished in both the Carteggio, op. cit., 230-231 and Tordi, art. cit., 521-522.

45 See Tordi, ibid., 522.

46 “Quo pauciora sunt hoc tempore, quae vel lego vel ex aliorum sermonibus intelligo, quae me delectare aut consolari possint, co mihi gratiores fuere literae Excellentiae tuae, quae me valde tum consolatae sunt, tum etiam delectarunt.” Carteggo, op. cit., 231.

47 “Et sane decet Excellentiam tuam ita facere, quam cum semper sum veneratus, postquam Dei in eadem summa virtutum dona cognovi, tum postremo cum Pharaonis furor mihi matrem eripuisset, quae me genuit, in matris loco ipsam suscepi.” Ibid., 234.

48 “…devono i parenti donare a’ figli, non li figli a’ parenti.” The letter is reproduced by Pagano and Ranieri, Nuovi documenti…, op. cit., 95. The Pauline reference seems to point to 2 Corinthians 12:14.

49 Ibid., 95.

50 See Tordi, art. cit., 516.

51 Letter reprinted in Tordi: “Non sono manchato continuo nè mancharò di visitar la S.ra Marchesa di Pescara, con quella maggior gratitudine che sia possibile, in nome di V. S., la quale tanto in parlare, quanto nelle altre attione sue se dimostra tanto divota et affettionata di N. et di V. S. et quanto dir si possa. Sua Ecc.tia si è reserrata nel monasterio di San Paolo, sola con doie serve, et doi servitori tien di fuora che gli provedano di quanto gli fa mistiero, et vive con quella religione, che sogliono viver le persone di santa et honesta vita…” Ibid., 522-523.

52 Letter reprinted in Tordi: “Visto quanto V. S. et per la sua delli VIII dello instante mi scrive cicra la S.ra Marchesa di Pescara, non mancando di exeguire e satisfare al dexiderio di Quella; brevibus, trovo et intendo cautamente dal Vescovo di Orvieto che sono circa VIII giorni che qui è stato uno personaggio agente, secretario, o cameriere del de Fregoso, et ha parlato con dicta Signora Marchesa, et fermatosi et alloggiato una sera con li servitori de dicta S.ra… et me dice il Vescovo che è venuto solo per ragguagliare S. Ex.tia delle cose della guerra. Havendo hauto questo ragguaglio andando io in Rocca et passando inante al monasterio di Sancto Paulo, dove sta dicta S.ra, ho trovato uno gentilhomo con la spada et spironi in piedi che alhora era arrivato, et parlava alle grate con la prefata S.ra… et ho visto io quando li ha dato et messo per la ruota uno guluppo alto in forma di doie scatole una sopra l’altra inguluppato et cuscito in certo panno di lino.” Ibid., 523-524.

53 A Florentine named Vincenzo Durante who was bishop of Orvieto from 1529 until his death in 1545.

54 Letter reprinted in Tordi: “…perchè havendo S. Maestà scripto al S.ore Ascanio che facesse tucto che S. havesse voluto, et a S. S.tà raccomandato il Ascanio, spervava che le cose se termineriano in bene, et che le arme si sospenderiano, imperhò che S. Ex.tia considerasse che S. Maestà non posseva mancare alla casa di S. Ex.tia.” Art. cit., 525. In point of fact, the Emperor had twice written letters from Ratisbon, on March 17 and 26. Both are reprinted in the Carteggio, op. cit., 227-229

55 In order of their capitulation: Montecompatri, Scurcola, Morolo, Genazzano, Anticoli, il Piglio, Valmontone, Ardea, Ciciliano.

56 Letter reprinted in Tordi: “La robba va e viene, purchè sian salve le persone.” Art. cit., 528.

57 See Tordi, art. cit., 517.

58 See Tordi, ibid., 517.

59 “La Ex.tia Vostra sappia che sto in questi travagli consolatissima, et rengratio Dio che con perder li beni della fortuna me dia occasion de acquistar quelli del animo, et sono in un santo loco…,” Ibid., p. 229-230. There may well be an echo here of Philippians 3: 7-8.

60 Tordi actually dated the composition to Vittoria's stay in San Paolo, because the earliest editions he knew were published in 1542, ibid., 503-504. However, new editions have come to light, published as early as 1540. For a fine analysis of the Petrarchan and other elements of the text, see Rosa Casapullo, “Per una lettura del Trionfo di Cristo di Vittoria Colonna,” in Storia della lingua e storia, Atti del II Convegno ASLI (Catania, 26-28 ottobre 1999), a cura di Gabriella Alfieri, Firenze: Franco Cesari (2003), 337-355.

61 Io vidi alora un carro tal che a tondo
Il ciel, la terra, e 'l mar cinger parea
Col suo chiaro splendor vago e giocondo;
Sovra, l’Imperador del Cielo avea,
Quel che scese fra noi per noi scampare
Dal servir grave e della morte rea.
E, come molti empier l’invidie, avare
De’ beni altrui, superbi trïonfando,
Vil voglie d’un ingordo empio regnare;
Costui vinse e donò ‘l Suo Regno, quando
In sacrificio Se medesmo diede,
Col puro sangue il nostro error lavando.
Sua la vittoria e nostra è la mercede
Fece ché vita abbiam del Suo morire,
Noi ch’eravam del gran nemico prede.
Vittoria Colonna, Rime, ed. Allan Bullock, Rome: Laterza (1982), 197.

62 Carteggio, op. cit., 64-67, 70-72.

63 Ond'io, che d'altro Sol più vaga aurora
Illustrata vedea, con altro caldo
Di quel, che i nostri fiori apre e 'ncolora,
Tenni qui gli occhi fisi, e 'l pensier saldo.