G. K. Brown (essay date 1933)
SOURCE: Brown, G. K. “Vittoria Colonna.” Italy and the Reformation to 1550, pp. 235-39. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1933.
[In the following excerpt, Brown considers the events surrounding Colonna's life and her religious attitudes, claiming that she was interested in Lutheranism only insofar as it denounced the ecclesiastical abuses of the Catholic Church, and that the poet could in no way have been regarded a heretic.]
Vittoria Colonna, who was a close friend of the great Italian painter and sculptor, Michelangelo, went through an experience similar to that of other noble ladies of the time. … Widowed at thirty-three years of age in 1525, she was, … attracted towards the close study and practice of piety. This instinct for religious things was inherited from her mother who was a model pilgrim and subjected herself to the strictest austerities. These practices Vittoria imitated with such fervour as to cause the intervention of her trusted adviser, Cardinal Pole, who urged moderation. She decided to visit the Holy Land, and secured a brief, dated March 3rd, 1537, authorising her to undertake a journey of whose hazardous nature she was reminded in the brief itself. If the project did not materialize, it must not be assumed that a change in her religious inclinations had taken place. She continued to avow her sincere attachment to the Holy See,1 although she now claimed in the face of Pole's opposition the right to examine the teaching of the Church. It was all in vain that her spiritual adviser requested her to “confine herself within the limits which were imposed on her sex.”2
Hence, we find her pursuing the path trodden by Luther and Valdés; moving from an intense personal conviction outwards to the conception of a purified Church. She shared with others, fervent ecclesiastics and laymen, the ardent desire for the abolition of abuses, the Catholic reform of the Church. This made her seek those whose ideals were similar to her own, and whilst not in any way severing herself from Pole, she found other friends in Morone, Flaminio, Ochino, Priuli, and Vermigli. Two of these became distinguished apostates, and all alike were viewed with suspicion at Rome. Vittoria had dealings with the most heterodox and the most orthodox. She was, besides being greatly interested in the Cappuccini, greatly fascinated by the Order's famous General, Ochino, whom she evidently gave some grounds for hoping that she would not be unfriendly to him when his defection took place. She was also on the most intimate terms with Carnesecchi, Marguerite of Navarre, Giulia Gonzaga, and Caterina Cibo. It is therefore small wonder that towards the end of her life the Holy See not only considered her as a heretic but also as a propagator of the seeds of heresy.
It is unfortunate that such writers as M'Crie were unable to gain access to the documents which since his time have come to light. In one of the most famous of these, the “Estratto del Processo” of Carnesecchi, there is some light thrown upon Vittoria's position. No one knew her better than the Protonotary, who says of her: “the marchessa...
(The entire section is 1306 words.)