Vittoria Colonna Criticism - Essay

G. K. Brown (essay date 1933)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

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.)

Eva Maria Jung (essay date 1951)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Jung, Eva-Maria. “Vittoria Colonna: Between Reformation and Counter-Reformation.” The Review of Religion 15, Numbers 3-4 (March, 1851): 144-59.

[In the following essay, Jung argues that Colonna's importance lies in her religious personality and moral perfection, rather than by her skill as a writer or her connections to important figures in art and literature.]

Vittoria Colonna was called “divine” already during her own lifetime. Michelangelo said of her that she was “a man—nay, a god in a woman.”1 This idealization of her was handed down uncritically by succeeding centuries, like an old ikon bequeathed by one generation to another, and...

(The entire section is 6130 words.)

Ronald H. Bainton (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Bainton, Ronald H. “Vittoria Colonna.” In Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, pp. 201-18. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1971.

[In the following essay, Bainton surveys Colonna's life and career, examining how she gives voice in her experiences, as well as discussing her friendship with Michelangelo, and exploring her Christian faith and reaction to the Roman Inquisition.]

Vittoria Colonna is best known of all the Italian women treated here because of the inspiration which she afforded to Michelangelo. That inspiration was religious, and her religion must be understood before the subject can be approached. She was another of the high born...

(The entire section is 4467 words.)

Dennis J. McAuliffe (essay date 1982)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McAuliffe, Dennis J. “Vittoria Colonna and Renaissance Poetics, Convention and Society.” In II Rinascimento: Aspetti e Problemi Attuali, edited by Konrad Eisenbichler and Olga Zorzi Pugliese, pp. 531-41. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1982.

[In the following essay, McAuliffe discusses the aesthetic assessments made of Colonna's poetry and the different criteria used for evaluation by Renaissance and modern reader. He also considers her use of conventional techniques, and concludes that Colonna's poetry reveals a depth of critical understanding even as it relies on established rules of composition.]

Vittoria Colonna is far better known as an historical...

(The entire section is 4340 words.)

Dennis J. McAuliffe (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McAuliffe, Dennis J. “Neoplatonism in Vittoria Colonna's Poetry: From the Secular to the Divine.” In Ficino and Renaissance Platonism, pp. 101-12. Ottawa, Canada: Dovehouse Editions, 1986.

[In the following essay, McAuliffe examines the cultural, intellectual, and emotional environment in which Colonna wrote her poetry, maintaining that Colonna's Neoplatonic theological and philosophical preoccupations were the media through which she filtered her experiences.]

In this discussion of Neoplatonism in Vittoria Colonna's poetry I describe, first of all, the cultural, intellectual, and emotional circumstances in which these influences first manifest themselves....

(The entire section is 4702 words.)

Joseph Gibaldi (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Gibaldi, Joseph. “Vittoria Colonna: Child, Woman, and Poet.” In Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, edited by Katharina M. Wilson, pp. 22-46. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Gibaldi presents an overview of Colonna's life and career, discussing her relationship with other famous figures or her time, the reaction to her poetry by her contemporaries, and the general subjects, themes, and imagery found in her poetry.]

Ludovico Ariosto devotes one of his most famous digressions in Orlando Furioso to the many excellent women writers of his age—those who abandoned the needle and cloth and joined...

(The entire section is 5845 words.)

Rinaldina Russell (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Russell, Rinaldina. “The Mind's Pursuit of the Divine: A Survey of Secular and Religious Themes in Vittoria Colonna's Sonnets.” Forum Italicum 26, No. 1 (Spring, 1992): 14-27.

[In the following essay, Russell considers a pattern in Colonna's poems of moving upward from a sorrowful condition towards a sublime state of peace, understanding, and connection with the divine.]

Since the earliest publications Vittoria Colonna's poetry was organized in two distinct groups: the Pirogallo's edition of 1538, which gathered he poems in remembrance and praise of her husband, Ferrante d'Avalos, and the Valgrisi edition of 1547, which brought to light the poetry...

(The entire section is 5688 words.)

Fiora A. Bassanese (essay date 1994)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Bassanese, Fiora A. “Vittoria Colonna.” In Italian Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Rinaldina Russell, pp. 85-94. Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Bassanese offers a brief biography of Colonna and examines the Petrarchan styles and themes in her poetry—including memory, the ideas of Neoplatonism, and Christian spirituality—and surveying the response to her work by critics in the twentieth century.]


In her life and in her writing, Vittoria Colonna embodied the ideals of noble Renaissance womanhood: chastity, honor, decorum, gravity, and piety. Acclaimed in life, she...

(The entire section is 4395 words.)

Fiora A. Bassanese (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Bassanese, Fiora A. “Vittoria Colonna, Christ and Gender.” Il Veltro 40, nos. 1-2 (1996): 53-57.

[In this essay, published in an abridged version in 1996, but never before published in the complete version below, Bassanese explores the influence of cultural and literary gender norms on Colonna's interpretation of herself in her poems on love and spirituality.]

Vittoria Colonna, woman and poet, ideally suited Renaissance taste. Her unimpeachable virtue, talent, noble blood, and equally noble spirit distinguished her from other great ladies, making her the living embodiment of a cultural ideal. This elevation of Colonna to a paragon of femininity is in...

(The entire section is 3549 words.)

Dennis J. McAuliffe (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McAuliffe, Dennis J. “The Language of Spiritual Renewal in the Poetry of Pre-Tridentine Rome: The Case of Vittoria Colonna as Advocate for Reform.” II Veltro 40, Nos. 1-2 (1996): 196-99.

[In the following essay, McAuliffe argues that Colonna's calls for reform of the Church may have been more pointed than acknowledged by previous critics, showing evidence in several of her sonnets.]

Carlo Ossola has written eloquently about Vittoria Colonna's spirituality in his introduction to Juan de Valdés' Lo Evangelio di San Matteo (Roma: Bulzoni, 1985, pp. 82 ff.). His concern is the expression of Valdesian spirituality in her Canzoniere. He calls it an...

(The entire section is 1978 words.)

Sara M. Adler (essay date 2000)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Adler, Sara M. “Strong Mothers, Strong Daughters: The Representation of Female Identity in Vittoria Colonna's Rime and Carteggio.Italica: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of Italian 77, No. 3 (Autumn, 2000): 311-30.

[In the following essay, Adler argues that Colonna's poems and letters reveal pride in her gender and an intention portray it favorably. Adler also shows how Colonna presents attractive images of herself and other women, and examines how her positive sense of female identity serves as a model for contemporary women writers.]

In her essay “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” Joan Kelly answers her question in the...

(The entire section is 9231 words.)

Rinaldina Russell (essay date 2000)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Russell, Rinaldina. “Vittoria Colonna's Sonnets on the Virgin Mary.” In Maria Vergine nella Letteratura Italiana, edited by Florinda M. Iannace, pp. 125-37. Stony Brook, NY: Forum Italicum Publishing, 2000.

[In the following essay, Russell examines the sonnets on the Virgin Mary found in the 1546 edition of Colonna's religious verse and finds them interesting because of their Christocentric character and sympathy to the doctrines of religious reformers.]

Vittoria Colonna's sonnets celebrating the Virgin Mary are of two-fold interest. For the scholar of literature they are a significant although minor aspect of Colonna's literary production; for the...

(The entire section is 6114 words.)