Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Vittoria Colonna and Pole's "Spirituali" after Trent

I've nearly finished reading Father Dermot Fenlon's book about Reginald Cardinal Pole, the Lutheran doctrine of Justification, the Council of Trent, and the Counter-Reformation in Italy (and in England, to a lesser extent). One figure among the spirituali Cardinal Pole gathered around him in Viterbo is Vittoria Colonna, who died on February 25, 1547. According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

She was the daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, lord of various Roman fiefs and grand constable of Naples. Her mother, Agnese da Montefeltro, was a daughter of Federigo da Montefeltro, first Duke of Urbino. In 1509 Vittorio was married to Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos, Marquis of Pescara, a Neapolitan nobleman of Spanish origin, who was one of the chief generals of the Emperor Charles V. Pescara's military career culminated in the victory of Pavia (24 February, 1525), after which he became involved in Morone's conspiracy for the liberation of Italy, and was tempted from his allegiance to the emperor by the offer of the crown of Naples. Vittoria earnestly dissuaded him from this scheme, declaring (as her cousin, Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, tells us) that she "preferred to die the wife of a most brave marquis and a most upright general, than to live the consort of a king dishonoured with any stain of infamy". Pescara died in the following November, leaving his young heir and cousin, Alfonso d'Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, under Vittorio's care.

Vittoria henceforth devoted herself entirely to religion and literature. We find her usually in various monasteries, at Rome, Viterbo, and elsewhere, living in conventual simplicity, the centre of all that was noblest in the intellectual and spiritual life of the times. She had a peculiar genius for friendship, and the wonderful spiritual tie that united her to Michelangelo Buonarroti made the romance of that great artist's life. Pietro Bembo, the literary dictator of the age, was among her most fervent admirers. She was closely in touch with Ghiberti, Contarini, Giovanni Morone, and all that group of men and women who were working for the reformation of the Church from within. For a while she had been drawn into the controversy concerning justification by faith, but was kept within the limits of orthodoxy by the influence of the beloved friend of her last years, Cardinal Reginald Pole, to whom she declared she owed her salvation. Her last wish was to be buried among the nuns of S. Anna de' Funari at Rome; but it is doubtful whether her body ultimately rested there, or was removed to the side of her husband at San Domenico in Naples.

She wrote many Petrarchan sonnets to Michelangelo on religious themes; here are two "Recomposed by Anna Key" on Dappled Things, and you may find a translation of a poem he wrote to her on this page ("XII/ To Vittoria Colonna/A Matchless Courtesy)

Here's another biographical source, focused on her poetry.

In Father Dermot Fenlon's Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy: Cardinal Pole and the Counter Reformation, Vittoria Colonna appears last in Chapter 13, "The Tridentine decree and the end of the Viterbo circle", pages 213-217. Fenlon describes how she wanted to help protect Alvise Priuli so he could peacefully achieve "simple acquiescence in the doctrine [of Justification] put forward at the Council" and remain in the Church, as she had. On page 215, he comments that "With her death, the Viterbo circle came to an end". In later chapters, the effect of her death on Cardinal Pole's last years is mentioned, but her efforts to help Priuli is her last dated correspondence.

Image Credit (public domain): Sebastiano del Piombo - Vittoria Colonna (?)

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