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Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna

Sometime around 1538, at about the age of 60, Michelangelo was introduced to Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, about age 45.  Vittoria was the widow of the imperial general Ferrante Francesco d’Avalos, a descendant of one of the oldest families of Italy and a member of the Viterbo Circle, a religious group that wanted the church to base theology of salvation on grace rather than works.  His friendship with Vittoria gained Michelangelo admittance into her social circles and introduced him to issues dealing with church reform.

Michelangelo and Vittoria shared a loving platonic relationship until her death in 1547.  She was one of Michelangelo’s closest friends, and only female companion.  The two exchanged letters and shared discussions about religion, politics and art.  The relationship with Vittoria, an accomplished woman of the Renaissance and an acclaimed and published spiritual poet, spurred Michelangelo to write some of his most inspired poetry including, To Vittoria Colonna:

When the prime mover of many sighs
Heaven took through death from out her earthly place,
Nature, that never made so fair a face,
Remained ashamed, and tears were in all eyes.
O fate, unheeding my impassioned cries!
O hopes fallacious! O thou spirit of grace,
Where art thou now? Earth holds in its embrace
Thy lovely limbs, thy holy thoughts the skies.
Vainly did cruel death attempt to stay
The rumor of thy virtuous renown,
That Lethe’s waters could not wash away!
A thousand leaves, since he hath stricken thee down,
Speak of thee, not to thee could Heaven convey,
Except through death, a refuge and a crown.
Translated into English by H.W. Longfellow (1807-1882).

Michelangelo also produced a number of paintings for Vittoria, though many of them have been lost or have controversial attribution.  Two of the most well known drawings created for Vittoria are Pieta and Crucifixion.




Pieta by Michelangelo

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