THE history of the great family of Colonna for the century which followed the death of Petrarch, in 1374, has little of striking interest. It may be summed up in a succession of petty wars with the rival Roman houses of the Orsini and Savelli, and a catalogue of fiefs bestowed by one pontiff and withdrawn by his successor, only to be restored by the next Pope.
Martin V., who occupied the chair of Peter from 1417 to 1431, was born Oddo Colonna, and the pressure of his pontifical duties, though great, did not make him forget the claims of his own kindred : neither those of the Colonnesi di Palestrina nor those of Paliano, the branch to which the Pope himself belonged, and on whose members he bestowed titles and estates with a lavish hand. When, in 1427, he arranged for the distribution of the vast Colonna lands among his nephews, we note, in the imposing list of fiefs assigned them. Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano, Carpineto, Castro, Nettuno, Vico, Ardea, Frascati, Albano Marino, Rocca di Papa, and Celano. At this time, then, a single family possessed the whole of that range of enchanted country, which even now, in its semi-desolation, comprises more of natural beauty and of thrilling association than any other tract of similar dimensions upon the surface of the earth ; and a glance at a map of the environs of Rome will suffice to show that the possession of this series of strongholds gave to the Colonnesi an easy preponderance of power in the Roman territory.
But what Martin V. had done, his successor, Eugenius IV., a declared partisan of the Orsini. began at once to undo; and although, in the war which ensued between the Colonnesi and the Pope, the former had the advantage, upon the whole, still the contest was terribly costly, and, after many fluctuations of fortune during the fifty years which followed the death of Martin V., the Colonna family, at the close of this period, found itself decidedly reduced both in possessions and in prestige.
Prospero Colonna, created cardinal by his uncle, Martin V., had himself come near being made Pope on the death of Eugenius IV., in 1447; having in fact received, on several ballots of the Conclave, ten votes out of a possible eighteen. A rumor spread through Rome that he was actually elected, and, “agreeably to the custom of the time,” says the ingenuous Coppi, “a crowd rushed to the palace of Cardinal Colonna and sacked it.” Prospero died in 1463, and Pius II., who was then pontiff, notes in his memoirs that he was universally lamented. “Pius.” lie says (that is, himself), “always loved the man, and for his sake treated his brothers, nephews, and the whole Colonna tribe with especial favor.”
Of the brothers in question, the elder. Antonio, espoused one of his cousins of Palestrina, and was great-grandfather to that Isabella. Princess of Sulmona, who figures, rather disagreeably, in the correspondence of Vittoria Colonna; the other, Odoardo, died in 1485, leaving one son, Fabrizio, who married Agnese, second daughter of the renowned Federigo di Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and sister to Guidobaldo, the last Montefeltro duke of that territory. Of this union were born three children: Federigo, who died unmarried ; another son. Ascanio ; and a daughter, who received the family name of Vittoria. The year of Vittoria’s birth is usually given as 1490; the place was Marino, in the Alban hills, still one of the principal possessions of the Colonna family, to whom it passed early in the fifteenth century. Marino had been the scene of Giordano Orsini’s gallant defense against Cola di Rienzo in 1347. During the struggle between the Colonnesi and Eugenius IV. the property changed hands repeatedly; but it finally remained with Vittoria’s grandfather, who surrounded the town by the picturesque towered wall still in existence. The huge pile of the castle itself has little of architectural beauty, but it is eminently signorile, and without doubt it reckoned, five centuries ago, as a stately residence; while the matchless view which its windows command would console almost any one with the modern feeling about landscape for a good many petty discomforts.
Of the early years of Vittoria Colonna we know little. In the almost incessant wars between the papal see and the kingdom of Naples, her branch of the family habitually took the part of the latter; and they also upheld the claims of the house of Aragon against those of France to the Neapolitan throne. Alexander VI., on the other hand, warmly espoused the pretensions of Louis XII., and many of his official acts were further embittered by an intense family jealousy of the Colonnesi. In 1501, the latter found themselves obliged to abandon all their strongholds except Rocea di Papa and Amelia, and only Alexander’s death saved them from complete ruin. As it was, there ensued for them an interval of prosperity. For the time being, Colonnesi and Orsini even composed their family feud, and the warlike sons of either house found ample field for their military prowess in the service of France or of Spain.
Already in 1495 Vittoria had been betrothed. The bridegroom, who, as Giovio says, “became Marquis of Pescara while still wailing in his cradle,” was very near her own age, probably a little younger. Ferrante Francesco d’ Avalos was grandson and heir of Inigo d’ Avalos, whose father, a Grand Constable of Castile, had followed King Alfonso from Aragon to Naples, where his descendants remained in high favor at the Neapolitan court. The father of this illustrious infant died in 1495, and his aunt, Costanza d’ Avalos, the childless Duchess of Francavilla, had the charge of bringing him up, a duty which she is understood to have performed in the most admirable manner. Vittoria’s education, also, had certainly made good progress when, about a dozen years later, in 1507, the betrothal of the two young people was formally ratified at Marino. The contract drawn up on this occasion still exists, —a long and very minute document, composed in a barbarous polyglot, of which a little specimen may be found amusing. First. Fabrizio Colonna “promette proprio nomine assignare in Marino ad casa sua la dicta ill. domieella Victoria al dieto Ill. sig. Marchese, o ad suo legitimo mandato pro ipso traducendo matrimonialiter et honorifice ut decet ad sua casa infra uno anno incomenzando dal primo di del mes. di Jennaro proximo future anni 1508.” 1
It was provided that the dowry bestowed by Vittoria’s father should be returned by the Marchese di Pescara if the marriage were broken off, and that in any case there should be secured to the bride her “thirds” (terciaria), “according to the fashion of noble barons and magnates in this kingdom of Sicily.” The union was, however, not ratified within the time prescribed; for the marriage contract itself, another elaborate document, is dated at; Ischia. December 27, 1510. An earnest effort appeal’s to have been made to draw up this instrument in proper Latin, but the vocabulary of the notaries evidently failed when it became necessary to make out the inventory of Vittoria’s possessions, and they are forced to chronicle in the vernacular that she brought with her to her husband’s house “a bed à la Franeaise, with curtains and hangings all of crimson satin lined with blue taffeta. with a broad border wrought in gold thread, and gold fringe; also three mattresses, and a coverlid likewise of crimson satin with the same embroidery, and four crimson satin pillows with border and tufts of gold thread.”2 Vittoria also received from her father three state costumes, a diamond cross, and a set of elegant trappings for the “white mule she rode with round the terrace.” Meanwhile, the bridegroom bestowed on her a great many fine gowns, petticoats, and pelisses, which probably had belonged to his mother, and three articles of jewelry, thus described: “A small diamond cross with a gold chain, worth 1000 ducats: a ruby, a diamond, and an emerald set in gold, worth 400 ducats;” and a mysterious something called a gold “ desciorgh, ” and appraised at 100 ducats.
The D’ Avalos possessed a villa at Naples, on the heights above the town, near the Certosa; and the first months of Vittoria’s married life were passed there and at Ischia, where the Duchess of Francavilla held a sort of little court, much frequented by the clever men of the day. Put the honeymoon was brief, for in the summer of 1511 the Marchese di Pescara left his wife under his aunt’s care, and. joining his lather-in-law in the field, made under him the campaigns of this and the following years. Fabrizio Colonna was now second in command over the allied papal and Spanish forces, sent to meet the French army under Gaston de Foix; and he and Pescara were both made prisoners in that memorable battle near Ravenna, in which Gaston was killed. Their captivity was neither severe nor of long duration. Both were taken at first to Ferrara, and here Fabrizio remained in official confinement, which, however, was made as agreeable as possible by the friendly attentions of the Duke of Ferrara and his brother, Ippolito, Cardinal d’Este, as well as by the charms of a certain damsel of the court, Nieolina Trotti, in whose honor he composed a great many poems. Before the close of the year he was set free without ransom, a compliment which he was speedily able to return by contriving the Duke of Ferrara’s escape from Rome and the power of the infuriated Pope.
Ferrante d’Avalos, who had received two wounds in the battle of Ravenna, one in the face, but neither of a serious nature, was transferred from Ferrara to Milan in time to attend the magnificent funeral of Gaston de Foix, and in a few months received his liberty at a cost of 6000 ducats.
The news of the battle of Ravenna, and of the fate of her father and husband, reached Vittoria at Ischia, and gave occasion for what is probably the earliest bit of her composition which has been preserved. It is a poetical epistle in terza rima, addressed to her husband:
To tell thee in what shifts of fond desire.
In how sharp martyrdom, my life is spent.
I did not look to suffer torment dire
From one who might attain the richest prize,
If Heaven would with his own deserts conspire;
Nor that my husband and my father wise,
Fahrizio’s self and my marcliese dear,
Would cause such bitter tears to fill my eyes.”
And so she goes on, descanting at length upon the varying phases of her own distress, as people who are new to suffering often love to do. External nature sympathized with her, of course, reflecting in its universal aspects the fluctuations and apprehensions of one quaking feminine heart.
That holds ray frame (my soul is aye with thee!)
A shadow fell, and deepened more and more.
Till the whole air about me seemed to be
One mirror of blackness. The sad bird of night
That murky day did wail importunately,
While from the tossing lake — oh, fearsome sight! —
Methought the chained Typhœus3 strove to rise.
‘T was Easter, too, when spring should aye be bright.”
Overcome by all these gloomy portents, Vittoria fled, weeping, to the “magnanima Costanza,” who soothed the agitated girl by the old grave argument that her case was neither new nor strange. There is a certain tone of impatience with her sorrow, almost of reproach to the innocent authors of it, about this early effusion, which contrasts curiously with the lofty resignation and serene contegvo of Vittoria’s later poems; and the piece is worth noting, if only as affording a point from which to measure the moral progress achieved, under earthly conditions, by this naturally intolerant and high-strung spirit.
There seems to be some doubt whether Ferrante d’ Avalos joined his youngwife, upon his release from captivity. In 1513, at all events, we find him again in the field, helping his father-inlaw to conduct a much more prosperous campaign than the last; while this and the immediately succeeding years witnessed such changes in the occupancy of the chief European thrones as sufficed to alter the aspect of the whole political situation. Leo X., the first of the Medici Popes, was elected in 1513; in 1515 Francis I. succeeded Louis XII.; and early in the following year the future Emperor Charles V. ascended the throne of Spain, and received the kingdom of the Sicilies in his mother’s right. During this time we find frequent mention of the Marchese di Pescara: now as commanding a Spanish army sent to conquer the duchy of Sora, a possession of his wife’s own cousin, Francesco Maria della Rovere, first Duke, in this line, of Urbino; now as ambassador to Charles at Brussels. Vittoria, meanwhile, lived at Naples and Ischia, superintending the education of two orphan cousins of her husband, Alfonso, Marchese del Vasto, and his sister, Costanza, married in 1517 to the Duke of Amalfi. In this year, also, we get a glimpse of her as one of the escort of noble dames who attended Bona Sforza, on the occasion of her marriage in Naples to Sigismund, king of Poland. Vittoria is described by a contemporary as sitting upon a horse “whose trappings were of crimson velvet bordered with gold and silver. At her side went six palefreniers dressed in yellow and blue silk. Her own costume was of brocade and velvet, crimson in color, with applied branches of gold; and she wore a coif of cloth of gold, upon which was poised a cap with massive gold ornaments, to match her belt. She was also attended by six damsels of noble birth, clad in pale blue damask.”
On the eve of this grand wedding Ferrante arrived, but only to depart again immediately, having been appointed to escort the bride upon her northern journey. Some time, however, in the course of these three years, the Marchese and Matrliesa di Pescara made a long stay at Rome, and it was at the brilliant court of Leo X. that Vittoria first became acquainted with those warm friends of her future days, Bembo, Castiglione, and Sadoleto. Her immediate family circle was, however, narrowing sadly. Her elder brother, Federigo, a youth of much promise, lamented in one of her most tender sonnets, died in 1516, her father in 1520, and her mother two years later.
War having been declared in 1521 between Francis I. and Charles V., Ferrante d’Avalos received the command of the Spanish infantry, and his young cousin, Alfonso, accompanied him to the field. The story runs that Pescara, finding himself childless, and seeing in Alfonso the only hope of his family, would fain have left him at home, but that his aunt, Costanza, and his wife, Vittoria, alike repudiated the idea. “Take the boy with you,” was their Spartan counsel; and Vittoria is reported to have added these bracing if slightly ruthless words: “Should there he a man the less in the world through any mischance, or even a family the less by the extinction of your own, ’t were better than that the glory of your ancestors should be obscured by the sloth of their descendants.” Having carried her heroic point, she indulged her love of splendor by presenting young Alfonso with a magnificent tent, whose purple silk curtains, embroidered by her own hands with “golden dates, ” bore the legend, borrowed from Scipio Africanus, “Never less idle than when in repose.” The youth himself seems to have shared to the full Vittoria’s sumptuous tastes. He proved a gallant fellow enough, but Brantôme says of him that, “alike in war and in peace, he gave the utmost attention to his toilet, and used so much perfumery that his very saddle reeked of it.”
At the end of two years the French were temporarily driven out of Italy, thanks chiefly to the able generalship of Pescara. The husband and wife had met but once during this long campaign, and then only for three days in the autumn of 1522. Vittoria seems to have spent most of the time at Naples and Ischia, but it is from Arpinuin on the Liris, the birthplace of Marius and of Cicero, on the 8th of May, 1523, that she dates the first letter which we possess in her hand.
At her husband’s request, as it would seem, she had undertaken, to put it plainly, to dun the Duke of Mantua, Federigo Gonzaga, for 4000 ducats which he owed Pescara; and she does it with as much dignity as the case admits. “I dislike exceedingly to trouble your Grace, but, knowing your sentiments toward my marchese, I trust you will not be annoyed either by my letter or my request. I write to beseech you to order the payment of the sum owed him, having with great difficulty obtained a delay of twenty days in the sale of a certain castle ” (probably at Arpinum). “The condition and means of your most illustrious Grace are such that it would be an insult for me to hesitate about making this request; and still, were my necessity less, I should not have written, for it is certainly much harder for me to ask than it can be for your Grace to pay.”
The duke must, one would think, have inclosed a check, or rather dispatched a courier with a bag of gold, at the earliest possible moment. Eight years later, at all events, we find these two on very much pleasanter terms with each other. On the 11th of March, 1531, Duke Federigo writes to Vittoria in a strain of the frankest compliment; first thanking her for having sent him a most exquisite rose sachet, and begging her, “for the fraternal love he bears her,” to ask anything which it may be in his power to bestow. “And not being able at this moment, ” he says, “to think of anything better than the suggestion of Fabrizio Maramaldo, who told me that you would very much like a fine picture of the Magdalen from the hand of some excellent painter, I have sent to Titian, in Venice,—he being perhaps the best of our time in his own art, and also devoted to me, — and I have earnestly requested him to paint one who shall be as beautiful as possible, and still more tearful (lagrimosa più che si può), and to let me have it without delay. I have good hope, therefore, thanks to his ability and my importunity, that the work will prove a masterpiece, and that I shall get it between this and Easter, in which case I shall at once forward it to your Highness, to whom I ever recommend myself. ”
An order to Titian was certainly no bad inspiration for a magnate who was casting about him to devise a handsome present; and though we learn from another source that the painter at first objected to suspending the work he had in hand, he was induced to do so, and the Magdalen went to Vittoria some time in the spring. Her letter of thanks has not, been preserved, but we can judge of its tenor by Federigo’s reply, dated at Mantua, July 28, 1531, in which he expresses his pleasure that his “little gift” should have proved acceptable to her ladyship, and says that he has forwarded her note to Titian. The duke had himself written the painter concerning the picture, “I knew it would be very beautiful, but it proves the most exquisite thing I ever saw; ” and he perhaps ordered a replica for his own gallery, since a Magdalen by Titian was one of the pictures bought from the Gonzaga gallery in 1627 by Charles I.
In 1533, we find that perfumed youth Alfonso del Vasto also bargaining for a Magdalen which he wished to present to Vittoria. But this special fondness of hers for pictures of the penitent saint seems to have developed only after she had sustained that great and unlooked-for bereavement which changed the whole tenor of her life. We return for the moment to her earlier correspondence.
On the 19th of November, 1523, Giulio de’ Medici became Pope, under the title of Clement VII., and two days after his election a brisk correspondence began between Gian Matteo Giberti, his head secretary, and the Marehesa di Pescara, which continued throughout the year, and constitutes the most complete series of Vittoria’s letters which we possess. They are less interesting than might have been expected from the position and character of the parties, — for Giberti was a man both of integrity and of marked ability, — and from the extreme impovtance of the political moment. The epistolary style of Vittoria Colonna at thirty-three was invariably stilted, and sometimes very obscure. She was destined to exemplify, both in her life and writings, the pathetic yet consoling truth that sorrow, nobly accepted, can simplify as well as purify the character. She had hoped that Giulio de’ Medici would be chosen Pope on the death of his cousin, Leo X.; and when, after the short and insignificant pontificate of Adrian VI., her wishes were fulfilled, she cherished for a time the most ardent, faith that Clement would be able to carry out his ambitious programme of reconciling the two great rival sovereigns of France and Germany, and restoring peace to Europe. Had she known that the new Pope’s vacillating and ambiguous policy, his alternate coquetries with Francis and with Charles, would result in bringing Italy to the lowest point of degradation which she has touched in modern times, the marehesa might have found fewer words than these in which to express her congratulations on his accession : —
NAPLES, November 21, 1523,
To GIOVAN MATTED GIBERTI:
MOST REVEREND AND MAGNIFICENT SIGNOR, — To-night I have received the longed-for news that his Eminence, your beloved cardinal, has been made Pope. Everlasting thanks to our Lord God. and I pray him so to continue and consummate the work thus begun that it may clearly appear to be the most perfect ever known, the most wisely conducted as well as intrinsically worthy of success. There is no need for me to attempt, to describe my sentiments; you share them all, and you know how I felt on a former occasion. . . .
Vittoria passed the winter of 1523— 24 in great retirement at Aquimun, the town of the Angelic Doctor, where Pescara had a castle. The very vacancy and monotony of her days there seem to have impelled her to write frequently to Mattei, and she even apologizes for intruding so often upon his crowded hours. She went down to Marino for Holy Week, however, and there Mattei sent her a blessed palm and a madrigal in her praise; the latter he appears frankly to have ordered from that clever and versatile scoundrel, Pietro Aretino.
Meanwhile peace came not, nor Vittoria’s long-absent lord; and the very energy of Vittoria’s expressions of confidence in the following letter of June 15, 1524, may indicate that her belief in Clement as the arbiter of Christendom was beginning to wane : “To valor and merit like those of his Holiness all difficulties are easy, as recent events prove; for he who lias forced his very enemies to exalt him, and his adversaries, willingly or unwillingly.4 to kiss his feet, may well constrain princes, drained in purse, exhausted by war, and uneasy in their own consciences on account of the still greater injustice of their new enterprises, to a holy alliance and the tranquillity so needful to the Christian world.” But at the close of the next letter the marehesa drops her grandiloquent tone, and avows the piteous personal motive which almost always underlies a woman’s political convictions: “I beseech your Eminence to intercede earnestly on my behalf. Assure him ” (that is, the Pope) “that I adore him with all my heart and mind and soul, that there is no other from whom I can hope for repose for the marchese and myself, and that I kiss his most holy feet.”
All that summer and autumn, however, the war continued to rage, until on February 24, 1525, came the fatal battle of Pavia, where Francis I. was made prisoner, his army totally routed, and a tremendous preponderance of power in Italy and in Europe thrown at once into the hands of the German Emperor. This great victory was due largely to the military genius of Pescara, and, in the first blush of his gratification, Charles V. wrote in his own royal person to congratulate the marchesa. “Ala Illustre y amada nra, ” he begins, and he alludes very handsomely to the services rendered in past times to the Ghibelline party by Vittoria’s distinguished house, discovers a happy omen in her very name, and assures her that no reward can be too great for her husband to expect from his own imperial gratitude and liberality.
In the course of her necessarily formal answer, which is dated at Ischia on the 1st of May, 1525, Vittoria says, with real dignity, that she holds the truth, honor, and devotion to his interests of her husband and her house to have been not unworthy his Majesty’s acceptance; and that she has tried to fulfill the augury of her name by conquering her own longing desire to have her marchese beside her, rather than exposed to the imminent perils of camp and field. This looks rather as though she had already begun to feel that the promised reward of her husband’s eminent services was a little slow in arriving; and as a matter of fact, no such reward was ever bestowed. A certain jealousy of his too successful general seems early to have sprung up in the brooding mind of Charles, and we can fully understand that Pescara may have been moved by a feeling of natural resentment to listen for a moment to the overtures of that party at Milan which was already planning a league of the Italian states, with the Pope at their head, to resist the encroachments of the German Emperor. There is less excuse for his subsequent betrayal of the conspirators themselves, if conspirators they deserve to be called.
The prize they offered Pescara for his coöperation was the throne of Naples. He, on his part, invited the author of the plot, Girolamo Morone, grand chancellor of the duchy of Milan, to meet him at Novara and fully explain its details; giving him his word, so all the authorities say, that his person should he safe. Morone went, but an officer of Charles, who had been concealed behind the tapestry during the interview, arrested the chancellor as he was leaving the house, and conducted him to prison in Pavia, whence the result of his examination under torture was at once dispatched by Pescara to Charles. The marchese was a Spaniard, Charles V. was his sovereign, and intrigue was the order of the day. But it was also a day of high chivalrous ideals, and almost fantastically fine standards of honor in conduct. The Chevalier Bayard, the fearless and stainless, had fallen in the selfsame war, barely a year before. On the whole, therefore, and remembering that when Pescara took the town of Como, in 1521, he caused it to be sacked, in direct breach of his pledge to its inhabitants, we feel compelled to accept as none too severe the summingup of his character by the historian Ripamonti: “No man of his day was more valiant in arms, or more infamous in his perfidy. ”
But the betrayal of Morone was the marchese’s last public act. He had never been a vigorous man; he was enfeebled by the hardships of a long campaign, and in less than a month after the interview at Novara he sank so suddenly that his adoring wife, who was hastening to his bedside, was met at Viterbo by the tidings that all was over.
How is it that a woman of keen mental and moral perceptions, who has been fully alive to her husband’s failings while he lived, is able to see in him an absolutely immaculate hero the moment he has passed away ? The fact is of every-day occurrence; the explanation is obscure. Vittoria Colonna certainly knew of the overtures made to Pescara by the Italian party in 1525, for Giovio, who wrote the biography of Pescara during her lifetime, who visited her at Ischia, and even submitted his manuscript to her inspection there, says that she dissuaded her husband earnestly, and even indignantly, from considering for a moment the offer of the crown of Naples. She possibly never knew the exact manner in which Morone was handed over to the tender mercies of the Emperor. At all events, there was to her no perceptible spot, on the radiance of that ”bel sole” of her life, to whom, after the fashion of the laureate in our own day, she slowly raised an imperishable memorial in a volume of grave, noble, and self-searching verse. It is Pescara’s only visible monument. His mortal remains, inclosed in a metalbound sarcophagus, with a Sword laid crosswise upon it, and a piece of parchment, setting forth his name and titles, attached, are still, strange to say, awaiting interment, along with some scores of Aragonese royalties, arranged in three tiers above the armadii for the priests’ vestments, in the sacristy of the highly interesting church of San Domenico at Naples.
Vittoria’s impulse, under the first shock of her bereavement, had been to take the veil, but this the Pope him - self interfered to prevent. She did, however, pass the early months of her widowhood at the convent of San Silvestro in Capite at Rome, which had long been under the special patronage of the Colonnesi. and where certain of her own kin lay buried. The convent church, with its elegant seventeenthcentury decorations, still remains in the centre of the very busiest portion of the modern capital, and an enthusiastic English convert was preaching there, in his native tongue, in the Lent of 1892; but the monastic buildings have long since been secularized, and the pretty green court of the general postoffice is all that remains to remind one of the extensive gardens which made a leafy solitude about the place in the spring of 1526.
Vittoria Colonna issued from that retreat the altered and chastened creature whom her own and all succeeding generations have united to revere, — a resigned, collected, clairvoyant woman, gentle and inexhaustibly charitable to those beneath her, lofty of bearing among her equals, and it may be over-austere; ready to play her part punctiliously in that high and exposed station to which she had been called, keenly alive always to large political and intellectual interests, but dwelling by preference in her own thoughts on the deeper mysteries of faith and morals, her capacity for passion spent, her conversation and her hopes on heaven.
Her country’s unparalleled misfortunes may have been of service in rousing Vittoria from her first trance of selfish grief. The Italian league against Charles V., temporarily defeated by the finesse of Pescara, was revived in a more formidable shape in 1526; but Vittoria’s brother, Ascanio, with the mass of the Colonnesi, true to their family traditions, adhered to the imperial side. It was Ascanio who effected his sister’s removal from San Silvestro to Marino before his shameful sack of the Vatican, in September of that year, when Clement and his secretary, Giberti. were forced to take refuge in the castle of Sant’ Angelo. escaping thence to Orvieto. In 1527 followed that siege of the city by the imperial troops, whose incidents of almost incredible outrage live in the fantastically vivid pages of Benvenuto Cellini; but in 1528 the fortunes of war veered again. Ascanio Colonna and Alfonso del Vasto were taken prisoners in a naval tight in the Bay of Salerno, and Vittoria was fain to sue Clement for their release; nor can we find it otherwise than most honorable to her that, though her position must have been one of extreme delicacy, her friendly relations with the pontiff and with Giberti were never interrupted throughout this angry and chaotic time. Her energies were devoted to relieving, so far as one wealthy and willing woman might, the widespread distress caused by protracted war, with its inevitable concomitants of pestilence and famine ; and in the beautiful words of Visconti, “she proffered her own substance to the unfortunate, and gave pledges on her estate for the ransom of prisoners and the security of Clement’s hostages to the Kaiser. In a word, she was, from first to last, like a star of peace in that stormy sky.”
By and by, however, even that devastating tempest passed over. Peace having been made on such terms as we know, the Eternal City rose as ever from her trance of exhaustion, swept aside the ashes of her latest burning, and set her palaces in order once again. The Pope returned to the Vatican, and more or less of the artists and men of letters, whom Leo X, had attracted and the long war had dispersed, came back to make the pontifical court brilliant.
The winter of 1530 found Vittoria established in Rome with her brother Ascanio and his beautiful wife, Giovanna of Aragon, whom she tenderly loved, and to whom she has addressed a graceful sonnet. The younger sister of Giovanna was married to Del Vasto; their brother was to wed Vittoria’s cousin, Ippolita della Rovere of Urbino. A daughter of Ascanio bore her aunt’s name, and was a great favorite with her. The bereaved and solitary woman was thus once more, for a little while, set in the centre of a fond family circle; while at the same time she renewed her old friendly relations with Pietro Bembo, and admitted to a certain degree of intimacy Paolo Giovio, the historian who was to write her husband’s life, Claudio Tolomei, the Sienese philologist and translator of Virgil, the irrepressible Pietro Aretino, and other clever men. Her own writings were now first beginning to be talked about, and it is thus that Bembo, from Bologna, on the 20th of January, 1530, performs his initial act of literary homage: —
“M. Flaminio Tomarozzo . . . will tell you how I, in common with our age, have been delighted, during the last few days, by the perusal of your many sonnets, composed on the death of the noble marchese. As the age in question has given us in him a man equal in military genius and valor to the most illustrious and renowned of the ancients, so have you, among women, attained in the poetic art an excellence which seems incredible, beyond that which nature has conceded to your sex. Amazement mingles with my infinite pleasure in your performance, and, like the good and devoted servant I am, I kiss your ladyship’s hand.”
A few months after this, Giovio inclosed to Bembo a sonnet which Vittoria had addressed to the latter, on the appearance of one of his books. It is the sixty-first in the Rime Varie, beginning,
Bembo was of course highly flattered, and responded by another, addressed to the marchesa under cover to Giovio, concerning which Vittoria, now returned to Ischia for the summer, wrote on June 24 to the latter: —
“I must confess, reverend sir, that I am wholly at a loss for words in which fitly to praise the divine sonnet of my friend Pietro Bembo; and on second thoughts, even could I rise to the occasion, silence on my part would perhaps he the more just and appropriate eulogy. But indeed it seems to me that, in his endeavor to imitate the greatest writer in our language ” (that is, Petrarch), “he has even surpassed him in style; and if I may be excused for presuming to judge, I will say that to me no writer of sonnets, whether in the present or the past, can be compared with him.”
Thus they played the game of triangular compliment by the rules which have prevailed in all ages. To the modern reader, Vittoria’s later poems, the Rime Sucre e Morali, are of larger scope and far profounder interest than her long and melodious In Memoriam. The vertical rays of the “bel sole ” come at last rather to fatigue the eye. But the early sonnets are no more monotonous in theme than Petrarch’s own, on which they are confessedly modeled ; they have much of his elegance and refinement of form, and abound in touches of keen and true feeling, as well as in the sweetest passing glimpses of that glorious Italian nature amid which they were composed.
There was, so far as we know, but one dissentient voice in the loud chorus of contemporary praise, and this belonged to a man with a very proper literary grievance against the peerless marchesa. The story of her relations with the author of the Cortegiauo is a curious one.
Baldassare Castiglione had composed that flowery but ever fascinating picture of the castle and court of Urbino more than ten years before the time of which we now speak. He had then submitted the manuscript to the literary authorities of the time: to Bembo and his circle in Rome, where Vittoria had shone as a brilliant bride; and with special deference to Vittoria herself, both on account of her repute for literary acumen, and because of her own descent from the house of Montefeltro. Months passed away, and the author heard nothing more of his work. At last, in 1524, the year before Pescara’s death, Castiglione was appointed papal nuncio to Spain; and before leaving for that country he wrote to the marchesa, and respectfully requested the return of his manuscript. Her reply, dated at Marino, September 20. is profuse both in apology and in praise.
“I have not forgotten my promise,” she begins by saying. “Indeed, I really wish that I could do so, for the thought that I must send back your book without having re-read it as many times as I desired has constantly interfered with my delight in its perusal.” She then enters, minutely and with warm appreciation, into the merits of the book, and closes with the very handsome remark that it is no wonder Castiglione was able to describe a perfect courtier, since he had but to consult a mirror in order to behold a clear image of the same, both in outer aspect and inner qualities. She also begs to be allowed to keep the book just long enough to finish her second reading, after which she promises faithfully to send it hack.
Another interval of six months went by, and then Castiglione wrote the marchesa from Madrid an exceedingly diplomatic and delicate note, congratulating her on the glory with which her lord had covered himself at the battle of Pavia, and adding, in the ingenious manner of the time, that he “knows she must be able to divine all which he leaves unsaid, because she knows that the moment the idea had occurred to her that somebody ought to writ e a Cortegiauo his prophetic soul (animo presago) had perceived the unexpressed wish, and obeyed the tacit command. ”
More than two years elapse before Castiglione again recalls himself to the great lady’s remembrance. Then, on the 25th of August, 1527, he writes her from Valladolid a ceremonious note, containing no reference to his own affairs, but saying simply that while he had not ventured to intrude upon her in the freshness of her great personal grief, now that the misfortunes which have fallen like a flood upon their common country have made, as it were, all human miseries equal, his tongue is loosed, and he craves pardon for having even seemed to forget her. Four weeks later, however, from Burgos comes a much longer and less mellifluous letter. He thanks her for having deigned at last to write to him, — this letter has not been preserved, — and if. he says, she has heard of him as making certain strictures upon herself, she may regard the report as true, and Del Vasto as responsible. “ For he showed me a letter from your ladyship, in which you confessed to having abducted the Cortegiano. I was disposed, in the first instance, to regard this as a signal favor, fancying that you were merely keeping him under close guard until you could hand over your prisoner to me.” (Here his growing anger compels Castiglione to drop the figure. ) “ Subsequently, however, I learned from a Neapolitan gentleman, who is now in Spain, that fragments of my poor Cortegiano were in Naples, and that he himself had seen them in the hands of divers persons; also, that the individual who had thus made them public said that he had them from your ladyship. I was somewhat disturbed, as a father may he who sees his boy ill treated; however, I reasoned with myself that the merits of my offspring probably deserved no greater consideration. . . . But in the end it appeared that others were more merciful to it than I, for I was fairly constrained to get it copied as well as I might in a hurry, and send it to Venice to he printed, which has been done. Should your ladyship fancy, however, that this act argues any diminution in my desire to serve you, you would commit an error of judgment, a thing which probably never happened to you in the course of your life. On the contrary. I am more than ever in your debt, for the necessity under which I labor of printing my book with all dispatch precludes my adding many other things which I had in mind; all, doubtless, quite as unimportant as what I have already written.”
This is rather cutting, but it did not satisfy Castiglione, in the way of vengeance, for the signal neglect of his “offspring.” The Cortegiano issued from the Aldine press at Venice in 1528, and in the course of its dedication to the Bishop of Viseu the whole complaint against Vittoria stands restated in the most ruthless manner.
“During my stay in Spain, I received word from Italy that the Lady Vittoria della Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, to whom I had sent a copy of my book, had, contrary to her express promise, caused a great part of it to be transcribed, . . . and that this part was in the hands of many people at Naples, where, since men are ever greedy of novelty, it seemed probable that an attempt might be made to print it.”
We may smile at the author’s natural touchiness ; but Castiglione was undoubtedly in the right, and the marchesa culpably careless, to say the least.
The fate of the Cortegiano, that pretty little artificial flower of the Renaissance, may well have seemed a trivial matter to Vittoria, occupied as her eminently serious mind was apt to be with public affairs and subjects of profound and permanent interest. The time has now come in which to say something of her very important connection with that epoch-making movement, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.
We are too prone, perhaps, in thinking of the Reformation, to consider its results apart from its origin; to forget that, though the wave broke in Germany, it formed in Italy, and in the heart of the Roman Church. A reaction from the unbridled paganism of the early Renaissance was inevitable, and reform had been sanctioned and encouraged, and its lines to some extent determined, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, by the Lateran Council. Had Clement VII. summoned another council immediately on his election, the schism in Germany and England might perhaps have been averted. An abler pontiff than Clement would have seen the necessity of such a council; a weaker one would simply have yielded to the importunities which assailed him on all sides. But Clement and his pontificate were exactly what Berni so caustically described them: —
Of stately speeches, and of etiquette ;
Of ay, perchance, but, then and yet,
Surely and still, — words without consequence ;
Of secret thoughts, conceits, and conference ;
Of vain conjectures, offered with intent
Baffled petitioners to circumvent,
With audiences, rejoinders, verbal fence;
Of feet of lead and of neutrality,
Of patience and of demonstration,
Of Christian faith mid hope and charity,
Of innocent intent to every nation,
Of what might e’en be called simplicity,
In lack of any better appellation :
Wherefore defying confutation,
I prophesy that if all this goes on
Pope Hadrian will be canonized anon.”5
When Clement died, in 1534, the administration which had begun so auspiciously, and which had offered so signal an opportunity to a really great ruler, was everywhere in deep discredit, and the time for reconciliation had gone by; while the effect of the final revolt in Germany and England on the various groups of would-be reformers who were scattered all about Italy was akin to that of the secession to Rome of certain distinguished Englishmen of our own time upon the followers of Dr. Pusey: it showed them the logical conclusion of the train of reasoning upon which they had entered. Thereafter, as their several idiosyncrasies prompted them, the different disciples of the new teaching paused, turned back, or pursued their way.
The leader of the movement in Naples was a Spaniard named Juan Valdès, at one time cameriere segreto of Clement VII. ; and among the thoughtful and high-minded women who came under his immediate influence were Vittoria and two of her cousins by marriage, namely, Giulia Gonzaga, widow of Vespasiano Colonna, the romantic story of whose attempted capture on behalf of the Sultan Solyman is well known; and Costanza d’Avalos, sister of the Marchese del Vasto, and wife of the Duke of Amalfi; together with another highborn Spanish dame of the most orthodox connections, Isabella Manriquez, sister of the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Alfonso Manriquez di Lara, Cardinal-Archbishop of Seville. Among the men who made themselves prominent in the party of reform, and whose relations with Vittoria were those of intimate friendship, were Pietro Vermigli and Pietro Carnesecchi, both Florentines and accomplished humanists, — the latter of whom was to be condemned by the Inquisition for his heresies in 1567 ; and a third, whose influence with her was for a time even more powerful than theirs.
Bernardino Ochino was born in Siena in 1487, in that contrada, or ward, of the Oca, of which his surname contains a reminiscence; hard by that ’Lasa di Santa ‘Haterina, which is still a place of pious pilgrimage. Reared in the same rare and brilliant atmosphere which had nourished the enthusiasm and fortified the heroic daring of St, Catherine, a century and a half before, Bernardino makes his first appearance in the correspondence of Vittoria in 1535, as the advocate in Rome of that reformed order of the Franciscans who were afterward called Capuchins. Clement VII. began by sanctioning the new order, and Bernardino preached in Rome during the Lent of 1534. A few months later, in the same year, the hesitating pontiff banished the in novating frati; but they retreated only as far as San Lorenzo, fuori le mura, and Vittoria joined her voice to that of the learned Caterina Cibo. Duchess of Camerino and niece of Leo X., who had taken the new order under her especial patronage, in pleading for their restoration. She even came down from Marino to use her personal influence with Clement; and the two ladies had actually won his promise to recall Bernardino and his friends before the Pope died, September 20, 1534.
The first year of the pontificate of his successor, Paul III. (Alessandro Farnese), bristles with enactments concerning the new order, and the first letter of Vittoria upon the burning topic which we possess belongs to this period. It is addressed to Paul through some third person, apparently Cardinal Contarini, and is so incoherent in its impassioned reproaches as to be barely intelligible in parts. In a short note on the same subject, addressed to Cardinal Gonzaga, brother of Federigo, Duke of Mantua, and dated at Genazzano, December 29, 1535, she is still vehemently in earnest, but more collected and like herself.
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS AND ROVEREND MONSIGNOR, — I have written to the Bishop of Verona6 to confirm what I have said concerning the claim on your protection of the reverend fathers of the holy and true life of St. Francis, and I send you herewith his reply, certifying the same. May your Eminence act as becomes your own character and your duty to God. You must understand that his Cæsarian Majesty [Charles V.] had merely heard from the general [of the Franciscan order] of the disbanding of fifty frati, and wrote in that sense ; but he now regrets having done so, as I trust he will show clearly when in Rome. Should your Eminence chance to be with the Pope at this moment, pray do your best to combat his prejudices.
I am your Eminence’s most humble servant,
LA MARCHESA DI PESCARA.
Charles V. was at this time in Naples. Turning northward from thence, and having been entertained en route by Aseanio Colonna at Marino, he made his triumphal entry into Rome on the 5th of April, 1536, and was invited by Paul III. to take up his residence in the papal villa Belvedere, which had been designed by Pollajuolo. and adorned with frescoes by Mantegna. During his stay in Rome, the Emperor deigned to call upon two noble dames then residing there, and two only. One was his far - away cousin, Giovauna of Aragon, Aseanio Colonna’s wife, and the other was Vittoria herself. He departed upon the 18th of the same month, without having, so far as we know, given any decided opinion concerning the Capuchins, though he certainly held long conferences with the Pope on various religious and ecclesiastical subjects; and in June we find Vittoria writing at length to the Duchess of Urbino to bespeak her good offices on behalf of a small Capuchin convent at Fossombrone, which was within the limits of that duchy.
“If only,” she says at the close of her long and moving appeal. “I have the privilege of an interview with your Grace, on the occasion of the pilgrimage I hope soon to make to Our Lady of Loreto, I can explain to you in how divinely orderly a manner has been conducted this poor reform, which all merely worldly men have combined to persecute. . . . But, si Dens nobiscum, quis contra nos ? ”
The same affectionate and zealous partisanship of Fra Bernardino — as persuasive in private conversation as he was eloquent in the pulpit — finds voice in a long letter to Cardinal Contarini, which might almost better he called a tract on behalf of the Capuchins. In this epistle, the marchesa constitutes herself the formal advocate of the new order, taking up one by one, and explicitly refuting, the principal charges against them: first, that their views on free will savored of Lutheranism; second, that they had virtually ref used to submit themselves to the general of their order: third, their inordinate desire to make proselytes in other orders. Her plea completed, Vittoria seems to have felt a little abashed at having spoken so boldly to a prince of the Church, and she adds a halfapologetic postscript: “I know I should not have written all this to your Eminence, but for the love of Christ have the patience to read it when you find time. ”
Her friendly relations with Contarini were certainly not interrupted, and we find Vittoria, during the ensuing winter, writing to him to express her great pleasure at the bestowal of a cardinal’s hat on the “Very Reverend Monsignor of England; ” that is to say. Reginald Pole, who was destined to exercise so strong an influence over the lady’s latest years.
She spent the winter of 1536—37 at Arpinum and Cività Lavinia. We know that Fra Bernardino visited her at the former place, and it seems then to have been determined between them that she should go to plead his cause at Ferrara. The new order desired a shelter from petty persecution: and where, in Italy, would they be so likely to find it as in the dominions of the Estensi, whose present head, Ercole II., was the most facile and tolerant of mortals, while his duchess, Renée of France, was really a Protestant, an open disciple of John Calvin, who had left the court of Ferrara not many months before Vittoria’s arrival? It is vexatious that so voluminous a letter-writer should have left us next to no record of her own impressions of the animated court of Ferrara at the most interesting moment of its history. We would gladly know whether the fragile but high-hearted little duchess appeared to Vittoria the “monster” that the Duke of Urbino had described her,7 or the exile of Paradise, the suffering but Semi-beatified creature, celebrated by Clément Marot in his melodious verse.
Clément Marot had returned to France before Vittoria came to Ferrara, and Ariosto, that other shining ornament of the most literary of Italian courts, had died four years previously; but the marchesa stood godmother in the early summer to the baby princess who was to be Tasso’s Leonora. The nunlike simplicity of the costume which Vittoria had now adopted seems rather to have scandalized a lively correspondent of the Duke of Mantua, who wrote him a few days before the royal christening: “This morning arrived the Marchesa di Pescara, in a very common gown (abito molto volgare), to pay the duchess a visit. The two had a long talk together, and the marchesa remained to dine. ”
During the ten months of her stay in Ferrara, Vittoria labored loyally to promote the interests of the new order, and to combat the daily increasing prejudice against it among the rulers of the Church. On the 12th of June she writes to Cardinal Gonzaga: —
“It has pleased God that I should have a time of great quiet and comfort here in Ferrara. His Excellency the Duke and they all have combined to secure me the privilege I crave of devoting myself exclusively to true charity, and not that very mixed sort which is the outcome of ordinary social intercourse.8 ... I wrote your Eminence concerning the tissue of slander which malice has woven against Fra Belardino ” (Vittoria always writes his name thus), “for you left very suddenly, and I could not bear that in your mind any shadow should linger upon the light which he has from God. I understand from various letters that he is now in Rome, and much caressed by the Pope and all good men; that he honors the Church, and goes covered with benedictions, — which is cpiite enough to account for the jealousy he excites.”
In Ferrara, also, Vittoria had a glimpse of Del Vasto, now commander in chief of the imperial forces in Italy; and she wrote him thence, eloquently and forcibly for her, on behalf of the last of the fine old race of Florentine patriots, Filippo Strozzi, but all in vain. In February, 1538, the marchesa left Ferrara, having entertained the court circle the night before her departure by reciting a number of her own sonnets; and we may give as a specimen of her (comparatively) light and lively style the letter which she sent from Pisa to Duke Ercole: —
“I marveled at Jerusalem, I spent my substance in Egypt, and I meant to have been very quiet in Bologna; but on the very day that I left Castello to go thither, I received an answer from Madamma,9 here, announcing that the father” (Fra Bernardino) “was to preach, not in Florence, but in Pisa; so I turned rein, and, to avoid ceremony, went to a convent. However, Madamma has so overwhelmed me with her caresses that if I had not already had a taste of yours and those of the duchess, I should think nothing equal to Spanish courtesy. So, then, just as we were in the full enjoyment of those wonderful sermons ” (of Fra Bernardino), “there came such a peremptory summons from Florence that, however unwillingly, Madamma was obliged to send him back to that city, and I to acquiesce, for the greater glory of God and the greater fruit of the preacher’s labors. I shall content myself here until it is time to go to the baths of Lucca, in this immediate neighborhood. ”
She seems, however, to have gone to hear her favorite preach in Florence, since Carnesecchi, during his trial for heresy, mentions having seen her there at this time, on her way to the baths of Lucca, where she must have made a long season. We find her writing from the city of Lucca, on the 3d of October, to Cardinal Trivulzio, still on behalf of her friends the Capuchins, and full of warm indignation at the hardships and persecutions to which they are in some places subjected. “I cannot understand, ” she even permits herself to say, “what his Holiness and the rest of them are afraid of, or why they cannot let things go as God has ordained, and the man deny himself who will.” That the mind of Paul III. was not yet distinctly made up against the innovators is evident from the fact that in the ensuing March (1539) a cardinal’s hat was given to Bembo, their stanch and open friend.
For three years more, in fact, Fra Bernardino was allowed to continue his preaching tours; but his language was becoming more and more intemperate, and the views which he advocated were so extreme and so obviously heretical that even Vittoria could defend them and the eloquent rebel no longer. The spring of 1542 found Ochino at Verona, where the devoted bishop, our old friend Giberti, tried his best, by gentle and persuasive reasoning, to bring him to a more tractable frame of mind. His efforts were vain, and while still in Verona the frate finally received his ominous summons to Rome. It came in the form of a most courteous note from Cardinal Farnese, simply inviting him to the “discussion of matters of importance.” But Fra Bernardino knew what this meant, and he lacked the nerve for martyrdom. There is something both painful and pitiful in pious sophistry like the following, in his last known letter to the Marchesa di Pescara, dated August 22, 1542: —
“I find myself here, outside the gates of Florence, in great distress of mind. I had come so far with the intention of going to Rome; . . . but many dissuade me, since it would mean that I must either deny Clirist. or myself be crucified. The former I will not; the latter, yes, by his grace, but in his own time. To go deliberately to my death I am not now disposed. When God wants me, he can find me, no matter where I may be. Christ himself teaches me to escape many times, — to Egypt, to the Samaritans; and likewise Paul, whose precept it is. if they will not receive you in one city, to fly to another, ” and so on.
This melancholy apology reached Vittoria at Viterbo, where she was at this time residing; and Cardinal Pole, her chief counselor, if not yet her formal spiritual director, advised her to leave it unanswered, and should any further communications come from the recalcitrant friar, to forward them at once to Cardinal Cervini (afterwards Pope Marcellas II.) at Rome. Accordingly, in December of this year, we find her dispatching thither a letter and book of sermons which Ochino had sent her from Switzerland, — with what sorrow and sickness of heart, touched, also, it may be, with something of scorn for her old favorite’s cowardice, is evident from the postscript to the note with which she accompanied them : “ It grieves me much that the more he excuses himself, the more he stands accused; and the more he thinks to save others from shipwreck, the more he dares the deluge,— being himself, alas, outside the one true ark of safety ! ”
It is said, though the story lacks confirmation, that it was Ascanio Colonna who gave Ochino the horse on which he escaped to Ferrara, where Duke Ercole provided the disguise in which he crossed the Alps. We hear of him next, in secular garb, at Geneva.
But although Ochino had thus definitely broken loose from the Catholic Church, he was far from finding himself at home among the strict Swiss Protestants, who accused him of encouraging atheism, and even of advocating polygamy. He preached a good deal in Switzerland, however, as well as in England during the reign of Edward VI., married when nearly seventy, and died of the plague at seventy-four.
We return to the tenor of Vittoria Colonna’s life during her later years. She invariably resided in some convent at Orvieto. Viterbo, or Rome; but she received her friends without restriction, and those friends were still, as always, the most eminent and thoughtful spirits of the day. This was the period of her classic friendship with Michelangelo, the tender and solemn communion of that single-minded and splendidly endowed pair, both prematurely aged by the tremendous discipline of their experience, and dead long before to the passions and ambitions of this world, — a relation which has held so irresistible a charm for the late nineteenth-century mind. We have a restless desire to know more about this unique and noble, if somewhat mystical relation; we demand of history, almost as a right, that it should give us further details; yet the minute researches of our inquisitive day have, after all, added little to the simple and oft-quoted story as it stands in the pages of Michelangelo’s pupil and biographer, Condivi: —
“Especially he delighted in the Marehesana di Pescara, of whose divine soul he was enamored, being in return profoundly loved by her, many of whose letters he still keeps, full of honest and most tender affection, and such as draw their inspiration from the heart. He, on his part, inscribed to her a great many sonnets, full of talent and sweet desire. She often left Viterbo, and other places where she had gone for change of scene and to pass the summer, and came to Rome, for no other purpose than that she might see Michelangelo. And he, in turn, was inspired by such love of her that I remember having heard him say that his one grief was that when he went to see her, as she was passing from this life, he had not kissed her forehead and face as he kissed her hands,”
We have it thus upon the best authority that Michelangelo preserved a great many of Vittoria’s letters to himself, but only five have come down to us, together with two from him to her. These two and three of the marchesa’s are best assigned to the years 1539—40. They refer to two works which he executed for her, and the reader shall at least have these letters entire.10
Number one is from Michelangelo:
It was my wish, signora, to have shown myself a little less unworthy of the favors which you have so repeatedly urged on me by giving you something from my own hand; but now, having recognized that the grace of God is not to be bought, and that to resist it is a very grievous fault, I cry mea culpa, and agree to accept from my heart the things in question. Nay, when I have them, I shall seem to myself to be in Paradise, — not as having them in my house, but as being in theirs; and so I shall be more than ever, if that were possible, in your ladyship’s debt.
The bearer of this is my Urbino,11 to whom your ladyship can name the time when you would like to have me come and see the head you promised to show me.
Recommending myself to your ladyship,
Next shall come a note from the marchesa : —
MY MOST CORDIALLY LOVED FRIEND, SOR MICHEL AGNELO, — I beseech you to send me your Crucifixion for a little, even though it is not quite finished, because I want to show it to some gentlemen in the suite of his Eminence the Cardinal of Mantua; and if you are not too busy, you might come and have a talk with me to-day, at the hour which suits you best.
This invitation was, apparently, not accepted, but the painting was duly sent, and she writes of it thus: —
TO MICHEL ANGELO, THE UNIQUE MASTER. AND MY VERY PARTICULAR
I have received your note, and I have seen the Crucifixion, which remains crucified in my memory, like nothing else which I ever beheld. I do not see how anything could be better done, more vividly conceived or admirably executed. I have indeed no words in which to express my sense of its marvelous subtlety, and I am quite certain that I do not care to have any one but you paint it: so pray tell me whether this painting is an order. If so, there ’s no help for it. If it is yours to dispose of, I will get it from you by some means or other; but if it is sold, and you meant to have a replica made by that pupil of yours, we must talk it over first. I realize so clearly the immense difficulties in the way of making a satisfactory copy that I would rather he did something else for me than that; but if this picture is yours, bear with me when I say that you will never have it back again. I have examined it in all sorts of ways,— by artificial light, through glass, and reflected in a mirror, — and I never saw anything so exquisitely done.
Yours to command.
LA MARCHESA DI PESCARA.
It is plain that Michelangelo, like Vittoria’s latest biographer, Reumont, found this letter “non affatto chiaro, ” for he made the following slightly aggrieved reply: —
SIGNORA MARCHESA, — It does not seem to me fitting, since I myself am in Rome, that the Crucifixion should be entrusted to Messer Tommaso,or that a third person should come between your ladyship and me, your servant, — for your servant I am to the uttermost, and I was fain to do more for you than for any man I ever knew; only I have been, and am, so crowded with work that your ladyship may well have doubted my zeal. But I know that you know that love owns no master, and that he who loves sleeps not; and so. in spite of all, the way was found, and even while I seemed neglectful I was being better than my word in the hope of giving you a surprise. My little plan is quite spoiled. “Mai fa chi tanta fè sì tosto oblia.” 12
Your ladyship’s servant, MICHELAGNIOLO BUONARROTI
But that this cloud was soon completely dispersed is seen by the last letter of the group, which refers to a companion picture of the Deposition which the marchesa ordered about this time, and which is minutely described in Condivi’s memoir: —
TO MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI:
The effects which you produce have power to dazzle the mind, and ’t is a proof of this that I should have mentioned the possibility of enhancing what was already perfect. I have, indeed, seen that omnia possibilia sunt credenti. I had always the greatest faith that God would grant you a supernatural grace in the making of this Christ; but when I saw it, it so far surpassed my expectations in every way that I was excited by the miracle already wrought to desire that greater one, which I now see so marvelously fulfilled. I could not possibly have wished for more; I could not even have conceived so much! I must tell you how particularly pleased I am that the angel on the right hand should he so much the more beautiful, for surely the angel Michael will place you, Michelangelo, upon God’s right hand at the last day. What more can I do for you than crave the intercession of this sweet Christ on your behalf, and profess myself your creature to command in all and for all!
LA MARCHESA DI PESCARA.
Before the date of Vittoria’s latest notes to her immortal friend, a bitter quarrel had broken out between her brother Ascanio and Paul III. ; and in the petty war which ensued Ascanio was completely worsted, the greater part of his estates confiscated, and he himself driven into exile. The Colonna palace in Rome was closed, and it was at first, perhaps, as much from necessity as from choice that, in the autumn of 1541 Vittoria took up her residence at Viterbo, in the convent of Sta. Caterina, where she came under the spiritual guidance of Cardinal Pole. So long as Fra Bernardino’s influence had been supreme, she had practiced austerities so great as to draw remonstrances from all her friends. Thus we find Duke Ercole of Ferrara sending an earnest entreaty that she would deign so to order her life that she “might longer survive to the glory of God and the joy of mankind than at present she seemed likely to do. ” Carnesecchi also deposed, when upon his trial, that “the lady marchesa, before she formed her friendship with the cardinal (Pole), wore herself out with fasting, hair-shirts, and other mortifications of the flesh, till she was reduced to nothing but skin and bone. She did so, perhaps, because she attached undue importance to works of this kind, imagining that true piety and religion were summed up in these, and that on them, therefore, depended the salvation of her soul. But after she had been admonished by the cardinal that such mortifications of the flesh were rather an offense to the Lord, . . . the aforesaid lady began to abandon that extreme austerity of life, returning little by little to a reasonable and honest mediocrity. . . . She gave much in alms, and lived in charity with all men, whereby she observed and followed the counsel which she said she had received from her oracle the cardinal, namely, to believe as if by faith alone she might be saved, and to labor as if by works only could come salvation.” And Vittoria herself wrote, near the close of 1541, to Giulia Gonzaga that she felt deeply indebted to his Eminence Cardinal Pole for her health of body and of mind, “both having been in danger, — the one from a bad regimen, the other from superstition. ”
She remained under the cardinal’s “reasonable ” direction until the close of her life, and she even shared, after her death, the imputation of heresy which fell upon him for the unsoundness of his views concerning “justification by faith.” At this time, a circle of clever ecclesiastics had gathered in Viterbo about Cardinal Pole, the papal legate, and Vittoria saw much of them all; but many of the friends of her early days passed away during these years, among them Cardinal Contarini, Alfonso del Vasto, and the saintly Bishop of Verona.
The following letter, written by Vittoria during her stay at Viterbo, is preserved in the Museo Buonarroti at Florence: —
MAGCO MESS. MICHEL AGNELO, — I have not answered your letter sooner, because I reflected that it was merely a reply to mine, and that if you and I were to continue to write as often as your courtesy and my sense of obligation would dictate, I should have to give up attending the offices with the sisters here in the chapel of Sta. Caterina, and you that sweet colloquy with your art which you hold daily from dawn to dusk in the chapel of San Paolo (for surely your paintings speak to you as clearly as the living beings hereabouts speak to me); and thus we should both fail of our duty, — I to the brides, and you to the vicar, of Christ. So, then, precisely because I know how steadfast our friendship is, and bound by Christian ties of the securest affection, it seems to me that I ought not perpetually to be asking for the testimony of your letters, but rather patiently to await the opportunity of serving you; praying the Lord, of whom you spoke to me out of so warm and humble a heart at the time of my leaving Rome, that I may find, when I come back, his living image ever renewed in your soul by the power of true faith, even as you yourself have portrayed him in my Samaritan.13
I recommend myself to you always, and also to your Urbino.
From the monastery of Viterbo, on the twentieth day of July.14
Yours to command,
LA MARCHESA DI PESCARA.
To my more than magnificent, and more than most dear, Michel Agnelo Buonarroti.
However light the spiritual yoke imposed by her new director, one can plainly trace in this letter the inward impulse which was moving Vittoria Colonna, in the autumnal season of her life, to the uttermost renunciation even of her innocent joys. It had been easy to the magnanimous and highly gifted woman to obey two of the three great precepts which comprise our whole duty here, — to “do justly and love mercy; ” but not perhaps until the end was close at hand did she truly learn to “walk humbly ” with her God. Her later sonnets afford the most affecting proof that this lesson was acquired, but with those noble sonnets we are not now concerned.
There is one more note to Michelangelo, one of the last, probably, that she ever wrote; and in this her voice, though sweet and collected, sounds infinitely remote and “thin,” already “as voices from the grave.”
MAGNIFICO MESSER MICHEL ANGELO, — So great is the fame that you have won through your genius that you might perhaps have deemed it superior to time and change, had that divine light never entered your soul which shows us that all earthly renown, however long it may endure, has at last its second death. And since you yourself regard in your statues only the goodness of him who has made you a supreme master in that art, you can understand how I may thank the Lord singly even for those writings of mine which are already all but dead; thinking that perhaps I offended him less by so writing than by the utter idleness in which I now live. Please accept this as an earnest of future industry.
Yours to command,
LA MARCHESA DI PESCARA.
In the spring of 1544, Vittoria Colonna returned to Rome, and took up her residence in the convent of Sant’ Anna de’ Funari, which stood on the southern portion of the Campus Martins, close alongside the ruined Flaminian Circus, in whose deserted arena wrought the rope-makers who gave its appellation to the convent as well as to the neighboring and still existing church of Sta. Caterina de’ Funari. The position was, perhaps, not a fortunate one for a woman with an overtried constitution, especially enfeebled as Vittoria then was by the severe illness which had befallen her at Viterbo in the previous year. In Rome, at all events, her health appears steadily to have declined until January, 1547, when she was removed from the convent of Sant’ Anna to the neighboring palace of the Cesarini to die. Here she lingered for a few weeks, tenderly nursed by her kinswoman, Giulia Colonna, the Princess Cesarini, and here, on the afternoon of the 25th of February, she passed away.
Her body was removed the same evening to the church of Sant’ Anna, and her brother Ascanio was notified that he might lay it where he pleased. He pleased to leave it there, and the velvet-covered coffin of cypress wood stood for many years in the church, like Pescara’s in the sacristy of San Domenico at Naples, and seems finally to have been placed in the tomb of the lady abbesses. But when the convent and church of Sant’ Anna came to be pulled down, as late as 1887, it was found that this tomb had long since been desecrated and rifled of its treasures, perhaps during the Napoleonic wars.
Vittoria’s monument, like her husband’s, is in her verse. The sad persuasion that she had herself survived her writings was a fallacious one. They live, and they will live so long as there are select souls who dwell, by habit and preference, on the still mountain summits of religious thought and meditation. For such the sonnets upon sacred themes, severe in their statuesque beauty, difficult always, and often very obscure in meaning, still afford a stimulus to mystical devotion, and comprise almost a manual of the same.
1 1543, when Michelangelo was executing the frescoes in the Pauline chapel of the Vatican.
We have been considering Vittoria Colonna in her letters chiefly, and here it must again be confessed that she is, upon the whole, disappointing. She falls below her fame. The list of her correspondents is so varied and imposing, comprising notabilities in so many lines, — popes, emperors, kings, queens, cardinals, poets, theologians, historians, and men of science, — that we do not see how the letters can fail to be a mine of the richest and most recherché information. Here, for example, several times during the year 1540, we find the name of Margaret of Angoulême, the brilliant sister of Francis I., the intriguing queen of Navarre. What might not these two women, alike in their extraordinary endowments, but totally dissimilar in temperament and tenor of life, have found to say to each other! They found very little which sheds any real light on the character of either. Vittoria’s are letters of the driest, most formal, most sententious religious counsel; Margaret replies, in what, one fancies, must have been a very exceptional transport of humility, that she fears her cousin the marchesa thinks much better of her than she deserves.
There is no contemporary portrait of Vittoria Colonna of absolutely unquestioned authenticity, but there are several of the seventeenth century, which are undoubtedly copies from those taken in her lifetime, and these all agree so strikingly in their main features that we seem to know with reasonable certainty how she looked. It is a face rather noble and intellectual than sympathetic, very high bred, the features delicate and regular, the head carried proudly. If we add the splendor of coloring for which she was especially renowned, the perfect red and white of her complexion, the rare golden hue in youth of her abundant hair, we have an ensemble which fully justifies her repute for extraordinary beauty.
Harriet Waters Preston.
- That is, he promises in his own name to assign at his own resilience in Marino the aforesaid noble damsel Vittoria to the aforesaid noble marquis, or to his authorized representative, to be taken matrimonially and honorably, as behooves, to his residence, within one year of the January next to come of the year 1508.↩
- The importance assigned to the bedstead and its fittings is in perfect accordance With the present Neapolitan fashion, where these are still the essential part of a girl’s dowry, even in the lowest class.↩
- The legend of Enceladus under Etna was repeated in the tradition that Typhœus was confined under Mount Epomeo, the fatal volcanic mountain of Ischia.↩
- There had been great opposition to Clement’s election, especially from Cardinal Wolsey, who himself cherished pontifical aspirations.↩
- “ Un papato composto di rispetti,
Di cousiderazioni e di discorsi,
Di plù, di poi, di ma, di si, di forsi,
Di pur, di assai, parole senza effetti ;
Di pensier, di cousigli, di concetti,
Di congetture magre, per apporsi;
D’ intratteuerti, pur che non si sborsi,
Con audienze, risposte e bei detti;
Di piè di pitnnbo e di neutralità,
Di pazïenza, di dimostrazione,
Di fede, di speranza e carità,
D’ innocenza, di buona intenzione :
Ch’è quasi come dir, semplicità,
Per non le dare altra interpretazione,
Sia con sopportazione,
Lo dirò pur, vedrete che pian piano
Farà canonizzar papa Adriano.”↩
- This was her old friend Giberti.↩
- Guidobaldo della Rovere havingobjected to the bride chosen for him. his father, Francesco Maria, replied that he need not complain, when Alfonso d’Este had espoused Lucrezia Borgia. — " and we all know what sort of a woman she was,” — and had married his own son, Ercole, to a monster.↩
- The original of the above passage may be quoted as affording a fair — not by any means a very striking — specimen of the hopeless clumsiness and prolixity of Vittoria’s epistolary style: “ La Extia del Duca e tuti me satisfanno della mia desiderata. libertà di solo attender alle vere carità et non tanto misturate como quelle che se causano dalla conversations.” The critic who once said that “ Vittoria Colonna’s letters were those of a farmer’s wife” may have spoken “ unadvisedly with his lips,” but anybody who has essayed to peruse the Carteggio can understand the transport of impatience which prompted the remark. Vittoria’s was essentially a masculine mind, and by the same token she lacked the intellectual grace and lightness, the naive literary instinct, which often render the letters even of stupid women delightful reading.↩
- Margaret, illegitimate daughter of Charles V., and widow of Alessandro de’ Medici, but best known to history as regent of the Netherlands, and mother of Alessandro Farnese.↩
- We have ventured to alter the order assigned to these letters by the editors of the Carteggio. They are quite without indication of date, — hurried notes sent by hand when both parties were in Rome ; but the present arrangement seems to us to decrease their inevitable confusion.↩
- Michelangelo’s favorite servant and colormixer.↩
- “ Evil works he who faith so soon forgets.”↩
- Vasari makes the statement that Michelangelo painted to order for Vittoria a Samaritan at the Well.↩