Fascinating Vittoria

What has mesmerised me most about Vittoria Colonna, the female genius in Renaissance Italy, is the miracle of her Shakespearean liveliness.

While her vivacity is sparkling in all spheres of social life, her poetry reveals the roots of her liveliness in deeply human authenticity. That’s why this woman easily bridges half a millennium, creating such personal closeness that discoursing with her has been more gratifying than chatting with my kith and kin, conditioned and alienated humans in our Brave New World like me.

During my research into the life and personality of this female genius of the Cinquecento, I came to recognize that male progress in the following centuries meant female regression. However, I made the reassuring experience that owing to the complexity of this exceptional woman my degenerate female consciousness began to regenerate.

Therefore I let my new biography gravitate towards her liveliness of mind, feeling encouraged by Michelangelo, who was also drawn to her inner dynamism in his spontaneous drawings of his beloved Marchesa.


We take interest in the inevitably fragmented, contradictory, and changeable person, now visible, now hidden. Above all we take interest in the personality, the shadow or reflex, the person sometimes produces for protection or as a challenge.

Marguerite Yourcenar

Contradictory, changeable, but always authentic!

Vittoria Colonna is no icon that leaves us cold. She is changeable and incalculable in her fascinating liveliness. The way, she overrides taboos and plunges into renewals and reinventions keep us in suspense. She irritates us, because we do not get a grip on her complexity.

Her universal mind comprising Heaven and Earth intimidates us in the narrowness of our own horizon. Almost intimidating is the sovereignty of her demeanour. We feel disconcerted by her irony, and delight at paradoxes. We feel estranged from her, when she succumbs to the megalomania of her time, paying homage to the cult of glamourous personalities, though they may fail reality. Although she would not admit to being keen on fame, she has never been forgetful about cutting a splendid figure. As a poetess she is yearning for male recognition.

Empathy is her great strength. “Hers is the divine gift that her presence never evokes boredom and her absence arouses longing for her”, wrote her biographer Paolo Giovio, who befriended her.

With Shakespeare she shares deep psychological insight into the abysses of the human psyche as well as a keen awareness of condition humaine.

But in diametrical contrast to hesitant Prince Hamlet, Vittoria, future-oriented, is getting ready to change God and the world from her female perspective, indeed a singular attempt for a woman, even though she does not design comprehensive projects but proceeds rather unsystematically and subversively under cover, which was necessary in her patriarchal society.

It is worth mentioning that she was also a pragmatic feudal landowner, who controlled her subjects in her territories with a hands-on mentality. Extraordinarily for a woman she was appointed governess of the rebellious papal town of Benevent by Pope Clement VII, mastering the difficult task better than her male predecessors. 

However, at heart, she was no realist. On the contrary! As a poetess she used her exuberant imagination for mental flights out of an unbearable reality into self-created imaginary spheres, which had greater substantiality for her than for us, indoctrinated as we are to abandon dreams for the sake of functioning in our Brave New World, which had not been hers.     

Inconceivably complex!

Owing to her restless mind, instigating her to change incessantly, Vittoria is not easy to characterise. The complexity of this exceptional woman is still increased by the bipolar structure of her psyche. Owing to her sudden mood-swings she does not know “either-or” but only  “as-well-as”.

Her inner dynamics she projected into her poetry are in need of empathy, differentiation, and description. In contrast to a steadfast personality entrenched in conventions, only moving within a firmly-set frame, therefore calculable and easy to see through, Vittoria Colonna, a true chameleon, astonishes us in her individualism and unpredictable otherness. Like Shakespeare she does not shape out a clear profile.