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A restless woman

· The story of Giulia Gonzaga ·

In the history of the Italian Renaissance, a fascinating historical period of history, have distinguished some female figures - over the centuries - have stood out who have contributed not a little to fuel the myth. One of these is certainly Giulia Gonzaga (Gazzuolo 1513 - Naples, 1566), the beautiful and intelligent woman, portrayed by Sebastiano del Piombo and Titian. A book by Susanna Peyronel Rambaldi (Una gentildonna irrequieta. Giulia Gonzaga fra reti familiari e relazioni eterodosse Viella, 2012) recounts her story, offering an historical reading of the many legends that have accompanied it .

Sebastiano del Piombo , " Portrait of Giulia Gonzaga »

For example, the links with Ippolito de’ Medici, nephew of Pope Clement VII who died in mysterious circumstances within the territory ruled by the Countess, or that of the attempted kidnapping carried out by Khair ad -Din, better known as Barbarossa, who, having landed near Gaeta in August 1534, had tried to bring the noblewoman home to offer her to the turkish sultan Suleiman I. A destiny which the young woman avoided by running away from her home overnight.

In the pages of the book, an event progressively unfolds that is different to that accredited by traditional historiography, which had recounted Giulia above all as the beloved disciple of the Spanish theologian Juan de Valdés, theoretician of faith traced back to the purity of the gospel who had dedicated the Alphabeto christiano to her.

The story of Giulia Gonzaga is now reconstructed from the context, initially leaving in the background the personal biography of the protagonist. Her life takes shape within the panorama of a peninsula of torn by wars of Italy and plagued by rivalries between noble families, while her spiritual path is defined through the careful reconstruction of the intellectual networks which supported the growth of a world in a much wider and more expansive dissent than was once believed.

But Giulia was also at the centre of the articulation of the Gonzaga "system ", a family which, thanks to the multiplication of its sovereignty brought about by the division of the State of Mantua and minor feuds, represented a unique phenomenon in the political framework of the Italian Renaissance.

The marriage with Vespasian Colonna, a brief one, left the adolescent Giulia "a woman and patron of the entire state," until she was remarried, with a step daughter of almost the same age. By her own clear choice, therefore, her story would become that of a woman of power.

A power exercised in the forms then granted to women at that time, composed of statecraft designs of lineage, wealth management and government of the feuds, well represented by the small and elegant Renaissance courts in which the sovereignty of women could take on similar traits to that of men.

Since she played a vital political role within her lineage, Giulia Gonzaga was a woman deeply attached to her class and as such she also lived the experience of religious dissent, brought about by her friendship with Peter Carnesecchi and with Valdés, and by her familiarity with the circle of spirituals. Her distance from the discipline imposed by the Catholic Reformation was intellectual and spiritual, above all underpinned by theological and religious choices, and it found space within a community of men and women who were trying to build their independence of thought through the liberty, perceived as an indispensable trait, of human beings.

By Vittoria Fiorelli




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 10, 2019