...Ms. Targoff is adept at keeping the reader informed of the complex geopolitical machinations taking place in Colonna’s life, among them the conflict between Clement VII and Charles V, which pits her family’s loyalties against her husband’s, and the schism in the church wrought by Lutheranism. All of this is introduced not as dry context but as high drama. Working closely with Colonna’s letters and poems, Ms. Targoff gives her the vividness of a fictional protagonist. Too often, she is depicted in modern historical accounts as a bit dull: a chaste and bloodless widow, entombed in her own piety, devoted only to God. In Ms. Targoff’s hands, she emerges as a fully human mix of ambition, desire and shame ... With luck, Ms. Targoff’s erudite and lively biography will spur scholars and publishers to place more of her poems and letters into the hands of readers, to judge her legacy for themselves.
Targoff evocatively conveys the colorful, dramatic Renaissance world of Vittoria Colonna, in large part by quoting from Colonna herself ... a multifaceted picture of some of the ways women have moved the levers of history...
...in Targoff’s hands the bits of the puzzle fit together beautifully ... it’s not just Colonna’s poetic voice that this biography brings alive. Targoff proves herself as good a popular historian as she is a literary critic. These were troubled times in Italy, filled with political and religious upheaval, and she is a terrific guide.
The unpublished documents and other contemporary sources Targoff presents, along with lines from the sonnets, illuminate Colonna’s reformist tendencies. Targoff’s well-researched, thoughtful biography reveals Colonna as a complex woman who turned grief and a spiritual quest into a renowned literary reputation.
When a pirated edition of her poems was published in 1538, she became the first Italian woman to publish a book of poetry and the 'most celebrated religious poet of the era.' She later became friends with the influential religious reformer Reginald Pole and Michelangelo, 'my most singular friend.' Targoff captures the Renaissance’s 'simultaneous magic and strangeness' in a single woman.