Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

GIULIA GONZAGA
(1513-1566)

Italy
Patron of Artists and Religious Reformists

Giulia Gonzaga was a member of the illustrious Gonzaga family of Mantua; her intellectual interests and beauty, as well as her affiliation with the contemporary religious controversy and reform movement in Italy, earned her a reputation in her day as one of the most fascinating women of the Italian Renaissance.

As a child, Giulia received a classical education along with her aristocratic brothers. When she was twelve, she was chosen to accompany her cousin Isabella d'Este, a famous patron of artists, to Rome as one of her ladies-in-waiting; there Giulia met Vespasiano Colonna, a widowed prince from southern Italy. A marriage was soon arranged; at the time Giulia was fourteen and Colonna was forty-one. Just two years after their marriage, Colonna died, leaving his vast property to Giulia on the condition that she remain unmarried. Colonna's will stipulated that if Giulia chose to remarry, she would have to forfeit the property to her stepdaughter Isabella. Although Giulia had many suitors, including Ippolito de' Medici, the nephew of Pope Clement VII, she chose to remain single. Her stepdaughter, Isabella Colonna, married Luigi Rodomante Gonzaga, Giulia's beloved brother.

Although Giulia seems to have preferred the quiet life, the early years of her widowhood were not without incident. After her husband's death, Giulia's villa at Fondi became a salon for artists, writers, and religious figures, and she herself inspired praise from such literary giants as the novelist Bandello and the poets Ariosto and Tasso.

One of the most tragic events of Giulia's life took place when she was just twenty years old. Giulia's reputation for talent and beauty was known even outside of Italy. A notorious pirate, Kheyr-ed-din, known in Europe as Barbarossa, was in the service of Sultan Süleyman II, leader of the vast Ottoman Empire; he decided to kidnap Gonzaga and take her back to Turkey as a present for Süleyman. During a raid on the Italian coast, Barbarossa landed near Fondi, massacred many

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