When poet Vittoria Colonna meets Michelangelo, they discover a deep and profound connection in this historical novel.
Michelangelo is revered for his sculptures and paintings, and by 1534, his reputation is unparalleled. Summoned to Rome by Pope Clement VII, the artist prepares to work on the pontiff’s legacy, the Last Judgment, a fresco depicting the second coming of Jesus. One afternoon, Michelangelo encounters a woman with a face that “suggests an intimacy with anguish.” The striking woman is Colonna, a poet and widow of military leader Ferrante Francesco d’Avalos. Thoughtful and brilliant, she was raised on the island of Ischia by Ferrante’s aunt, Costanza d’Avalos. Colonna’s marriage to Ferrante cemented a political alliance between her family and King Ferdinand of Spain. Since Ferrante’s death, Colonna has lived in seclusion, writing poetry and preserving her husband’s legacy. She is reluctant to rejoin society until a monk asks her to travel to Rome and advocate for the Capuchin order. Michelangelo admires Colonna and her poetry, and he asks for her advice interpreting the imagery in the Last Judgment. From this collaboration, an enduring and loving bond develops between Colonna and Michelangelo that sustains them through ongoing political and religious conflicts and personal tragedy. Cardillo’s (Island Legacy, 2017, etc.) latest book is a sweeping historical epic and a sensitively observed exploration of the passionate friendship between Colonna and Michelangelo. At one point the poet muses: “Michelangelo’s conversational style is like that of a surgeon with a knife about to slit open my chest to observe my beating heart. I am both fascinated and terrified by his questions.” Ambitious in scope, the narrative covers 1500 to 1547, shifting between their relationship and Colonna’s childhood and adolescence on the island of Ischia, her marriage to Ferrante and his betrayal of her trust, and her development as a poet. While Colonna and Michelangelo’s friendship forms the emotional center of the novel, the poet’s story and her journey as a woman and a writer are dynamic and multilayered. The author also does a fine job exploring the religious views that inform Colonna’s and Michelangelo’s lives and works as well as the tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the writers and clergy who seek to reform it.
A stirring and emotionally resonant portrait of a pivotal relationship in the life of Michelangelo.