Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Brendan Cook, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Benjamin Goldberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.


marriage, Neoplatonism, Petrarch, Renaissance, women


This thesis project surrounds the life of sixteenth-century poet Vittoria Colonna, and the poetry she wrote following the death of her husband Ferrante D’Avalos, Marquis of Pescara, in 1525. Often regarded in tandem with the works of Michelangelo, Vittoria Colonna’s literary accomplishments in the face of personal tragedy speak for themselves as she became one of the foremost female poets of her time. Beyond her relationship with Michelangelo, the surrounding literature on Colonna looks at her widowhood as a stage for her poetry, her use of Neoplatonist imagery, and the influence of the Petrarchan sonnet. Expanding on the arguments presented by scholars Abigail Brundin and Virginia Cox, who are the foundation for my research with their thorough understanding of these connective elements, my thesis explores how Colonna actively used gender and grief specifically within her widowed poetry to pursue social and spiritual transcendence through a comparison of primary texts.

In merging these elements together, I find that Colonna complicates the role of the female widow. She uses her widow’s grief as a tool to remain within the lines of social propriety while also seeking personal freedom. Benefitting from her performance of what Erasmus calls a “true” widow, Colonna presented her grief within the parameters of social expectation but provided a way to break free from them. Within this public space, Colonna’s complicated relationship with gender comes into play as she uses it to her advantage to transcend socially through subversions of Petrarchan convention, while also dismissing gender entirely through Neoplatonism in order to transcend spiritually. In this, Colonna maintains a complex widowhood as she both fulfills and dismantles the boundaries set in place for her, finding a sense of freedom within the blurred lines of propriety.