GONZAGA, Giulia

(1513-1566)
Giulia Gonzaga was a noblewoman from the illustrious Gonzaga family of Mantua who became an important patron of the Italian reformist movement.
When she was fourteen, Gonzaga was married to Vespasiano Colonna, a wid­owed prince from southern Italy. Two years later Colonna died, bequeathing his vast property at Fondi to his young wife. Giulia had many admirers and suitors, but she never remarried. Her villa at Fondi became a salon for religious figures, artists, and writers, many of whom paid tribute to her in their works. Sebastiano del Piombo* and Titian* were among those who painted her portrait, and Lu-dovico Ariosto* and Torquato Tasso* were only two of the many authors who praised her in their poetry.
Surrounded by creative and intellectual figures, Giulia seemed quite content in her early widowhood, but her peaceful life was soon interrupted by a tragic incident. Hearing of her beauty, the notorious pirate Barbarossa decided to kid­nap Gonzaga as a gift for Suleiman II's harem. During a raid on the Italian coast, Barbarossa massacred many of the villagers near Fondi and then advanced toward Gonzaga's castle, but Gonzaga escaped to a nearby fortress. In his fury, Barbarossa continued his murderous assault until he was finally stopped by an Italian army. In the aftermath of this tragedy, which caused numerous deaths and vast destruction, Gonzaga devoted herself to restoring order and repairing damage.
In 1534 Gonzaga moved near Naples to a monastery where she lived the remainder of her life, though she did not take the veil. She became connected with the Italian reformist movement through two of its leaders, the charismatic preacher Bernardino Ochino* and the Spanish humanist Juan de Valdes,* who dedicated a number of his works to her. Gonzaga dedicated her life to perform­ing charitable works and carrying on Valdes's teachings after his death. When many of the reformists fled to Geneva to escape persecution from the Roman Inquisition, Gonzaga refused to leave. She supported the exiles, however, send­ing financial and emotional support to her friend Isabella Bresenga and others for years. The Italian inquisitors had long suspected Gonzaga of heresy; after her death some of her letters were brought to the attention of Pope Pius V, who proclaimed, "Had I known of this, she would have been burned alive."
Bibliography
C. Hare, A Princess ofthe Italian Reformation, 1912.
Jo Eldridge Carney

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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