Bellonci, Maria 1902-1986

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BELLONCI, Maria 1902-1986


Born November 3, 1902 in Rome, Italy; died following a long illness, May 13, 1986, in Rome, Italy; daughter of Girolamo Vittoria (a professor of chemistry, University of Rome) and Felicita Bellucci Villavecchia; married Goffredo Bellonci (a journalist and critic), 1928.


Journalist, reviewer, and author.


Viareggio prize, 1939, for Lucrezia Borgia.


Lucrezia Borgia, la sua vita e i suoi tempi, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1939, translation by Bernard and Barbara Wall published as The Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1939, reprinted, Phoenix Press (London, England), 2000.

Segreti dei Gonzaga (title means "Secrets of the Gonzagas"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1947, translation by Stuart Hood published as A Prince of Mantua: The Life and Times of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1956.

Milano Viscontea, Edizioni Radio Italiana (Turin, Italy), 1956.

Delitto di stato, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1961.

Pubblici segreti (title means "Public Secrets"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1965.

(With Andrea Mantegna and Niny Garavaglia) L'opera completa del Mantegna, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1967.

Piccolo romanzo di Dorotea Gonzaga, e altre prose, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1968.

(With Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) Il gattopardo, Club Degli Editori (Milan, Italy), 1969.

Come un racconto gli anni del Premio Strega (title means "The Years of the Strega Prize Told like a Story"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1971.

Tu vipera gentile (title means "O, Noble Viper"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1972.

(With Dell'Acqua Gian Alberto and Carlo Perogalli) I Visconti a Milano, Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde (Milan, Italy), 1977.

Rinascimento privato, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1985, translation by William Weaver published as Private Renaissance, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.

Io e il Premio Strega, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1987.

Segni sul muro, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1988.

Pubblici segreti N.Z., Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1989.

Opere, edited by Ernesto Ferrero, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1994.

(Author of introduction) Gaspara Stampa, Rime, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1994.


Emile Zola, Nana, Casini (Florence, Italy), 1955.

Stendhal, Vanina Vanini e altre cronache italiane, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1961.

Alexandre Dumas, I tre moschettieri, Giunti-Marzocco (Florence, Italy), 1977.

Marco Polo, Il Milione ERI, [Turin, Italy], 1982.

Jules Verne, Viaggio al centro della terra, Giunti-Marrocco (Florence, Italy), 1983.

Stendahl, La duchessa di Paliano, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1994.

Contributor to periodicals such as Il Veltro, Nemla Italian Studie, and Lettere-Italiane. Bellonci's works have been translated into a variety of languages, including Spanish, French, Polish, Japanese, and German.


Delitto di Stato was made into a film for television, directed by Guiseppe de Bosio, 1982.


Maria Bellonci was an Italian writer and translator who wrote fictional but historically accurate accounts of notable figures such as Lucrezia Borgia and Vincenzo Gonzaga. A lifelong resident of Rome, she was deeply involved in the literature of her time. Active during the years from 1930 to 1986, Bellonci furthered the pursuit of Italian literature with gatherings of dedicated writers and intellectuals. She helped found the premio Strega, Italy's prestigious literary prize, in 1944; Bellonci was herself the recipient of this honor in 1985.

Born Maria Villavecchia on November 3, 1902, in Rome, she was the oldest of four children of "a family of the upper bourgeoise that prided itself on its aristocratic roots," according to Angela M. Jeannet in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Bellonci's education was the standard one for many girls of her social class: excellent, thorough, and humanistic, with extensive grounding in the classics, music, and the arts," Jeannet wrote.

Bellonci began writing while relatively young, finishing a novel, later discarded, at age twenty. Her first published work was Lucrezia Borgia, la sua vita e i suio tempi (The Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia), published in 1939. The book is a thoroughly researched, fact-based but fictionalized account of Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. "Writing about Lucrezia, who lived from 1480 to 1519, Bellonci dissects the power struggles at the papal court with vivid detail, skillfully reconstructing the events and the passions that shaped the creation of the modern age," Jeannet wrote. Bellonci's novel recounts Borgia's life from a child already promised to more than one political marriage, to an adolescent used in a variety of political power plays by her father, to a mature woman of multiple marriages and mysteries. "Bellonci provides a documented rather than a mythical portrait of Lucrezia and thereby rescues her from the lurid legends her life inspired," Jeannet remarked.

In Segreti dei Gonzaga, published in 1947, Bellonci again uses a type of documentary fiction to write about Vincenzo Gonzaga, ruler of Mantua in the late sixteenth century. The three sections of the book chronicle Gonzaga's life from birth to his assumption of the crown and his death. Bellonci details the political intrigues, courtly maneuverings, territorial skirmishes, and power shifts inherent in a royal court and those specific to Gonzaga's rule.

Pubblici segreti, a collection of nonfiction pieces, was published in 1965. The book consists of book reviews, travel diaries, and essays Bellonci wrote for Il Punto from 1958 to 1964 that cover cultural events and contemporary issues. A second volume, Pubblici secreti N.Z., published posthumously, collects her articles from Il Messaggero from 1964 to 1970. "Her concise pieces demonstrate her consummate skill, attention to detail, and control of her medium" Jeannet remarked. "Their broad range attests to her intellectual curiosity, vast culture, and enthusiasm for life. The entire spectrum of Italian cultural life opens up, drawn by the inimitable pen of a woman who was a close observer of and often a participant in the significant events that took place from the 1930s to the 1980s."

Bellonci's 1971 book, Come un racconto gli anni del Premio Strega, recounts her role in the creation and promotion of the Strega prize, a prestigious literary award in Italian letters. Toward the end of World War II, Bellonci and her husband, Goffredo, hosted regular Sunday gatherings of literary luminaries at their home. The effects of the war were still palpably visible in Rome, but the group continued to meet despite hardships, eventually coalescing into the original jury that selected exemplary works of fiction from submissions offered by publishers. The Belloncis formalized the prize with financing from the Alberti family, producers of Strega liqueur. Bellonci acted as manager and director of the prize for more than forty years. "The authors who vied for the Premio Strega include the most important names in contemporary Italian letters," Jeannet wrote. Come un racconto gli anni del Premio Strega traces the events leading up to the creation of the prize, including the inevitable feuds, rivalries, and triumphs. "Bellonci writes not only of the enthusiasm and energy that went into the establishment of a literary prize but also the fun that attended it," Jeannet observed. Bellonci's efforts to create the prize in the latter war years "made a crucial contribution to the revival of cultural life in Italy at a time when the country lay mortified by military defeat, torn by civil war, and weakened by physical devastation as well as economic ruin." Jeannet remarked.

Tu vipera gentile, published in 1971, contains three Bellonci novellas. In the first, Delitto di stato ("Crime for Reasons of State"), a royal courtier of the Gonzaga family arranges several murders to avoid the revelation of a shameful and lurid Gonzaga secret; in Soccorso a Dorotea ("Help for Dorotea") the title character is jilted by a royal suitor and dies in the humiliation of rejection; in the title novella, Bellonci relates the story of the various rulers of Milan from 1277 to 1447. "The novellas explore all aspects of our common human experience: love's secret passions, bound with political transgressions, the fleeting movements of feigned emotions, the pain held inside the face of pitiless onlookers, the questions asked in the secrecy of a conscience, and the mutual pacts made silently in conjugal love," Jeannet wrote.

Bellonci's final written work, Rinascimento privato ("Private Renaissance"), is another well-documented but fictionalized story, this one about Renaissance noblewoman Isabella d'Este. "Isabella appears briefly in every book Bellonci wrote," Jeannet observed, "and this last novel, Bellonci's most powerfully constructed and the most lovingly executed, is dedicated to her." Written in the form of a journal, the book explores d'Este's daydreams, doubts, and daily life. She is "depicted as a mature woman reflecting on her life and the events in which she played a large part," Jeannet stated. As she sits alone in the "Clocks Room" of her palace, each toll of the clocks peels back the years. She relives a life that brought her in contact with kings, popes, intellectuals, and scoundrels. "Again and again in Bellonci's account of her life, we see evidence of a powerful, synthesizing imagination that renders her worthy not only of the lucid intelligence embodied in Leonard da Vinci's famous portrait, but also of this lively and imaginative chronicle," wrote Rita Signorelli-Pappas in World Literature Today. Carol A. Crotta, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called the English translation of the book "a narrative of great energy and power," while Brad Hooper, in Booklist, wrote that Rinascimento privato is a "soundly prepared fathoming of past times and personalities." With the book, "Bellonci reaches the peak of her art, and Isabella reaches her fullest development," Jeannet remarked.

"Writing for Bellonci is a life passion," Jeannet observed, "literary creation is a willful construction; and literature is the field for the discovery of deep affinities among writers, across the centuries." Bellonci died on May 13, 1986, in Rome.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 196: Italian Novelists Since World War II, 1965-1995, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Booklist, September 1, 1984, review of The Travels of Marco Polo, pp. 18-19; February 15, 1989, Brad Hooper, review of Private Renaissance, p. 974; May 1, 1990, review of Pubblici segreti, pp. 1688-1689.

Geographical Journal, November, 1986, John Black, review of The Travels of Marco Polo, p. 415.

Library Journal, March 1, 1989, Jack Shreve, review of Private Renaissance, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 4, 1989, Carol A. Crotta, review of Private Renaissance, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, January 20, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Private Renaissance, pp. 137-138.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 12, 1989, Constance Markey, review of Private Renaissance, p. 7.

West Coast Review of Books, January, 1985, review of The Travels of Marco Polo, p. 41.

World Literature Today, winter, 1987, Rita Signorelli-Pappas, review of Rinascimento privato, pp. 82-83.



Times (London, England), May 16, 1986.*

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