Bronze medal of Vittoria Colonna

Michelangelo had a number of close friends despite his reputation as prickly and solitary. Most of them were men, many of whom are depicted on medals of the day. His circle included the celebrated writer and humanist Bembo, who was closely connected to the papal court and was made a cardinal in 1538. He also formed a deep and lasting friendship with Tommaso de' Cavalieri, a young Roman noble he met in 1532.

This medal shows Vittoria Colonna, whom Michelangelo first met around 1536. She was his closest female friend; widowed in 1525 at the age of 35 she is shown here wearing a widow's veil. From then until her death in Rome in 1547 she devoted herself to meditation and writing poetry, spending much time in convents. During her intense friendship with Michelangelo he dedicated poems to her and presented her with drawings.