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ISABELLAS EDUCATION 9
and sister and leaving the happy home of her childhood.1
By this time Isabella herself had reached the age of fourteen, and was growing up a beautiful and accomplished maiden. She inherited her mother's regular features, but, unlike her sister Beatrice, had the fair hair and white skin which we see in Titian's portrait at Vienna. According to Mario Equicola, who spent many years in the Marchesa's service, her eyes were black and sparkling, her hair yellow, and her complexion one of dazzling brilliancy. Trissino, the great Vicenza humanist, in his Ritratti, describes the rippling golden hair that flowed in thick masses over her shoulders, recalling Petrarch's lines, "Una donna piU bella assai che'l sole;" and tells us that, although only of middle height, she was remarkable for the dignity of her carriage and stately grace of her head and neck. But, as the Mantuan envoy told his master, her gifts of mind were still more striking than those of her person. Like other princesses of the day, Isabella received a classical education, and in after years acquired the reputation of speaking the Latin tongue better than any woman of her age. Battista Guarino, a son of the famous Verona scholar who taught her uncle Duke Leonello, and lectured in the University to the most distinguished students in Italy, was her first teacher, and during the famine of 1482 begged the Marquis of Mantua for a grant of wheat, in order that he might the better instruct Donna Isabella, "who is now," he adds, "thank God, in perfect health, and learns with a marvellous facility far beyond her years." Guarino was succeeded by another tutor, Jacopo Gallino, who became 10 HER LOVE OF MUSIC
1 A. Luzio e R. Renier, Mantova e Urbino, p. 16.
fondly attached to his clever pupil, and often reminded the Marchesana in later years of the happy days when they studied the grammar of Chrysolaras together, and she repeated the Eclogues of Virgil and the Epistles of Cicero by heart, or construed the iEneid with such rare grace and fluency. At the same time the more womanly arts were not neglected in Isabella's education. She learnt to dance, as we have already seen, from her babyhood, and two bone needles and one gold needle, for Madonna Isabella's embroidery, are found among the entries in the household accounts of the ducal family.1 At an early age she showed signs of the musical tastes for which she was afterwards distinguished, and which she shared with the other members of her race. Duke Leonello played the guitar, and her own brother Alfonso was an excellent violinist and frequently took part in public performances. Duchess Leonora played the harp, and both her daughters learnt the lute and clarichord. As a child, Isabella studied music under Don Giovanni Martino, a German priest who had been brought from Constance to train the singers of the ducal chapel. After her marriage she had many masters, and often said laughingly that she was but a poor pupil, who did her teachers little credit.2 But she had a beautiful voice, and accompanied herself on the lute with exquisite skill; and the favoured guests who were privileged to hear her sing and play all went away charmed. Many were SCHOLARS AT FERRARA 11
1 Registro de Mandati, c. 48, quoted by Luzio and Renier in Giorn. St. d. Lett. It., vol. xxxvii. p. 2.
2 S. Davari, Musica in Mantova, Rivista Stor. Mants., i. 6l; Bertolotti, Musica alia Corte dei Gonzaga.
the lines from Virgil and the sonnets of Petrarch which Niccolo da Correggio or Pietro Bembo set to music for her benefit, and Trissino declares that the sweetness of her voice lured the Sirens from their rocks, and charmed the wild beasts and stones with the magic of Orpheus.
But the atmosphere of culture and refinement in which Isabella grew up helped to develop her powers more than the teaching of any masters. Under the rule of three accomplished Dukes, Ferrara had become a centre of art and learning. The foremost scholars and the best poets were attracted to a court where Matteo Boiardo wrote his Orlando Innamorato, and Francesco Bello, the blind improvisatore, charmed all men by his poetic recitations. Above all, Isabella had the example of her own parents before her eyes. Duke Ercole's youth had been spent at the court of Naples, where he was sent after his father's death, and early acquired distinction as a valiant soldier. But one day, during a serious attack of illness, he happened to read a translation of Quintus Curtius, which interested him so deeply that from that time he devoted all his leisure hours to classical studies. When Lodovico Sforza asked him for the loan of his translation of Dionysius Cassius he replied that he could not part with the manuscript, which he read almost every day, but would have it copied for his son-in-law. Plutarch and Xenophon, Euripides and Seneca were among his favourite authors, and the comedies of Plautus and Terence were translated into Italian verse and acted at Ferrara under his direction. He added largely to the ducal library founded by his brother Leonello and kept a careful register of all the books which his friends borrowed. His wife Leonora had 12 PAINTERS AT THE COURT
a private collection of her own favourite authors, which included many Italian versions of French and Breton romances, of Spanish tales such as II Career (TAmore, which she brought with her from Naples, and of Pliny's "Letters" and Caesar's "Commentaries," as well as the Fioretti of St. Francis and the De Consolations of Boethius.
From her birth, Isabella was surrounded by the finest works of art. The walls of her mother's rooms were covered with paintings by the best Flemish and Italian masters; a crucifix by Jacopo Bellini hung over her father's writing desk. The frescoes of Pisanello and Piero della Francesca, the medals of Sperandio, the richest tapestries and the finest majolica from Faenza and Urbino adorned the palaces and villas of Ferrara. Much of Isabella's childhood was spent in her father's favourite country house, the Schifanoia or Sans Souci of the Este princes, which the Ferrarese master Francesco Cossa and his followers had decorated with a famous series of hunting and pastoral subjects. And during these years architects and painters were continually at work both in the Castello and in the beautiful villa of Belriguardo on the banks of the Po, which was said to contain as many rooms as days in the year. The chapel was decorated with frescoes by Cosimo Tura, who also, in his capacity of court-painter, executed the portraits of Isabella and Beatrice for their affianced husbands. When, in 1487, Cosimo became too old and infirm for his work, another excellent Ferrara painter, Ercole Roberti, originally the son of a porter in the Castello, took his place and was employed to decorate the new halls which the Duke had lately built at Belriguardo. A new chapel MARRIAGE OF LUCREZTA 13
was also added to the Castello, and amongst the works of art which adorned its walls was a stucco group by a Ferrara sculptor representing the Duchess with her daughter Isabella kneeling on a brocade cushion at her feet.1
Thus, from early youth, Isabella not only learnt how to appreciate the finest art, but to see the enlightened patronage which her parents bestowed alike on native and foreign masters. She heard her father discuss with keen interest the latest plans for the decoration of villas and churches, and watched Italian and Spanish embroiderers at work under her mother's superintendence. She saw Duke Ercole's Italian version of the Menceckmi, and her cousin Niccolo da Correggio's pastoral romance of Cefah acted on a stage fitted up in the old Palazzo della Ragione. She met the most brilliant men and women of the day at her father's table, and heard the best conversation and the most refined criticism from their lips. And she grew up a charming and graceful maiden, adored by her parents and teachers and beloved by all around her.
In 1487, the Duke's illegitimate daughter Lucrezia was married to Count Annibale, a son of Giovanni Bentivoglio, lord of Bologna, and Francia, the famous goldsmith of that city, who often worked for Leonora, was employed to design the gold and silver credenza or dinner-service used on this occasion, with lamps encrusted with flowers and foliage, and goblets studded with precious gems. The marriage of Isabella, who was three years younger than her half-sister, was delayed for a time. The Duke and
1 Gustave Gruyer, L'Art Ferrarais d Tepoque des Princes d'Este, vol ii. p. 136.