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Journey of Isabella to Loreto and Urbino—Letters from Gubbio and Urbino—Charles VIII. enters Italy—The Marquis of Mantua refuses his offers—Visit of Isabella to Milan—Conquest of Naples by the French—League against France— Francesco Gonzaga, captain of the armies of the League— Isabella governs Mantua—Battle of the Taro—Heroism of Francesco Gonzaga—Rejoicings at Venice and Mantua—The Jew Daniele Norsa and Mantegna's Madonna della Vittoria.
As soon as the carnival f£tes at Marmirolo were ended and her infant daughter had been christened, Isabella set out on a pilgrimage to Loreto, to fulfil a vow which she had made to Our Lady before the birth of her child. She started on the 10th of March, taking with her an offering of chased gold ornaments, worked by the skilful Mantuan goldsmith, Bartolommeo Meliolo, who had lately been appointed Master of the Mint, and whose medals of the Gonzaga princes are well known. Her original intention had been to spend Holy Week at Urbino with her sister-in-law, but the Duchess begged her to put off her visit till after Easter, since it was difficult to obtain sufficient supplies of fish at Urbino to feed a large number of guests. So after spending a few days at Ferrara and a night at Ravenna, where she visited the ancient churches and admired the mosaics, the Marchesa travelled by Pesaro and Ancona to Loreto. Here she
ISABELLA AT GUBBIO 109
arrived on Wednesday in Holy Week, and confessed and communicated at the altar of the Santa Casa on Maundy Thursday. In a letter to her husband from Ravenna she informed him that she intended to spend Easter at Gubbio, and then devote one day to Assisi, and another to Perugia, "both in order to see that noble city, and because, if I am to hear mass and dine at Assisi, there would not be time to return to Gubbio the same day. From Assisi to Perugia, I hear, it is only ten miles, through a most beautiful valley, and twelve more from Perugia to Gubbio."1
But when the Marchesa reached Gubbio she found the Duke and Duchess of Urbino awaiting her, and was induced to spend ten days with them at Gubbio, and another fortnight at Urbino. From Gubbio she visited Assisi, where she saw Giotto's frescoes and paid her vows at the tomb of St. Francis, and Camerino, where her cousins, the Varani, gave her a warm welcome, and would gladly have detained her longer. But she was eager to return to Gubbio, and was as much struck with the beauty of the spot as the splendour of the ducal palace, which had been the favourite abode of the last Duchess, Battista Sforza, where her son Guidobaldo was born, and where she herself died. "This palace," she wrote on the 30th of March to her husband, "is magnificently furnished, besides being a noble building, and is so finely situated that I do not think I have ever seen a place which pleased me better. It stands on a height overlooking the town and plain, and has a delightful garden, with a fountain in the centre." To-day the fair gardens 110 PALACE OF URBINO
1 Luzio e Renier, Montova e Urbino, pp. 73, &c.
are desolate, and the sumptuous fittings of the palace are gone, but a considerable portion of Duke Federico's building still remains. We can look down from the beautiful loggia on the view which Isabella admired, and breathe the health-giving breezes which Elisabetta praised in her letters.
But the famous palace of Urbino inspired the young Marchesa with still greater enthusiasm. "This palace," she writes to her husband, "is far finer than I ever expected. Besides the natural beauty of the place, it is very richly furnished with tapestries, hangings, and silver plate; and I must tell you that in all the different rooms which I have occupied in this Duke's different homes, the hangings have never been moved from one place to another, and from the first moment when I arrived at Gubbio until now, I have been entertained more and more sumptuously every day: indeed I could not have been more highly honoured if I had been a bride! I have repeatedly begged my hosts to reduce these expenses and treat me in a more familiar way, but they will not listen to this. This is, no doubt, the doing of the Duke, who is the most generous of men. He holds a fine court now, and lives in royal splendour, and governs the State with great wisdom and humanity, to the satisfaction of all his subjects."
It was not till the 25th of April that Isabella finally took leave of the Duke and Duchess, who was inconsolable at parting from her dearly-loved friend, and wrote the following note within the next twenty-four hours:—
"Your departure made me feel not only that I had lost a dear sister, but that life itself had DEATH OF GIOVANNI SANTI 111
gone from me. I know not how else to soften my grief, except by writing every hour to you, and telling you on paper all that my lips desire to say. If I could express the sorrow I feel, I believe that you would come back out of compassion for me. And if I did not fear to vex you, I would follow you myself. But since both these things are impossible, from the respect which I owe Your Highness, all I can do is to beg you earnestly to remember me sometimes, and to know that I bear you always in my heart."
The tender-hearted Duchess experienced a fresh sorrow that summer in the death of her favourite painter, Giovanni Santi. He had never recovered from the fever which he caught at Mantua in the previous autumn, and died on the 1st of August. "About twenty days ago," wrote Elisabetta to her sister-in-law on the 19th, "our painter, Giovanni dei Sancti, passed out of this life, being in full possession of his senses, and in the most excellent disposition of mind. May God pardon his soul!" On hearing of Santi's death, the Marquis Francesco wrote at once to ask his sister to send him the portraits on tondi which he began at Mantua, and, on the 13th of October, Elisabetta replied: "In answer to your letter, I must tell you that Giovanni dei Sancti was unable, owing to his illness at Mantua, to finish the portrait of Monsignore (Sigismondo Gonzaga); and after his return here, his illness increased so rapidly that he could not go on with mine, but if Your Excellency will send me a round of the same size as the others, I will have my portrait painted by a good artist here, and send it you as soon as possible. I am well, and 112 THE MARQUIS AND HIS DAUGHTER
have good news of my illustrious consort, from whom I hear constantly." And in a postscript she adds: "I have made Giovanni's assistant search everywhere, but he says that he can find nothing."' Meanwhile Isabella travelled northward through Romagna to Rologna, where she was hospitably entertained by Annibale Bentivoglio and her sister Lucrezia; and after paying a short visit to her father and brother at Ferrara, reached Mantua towards the middle of May. During her absence from home she received daily accounts of her little daughter's well-being from Violante de' Preti, and the Marquis himself gave her constant news of the child, to whom he was tenderly attached. "Yesterday we went into our little daughter's room," he writes in one letter to Urbino, "and were glad to see her so well and lively. We had her dressed before us, as you desired, in her white damask robe, which suits her charmingly, and of which she was very proud. This morning we have been to see her again, but finding her asleep, would not wake her."2 Neither did Francesco fail to give his wife private information of the important political events which had been happening at Milan and Mantua in the last few weeks. In a long letter to Bologna, intended for her eyes alone, he told her that Monseigneur de Migni, as he called D'Aubigny, and three other French ambassadors had arrived at Mantua on the 22nd of April, with eighty-five horsemen, to ask a free passage through his dominion for the Most Christian King's troops on the way to Naples. More than this, they had
1 Campori, Notizie di Giovanni Santi, Modena, 1870.
2 Luzio e Kenier, Mantova e Urbino, pp. 75-77.