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FRANCESCO AND CHARLES VIII. 123
or wherever I may be, I hear continually songs and praises of the great deeds and splendid victory of Your Highness, in defeating and driving out the French, and delivering all Italy from their barbarous hands. I also hear of the great glory and honours which are justly paid you by all the powers of Italy."1
Francesco himself had little time to spare, and in a short letter of the 28th of August he tells his wife that he is continually on horseback day and night, and wonders that his strength holds out, but asks her to send him some playing-cards, that he may occasionally distract his thoughts with a game of scartino. Besides the task of directing military operations, he had great difficulty in keeping peace between the Italians and Germans, who were continually quarrelling, and in a sudden brawl which he describes to Isabella, as many as one hundred and twenty men were slain.
When at length Novara surrendered and a treaty of peace was concluded between the Duke of Milan and the French king, Francesco Gonzaga paid a visit to Charles VIII. at Vercelli, and came away much pleased with the courtesy shown him and the splendid horses with which the king presented him. The Mantuan singers who were sent to serenade His Majesty told the Marchesa how eagerly the king had questioned them about her appearance and the gems she wore, and how anxious he was to make the acquaintance of this brilliant and fascinating lady of whom he had heard so much. This exchange of courtesies between the French monarch and the Marquis did not altogether please the Venetian 124 MANTEGNA PAINTS
1 Luzio In Arch. St. It, 1890.
Signory, who were indignant with the Duke of Milan for concluding a separate peace with France, and who already looked with suspicion on his brother-in-law. But once the French army had crossed the Alps they were not sorry to disband their army, and on the 1st of November the Marquis made his triumphal entry into Mantua, where he was joyfully welcomed by his wife and both his sisters, Chiara of Montpensier and Elisabetta of Urbino, who came to spend Christmas with her family. Great were the rejoicings in honour of the victor's return. Sperandio, that aged artist who, after a long residence at the court of the Estes, had lately returned to spend his last days in his native city, designed a fine medal representing Francesco on horseback at Fornovo, with the proud inscription: Ob. Restitutam Italia: Libertatem.1 But a grander and more imposing memorial of Francesco Gonzaga's victory had already been planned by his wife and brother. In the thick of the mel^e at Fornovo, the Marquis had implored the Blessed Virgin's help, and, after the battle, he resolved to commemorate his deliverance by some noble monument. Then he remembered the poor Jew, Daniele Norsa, whose house in the Via San Simone head been nearly wrecked by the fanaticism of the mob at Ascensiontide, and in a letter addressed to his brother Sigismondo on the last day of July, he proposed that the Jew should be made to restore the figure of Our Lady which he had removed from the wall, in a finer and more splendid form, as an act of reparation to the glorious Mother. The idea was quickly taken up by the Protonotary, who suggested that an altarpiece of the Madonna should be painted by Andrea THE MADONNA DELLA VITTORIA 125
1 Armand, La Medailkurs italien*.
Mantegna, and that the Marquis should be represented kneeling in armour, with his brothers and his illustrious lady at the Virgin's feet. The Marquis highly approved of this proposal, and fixed the price of Mantegna's painting at 110 ducats, which the Jew was required to pay down, within three days. Isabella's own portrait, however, was not eventually introduced in the picture. Perhaps she had no wish to sit to Mantegna again, and preferred that her patron, St. Elizabeth, should appear in her stead. But if, as seems most probable, in the venerable saint who kneels opposite the figure of the Marquis, we see the Beata Osanna, that revered nun whose prayers were offered day and night for the success of Francesco's arms, the suggestion may well have come from the Marchess1 In the same way, the figures of the heavenly warriors St. George and St. Michael, and of the patron saints of Mantua, Andrew and Longinus, were substituted for the Gonzaga brothers. A certain Fra Girolamo Redini, a friar of the Eremitani order who was fond of meddling in political affairs, now proposed that the Jew's house should be pulled down, and that a church, dedicated to the Madonna della Vittoria, should be erected in its place. This scheme was finally adopted. The sum of 110 ducats was paid by the Jew on the 25th of August, and part of the money was handed over by the Protonotary to Mantegna, who was promised the remainder when the work was partly executed.2
The architect Bernardo Ghisolfo, whose name appears frequently in the Gonzaga archives, set to work at once, and by the following June the new 120 PROCESSION IN HONOUK
1 Cf. "Life of Mantegna," by Miss Cruttwell, p. 93. 1 Luzio in Emporium, vol. x. ;Hio.
chapel was ready to receive Messer Andrea's altarpiece. The painter on this part worked more rapidly than usual, taking pleasure in his subject and incited by the prospect of the large reward that was awaiting him, and on the anniversary of the battle of the Taro, the great Madonna was borne in triumph from Mantegna's house near San Sebastiano to the new shrine on the site of the Jew's house, at the other end of the town. Francesco himself was absent in the kingdom of Naples at the time, but the Marchesa and Sigismondo resolved to make the ceremony as imposing as possible, and their letters to the Marquis show that their efforts were attended with complete success. On the 10th of July, Isabella wrote: "The figure of Our Lady, which Andrea Mantegna has painted, was carried from his house in procession last Wednesday, being the 6th of this month, to the new chapel of S. Maria della Vittoria, in commemoration of last year's battle and of your gallant deeds, and greater crowds assembled than I have ever seen at any procession in this town. My confessor, Fra Pietro, made a fine oration at high mass, and spoke in a manner appropriate to the occasion, begging the glorious Virgin Mary to keep Your Excellency safe and bring you home victorious. Owing to my present condition, I could not walk on foot in the procession, but I went to the Borgo to see it pass, and returned to the Castello by the new chapel, which is well adorned, and the road was thronged with people."1
Sigismondo adds a few particulars of interest.
1 Archivio Gonzaga, quoted by Portioli, La Clde.ia e la Madonna della VUtoria in Mantova, p. 21.