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February. It was a dull year for the Marchesa, and, with the exception of a short visit to Ferrara in January, she was too much occupied with public affairs to leave home. But, as usual, she made good use of her time. She returned to her classical studies, applied herself to master the rules of Latin grammar, and consulted the great Ferrara humanist, Ercole Strozzi, as to the choice of a new tutor. Much of her leisure time was devoted to music. She took lessons on the lute from a new master, Angelo Testagrossa, a Milanese youth who sang like a seraph, and played the lyre and clavichord. On her last visit to Milan she had seen and greatly admired an instrument which Lorenzo Gusnasco of Pavia, the famous master of organs, had made for her sister Beatrice. Now she was seized with an ardent desire to possess a similar one, and on the 12th of March 1496, she addressed the following letter to Lorenzo da Pavia, whom she had often met at the court of Milan, but who had lately moved to Venice for the greater convenience of his trade:—

"M. Lorenzo da Pavia, most excellent master,— We remember that you made a most beautiful and perfect clavichord for that illustrious Madonna, the Duchess of Milan, our sister, when we were last at Pavia, and since we ourselves now wish to have an instrument of the same kind, which cannot be surpassed, we are sure that there is no one in all Italy who can satisfy our wish better than you can. We therefore pray you to make us a clavichord of such beauty and excellence as shall be worthy of your high reputation and of the trust that we repose in you. The only difference that we wish to see in this Vol. i. I


instrument is that it should be easier to play, because our hand is so light that we cannot play well if we have to press heavily on the notes. But you, I have no doubt, will understand our wishes and requirements. For the rest, make the instrument exactly as you choose. And the more quickly you can serve us the better shall we be pleased, and we will take care that you shall be well rewarded, and place ourselves at your service."*

Lorenzo hastened to reply that he would gladly serve the Marchesa, but that he feared some time must elapse before he was able to execute her commands, since he had unfortunately promised to make a viol for the Duchess of Milan and a clavichord for one of her courtiers, Messer Antonio Visconti. Isabella, however, was not to be so easily put off, and on the 19th, she wrote to the Milanese nobleman, begging him to allow Lorenzo to make her instrument first.

"Most honoured friend, and dear to us as a brother,—We have desired M. Lorenzo da Pavia, in Venice, to make us a clavichord, but hear from him that he cannot undertake this until he has finished a viol for our honoured sister, the Duchess of Milan, and a clavichord for Your Magnificence. But as we are very anxious to have our new instrument, we beg you to be as good as to yield us the next place after the Duchess, which would give us the greatest pleasure, and if you are willing, will you kindly write to Messer Lorenzo, giving him leave to make our clavichord first? And we shall be ever ready to consult the pleasure of Your Magnificence."

1 Lorenzo Gusnasco, Dott. Carlo delFAcqua, p. 20.


On the same day she wrote to Zorzo Brognolo as follows:—

"You may tell M. Lorenzo da Pavia that we have written to M. Antonio Visconti in terms that leave us no doubt but that he will allow us to have our clavichord made first, and that he can set to work at once, and if he can finish it in less than the three months which he named, we shall be the better pleased. But if this is impossible, we are content to wait, as long as he makes a most excellent instrument."'

But Lorenzo was too fine an artist to allow himself to be hurried, and he sent back word by Zorzo, a month later, that he had begun the instrument, but could not possibly finish it before three months. Once more Isabella returned to the charge, and at the end of May desired Brognolo to go and see how Lorenzo was getting on, and find out if her instrument seemed to be a fine one, and how soon it would be ready. In reply, Zorzo wrote that the clavichord would be most beautiful, and would be finished by August. But, as usual, the finishing touches took longer than the master had expected, and it was not till Christmas Day that Messer Lorenzo arrived at Mantua, bringing with him the Marchesa's clavichord, which, she wrote to Zorzo, was so perfect and beautiful a thing, it could not please her better! Lorenzo was not allowed to return to Venice without promising to undertake another commission for the insatiable Marchesa. This was a lute, which he proposed to make of inlaid ebony and ivory, "because," he writes, "these two materials go well together and are beautiful companions." On the 3rd of February 1497, he 132 LORENZO'S FRIENDS

1 Luzio in Arch. St. Lomb, xvii. 637.

wrote that the lute would soon be finished, and entered readily into Isabella's suggestion that a star should be let into the woodwork of the instrument, since this was a favourite device of the Marchesa, and appears on the reverse of her medal. A few months later the Marchesa wrote to ask about a certain lute which the singer Serafino had seen in Lorenzo's shop at Venice, and begged that the instrument which he was making should be strung in such a manner as to suit her voice.

Lorenzo had, it appears, met with unexpected difficulties in completing his task, but, as before, he entered warmly into the Marchesa's idea, and took infinite pains to meet her wishes. "I cannot," he wrote, "find any ebony that is black enough and fine enough to suit me, and am much disappointed, because I hoped to make this lute the most beautiful thing in Italy and the best, both from my great desire to give you pleasure, and from my natural wish to make an instrument of the highest excellence." Accordingly he sent to Munich for the strings of the lute, as he had heard of a German master who supplied the best quality, and promised to pay especial attention to the shape of the instrument, "because beauty of form is everything," a sentiment which must have found an echo in Isabella's heart. Perchi nella forma sta el tuto}

This, then, was the beginning of Isabella's correspondence with this remarkable man, who was closely connected with the most cultured members of the Milanese court, and belonged to a small circle of highly gifted men, which included the painter, Leonardo da Vinci; the sculptor, Cristoforo Romano; CORRESPONDENCE WITH ISABELLA 133

1 Aldo Manuzio, Lettrcs et documents; A. Baschet.

the writer and collector, Sabba da Castiglione; and the great printer, Aldo Manuzio. Lorenzo da Pavia was intimate with all these distinguished men. He shared their love of music and of painting, their enthusiasm for the antique, their passion for all that was beautiful in art and letters. His fine taste and critical eye commended him in an especial manner to Isabella d'Este, who found in him a kindred spirit, not easily satisfied either with his own work or with that of others, and aiming at nothing short of perfection. During the next twenty years she corresponded with him constantly, and employed him not only to manufacture those wonderful organs, lutes, and viols, of ebony and ivory, which were as perfect in shape as in sound, but to buy pictures and antiques, amber rosaries and ivory crucifixes, enamels, cameos and Murano glass, and Eastern stuffs, crystal mirrors and inlaid cabinets, and all the rare and lovely things with which she adorned her studio. And in all the delicate and difficult negotiations which he conducted on her behalf with Venetian merchants and artists, with the painter, Giovanni Bellini, or the printer, Aldo, she found Lorenzo's knowledge and advice, his tact and patience, of the greatest value.

Books and music, as usual, were the chief occupations which filled Isabella's spare time. But she had more frivolous amusements as well. Her letters abound with allusions to the tricks and jests of the favourite dwarfs and clowns with whom she loved to be surrounded. A whole suite of apartments, with low rooms and passages suited to their size, was built for the court dwarfs at Mantua during her lifetime, and may still be seen in a wing of the Castello.

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