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ISABELLA AND LODOV1CO 149
that she could hardly contain her joy at seeing them. Lodovico himself wrote to express his thanks for her assistance, saying that the Marchesino had told him how diligently she had laboured to bring about this happy result. On the 1st of January 1499, the imperial envoy, Erasmo Brasca, solemnly delivered the baton and standard of the King of the Romans to the Marquis, in front of the church of S. Pietro. Isabella witnessed the investiture from a platform erected on the Piazza, and afterwards entertained the ambassador at a banquet in the Castello. The banner was solemnly blessed in the Cathedral and borne through the city in procession, after which the Marquis rode out with the ambassador to sup at his villa of Go'ito. But it was reported at Venice that the children in the street cried Marco! Marco! at the sight of the lion on the banner, upon which the German envoy looked puzzled, and the Marquis only smiled and kept silence.1
All through this last year of his reign, when Lodovico's enemies were busy plotting his destruction, Isabella was in constant communication with her brother-in-law. He wrote regularly, giving her the latest political and court news, such, for instance, as that of King Charles the Eighth's sudden death in April 1498, and sent her baskets of peaches and barrels of sweet wine, with charming little notes calling her his dearest sister and signing himself " your most affectionate brother." And she in return sent him the finest trout from Garda and swans from the Mantuan lakes to sail in the moat of the Castello, and thanked him cordially for his gracious remembrance, while Evangelista, Francesco's famous 150 ISABELLA'S PORTRAIT
1 Sanuto, Diarii, ii. 256.
stud groom, tamed the Duke's horses and sent them back in three days' time, fit for His Excellency to ride.
One of the last letters which Isabella addressed to Lodovico was a request for his permission to present Giangaleazzo's widow, her cousin Isabella of Aragon, with her portrait in colours. The Marchesa had always shown the greatest kindness to this unfortunate princess in the days of her rivalry with Beatrice, and still corresponded with her frequently. In 1498, she sent her a fine marble bust from Mantegna's collection, which the Duchess was anxious to possess, as it was supposed to resemble her, and allowed Leonardo's pupil Beltraffio to copy a portrait of her late brother King Ferrante II., that belonged to the Marquis. Now Isabella of Aragon expressed a great wish for her cousin's own portrait, and the Marchesa had it painted by a Parma master, Gianfrancesco Maineri, and sent to Milan by her master of the horse, Negro, but prudently asked the Duke's leave before she presented the picture to his nephew's widow.1 "I am afraid," she wrote pleasantly, "I shall weary, not only Your Highness, but all Italy with the sight of my portraits, but I could not refuse Duchess Isabella's urgent entreaties. I send this one, which is not really very good and makes me look fatter than I am, and have desired Negro to show it to Your Highness, and if you approve, give it to the Duchess from me." The Duke replied courteously that he admired the portrait INTRIGUES WITH FRANCE 151
1 Luzio, Emporium, 1900, p. 852. This portrait may possibly be the same as that in Mrs. Alfred Morrison's collection, which was exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1894. Whether it is the work of the Parma artist or of Beltraffio, who was at Mantua at the time, the portrait bears a marked likeness to Leonardo's drawing of Isabella.
and thought it very good, even if it made his sisterin-law fatter than she was when he saw her last. Isabella, we know, was inclined to embonpoint, and lived in constant terror of growing stout, as she did in her later years. When she was at Pavia with Beatrice in 1492, she informed her husband with great satisfaction that her sister the Duchess had not grown any taller than herself, but was distinctly stouter and seemed inclined to resemble her mother in this respect. And in after years we find frequent allusions to this tendency in her letters. The portrait was sent to Milan in March 1499, when Lodovico's affairs were already in a critical state. A few weeks earlier, in February 1499, the treaty between Venice and France was signed, and the destruction of Lodovico and partition of his State was finally determined. Isabella was spending carnival at Ferrara, where her father was giving a series of Latin comedies in her honour. She wrote off without a moment's delay to her husband, telling him that news of a treaty between the Signory and King Louis of France had just reached Ferrara, and was of such great importance that she must send to him at once.
This seems to have decided Francesco's course of action. His salary was in arrears; the old grievance against the Moro and Galeazzo rankled in his heart, although he nominally retained his command, and in May he made secret overtures to Louis XII., placing his sword at his service. The King replied graciously, and soon afterwards sent him the Order of St. Michael, at the same time recommending him cordially to his Venetian allies. The prospect of an alliance between the Pope and Louis XII. was still 152 FRANCESCO MEETS LOUIS XII
more alarming. The Pope's son Caesar Borgia had been received with great favour at the French court and created Duke of Valentinois, and his marriage to Charlotte d'Albret took place at Blois on the 16th of May. Both Francesco Gonzaga and Duke Ercole began to tremble for their own safety, and instead of taking up arms for the Moro, felt that the time had come to defend their own States.
Meanwhile Isabella watched the course of affairs with growing anxiety. She was sincerely grieved at the downfall of Lodovico, who had been her true and loyal friend, and thought with concern of her sister's helpless children, whom she saw driven into exile. But she was none the less eager to conciliate the victor and save her husband and his State from ruin. She sent gifts of falcons and trout to Louis XII. when he was at Milan, a couple of dogs to Count Egmont, and a horse to the Mareehal de Giers, and invited Monseigneur de Ligny, who was a connection of her family, to visit Mantua. And when, in November 1499, she heard that Cardinal d'Amboise expressed a great wish to have a devotional picture by Mantegna, whom he held to be the first painter in the world, she promptly ordered Messer Andrea to paint a St. John the Baptist with the portrait and arms of the French prelate, and sent the picture to the Cardinal, who declared that he valued it more than a gift of 2000 ducats.1 Both Duke Ercole and the Marquis of Mantua hastened to meet the French king when he reached Pavia, and accompanied him on his triumphal entry into Milan. Young Baldassarre Castiglione, the future writer of the Cortigiano, who AT MILAN 153
1 Pelissier, Les Amies de Ludovic Sforza (Revue historique, 1891).
was in attendance on his master Francesco Gonzaga, wrote home to tell his friends at Mantua how the Marquis and the king had attended mass at San Arabrogio, and had afterwards been out hunting together, and laid stress on the great friendliness and evident conformity of tastes between His Most Christian Majesty and the Marquis. "So I hope," he adds, not without significance, "that all will go well now."1
Yet Isabella's heart must have ached when she heard of the havoc which the French invaders had wrought in the fair halls of the Castello; of the foulness and dirt, the confusion and disorder which reigned in that once beautiful palace. She must have thought with a pang of the gorgeous tapestries and priceless gems, antique marbles and cameos, the pictures by Leonardo and the instruments by Lorenzo da Pavia, of the rare manuscripts which Lodovico had collected at infinite pains and cost, and of poor Beatrice's rich embroideries and jewelled cameras, which were now the spoil of the treacherous subjects who had betrayed their prince. But she hid her grief from other eyes, and showed a smiling face to the world. And, with characteristic alacrity, she wrote on the 13th of December 1499 to Antonio Pallavicino, who had been one of the chief traitors, begging him to let her have the wonderful clavichord which Lorenzo da Pavia had made for Beatrice four years before. Antonio wrote back from Lodi, that he would gladly execute her errand on his return to Milan, and inquire what had become of the precious instrument. More than a year elapsed before he was able to gratify the Marchesa's desire, but Isabella's perseverance eventually triumphed over all difficulties, and
1 Serassi, Lettere di B. Castiglione.