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154 MILANESE REFUGEES
on the 31st of July 1501, she wrote joyfully to tell her friend Messer Lorenzo that the beautiful clavichord which he had made for her sister, the Duchess of blessed memory, had been given her by Messer Galeazzo Pallavicino, the husband of her cousin, Elisabetta Sforza. "And I felt," she adds, "that I must let you know this, feeling sure you will be glad to hear it was in my hands, being as it is your work, and so excellent an instrument that it must always be very dear to me."'
At the same time, she showed the real warmth of her heart by the tenderness with which she treated the unfortunate Milanese exiles who came to seek refuge at Mantua. Many of these were kinsfolk of the Sforzas, or high-born ladies whom she had known intimately at the Moro's court. Among them, strange to say, were Lodovico's two mistresses, the accomplished Cecilia Gallerani and Lucrezia Crivelli. Isabella entertained Cecilia courteously, and afterwards recommended her to the favour of the French king, as a lady of rare gifts and charm, while Lucrezia and her two little sons found an asylum in the Rocca of Canneto, and lived there many years under the protection of the Gonzagas.2 Another distinguished visitor who spent some weeks at Mantua that winter was the Marchesa's unfortunate cousin, Isabella of Aragon, whose only son had been carried off to France by Louis XII., and who, with her two young daughters, was now on her way to Bari.
The two Sanseverino brothers, Antonio Maria, with his wife Margherita Pia—an intimate friend of Isabella—and the brave Captain Fracassa, also AT MANTUA 155
1 Lorenzo Gusnasco, Carlo deU'Acqua, p. 20. 2 Luzio in Arch. St. Lomb., 1901, p. 154.
sought shelter at the Gonzagas' court; and through these refugees, who were in constant correspondence with the exiled Duke at Innsbruck, Isabella heard of the plots that were secretly made for his restoration. And she heard from her friends Leonardo da Vinci and Luca Pacioli, the great mathematician, who visited Mantua on their way to Venice, how cordially the people of Milan hated the French invaders, and how confidently they looked for Lodovico's return. When, in the first days of February, the Moro crossed the Valtelline Alps and entered Milan, amidst the acclamations of his subjects, it was to Isabella that his first letter from his old capital was addressed. He felt confident of her sympathy in his triumph, as he had been in his reverses, and he fondly imagined that he could depend on the support of his brother-in-law. We can imagine the breathless excitement, mingled with anxious fears for those she loved best, with which Isabella watched the course of events during those thrilling days. Her own impulse was to throw herself heart and soul into the Moro's cause, and she wrote not only to her brother-in-law, but to Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, saying that she longed to fly to Milan, and fight against the French herself. The Cardinal replied, not without meaning, that her husband's presence would be more useful. But Francesco was too cautious a man to commit himself to so desperate a venture. He returned evasive answers to his brother-in-law's passionate entreaties for help, and all he did was to send his brother Giovanni with a troop of horse to join Lodovico before Novara.1 By this time the Moro's doom was 156 FINAL RUIN OF LODOVICO
1 Prato, Ci-onaca Milanese; Arch. St. It., iii. 244.
already sealed, and when, on the 10th of April, he was given up to the French general Trivulzio, it was Giovanni Gonzaga who rode alone, as fast as his horse could bear him, to bring the news to Mantua.1 Then Isabella knew that Lodovico's ruin was complete and irrevocable. All her efforts were now directed to conciliate the French victors, and to recover the favour of King Louis, who complained of Francesco's disloyalty to his ally in sending his brother to fight against him, and in receiving the Sforza partisans at Mantua. She herself was openly denounced by the French circles at Milan as an inveterate Sforzesca, and it needed all the influence of her father and brothers to prevent an open breach. By the exercise of her wonted tact and diplomacy the Marchesa, however, succeeded in averting the threatened rupture, and both she and her husband eventually regained the good graces of the French monarch.
1 Mora tori, xxiv. 386.
Isabella's literary and artistic interests—Foundation of the Studio of the Grotta in the Corte Vecchia—Mantegna's paintings for the Grotta—Cristoforo Romano comes to Mantua—Works for the studio—His medal of Isabella—Correspondence with Niccolo da Correggio—Leonardo da Vinci visits Mantua— Draws Isabella's portrait—Shows it to Lorenzo da Pavia at Venice—Isabella intends to raise a monument to Virgil—Her letter to Jacopo d'Atri.
During these troubled years at the close of the fifteenth century, when political affairs occupied so large a share of Isabella's time and thoughts, and private sorrows and public calamities both fell heavily upon her, she lost none of her interest in art and letters. On the contrary, it was just in these anxious days that she was most actively engaged in corresponding with painters and sculptors, and in securing works of art for her cameriru. From the first day that she came to Mantua the decoration of her rooms, as we have already seen, had been one of her favourite amusements, and she had employed her agents in Venice and Milan and Ferrara to collect those rare and precious objects with which she loved to surround herself. Before long she found the little studio of the Castello was unable to contain all her treasures, and about the year 1496 she obtained her husband's leave to remove some of her most valued possessions to another suite of rooms on the ground floor of the 158 THE STUDIO OF THE GROTTA
Corte Veechia. Since the erection of the Castello the halls in this part of the old palace, which had formerly belonged to the Bonacolsi, had been partly used as public offices, while others contained Francesco's fine collection of armour. But the ground floor remained unoccupied and afforded Isabella an excellent opportunity for carrying out her plans. Here then, in a hall looking out on the Piazza del Pallone, she now founded her famous Studio of the Grotta. An inventory, taken three years after her death, gives a full list of the paintings, statues, bronzes, and medals which it contained,1 while a poem, written by Raffaelle Toscana in 1586, supplies some interesting details regarding the place itself. Quel loco che'l mondo la Grotta appella. "Here," sings the poet, "are hidden the rarest treasures of Italy. Here is the suite of fine rooms which the magnanimous Isabella d'Este built and richly adorned. Two of these contain works of art which fill mortals with joy and wonder. They are decorated with rich gilding, with exquisite designs and intricate carving. Here Mantegna and other masters display their genius in sublime painting." The five pictures by Mantegna, Costa, and Perugino were still in the Grotta in 1627, and Duke Vincenzo refused to sell them to Charles I. with the rest of the Mantuan collection; but they were bought by Cardinal Richelieu immediately after the sack of the town in 1630, and are now in the Louvre. The beautiful fittings of the rooms, the richly carved and gilded wood-work, the delicate intarsiatura, and the majolica pavement were destroyed by the Austrian soldiers, who occupied the palace during 150 years, and only the outer court
1 D'Arco, Arte e Artefici, ii. 134.