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160 ISABELLA'S ART TREASURES
place of retreat from the world, where she could enjoy the pleasures of solitude or the company of a few chosen friends, surrounded by beautiful paintings and exquisite works of art. Here she would read her favourite authors or sing Virgil and Petrarch's verses to her lute. Here she would play the clavichord with the Greek and Latin mottoes which had once adorned Beatrice's camerino in the stately Castello of Milan, and listen to the strains of Jacopo de San Secondo's viol or the recitations of the wonderful improvisatore Serafino. Here she would spend delicious hours with Duchess Elisabetta and her sister-in-law, Emilia Pia, and give herself up to the joys of intimate converse with the best and closest of friends. In this sanctuary, from which the cares and noise of the outer world were banished, it was Isabella's dream that the walls should be adorned with paintings giving expression to her ideals of culture and disposing the mind to pure and noble thoughts. The subjects of these pictures were to be classic myths with allegorical meanings, chosen by herself with the help of some favourite humanist of her circle, and painted by the foremost masters of the day.
During the next seven or eight years Isabella applied herself to attain this object with all the perseverance and tenacity of her character. No stone was left unturned, no chance of enriching her collection was ever thrown away. Again and again in her letters she begged her chosen agents, Zorzo Brognolo in Venice, Ziliolo or Capilupi at Ferrara, to send her "some beautiful thing for the studio." Greek and Roman antiques, marble heads and reliefs newly discovered in ruins of the Eternal City or MANTEGNA'S PARNASSUS 161
among the temples of the Ionian Isles, reached Mantua in response to her urgent request. She did not scruple to ask Caesar Borgia, who drove out Duke Guidobaldo, or the Pallavicini, who betrayed her brother-in-law, to give her the spoils of Milan and Urbino. The greatest painters, the most distinguished sculptors and goldsmiths of the day, Mantegna, Bellini, Perugino, Costa, Michel Angelo, Cristoforo Romano, Raphael himself, were all in turn desired to contribute some picture or statue to the decoration of the Grotta. Often she met with refusals, oftener still with delays and disappointments, but still she persevered with the unwearied ardour, the indomitable passion of the true collector. First of all she began with Mantegna. Of all living masters, none shared Isabella's enthusiasm for antiquity or was more truly inspired with classic feeling than this old servant of the Gonzagas. Since his return from Rome he had been too busily engaged on the Triumphs, and the decoration of Francesco's villas at Marmirolo and Gonzaga, to work for the Marchesa, and the one portrait which he had painted, had failed to satisfy her critical taste. But the task which she gave him now appealed in a peculiar manner to his imagination, and in the two magnificent tempera paintings which he executed for the Marchesa's new studio, the aged master rose to new heights of creative power and romantic invention. In the one, Venus the Queen of Love is throned on the green slopes of Parnassus by the side of Mars, the God of War, and at the foot of the sacred mount, Apollo and the Muses celebrate her triumph in joyous songs and dances. A drawing of the central figure in the lower group by Mantegna's pen has been preserved at Munich, VOL. I. L
162 THE DANCING MUSE
and in this Muse, who leads the dance, we recognise the fair face and radiant smile of the young Marchesa herself, whom the painter has here introduced as the presiding genius of the studio.1 In the other picture, Minerva is seen armed with spear and helmet rushing out of a thicket and chasing the Vices of Ignorance, Ingratitude, Sloth, and Lust from the green bowers and cypress arbours of a sheltered garden. There can be little doubt that the idea of this new series of Triumphs, in which the victory of moral force and of that supreme excellence which under the name of virtu was so often on the lips of Isabella and her contemporaries, originated with Mantegna, and that the Marchesa afterwards adapted it with the help of the humanist Paride da Ceresara to the other pictures of the cycle.2
The Parnassus or Triumph of Love, which is by far the finest of the two paintings, was completed by Andrea in the summer of 1497. The Marchesa, in a letter written that spring, thanked her friend Lorenzo da Pavia for some new varnish which he had sent from Venice, and which was so excellent that Messer Andrea would like to have twice as much, and on the 3rd of July Alberto da Bologna wrote to Isabella, who was absent at Ferrara: "Nothing is now wanting to the studio of Your Highness, and you will find Messer Andrea's picture has been hung and its pedestal and frame gilded."3 The companion picture of the Triumph of Virtue was probably finished by the end of the century, but even before this Isabella was doing her utmost to PERUGINO 163
1 B. Berenson, "The Drawings of Mantegna," p. 4.
• Cf. Dr. Paul Kristeller, " A. Mantegna," pp. 348, 349.
8 Yriarte, Gazette d. B. Arts, 1895.
obtain works from other masters. When the Marquis visited Venice on his return from Naples, Isabella desired him to tell Giovanni Bellini how anxious she was that he should paint a picture for her studio, and on the 26th of November 1496, Alberto da Bologna, who was in attendance on his master, wrote to say that the painter had promised to satisfy her as soon as possible. In the same letter, the faithful servant, who may have felt it necessary to assure his mistress of her husband's loyalty, adds: "Not a day passes but His Excellency speaks of Your Highness in the most affectionate terms. Your image is graven on his heart, and he always speaks of you as of a dear and sweet daughter." On the 3rd of April 1497, Isabella asked Lorenzo da Pavia, with whom she was in constant correspondence, if his friend the painter Perugino were alive or dead. A report of the Umbrian master's death had, it appears, reached her ears, but if he were alive and in Venice she begged Lorenzo to ask him to paint a picture for her studio.1 Perugino was alive, but had left Venice some months before, and Lorenzo no doubt told Isabella how full of work the painter was, and how long the Duke of Milan and the Prior of the Certosa had waited in vain for their altar-piece. But many more years were to pass before either Giovanni Bellini or Perugino could be prevailed upon to satisfy the Marchesa's wishes. As she wrote to her friend Ceresara: "We only wish that we could be as well served by painters as we are by men of letters. But we know that the wish is vain. We must be content to take what they choose or are able to give us." 2
1 Yriarte, op. cit. 2 Ibid., 1896.
164 CRISTOFORO ROMANO
Meanwhile, the Marchesa had been fortunate in securing the services of a master whose rare excellence she had long admired—the sculptor Giovanni Cristoforo Romano. This accomplished artist, who was born in Rome about 1465, and sent to Milan by Cardinal Ascania Sforza, was employed on the works of the Certosa of Pavia, and became one of Beatrice d'Este's favourite singers. In this capacity he accompanied her on all her journeys, "and was with her," as Marchesino Stanga wrote, "now in one place, now in another." From his boyhood Cristoforo had devoted himself to the study of antique art in Rome, and did his utmost to prevent the Eternal City from being stripped of its precious marbles. Sabba da Castiglione tells us that he was as fine a connoisseur as Mantegna, and in the Cortigiano he is ranked with Michel Angelo among the foremost sculptors of the age, and would have rivalled him in greatness if he had not suffered from constant illhealth. Since Isabella had seen his charming bust of Beatrice, on her first visit to Milan, she had been very anxious to obtain a similar effigy of herself, and had begged Lodovico to allow the sculptor to come to Mantua. But although the Duke and Duchess had readily granted her request, Cristoforo had excused himself from accepting the Marchesa's invitation until he had finished his work at the Certosa, and it was not till after Beatrice's death that he consented to leave Milan. In April 1497, Isabella again begged Lodovico to allow Messer Zoan Cristoforo to come to Mantua, as she wished for his advice on certain works, and in September she wrote to Benedetto Tosabezzi, her agent at Venice, enclosing a letter from "our