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The court of Mantua and house of Gonzaga—Gianfrancesco II., the first Marquis—Vittorino da Feltre and the Casa Zoiosa— Cecilia Gonzaga—Reign of Lodovico Gonzaga and Barbara of Brandenburg—Their patronage of art and learning—Marriage of Federico to Margaret of Bavaria—Betrothal of Dorotea Gonzaga to Galeazzo Sforza—Frescoes of the Camera degli Sposi.
Mantua, which now became the home of Isabella d'Este, was a comparatively small city. The population only numbered 28,000, and the domains of the Marquis Francesco were both poorer and smaller than the Duchy of Ferrara. But under the rule of the Gonzaga family this little state had already acquired an important position in North Italy. Since the hardfought day in 1328, when Lodovico Gonzaga defeated the rival family of the Buonacolsi, and was chosen captain of the people, and afterwards appointed VicarGeneral by the Emperor, Mantua had rapidly increased in power and prosperity. His successors not only won the love of their subjects by their wise and paternal government, but by their hereditary valour and skilful diplomacy succeeded in maintaining their independence against their two powerful neighbours, Venice and Milan. There was less splendour and luxury at the court of Mantua than at Ferrara, but the Gonzagas showed as genuine a love of art and learning as the princes of the house of Este.
Gianfrancesco I., the fourth prince of his race to bear 20 THE GONZAGA PRINCES
sway in Mantua, employed Bartolino da Novara, the architect of the Castello Rosso of Ferrara, to build the strong Castello, with the four massive towers at each angle, overlooking the lakes formed by the waters of the Mincio, on the east side of the city. He also rebuilt the old bridge of San Giorgio, which crosses the Lago di Mezzo opposite the Castello, and the fine Lombard-Gothic Duomo on the neighbouring Piazza di San Pietro, which Giulio Romano transformed into a late Renaissance building in the reign of Isabella d'Este's grandson. The same prince paid a visit to the south of France in 1389, and during his residence in that country added sixtyseven French books to his library, which at his death numbered 400 volumes.1
Gianfrancesco II., who succeeded his father in 1407, was raised to the dignity of Marquis when the Emperor Sigismund visited Mantua in 1433. This wise and enlightened prince strengthened the fortifications of the city, drained the neighbouring marshes, and did his best to encourage agriculture, and the manufacture of cloth, which remained the staple industry of Mantua until the sack of 1630. Like most of the Gonzaga princes, he served the rival States of Venice and Milan alternately, but was a liberal patron of learning, and attracted the best foreign artists to his court. Brunellesco came to Mantua twice, in 1432 and in 1436, to give him advice as to the construction of dykes. Alberti, the distinguished architect, dedicated his "Treatise on Painting " to him, and even that greedy and querulous humanist, Filelfo, extolled him as the most generous of patrons. His excellent wife, Paola Malatesta, VITTORINO DA FELTRE 21
1 W. Braghirolli in Romania, 1880.
shared his cultured tastes, and trained her numerous sons and daughters in habits of virtue and piety. To her even more than to her husband was due the choice of Vittorino da Feltre as tutor to the Gonzaga princes. This remarkable man became renowned among living scholars, not only for his knowledge of Greek, but for the high ideal of education which he held up before the age. In his eyes there was no loftier mission than that of the schoolmaster, and all his powers were devoted to this high calling. The Casa Zoiosa or Maison Joyeuse, where he settled in 1425, at Gianfrancesco's invitation, close to the Castello, soon became famous throughout Italy. Here, in these fair halls, on the banks of the lake, adorned with frescoes and surrounded with avenues of plane trees and acacias, the high-born youths and maidens in Vittorino's charge received that complete training of body and mind which he held to be the best preparation for life. He began by making a few necessary reforms. His pupils' superfluous servants were dismissed, the use of gold and silver plate and of highly spiced dishes at their table was prohibited, and simple but abundant fare was provided. All swearing and bad language was forbidden, lying was treated as the blackest of crimes, good manners were especially encouraged, and Church festivals and fasts were strictly observed, since in Vittorino's eyes true learning was inseparable from virtue and religion. His course of instruction included Latin and Greek, mathematics, grammar, logic, philosophy, music, singing and dancing, and the hours of study were pleasantly varied by games at palla in the meadows along the Mincio, and shooting, swimming, and fencing matches, as well as occasional fishing and 22 THE CASA ZOIOSA
hunting expeditions. He began by reading carefully chosen selections from Virgil and Cicero, Homer and Demosthenes aloud to his scholars, explaining the meaning as he went along, and made them learn these passages by heart as the best way of forming their style. Afterwards he laid down a few simple rules for their guidance in composition, telling them to be sure, first of all, that they had something to say, and then to see that they said it frankly and simply, avoiding the subtleties of the schools. "I want to teach my pupils how to think," he said, "not to split hairs." Vittorino himself always paid special attention to backward pupils, and received many poor scholars who could not afford to pay the usual fees, teaching them, as he said, "for the love of God." On summer days he often took his scholars to a small country house on the height of Andes or Pietola, the birthplace of Virgil, which was the only property that he ever acquired, and told them stories of Perseus and Hercules, while they rested on the grass after their games; and once or twice in the season more distant expeditions were made to the shores of the Lake of Garda or the Alps of Tyrol.1
Soon the fame of Vittorino's gymnasium brought him pupils from all parts of Italy. One of these was Federico di Montefeltro, the great and good Duke of Urbino, who placed his beloved teacher's portrait in his palace, with the following inscription: "In honour of his saintly master Vittorino da Feltre, who by word and example instructed him in all human excellence, Federico has set this here." Lodovico Gonzaga, the eldest of Gianfrancesco's CECILIA GONZAGA 23
1 Pittorino da Feltre, Prendilacqua; Benoit, FiUorin de Feltre; S. Paglia in Arckivio Storico hambardo, xi. 150.
sons, retained the deepest respect for his master all through his life, and after he succeeded his father as Marquis, would never sit down in his old teacher's presence. His brothers Gianlucido and Alessandro, who were cut off from public life by a spinal disease which they inherited from their mother Paola, found their best consolation in literary pursuits, and Gianlucido is said to have known the whole of Virgil by heart. Their sister Margherita charmed her cultured husband, Duke Leonello d'Este, by the elegance of her Latin letters, and he wrote to tell her how much he rejoiced to think that she enjoyed the advantage of Vittorino's instruction, being persuaded that for "virtue, learning, and a rare and excellent way of teaching good manners," this master surpassed all others. But the most accomplished of Vittorino's pupils was the Marquis's youngest daughter, Cecilia Gonzaga. At eight years she read the works of Chrysostom, and amazed learned visitors to Casa Zoiosa by the ease with which she recited Latin verse. As she grew up her charms and sweetness of nature captivated young and old, but trouble arose when her hand was sought by Odd' Antonio di Montefeltro, the elder brother of Federico, who, unlike him, was a prince of notoriously bad character. In vain Cecilia pleaded her wish to take the veil and devote herself to a life of contemplation, and the papal protonotary Gregorio Correr, who, as Abbot of S. Zeno of Verona, employed Mantegna to paint his noble triptych in that church, dedicated to her his treatise De Fugiendo Soeculo. Her father was bent on the marriage, and punished Cecilia with blows and imprisonment. At length Paola's tears and Vittorino's remonstrances brought the Marquis