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276 FRA FRANCESCO
Her efforts on behalf of "this our dear mother," as she calls her, were warmly supported by Frate Francesco Silvestri, the distinguished Dominican friar who filled the chair of theology at Bologna during many years, and was afterwards appointed General of the Order by Pope Clement VII. This learned and accomplished ecclesiastic, to whom Bandello dedicates one of his novels and whom he praises as a most rare and singular man, endowed by nature with every gift of body and mind, was one of Isabella's most constant friends and correspondents. He shared her love of music and pictures, and encouraged her to persevere in her own studies, and above all to train her children in the love of learning and in the fear of God. In March 1504, when Isabella, released by her husband's return from the cares of government, once more returned to her classical studies, Frate Francesco writes to her from Milan: "I hear that you are still studying grammar. I hope that, when I visit you next, I shall find you studying rhetoric." And, in a Latin letter of July, he exhorts her to attend to her son's education, and warmly approves the choice of Vigilio as his preceptor. "See that Federico receives a liberal education," he writes when the boy is barely four years old, "and applies himself in these tender years to letters, so that he may grow up worthy of his wise and excellent mother." When her father died, Francesco's letter was the most beautiful and consoling among all the infinite number of condolences which Isabella received, and when Suor Osanna died, six months later, it fell to the friar to pronounce her funeral oration. In later years, Francesco's arduous duties as Vicar-General and General
ISABELLA'S ILLNESS 277
of the Order compelled him to travel through France and Italy to inspect Dominican convents, but his interest in the Marchesa and her family never failed, and he remained a true and faithful friend until he died at Rennes in 1528.
In the autumn of 1505, Isabella fell seriously ill of fever, and could not shake off the attack for several weeks. Her friends in all parts of the world wrote to express their anxiety, and combined to beguile the dulness of her convalescence. Bembo made anxious inquiries after her health from Venice. Cristoforo Romano called on all the Dominican friars of Le Grazie at Milan to pray for her recovery, and promised to visit the Seven Churches in Rome, and say a prayer at each altar for his dear lady. Mario Equicola sent the latest literary curiosities from Blois for Isabella's amusement, confessing, however, that he could find nothing in France that would be new to her! Elisabetta despatched her favourite jester, Fra Serafino, to Mantua without delay, and Emilia Pia wrote lively letters to cheer the invalid. But Isabella forgot all her troubles when, towards the end of November, she gave birth to a fine boy.
"I rejoice," wrote Cristoforo from Rome, "to hear of this fortunate event, and thank God that your illness has had so happy an ending. Be of good cheer, dear lady, and may God give you much joy in your children!" This second son, the future Cardinal who was one day to preside over the Council of Trent, received the name of Louis or Alvise in honour of the King of France. But Isabella preferred to call him Ercole, after his grandfather, and when the boy grew up to manhood, he became known by this second name.
Isabella's visit to Florence—Mario Equieola's treatise, Nee spe nee metu—Ravages of the plague at Mantua—Isabella retires to Sacchetta with her family—Francesco Gonzaga joins Pope Julius II. at Perugia—Conducts the papal army against Bologna —Flight of the Bentivogli—Entry of the Pope—Letters of Isabella—Frisio sends her antiques from Bologna—Birth of Isabella's son Ferrante—Visit of Ariosto to Mantua—Favour shown him by Isabella—Ariosto pays her a splendid tribute in his Orlando Furioso.
In March 1506, Isabella took a journey to Florence to discharge a vow which she had made during her illness, to Santa Maria dell' Annunziata, and spent the Feast of the Annunciation in that city. It was the first and, as far as we know, the only visit that she paid to this town, where were living so many friends, and which must have had many attractions for her. Great, indeed, must have been the interest with which she saw the Duomo and the Campanile of Giotto, the churches and palaces on the banks of Arno, and above all, the frescoes and pictures of her artist-friends. Perugino, it is true, had failed to satisfy her, and young Raphael had lately left for Urbino; but Isabella probably met the Florentine master Lorenzo di Credi, since he soon afterwards painted a Magdalene by her order. And she looked with wonder and admiration at the great cartoons which Leonardo and Michel Angelo — the sculptor