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314 ISABELLA ASKS HIS SON
pronounced hopeless by seven doctors, and in this miserable end we must plainly see the judgment of a just God."1
No sooner did Isabella hear of her old friend's death than she wrote to his son Giangaleazzo, desiring him to send her the MS. volume of poems which his father had dedicated to her many years ago. Giangaleazzo replied courteously, begging for time to make certain corrections which his father had been unable to finish. Upon this, the Marchesa sent him a long letter, couched in her most imperious tones,2 telling him that she could bring witnesses to prove how, at the time of Alfonso's wedding to his first wife, Anna Sforza, his father Niccolo, being in the room above the court chapel, showed her his book in three parts, containing sonnets, capituli, and canzoni, with an epistle dedicating each in turn to herself. "This," she goes on to say, "he confirmed again when he was with me in my villa of Sacchetta, at the time of Don Giulio's affair, saying that, in asking me to be the patroness of his book, he resembled those persons who, in order to keep their house clean, paint a saint upon the outer walls." Then, lapsing into a gentler and more pathetic strain, Isabella recalled the long familiarity and friendship which she had enjoyed with his father long before he was born, and which dated back to her earliest childhood, and ended by desiring him to send the precious MS. without delay by the present courier.8
Giangaleazzo now sent a servant to Mantua with fresh excuses and explanations. The MS. which his FOR NICCOLO'S POEMS 315
1 Luzio e Renier in Giorn. St. d. Lett. It, xxiii. 77. 2 D'Arco, No/izie a" Isabella, p. 315. 3 Luzio e Renier, op. cit. 79.
father had shown her was, he explained, not worthy of her acceptance, being marked in certain places, and not as elegantly bound as Niccolo himself would have desired, so that he must beg her to wait a little longer. To these excuses the Marchesa paid little heed, beyond sending the writer a curt note, saying that, no doubt, his father being the most generous of men, would have wished to adorn the book before he presented it to her. Since he was unfortunately no more, she must request Giangaleazzo to forward the volume, which, as he is evidently aware, had been promised to her.
But the book never came, and in August, Mario Equicola, Isabella's confidential servant, wrote from Ferrara, telling her that Duchess Lucrezia was going to Correggio to obtain Messer Niccolo's canzoniere, a piece of information which roused Isabella's ire to the highest pitch. However, Giangaleazzo managed to evade Lucrezia's request with equal success, and, as the best way out of the difficulty, kept his father's canzoniere in his own hands. We have another proof of the rivalry which existed between Isabella and her sister-in-law in a letter,1 written by Mario in August 1508, telling her that, in looking over the MSS. of his friend Ercole Strozzi, he had discovered a Latin epigram, originally written for the Sleeping Cupid of Isabella's Grotta, which had been altered and adapted to fit a marble Cupid belonging to Duchess Lucrezia. "This," he adds, "is in reality a very inferior modern work, but her flatterers pretend that it is a genuine antique!" In conclusion, the excellent secretary proposes his readiness to go to the stake, if need be, in order to maintain the 316 LUCREZIA AND ISABELLA
1 A. Luzio, / PreceUori, p. 43.
truth, and prove to all the world that Ercole Strozzi's verses were originally written in honour of the Sleeping Cupid in the Isabellian Grotta, and inscribed to his own Madonna Marchesana. So keen was the competition of these great ladies for the tribute paid them by scholars and poets, so highly did they prize the honour of seeing their own names linked with these Latin verses which were to perpetuate their fame for all time. Tantum possunt camoence. "Such power have the Muses!"
Isabella's relations with painters during the early years of the sixteenth century—Her letters to Leonardo da Vinci—Correspondence with Fra Pietro da Novellara, Angelo del Tovaglia, Manfredi, and Amadori—She asks Perugino for a painting for her studio—Description of the Triumph of Chastity composed by Paride da Ceresara—Perugino's delays—Correspondence with Malatesta, Tovaglia, <fec.
We have seen how, in the closing years of the fifteenth century, Isabella founded her famous studio of the Grotta, in the ancient portion of the Castello known as the Corte Vecchia, and began to collect works of art for its adornment. In spite of the many distractions which occupied her time and thoughts, in spite of her husband's absence, and the active part which she took in public affairs, she pursued this object with unremitting energy and perseverance.
Never at any period of her life were her relations with artists more frequent and more full of interest than in these first ten years of the new century. Andrea Mantegna, the court painter of the Gonzagas, as we have already said, executed the first pictures for the decoration of her new studio. And naturally enough the great Florentine master who had visited Mantua at the close of 1499, and drawn her portrait, was one of the next artists to whom she applied. After Leonardo's return to Florence in April 1500, he sent the Marquis a sketch of the house of Angelo 318 ISABELLAS CORRESPONDENCE
del Tovaglia, a wealthy merchant whom Francesco often employed on business matters, and which he had greatly admired on a visit which he paid to Florence that spring.
"I send you," wrote the Mantuan agent, Francesco Malatesta, in August, "a drawing of the house of Angelo Tovaglia, by the hand of your servant Leonardo Vinci, who desires to be commended both to you and to Madonna. But he said that to make the house perfect, and satisfy your idea, you would have to transport the site of Messer Angelo's house to the spot where you intend to build. The drawing has not been coloured, nor have I thought it necessary to put in the evergreens, ivy, box, cypresses and laurels of the garden, but if you wish it, the said Leonardo offers to send you a painting as well as a model of the villa."1
The birth of Isabella's son, and the political troubles of that anxious year, prevented her from availing herself of Leonardo's offers of service at the time, but in the following March she wrote the following letter to the cultured ecclesiastic, Fra Pietro da Novellara, who was at the time preaching a course of Lent sermons in Santa Croce of Florence:—
"Most Reverend Father in God,—If Leonardo, the Florentine painter, is now in Florence, we beg you will inform us what kind of life he is leading, that is to say if he has begun any work, as we have been told, and what this work is, and if you think that he will remain for the present in Florence. Your Reverence might find out if he would undertake to paint a picture for our studio. If he consents, we would leave the subject and the time to him; but
1 Luzio in Emporium, 1900, p. 353.