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ITS DEFECTS 339
Perugino replied on the 10th of August, expressing his regret that he had not known the medium employed by Mantegna, and saying that he would have greatly preferred to use oils rather than tempera, which did not suit the texture of his canvas, but hoped some day to be allowed to paint the Marchesa another more delicately finished picture. Isabella, however, was not sufficiently pleased with the Triumph of Chastity to order a second painting for her studio, and when, after Perugino's death, his widow, Chiara Fancelli, offered her a picture of Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan, which the artist had intended for the Marchesa, she declined to purchase the painting.1 The correctness of Isabella's judgment is confirmed by the sight of Perugino's picture, which hangs in the Louvre to-day, side by side with the works which Mantegna and Lorenzo Costa executed for the Marchesa's Grotta. The Triumph of Chastity is the feeblest and least satisfactory of the series, and lacks the charm of the Ferrarese artist's graceful compositions, while it sinks far below the level of the great Paduan master's conceptions. Both in style and subject Isabella's poesia was ill-adapted to Perugino's art, and had, it is plain, inspired him with little interest The composition is crowded and confused, without life or unity; the execution is poor and flimsy, and the figures and trees are curiously out of proportion. The chief beauty of the picture lies in the clear Umbrian sky, in the lovely landscape of blue hills and river, and in the laughing faces and gambols of the countless loves who are sporting on the grass. Venus, we note, does not wear either the crown, veil or garland prescribed by Isabella, and 340 ISABELLA'S CRITICISM
1 Braghirolli, op. cit.
the Marchesa must have recognised that in this instance at least the painter was right. But, as she said herself, the Triumph of Chastity was hardly worthy of the place of honour which it occupied in her studio, or of the painter's great name and reputation.
Isabella asks Giovanni Bellini for a picture—Her correspondence with Lorenzo da Pavia and Michele Vianello—The subject changed to a Nativity—Delays of the painter—Isabella calls in Alvise Marcello—Asks for her money to be returned—The picture is completed and sent to Mantua in 1504—Isabella's negotiations with Giovanni Bellini through Pietro Bembo for another picture, which is never painted.
Giovanni Bellini had naturally been one of the first painters to whom Isabella d'Este applied when she began to adorn her new studio. His father, Jacopo, had frequently visited Ferrara and worked for the Este princes, and Francesco Gonzaga often met both the brothers Giovanni and Gentile during the years that he spent in the service of the Venetian Signory. Isabella herself admired Giovanni's paintings in the Council Hall on her first visit to Venice in 1493, and three years afterwards asked the great master to paint a picture for her Camerino. In 1498, we know that she had been interested in comparing certain paintings by Giovanni with Leonardo's portrait of the youthful Cecilia Gallerani,1 and the excellence of his art was well known to her through his personal friends, Lorenzo da Pavia, Aldo Manuzio, the great printer, and other cultured Venetians, with whom she was in constant communication. Early in March 1501, Michele Vianello, a distinguished connoisseur, who, according to Messer Lorenzo, had the 1 " Beatrice d Este, Duchess of Milan," p. 53.
342 CORRESPONDENCE WITH
finest collection of works of art in Venice, and who was on intimate terms both with the painter and the master of organs, spent a few days at Mantua, and promised the Marchesa to induce Giovanni to paint a fantasia to match the allegories of Mantegna.1
"On my arrival here," he wrote, March 5, " I went to see Zuan Bellini, to execute the commission given me by Your Signory before I left, and told him your wish, and the Storia which you desire him to paint. Zuan Bellini replied that he was obliged to work for this Signory in the Palace, and could never get away from early morning till after dinner, but that he would manage to find or rob time in which to serve you, both for your sake and for love of me. But I must warn you that the said Zuan has many other works on hand, so that it will be impossible for you. to have your picture as soon as you wish. I think it will be a year and a half before it is finished. As to the price, he asks 150 ducats, but may reduce it to 100. This is all I can do."
Isabella lost no time in clenching the bargain, and on the 1st of April, Michele wrote again: "I have seen Zuan Bellini several times, and told him Your Excellency's wishes, and he has agreed to do the work for 100 ducats in a year's time. He will set to work as soon as possible, and I hope that you may have the picture in a little over a year. He promises to take the greatest pains, and begs you to send him 25 ducats, and hopes to begin the work directly after the holidays.—Your servant, M. Vianello."
On the 4th of April, Isabella wrote: "Messer Michele,—I am glad to hear that you have induced GIOVANNI BELLINI 343
1 W. Braghirolli, Arcfuvio Veneto, voi xiii.; C. Yriarte, Gazette d. B. Arts, 1896.
Zuan Bellini to do the picture, and in order that he may set to work with the more courage after Easter, I send him the 25 ducats as agreed." The money, however, was not sent till the 25th of June, when Michele acknowledged its receipt, and promised to give it to Bellini as soon as he returned from the country, where he was spending a few days at his villa. "I have," he continued, "already spoken to him several times about your picture. He seems most anxious to serve Your Signory, but does not like the idea of the Storia you propose, and is unwilling to paint this, because, if this picture is to be a companion to M. Andrea's work, he would like to do his best, and is sure that he cannot make anything good out of such a subject. He seems so reluctant to undertake this Storia that I doubt if Your Excellency would be satisfied, and it would, I think, be better to let him do as he pleases, for in that case I am certain you would be better served. But he will do nothing without your orders."
Isabella knew Bellini too well to insist further, and on the 28th of June, she wrote to Michele as follows: "If Zuan Bellini objects so much to this Storia, 1 am content to leave the subject to his judgment, as long as he paints a story or fable of his own invention, representing something antique, which has a fine meaning. I should be very glad if he would begin the work at once, so that it may be finished within the year, or even sooner, if possible. The size of the picture has not been altered since you were here and saw the place that it was to occupy in the studio, but for greater safety I will send you the correct measurements, and will tell our sculptor, Zoanne Cristoforo, to write to you on this matter."