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354 BEMBO INDUCES BELLINI
promised to use his influence with Bellini to induce him to paint a Storia to match the paintings of the Grotta, by Mantegna and Perugino. The accomplished scholar was intimate with the grand old master, who had lately painted a beautiful portrait of his mistress, and on his return to Venice lost no time in fulfilling his errand. On the 27th of August, he wrote to Isabella:—
"I send Your Illustrious Signory many thanks for your messages to me by M. Zuan Francesco Valerio, which show me—what is more precious to me than anything else in the world — that you remember I am your good servant. I have not forgotten that I promised, if possible, to induce Zuan Bellini to paint a picture for your Camerino, in which matter I have been greatly helped by M. Paolo Zoppo, a loyal servant of Your Highness, and a dear friend of Bellini. In fact, we have stormed the castle with so much vigour that I believe it will shortly surrender. All that we now require to make the victory complete is that Your Excellency should write a warm letter to the master, begging him to oblige you, and if you send it to me, you may be sure it will not have been written in vain. Since I left you, I have been so busy that I have nothing new to send, so you must pardon me if this letter is empty. I kiss your hands and commend myself to my honoured lady, Alda Boiarda.—Your servant, Pietro Bembo."1
Isabella was ill with fever when this letter reached her, but as soon as she recovered she employed Capilupi to write the following letter to Bellini:—
"Messer Joanne,—You will no doubt remember TO PAINT A STORIA 855
1 Gaye, Carfeggio, ii. 76.
how greatly we desired to have a painted Storia from your hand to hang near those of your brother-in-law, Mantegna, and how earnestly we formerly begged you to gratify our wish. But since, by reason of your numerous engagements, you were unable to gratify us, we were content to accept, instead of the Storia, a Nativity, which pleased us greatly, and is as dear to us as any picture we possess. But the Magnifico Pietro Bembo, when he was here a few months ago, heard of this our great desire, and gave us hopes that it might be gratified, since he believed that many of the works upon which you were engaged are now finished, and, knowing the sweetness of your nature and your readiness to oblige all men, more especially persons in authority, he assured us that you might be willing to satisfy us. Since then, however, we have been constantly ill with fever, and unable to attend to business, but now that we are in better health we write to ask if you will paint this picture, and choose the poetic invention yourself, if you do not wish us to give it to you. And, besides giving you full and honourable payment, we shall remain under eternal obligations to you. When we hear that you agree to this, we will send you the measure of the canvas and the earnest money." Mantua, October 19, 1505.
Bellini replied before long, expressing his readiness to undertake the work, and on the 7th of November, the Marchesa wrote to thank him :—
"We are very happy to hear that you are willing to satisfy our intense desire, and paint the picture about which we wrote lately. Nothing will please us more than to have a work from your hand. We will have the measurements taken, and will send you 356 FOR THE GROTTA
particulars of the lighting, according to the place where the picture is to hang. And since the Magnifico Pietro Bembo is soon returning to Venice, and has seen the pictures in our Grotta, he will be able to decide on the subject with you. We will then send you the earnest money, and beg you to persevere in your present kindly intention towards us. Meanwhile, farewell."1
On the 20th, Bembo, who had been absent from Venice for some weeks, wrote to the Marchesa: "Having just returned from the March, where I spent some time, I find Your Signory's letters on the subject of Bellini's picture, in answer to mine, which are already old. And I also hear that M. Paolo Zoppo and M. Lorenzo da Pavia, both of them good servants of Your Highness, have been diligent in my absence. But to-day I have been to see Zuan Bellini, and find that he has firmly resolved to gratify your wish, which I am sure he will do admirably. He only awaits your answer as to the size and fighting of the picture."
Lorenzo, who now appears on the scene again, had lately returned from a visit to the Court of Urbino, where the good Duchess Elisabetta had given him a warm welcome, and had shown him the beauties and treasures of the ducal palace. But the negotiations with Giovanni Bellini, far from being ended, were, as he knew by experience, only just beginning. Meanwhile, news reached Venice of Isabella's illness, and of the birth of her son Ercole, and Bembo hastened to send the illustrious lady condolences on her prolonged sickness and congratulations on her happy deliverance.
1 Gaye, op. cit., p. 80, &c.; C. Yriarte, Gazette, &c., 1896.
CHOICE OF A SUBJECT 357
On the 2nd of December, the Marchesa dictated the following letter to her secretary, Capilupi:—
"Magnitico Messer Pietro,—We were glad to hear from the letter of Your Magnificence that you had reached Venice safely, and feel sure that, as you grieved over our sickness, so you will have rejoiced over the fortunate birth of our son, since we are persuaded that you love us with the same fraternal affection that we feel for you. We thank you sincerely for your good offices with Bellini, and beg you to keep an eye upon him until we are able to leave our bed, and send him the necessary directions for the size and lighting of the picture. At present you might remind him to finish any other works upon which he is engaged, in order that, after the Christmas festival, he may be able to attend to our affairs without distraction. I hope Your Magnificence will not object to choosing the subject of a fantasia which may satisfy Bellini. Since you have seen the other pictures in our Camerino, you will know what is most appropriate, and will be able to choose a graceful theme of new and different meaning. You can, we repeat, do us no greater pleasure than this, of which we shall ever remain mindful, and, as before, most ready to serve you."1
On the 1st of January 1506,* Bembo replied: "Bellini, whom I have seen several times of late, is excellently disposed towards Your Excellency, and is only awaiting the measurements of the canvas to begin work. But the invention, which you tell me I am to choose for the picture, must be adapted to 358 CORNELIO'S TRIUMPH OF SCIPIO
1 V. Cian, Un Decennio nella Vita di P. Bembo, p. 218. 3 This letter is dated 1505 in D'Arco and Gaye. It should be 1505 O.S., i.e. 1506.
the painter's fancy. He does not care to have his imagination fettered by innumerable instructions, but prefers to arrange his composition according to his own ideas, being confident that in this way he can produce the best effect. All the same, I will endeavour to meet your wishes as well as his own." In return, Pietro begs this gracious lady to do him a great favour. A certain kinsman and very dear friend of his, a man of great parts and excellent learning, Messer Francesco Cornaro (or, as he chose to Latinise his name, Cornelio), " being, like all noble and gentle souls, passionately fond of rare things," had engaged Messer Andrea Mantegna to paint some canvases for him, at the price of 150 ducats, 25 of which he paid down when he sent the measurements. "Now he tells me," continued Bembo, "that M. Andrea refuses to go on with the work without asking a much larger sum, which seems to M. Francesco the strangest thing in the world, especially as he possesses letters from M. Andrea in which he himself fixed this price. I therefore beg and implore Your Signory to persuade M. Andrea to keep faith with M. Francesco, and begin his pictures, since he who is called the Mantegna of the world ought above all men to keep (mantenere) his promises. . . . M. Francesco does not care about one or two hundred ducats—thank God, he has them in abundance; but he does not like to be lightly esteemed and mocked at, and, if Your Excellency thinks Mantegna's work is deserving of a higher reward, is perfectly ready to accept your decision. ... I hope also that Messer Andrea's well-known courtesy and gentilezza will not render Your Excellency's task difficult, and I promise you that M. Francesco will gratefully repay