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34 CARDINAL FRANCESCO
ment as papal legate in 1472, he stayed at the baths of Porretta, in the Apennines, on his return from Rome, to recruit his health, he sent his father the following letter, begging that the painter Mantegna and the musician Malagista might be sent to keep him company:—
"Most honoured and illustrious Father,—I hope to arrive at Bologna on the 5th or 6th of August, but shall not stay there more than two or three days, and intend to go on to the baths, where I beg Your Highness to be pleased to order Andrea Mantegna and Malagista to stay with me, in order that I may have some distraction and amusement to enable me to avoid sleep, as is necessary for my cure. It will be a great pleasure to show Andrea my cameos and bronzes, and other fine antiques, which we can examine and discuss together, and Malagista's playing and singing will make it easier for me to keep awake. So I beg you to let me have these two for my companions. After taking the baths, I will return to Bologna for eight or ten days, and then come to spend all October with Your Excellency at Mantua. ... I am able, thank God, to ride again since I left the bad air of Rome, and am already much better.— Your most devoted son, Francesco Gonzaga, Cardinal and legate."1 Foligno, 18th July 1472.
Both artists were sent to join Francesco at Bologna, and on Sunday, the 24th of August, the young Cardinal-legate made his solemn entry into Mantua, bringing in his train the distinguished architect Leo Battista Alberti, and the young Florentine poet Angelo Poliziano, whose famous drama of SAL A DEGLI SPOST 35
1 Archivio Gonzaga, quoted by A. Baschet, Gazette des Beaux Arts, vol. xx., 1866.
"Orfeo," composed by him in three days, was acted for the first time on this occasion. The event was commemorated by Mantegna in a still more splendid form in the frescoes of the Camera degli Sposi, which were completed in 1474, as recorded in the proud inscription placed by the painter on a tablet, held by winged boys, over the door: "To the illustrious Lodovico II., Marquis of Mantua, most excellent prince, in the faith invincible, and his illustrious wife, Barbara, the incomparable glory of women. Their Andrea Mantegna of Padua has completed this humble work to their honour. 1474."
Here, in the Marquis's own nuptial chamber, in the corner tower of the Castello, the great master has left us a living record of the Gonzaga family. The painter's genius has transformed this small room in the heart of the grim old fortress into a fairy bower, decorated with garlands and tapestries, where sportive loves play on a marble parapet under the blue sky. On one wall the reception of a foreign ambassador, probably the envoy sent by the Duke of Wiirtemberg to ask for the hand of Lodovico's daughter Barbara, is represented. A secretary is seen handing the letter to the good prince, who, with his wife at his side, is seated in true patriarchal fashion under an open loggia on the garden terrace, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, his courtiers and pet dwarfs. His eldest son, Federico, advances to receive the German ambassador, while the bride-elect, standing behind her mother's chair, turns her eyes with eager gaze in the same direction. On the opposite wall of the nuptial chamber, a second fresco commemorates the arrival of the young Cardinal and his suite of servants on his return from Rome. The 36 MANTEGNA'S FRESCOES
Marquis goes out to welcome him, with his sons, Federico and Gianfrancesco, and his two little grandsons, Francesco, afterwards the husband of Isabella d'Este, and Sigismondo, the future Cardinal. In both of these family groups the striking personality of the different personages has been clearly brought out by the painter. We see the gallant bearing of the soldier-sons, the culture and wisdom of the man of the world mingled with the sober gravity of the ecclesiastic in the sleek face and portly figure of the young Cardinal, while all the strength and goodness of Barbara's character lives in the sensible German face that looks out from under the quaint square head-dress, and in the grave, black eyes that are fixed on her lord's face, and seem to express her readiness to help him with her sympathy and advice. The sunny landscape, with the Pantheon and Coliseum among the seven hills, recalls the Eternal City from which Francesco had lately returned, and if the medallions of Caesars and myths of Hercules and Orpheus are emblems of Lodovico's taste for classical history and love of music, the peacock on the balustrade, the tame lion crouching at his feet, and the favourite greyhound asleep under his chair, remind us of his interest in birds and animals.
Thus, in these noble frescoes which still light up the old walls of the Castello with colour and brightness, the great master has not only left us a faithful picture of Lodovico and his family, but has enabled us to realise the strong German sense of family affection and home life, combined with the splendour and culture of an Italian court, which Isabella found at Mantua when she became the wife of Francesco Gonzaga.