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MANTEGNA'S ILLNESS 359
all that you do for him with M. Andrea, by helping on your business with M. Zuan Bellini, over whom he has great influence, and will, as well as myself, remain most deeply obliged to Your Most Illustrious Excellency." *
The picture in question was the noble Triumph of Scipio, now in the National Gallery, which was still in Mantegna's shop at the time of his death, eight months later.
Isabella replied to this letter of Bembo on the 31st of January: "We are delighted to hear that Bellini is going to do the picture, and recognise that this is owing to Your Magnificence. We will find out the particulars of the size and the fighting, and will send them to you, together with the earnest money. Meanwhile we beg you earnestly to settle the subject with the painter. M. Andrea Mantegna has been very dangerously ill these last days. He is very near his end, and although just now he is a little better, it is impossible to speak to him of pictures, or of anything but his health. If he recovers we will see that the Magnificent Francesco Cornelio receives satisfaction." 2
But a series of unexpected interruptions interfered with the execution of Isabella's plans. In March, she paid her first visit to Florence, and the sudden outbreak of plague on her return compelled her to leave Mantua in haste and take refuge with her children and servants in her villa of Sacchetta. On the 11th of May,s she wrote to Bembo, regretting that owing to her hurried departure from the Castello, and the disturbance caused by this terrible visitation, she had 860 VIANELLO'S SALE
1 Gaye, op. cit., pp. 71-78. * Yriarte, op. at.
8 V. Cian in Giorn. St. d. Lett. It., vol. ix.
been unable to send the measurements of Bellini's picture, but hoped to do this as soon as the plague abated, and begged him in the meantime to compose the poesia and keep the painter in the same excellent dispositions. Meanwhile, she had heard from Lorenzo da Pavia of the death of his friend, the accomplished Michele Vianello, who had served her so loyally and well in her former negotiations with Bellini. The cabinetto of this refined collector, with all its priceless contents, was shortly to be sold by auction, and Isabella was especially anxious to acquire a rare agate vase, and a picture of the Passage of the Red Sea and the Destruction of Pharaoh, by the Flemish artist Van Eyck, or, as she calls him, John of Bruges. She lost no time in acquainting Bembo with her wishes, and once more begged his assistance. "I have reverently received Your Most Illustrious Excellency's letter," wrote Messer Pietro on the 13th of May, "and understand that you wish to buy the agate vase and Destruction of Pharaoh which belonged to Vianello. I will see Taddeo Albano and Lorenzo da Pavia, and will endeavour to satisfy Your Excellency, as is my bounden duty. As for Bellini, I will not fail to obey you. I was very sorry to hear of the plague at Mantua, which deprived me of the pleasure of paying my respects to Your Highness this Easter, which was, I confess, the chief object of my journey."'
A prolonged correspondence on the subject of Vianello's sale took place between the Marchesa and Lorenzo da Pavia, and Isabella sought the help of all her friends in Venice to attain the desired end. On the day of the sale, Messer Michele's palace was VAN EYCK'S PICTURE 361
1 Gaye, op. cti., p. 82.
crowded with the most distinguished collectors in Venice, and the utmost excitement prevailed when, after a fierce struggle with Messer Andrea Loredano, the picture by John of Bruges was knocked down to Lorenzo da Pavia for the large sum of 115 ducats. "I was in an agony of fear," writes the excellent Lorenzo, "and should have felt happier if it had been a little less."1 Money was very scarce, as he knew, just then at Mantua. All Isabella's jewels were pledged, and she found it difficult to meet her current expenses, but she managed to borrow the money from her good friend, the banker Albano, and wrote joyously to tell her favourite sculptor, Cristoforo Romano, of the new treasures which she had secured.2
Soon afterwards Pietro Bembo left Venice for Urbino, and we hear no more of his poesia or of Zuan Bellini's picture. Only in a letter of the 9th of January 1507,' Lorenzo da Pavia remarks: "I learn by Your Signory's letter that you are very impatient to have the viol of ebony and sandal-wood, and feel quite ashamed by my own delays. I seem to have caught Messer Zuan Bellini's malady!" But, in his defence, let it be remembered that the old painter was over eighty years of age.
1 A. Baschet, Aide Manuce.
2 A. Venturi, Cristoforo Romano, ArcMvio delt Arte, i. 151.
8 C. Yriarte, Gazette d. B. Arts, 1896.
Mantegna's last works for Isabella d'Este—His illness and debts —He appeals to Isabella for help, and sells her his antique bust of Faustina—Calandra's description of Comus—Death of Mantegna and tribute of Lorenzo da Pavia—Pictures in Andrea's workshop—The Comus finished by Lorenzo Costa— Letters of Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio to Isabella—The Triumph of Poetry or Court of Isabella—Costa's portrait of the Marchesa—Francia paints the portrait of her son Federico and her own—Correspondence on the subject with Casio and Lucrezia Bentivoglio—Death of Giorgione.
The year in which Isabella d'Este made a last attempt to obtain a picture for her studio from the aged Bellini was also that of Mantegna's death. His health had long been failing, and when, in April 1505, he implored Isabella's good offices on behalf of his son, who had incurred the Marquis's displeasure, and been banished from Mantua, his feeble state of mind excited the Marchesa's deepest compassion.
"M. Andrea Mantegna came to recommend his son to me," she wrote to her lord on the 1st of April, "looking all tearful and agitated, and with so sunken a face that he seemed to me more dead than alive. The sight filled me with so much compassion that I could not refuse to beg Your Excellency to restore his son to him with your usual goodness, for, gravely as he has sinned against you, the long service, incomparable excellence, and rare merits of M. Andrea