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MANTEGNA'S ILLNESS 363
claim this favour on behalf of his rebellious son. If we wish him to live and to finish our work Your Excellency must gratify him, or else we shall soon lose him, and he will die, rather of grief than of old age; so I recommend him with all my heart to your good graces.—Your wife, Isabella, with her own hand."1
The Marquis, however, absolutely refused to pardon Francesco Mantegna, saying that he had insulted the best of his servants, and in spite of his pretences was in reality the most irreligious man in the world! Finally, he desired Isabella to tell M. Andrea that, greatly as the Marquis would always honour him, his son was unworthy of receiving any favour at his hands.2 More than a year passed before Francesco was allowed to return to Mantua and to resume his labours in the palace of S. Sebastiano. Meanwhile, Andrea, as we have seen from Isabella's letter to Bembo3 in January 1506, fell dangerously ill, and for some days was not expected to live. He recovered, however, but his son's misconduct and the pecuniary difficulties in which he found himself weighed heavily upon his mind, and the sad words which he inscribed on his last picture, the St. Sebastian of the Franchetti collection, bear witness to the deep gloom which had settled on his soul: Nil nisi divinum stabile est; caetera Jumus—" Nothing but the Divine endures; the rest is smoke." In his distress the old master turned to Isabella, and addressed the following letter to the Princess, who had always proved his best and kindest friend:—
"Dear and illustrious Lady,—Accept, I pray Your 364 HE OFFERS HIS FAUSTINA
1 D'Arco, op. cit., ii. 58.
2 Kristeller, "Andrea Mantegna," App., Doc. 7S.
8 See p. 859.
Excellency, my humblest and most sincere recommendations to your favour. I feel myself by the grace of God somewhat better, and although I have not yet recovered the full use of my limbs, yet the little talent which God gave me is still undiminished, and is, as ever, at the command of Your Excellency. I have almost finished the drawing of the Storia of Comus for Your Excellency, and hope to go on with it as my fancy is able to help me. Illustrisstma Madonna mia, I commend myself to you, because for many months past I have not been able to obtain a farthing, and am in great need, and feel myself sorely embarrassed, since, never expecting these bad times, and being desirous not to remain a vagabond on the face of the earth, I had bought a house for the price of 340 ducats, payable in three instalments. Now the first term is ended, and I am pressed on all sides by creditors, and, as Your Excellency knows, I can neither sell nor mortgage anything now, and I have many other debts; so it has come into my mind to help myself as best I can by parting from my dearest possessions, and, since I have been often asked at different times, and by many persons of note, to sell my dear Faustina of antique marble. Necessity, which compels us to do many things, prompts me to write to Your Excellency on the subject, since, if I must part from it, I would rather you should have it than any other lord or lady in the world. The price is 100 ducats, which I might have had many times over from great masters; and I beg of you to let me know your intentions, and commend myself infinite times to Your Excellency.—Your servant, Andreas Mantinia."'
1 D'Arco, Arte e Artefici, ii 61.
TO ISABELLA 365
To this piteous appeal Isabella returned no answer. Her time and thoughts were fully occupied, and she was not even able to send Bellini the measurements of the picture, which she was so anxious to obtain. Then came her visit to Florence and the sudden outbreak of the plague. After that she was reduced to dire straits for want of money, and may well have found it difficult to give Messer Andrea the hundred ducats for his beloved Faustina. But as soon as the plague began to abate she sent the son of her old Castellan, Gian Giacomo Calandra, from Sacchetta to pay the painter a visit and inquire about his antique bust, which she coveted greatly, but could not afford to buy at so high a price.
"This morning," writes Calandra, "I visited Mantegna in Your Excellency's name, and found him full of complaints on his sufferings and needs, which have compelled him to mortgage his property for 60 ducats, besides having many other debts. But he still refuses to reduce the price of his Faustina, and hopes to get it. I pointed out that this was hardly the time for any one to lay out so large a sum, and it comes to this: he would rather keep the marble than let it go for less than 100 ducats, but if great want should compel him to lower the price, he will let Your Highness know. This he promised me faithfully. But if he finds a purchaser who will give 100 ducats, since you cannot give that, he will let it go without writing to you again. I do not see that he has any hope of selling it at this price, unless it is to Monsignore the Bishop [Louis Gonzaga, Bishop of Mantua, and uncle of the Marquis], who is fond of these things and spends largely. But I think he hoped to excite the jealousy of Your Excellency by 366 HIS SKETCH OF COMUS
the thought of another customer, and so I feel bound to tell you this. Afterwards he begged me to entreat Your Highness to advance some money to supply his needs, that he might be able to work better at his picture of the God Comus. I did not fail to make ample excuses, but promised that I would tell you this, as I do now. I asked to see his picture, in which he has drawn these figures: the God Comus, two Venuses (one draped and the other nude), two Loves, Janus with Envy on his arm pushing her out, Mercury, and three other figures, who are put to flight by him. The others are still wanting, but the drawing of these is most beautiful. I must tell you that he is hurt at your not having answered his letter, and he said with a smile that perhaps it was out of shame because you could not help him in his present necessities. And, indeed, it seemed to me that he quite understood my excuses. As to your reply to his letter, I told him that Your Excellency did him quite as much honour by sending her servant in person as by writing to him, and that, if you did not show him the courtesy and liberality which his talents deserved, you had no reason to be ashamed, since the state of the country was a more than sufficient excuse. I have written this to Your Highness, because it seems to me that a letter from you would console him, if you would write without taking any notice of his resentment. If you are not satisfied with what I have done in the matter, I beg you to forgive me, for I have done what I could, and I kiss your hands humbly.—Your faithful servant, Jo. Jac. Calandra." Mantua, July 15, 1506.
Isabella now desired Calandra to send the bust by boat across the lake to Sacchetta, and promised to