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Reign of Federico Gonzaga—Death of his wife and mother—His love for his daughters — Visit of Lorenzo dei Medici — Accession of Francesco Gonzaga—His character and warlike tastes—Betrothal of Elisabetta Gonzaga to Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino—His visit to Mantua—Marriage of Elisabetta— Her return to Mantua for Francesco's wedding—Her friendship with Isabella d'Este—Excursion to the Lago di Garda— Visits to Ferrara.
Lodovico Gonzaga died at the age of sixty-four on the 12th of June 1478, at his villa of Go'ito, less than a month after writing his kind and dignified reply to Mantegna's remonstrances, while the plague was still raging at Mantua. On his deathbed he was induced by his wife, whose affection for her younger children overcame her natural wisdom, to divide his State, and leave her favourite son, Gianfrancesco, the principality of Bozzolo and Sabbioneta, while Castiglione was bequeathed to ltodolfo Gonzaga and Gazzuolo to Bishop Lodovico. This division not only weakened the State, but led to serious family dissensions in the future. During Barbara's lifetime, however, all went well. Her eldest son, the new Marquis, Federico, consoled his widowed mother's grief, and treated her with the greatest respect, telling her, in true humanist fashion, that she had lost a lord whom she was bound to obey and kept a son whose duty it was to obey her. A year afterwards his wife, Margaret of Bavaria, died, leaving a young
38 DEATH OF BARBARA
family of five children, who were tenderly cared for by their grandmother. But on the 10th of November 1481, Barbara herself died at the age of fiftyeight, deeply lamented by all her children. Fra Bernardino da Feltre, the eloquent Franciscan friar, pronounced her funeral oration, and Matteo Bossi, the learned Abbot of Fiesole, addressed a Latin epistle of condolence to Cardinal Gonzaga on the death of this admirable lady. She was buried by her husband's side in front of the Arca di S. Anselmo in the Duomo, and her sons desired Luca Fancelli to raise a splendid monument over her grave. But the Cardinal died in 1483, and although Bishop Lodovico intended to carry out his scheme, it seems doubtful if the tomb was ever erected.
Before the good Marchesa died she had the joy of seeing her granddaughter, Chiara—born in July 1464—married to the King of France's cousin Gilbert, Duc de Montpensier, and her eldest grandson Francesco, who was two years younger, betrothed to Isabella d'Este, with whose mother Leonora she had long been on friendly terms. Federico himself was an affectionate father, and took great interest in his two younger daughters, Elisabetta, whose delicate health made her an object of especial anxiety, and Maddalena, who was only seven years old when her mother died. On the 14th of August 1481, Violante de' Preti, the faithful governess in whose charge the young princesses were spending the summer at the ducal villa of Porto, wrote the following report to the Marquis, who was frequently absent from Mantua during the long war with Venice:—
"Most illustrious Prince and excellent Lord,— You will be glad to hear that both your illustrious FEDERICO'S DAUGHTERS 39
daughters are well and happy and very obedient, so that it is a real pleasure to see them busy with their books and embroidery. They are veiy easy to manage, and they enjoy riding their new pony, one on the saddle, the other on pillion. They ride all about the park, but always attended by servants on horseback, and we follow in the chariot. They are quite delighted with this pony, and Your Excellency could not have made them any present which gave them greater pleasure. I hope, my dear lord, by the grace of God, to be able to give you good news every day, in order that Your Highness may rest satisfied, to whose favour I commend myself.—Your devoted servant, Violante De' Preti."1
On February 23,1483, the little princesses received a visit from no less a personage than Lorenzo dei Medici, who spent a night at Mantua on his way to attend a conference at Cremona, where a new league was formed against Venice, and sent word to Violante's pupils by their dancing master that they might expect him after dinner. In her next letter to the Marquis, Violante describes how the little girls came to meet the Magnifico Lorenzo, and led him into their rooms, and how he sat down between them and talked for some time, and told them, when he took his leave, that their father was rich in fair children. The next day their brother, Francesco Gonzaga, who entertained this distinguished guest in his father's absence, wrote and informed the Marquis how he had accompanied the Magnifico Lorenzo on foot to mass at S. Francesco, and how he went on from the church to the house of Andrea Mantegna, "where he greatly admired some of 40 ANDREA MANTEGNA
1 A. Luzio e R. Renier, Mantova e Urbino, p. 6.
Messer Andrea's paintings, as well as certain heads in high relief and other antiques in which he seemed to take great delight."1
Federico himself treated Mantegna with great kindness, and wrote affectionately to him when he was ill in October 1478, telling him to try and get rid of the fever as soon as he could, but not to trouble his head about the work at present. He employed Andrea to decorate his new villa of Marmirolo, and when in 1484 the Prefect of Rome, Giovanni della Rovere, a brother-in-law of Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, begged Bishop Lodovico Gonzaga for a picture by Mantegna, that prelate replied that the painter was unable to comply with his request, since his time was entirely engaged in painting a hall in one of the Mantuan palaces. And when Andrea declined to copy a drawing sent him by Bona, Duchess of Milan, who begged that he would "reduce it to a more elegant form," the Marquis excused his somewhat blunt refusal, saying that "these excellent masters are often somewhat fantastic in humour, and that we must be content to take what they choose to give us."a Federico intended at one time to make considerable additions to the Castello, and wrote to ask his father's old friend Federico di Montefeltro for a plan of his famous palace of Urbino, but the execution of this project and many others was hindered by the constant wars which exhausted his treasury. His old tutor Filelfo often reproached him with his parsimony, saying that the Marquis had never forgiven him for complaining to FRANCESCO GONZAGA 41
1 Archivio Gonzaga, quoted by A. Baschet, Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1866.
2 Archivio Gonzaga, lib. xcix., quoted by A. Baschet, &c.
his parents of his indolence when he was a boy, but Federico appointed one of the querulous old scholar's twenty-four children to be his son's tutor, while Colombino of Verona, the commentator of Dante, instructed his two little daughters. After his visit to Ferrara in 1482, he begged Duke Ercole to send him UAsino d'Oro, an Italian version of Apuleius's poem, and gave Isabella's tutor Battista Guarino a grant of wheat during the famine which prevailed in that city. But when, in 1483, the said Guarino applied for the post of tutor to his sons, the Marquis replied that this was impossible, since in the first place he could not afford to pay him a salary, and in the second place his sons did not require a teacher. Francesco, he explained, was already seventeen and his own master, while Sigismondo, a boy of fourteen, was studying at the University of Pavia, and Giovanni, being only nine, was too young to need a tutor. A year afterwards Federico died, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Francesco, the affianced husband of Isabella d'Este.
Although small of stature, the young Marquis was vigorous and athletic, and from early boyhood showed greater inclination for manly sports and exercises than for study. One of his first tutors complained that he would never sit still and that it was very difficult to induce him to fix his attention on his book. Throughout his life he retained these characteristics. He was passionately fond of hunting, kept hundreds of dogs, and was especially proud of his famous breed of Barbary horses, which carried off prizes at all the races for which they were entered, and were sent by their owner as presents to Kings and Emperors. A brave soldier and shrewd politician,