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CORRESPONDENCE OF ISABELLA 71
weekly letters to her mother at Ferrara, to her sister Beatrice and Lodovico Sforza at Milan, to Elisabetta Gonzaga at Urbino, and corresponded frequently with her half-sister Lucrezia Bentivoglio and her husband, as well as with her own brothers. Alfonso d'Este, her eldest brother, was deeply attached to this sister, who was only two years older than himself, and who shared his literary and artistic tastes. One day in the autumn of 1490, after paying Isabella a visit at Mantua, he sent her a long description of a tournament at Bologna, in which his brother-in-law Annibale Bentivoglio appeared in the guise of Fortune and Count Niccolo Rangone figured as Wisdom. Both princes were attended by pages in French, German, Hungarian and Moorish costumes, and recited allegorical verses and broke lances after the approved fashion of the day. "I cannot tell you," writes the enthusiastic boy, "how gallantly Messer Annibale bore himself, but I felt sorry for Count Niccolo when his horse stumbled and fell." A few months later he wrote to tell his sister that a new island had been discovered on the coast of Guinea, and sent her drawings of the strange race of men who dwelt there and of their horses and clothes, as well as of the trees and products of the country.
The choice of new robes and jewels, of furs and cameras naturally took up a large part of Isabella's time and thoughts in these early days. She was in constant communication with merchants and goldsmiths, with embroiderers and engravers of gems. Countless were the orders for rings, seals, diamond rosettes and arrows, rubies, emeralds, and enamels which she sent to her agents at Ferrara and Venice. 72 ORDERS FOR JEWELS
One day she must have a cross of diamonds and pearls as a gift for her favourite maid-of-honour Brogna, the next she sends to Genoa for a choice selection of corals and turquoises. When she hears that her father has a rosary of black amber beads and gold and enamelled roses, she desires a Ferrara jeweller to make her one like it without delay, and when her sister Beatrice wears a jewelled belt brought from France, made in imitation of a cordone di S. Francesco, she writes to ask for the pattern in order that she may copy it. The following letter to her father's agent, Ziliolo, who was starting on a journey to France in April 1491, is a characteristic specimen of the commissions which she gave her servants and of her eagerness to see her wishes gratified.
"I send you a hundred ducats," she says, "and wish you to understand that you are not to return the money if any of it is left, after buying the things which I want, but are to spend it in buying some gold chain or anything else that is new and elegant. And if more is required, spend that too, for I had rather be in your debt so long as you bring me the latest novelties. But these are the kind of things that I wish to have — engraved amethysts, rosaries of black amber and gold, blue cloth for a camora, black cloth for a mantle, such as shall be without a rival in the world, even if it costs ten ducats a yard; as long as it is of real excellence, never mind! If it is only as good as those which I see other people wear, I had rather be without it!" She goes on to ask Ziliolo not to forget to bring back some of the finest tela di Rensa — the linen made at Rheims, which was in great request at Italian courts, and ends by begging him to lose no chance GOLD AND SILVER WORK 73
of hunting out some rare and elegant trifles for her use.1
The commissions with which Zorzo Brognolo, the Mantuan envoy at Venice, was charged, were still more varied. Silks and velvets of Oriental manufacture, brocades patterned over with leopards and doves and eagles, perfumes, Murano glass, silver and niello work, very fine Rheims linen for the Marquis's shirts, even finer and more delicate than the pattern which she encloses—these are some of the things which he must procure without a moment's delay. Often, indeed, faithful Zorzo found it no easy task to satisfy the demands of his impatient young mistress. Skilled goldsmiths and engravers were slow to move and apt to put oft' commissions and linger over the work in a way that was very trying to Isabella's patience. "If the bracelets we ordered months ago are not here till the summer is over and we no longer wear our arms bare, they will be of no use," she writes on one occasion when the Jewish goldsmith, Ercole Fedeli of Ferrara, had failed to execute her order punctually. Another time the same artist kept her waiting four years for a pair of silver bracelets, and would, she declared, never have finished them in her lifetime if Duke Alfonso had not thrown him into the Castello dungeon! But the work when it came was so exquisitely finished that Isabella had to forgive him and own that no other goldsmith in the world was his equal. And certainly the scabbard which Ercole worked in niello for Caesar Borgia, now in South Kensington Museum, and the sword of state which he made for the Marquis 74 ENGRAVED GEMS
1 II Lusso di Isabella d'Este, A. Luzio in Nuova Antologia, 18JJ6, p. 453.
Francesco, now in the Louvre, deserve the high praise which the Marchioness bestowed upon his work. It was the same with Anichino, another Ferrarese jeweller, who spent most of his time in Venice and engraved gems in the most perfect style. "Fortunate are those," sang a contemporary poet, "who are endowed with the genius of Anichino, for over them Time and Death have no power." "I will not fail," wrote Zorzo Brognolo to his mistress in 1492, "to urge Anichino to serve Your Highness quickly, but he is a very capricious and eccentric man, and it is necessary to hold him tight if you mean to get work out of him!" As usual Isabella had to bide the artist's pleasure and wait many weary months before her turquoise was returned engraved with a Victory. But when it came it was so beautifully worked that she forgot her displeasure and sent Anichino another gem to be engraved with a figure of Orpheus, telling him with many flattering words that he might be as slow as he liked, as long as the work came so near to antique art. This time, however, she owned to Brognolo that she was not altogether satisfied, but did not dare tell the artist her opinion for fear of exciting his wrath. "I know," she adds, "the man is the best master in Italy, but unfortunately he is not always in the right mood."'
This fine taste and quickness to recognise true excellence naturally attracted the best artists into Isabella's service. She might be hasty and impetuous in her orders; she often grumbled at the cost of pictures and gems, tried to beat down the price, and was undoubtedly difficult to please, but
1 Gruyer, L'Art Ferrarais d Pejmque dot Princes dEste, vol. i. pp. 575, 714, &c.