תמונות בעמוד


she was always ready to recognise good work and to give the artist warm praise. Naturally, however, want of money often interfered with the gratification of her wishes, and she was compelled to return precious stones and finely carved gems because, as she told the goldsmiths sorrowfully, they were too dear. For the state of Mantua was small and its revenues could not compare with those of Milan or Ferrara. "Would to God!" Isabella exclaimed when her brother-in-law Lodovico Sforza displayed his treasures before her dazzled eyes — "Would to God that we who spend money so gladly had half as much!" As it was, she often spent more than she could afford, and owed large sums to Taddeo and Piero Albano, the Venetian bankers, who generally advanced money both to the Marchesa and her husband. Often too she was forced to pledge her jewels and even her costly robes to raise money for political objects, to help Francesco in his wars or buy a cardinal's hat for his brother. The Mantuan agent Antonio Salimbeni wrote, to her from Venice in 1494, begging that she would send him some money without delay, since he had all the merchants in the city on his shoulders, and could only give them good words, and hope that Her Excellency would soon come to the rescue. But Isabella was no spendthrift, and although she might occasionally be led into extravagance, showed herself to be'as practical in the management of her fortune as in everything else. When, in 1491, one of her husband's estates was seized by the Venetian merchant Pagano, Isabella hastened to redeem the land, paying down 2000 ducats and begging the Doge to be her security for the rest. Pagano began by rais76 FRENCH ROMANCES

ing objections, and evidently looked with some distrust on the Marchesa's proposals, upon which Isabella lost no time in paying down the money, saying proudly to Brognolo: "He might have trusted us, for, as you know, we would rather die than break our word."

But the raising of loans, and the purchase of rare gems and costly brocades, of elegant trifles and ornaments for her camerini were by no means the only commissions which Brognolo had to execute for his young mistress. From the first, intellectual interests played a large part in Isabella's life at Mantua. All through the summer of 1491, she was engaged in an active controversy with the Moro's son-in-law Galeazzo di San Severino, on the respective merits of the Paladins Rinaldo and Orlando, and entered into the lists with her wonted spirit and gaiety. On the one hand, she asked her old friend, Matteo Boiardo, to send her the latter part of his Orlando Innamorato, as yet in manuscript; on the other, she wrote to Brognolo on the 17th of September: "We wish you to ask all the booksellers in Venice for a list of all the Italian books in prose or verse containing battle stories and fables of heroes in modern and ancient times, more especially those which relate to the Paladins of France, and send them to us as soon as possible."1 Zorzo executed this commission with the utmost despatch, and on the 24th, sent her a list of works, containing, amongst others, a Life of Julius Caesar, the romances of Boccaccio, Piccinino, Fierabraccio, and several translations from the French. Many other French and Breton romances, tales of the San Graal, of King CLASSICAL AUTHORS 77

1 Luzio e Renier in Giorn. St. d. Lett. It., 1899i p- 8- See also "Beatrice d'Este," p. 68, &c.

Arthur and his Round Table, of Lancelot, Tristan, Amadys, Astolfo, Morgante Maggiore and Rinaldo di Montalbano, belonged to Isabella's library, and are mentioned in the inventory which was drawn up at Mantua in 1542, three years after her death. Her Gonzaga cousins at Gazzuolo shared this taste for French romances which Isabella had brought from the court of the Estes, and many years afterwards, when Gianfrancesco's widow, Antonia del Balzo, was growing old, she begged the Marchesa to lend her the "History of King Arthur and the Round Table" and that of Godefroi de Bouillon. "Now that I am often ill and unable to go out much, I like to have books read aloud to me," she writes, "and find that this passes the time pleasantly, especially when the story is quite new to me." Isabella sent the books without delay, and Antonia gratefully acknowledged the parcel, saying that the French romances were read to her while she was at work every day, and that her brother-in-law Monsignore Lodovico was especially glad to see them, since a youth in his household was writing a book on Orlando, and hoped to find some new incident or idea in them.1

But, dear as mediaeval romances were to Isabella's heart, classical authors were dearer still. The great Venetian Aldo Manuzio had not yet printed those choice editions which gave her so much delight in later years, but even in these early days her library contained a large proportion of Latin authors, including the works of Virgil and Horace, of Livy and Pliny, and the plays of Seneca, of Plautus and Terence. She never mastered the Greek language, 78 LOVE OF RARE ROOKS

1 Luzio e Rcnier, op. oit., pp. 8, 0, 12.

but read the works of Greek writers in Latin or Italian versions, and employed Demetrius Moschus to translate the Lives of Plutarch and the Icones of Philostratus, which as a treatise on painting was of especial interest to herself and her contemporaries. In 1498, she was seized with a wish to read Herodotus, and borrowed an Italian translation from her cousin Alberto d'Este, which she kept over a year, giving as an excuse for her delay in returning the volume, that it was such a big one and that she had not yet finished it. With the true spirit of the bibliophile Isabella loved to add rare works to her library, even when she could not read them, and was especially proud of a Greek Eustathius, which Pope Clement VII. was glad to borrow, and which she once lent as a great favour to her cousin, Caesar of Aragon, begging him not to allow too many persons to see the precious volume, lest its reputation should be diminished! Even Hebrew literature occupied her attention, and she employed a learned Jew to translate the Psalms from the original, in order to satisfy herself that the text was correct. An illustrated Rible was one of the first books which she desired Rrognolo to procure for her when she came to Mantua, and some years later she paid Taddeo Albano fifty ducats for an illuminated copy of the Seven Penitential Psalms bound in a richly chased gold and silver cover. A copy of St. Jerome's Epistles, which she had borrowed from her old tutor Battista Guarino, interested her so much that she caused the work to be printed at Mantua in 1497.1 Even at this early age the youthful Marchesa was fond of reading the Fathers and of hearing sermons. Some of the SUOR OSANNA 79

1 Luzio e Renier, op. cit., pp. 21-23.

most learned and eloquent friars of the day—the General of the Carmelites, Fra Pietro da Novellara; the Mantuan Carmelite Battista Spagnoli, Frate Francesco Silvestri of Ferrara, afterwards General of the Dominican Order — were numbered among her friends and correspondents.

Her relations with the Dominican nun, Osanna dei Andreasi, were still more intimate. This devout lady, a kinswoman of the Gonzagas, was regarded by Francesco and all his family as the protectress of Mantua, whose prayers they sought in time of war and plague. She was a wise and noble woman, whom the learned Francesco Silvestro held in high esteem, and as she was supposed to have received the stigmata and to be endowed with prophetic gifts, her fame extended far and wide. Beatrice d'Este induced her to visit Milan, where she was received as an angel of light, and the Queen of France, Anne of Brittany, asked her prayers that she might bear a son. Isabella was deeply attached to the Beata Osanna, to whom she turned in all her troubles, and after her death, in 1505, raised a splendid tomb over her ashes and offered a silver head at her shrine. On one occasion the Marchesa believed the good nun's prayers had saved her from a dangerous illness, while on another they brought her instant relief from a violent headache1 And in an altar-piece of the Vision of the Beata Osanna, painted by Bonsignori, now in the Academy at Mantua, the portrait of Isabella is introduced kneeling with three of her ladies at the saint's feet.2

1 Donesmondi, Storia ecclesieutica di Mantova, ii. 90.

2 Mr. Berenson first drew my attention to this portrait, which strongly resembles Leonardo's drawing of Isabella.

« הקודםהמשך »