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In 1492, Fra Mariano da Genazzano, the cultured and popular Augustinian, whose polished oratory at one time made him the rival of Savonarola in Florence, preached a course of Lent sermons at Mantua, which pleased Isabella so much that she insisted on keeping him at her court for Easter. On his return to Ferrara, the friar told Duchess Leonora how deeply he had been impressed with her daughter's intelligence and devotion. "Indeed," wrote the gratified mother, "he praised you so much that he almost made me believe you are really all that he said, and this would give me the greatest pleasure in the world."1 At the same time, like all the Este princes, Isabella never ceased to follow the career of Fra Mariano's rival with the deepest interest. A volume of Savonarola's sermons was in her library, and six months after his death, she sent to Ferrara for a copy of the Miserere, a commentary on the Fifty-first Psalm, which he had written in prison before his execution. "I send you the Miserere of Savonarola," wrote her brother Alfonso on the 80th of October, "which I have had copied by your wish, and which you will find a worthy and devout book."2 For the great friar of San Marco was a citizen of Ferrara, and neither Ercole d'Este nor his children ever forgot that his grandfather, Michele Savonarola, had held the post of physician to the ducal family. But wide and varied as was Isabella's interest in all forms of literature, the study of poetry remained her favourite pursuit. She was as indefatigable in her endeavours to obtain the productions of living bards as those of dead

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authors, and her correspondence in these early years is as much concerned with sonnets and cauzoni as with jewels and fine clothes. Antonio Tebaldeo, the young poet who had already acquired considerable reputation at the courts of Ferrara and Bologna, was constantly sending her his strambotti and capitoli, and the insatiable Marchesa was always begging for more.

"Find out Messer Tebaldeo," she writes in December 1491, to Giacomo Trotti, her father's envoy at Milan, "and beg him to send twenty or twenty-five of the finest sonnets as well as two or three capitoli which would give us the greatest possible pleasure." Sometimes she herself tried to express her thoughts in verse, and in one of his letters Tebaldeo speaks with high praise of a certain strambotto of her composition on the autumn trees which have lost their leaves, and thanks heaven that one of his disciples has attained an excellence to which he could never aspire, prophesying that she will go far in this direction, and achieve miracles in poetry. Isabella, however, took these flattering words for what they were worth, and although she occasionally wrote verses in private, steadily refused to allow her productions to be handed round among her courtiers, saying that such attempts were more likely to bring her ridicule than fame.1

But among all courtly poets of her circle the one whom she admired the most was her kinsman Niccolo da Correggio. From her earliest childhood she remembered him as the handsomest and most accomplished cavalier at the court of Ferrara, distinguished alike by his prowess in war and tourna82 NICCOLO DA CORREGGIO

1 S. Davari, La Musica in Montana, in Riv. St. Mant., i. 54; and A. Luzio, / Precettori d'lsaltclla d'Este, p. 53.


ments, and by his polished courtesy and rare gift of poetic invention. His fame was celebrated by the most illustrious poets and writers of the age. Ariosto and Sabba da Castiglione sang his praises in the next century. Sperandio struck a noble medal in his honour, and Isabella herself spoke of him after his death as the most perfect courtier and finished poet in all Italy. The son of Duke Ercole's sister, that fair Beatrice who was known as the Queen of Feasts, and of a prince of the reigning house of Correggio, who died before his son's birth in 1450, Niccolo grew up at his uncle's court at Ferrara, and was held in high favour by the Duke and all his family. He had been sent to escort Leonora of Aragon to Ferrara on her wedding journey, and had accompanied her when she returned to Naples with her children in 1477. He served with distinction in the wars against Venice, and was taken prisoner and kept in captivity for nearly a year, to the great distress of the Duchess, who entered warmly into the grief of his mother and of his wife, Cassandra, a daughter of the famous captain, Bartolommeo Colleoni.

In 1487, Niccolo's pastoral play of " Cefalo" was performed at Ferrara, and his eclogues and sonnets were in the hands of all lovers of poetry. Isabella frequently alludes to the choice copy of his poems, in white damask embroidered with diamonds, which he had presented to her father, and her own library contained several volumes of his works. A copy of his romances was bound in red velvet, while his eclogues and another book called II Giardino were bound in black leather enriched with gold and silver clasps. Niccolo had been present at IsaHIS DEVOTION TO ISABELLA 83

bella's wedding, and again at that of Beatrice at Milan, where, although past forty years of age, he was pronounced by general consent to be the most splendid figure in all that brilliant company.1 After this, the influence of his mother, who had married the Moro's half-brother Tristan Sforza, and the marked favour shown him by Lodovico, induced him to settle at Milan, where he played a leading part in court and carnival festivities during Beatrice's lifetime. But, although he rarely visited Mantua, he still remained deeply attached to Isabella, whose devoted slave he professed himself and with whom he kept up an animated correspondence. He addresses her habitually as Madonna unica mia, his beloved patrona and signoria, and speaks of her in his letters to others as la mia Illustrissima Isabella. And on one memorable occasion, when a discussion arose at the Moro's palace of Vigevano on the illustrious women of the day, Niccolo da Correggio ventured to speak of the Marchesa as the first lady in the world—la prima donna delmondo*

In February 1491, Niccolo was present at the fetes held at Ferrara in honour of Alfonso d'Este and Anna Sforza's marriage, and on this occasion showed Isabella a complete collection of his works in manuscript, with a dedicatory epistle to herself, destined to be published at some future date. At the same time he promised her a new poem of his own composition, as well as a translation of one of Virgil's eclogues. In the course of that spring he was sent by Lodovico on a mission to France, and before his departure, 84 HER ADMIRATION FOR HIS POEMS

1 T. Chalcus, Residua, p. 95.

2 Luzio, Niccolo da Correggio, in Giorn. St. d. Lett. It, vol. xxi pp. 239-241.

wrote to the Marchesa assuring her of his devotion and offering to execute any commission for her in Paris. On his return, Isabella lost no time in reminding him of his promise, and ended her letter with these characteristic words: "Since I am of an essentially greedy and impatient nature, I hold those things the most dear, which I can obtain the soonest." But the young princess had to restrain her impatience, and it was not until the close of the year that she received the fable of Psyche—a short poem in ottava rima, with an elaborate dedication which is still preserved in a few rare editions. Meanwhile rumours of Niccolo's new fable had reached Mantua, and a Milanese poet wrote to tell one of Isabella's favourite courtiers, Jacopo d'Atri, Count of Pianella, that he would soon see the Psyche composed for his illustrious Madonna. "It is finished," he goes on to say, "and will, I feel sure, please you, but on your honour I beg you not to say a word to any one, as the author does not wish the report to precede the presentation of his poem."1 Isabella was anxious that her accomplished kinsman should spend the next carnival at Mantua, but he was detained at Milan, to organise the festivities at the Moro's court, and she did not see him until she went to Pavia and Milan that summer. Early in 1493, Niccolo sent her a copy of the Rime composed by his friend Gasparo Visconti, one of the sweetest singers of Beatrice's court, but the Marchesa received the gift coldly, remarking that she should have much preferred to have the poems before they were printed, and begging Niccolo to send her anything new of his own, "for

1 Luzio, op. cit., p. 250.

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