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90 MANTEGNA'S RETURN
"Egh e tuttogentile"' This description, it must be owned, hardly agrees with all that we hear of Andrea's irritable and suspicious temper. But from the first, Isabella appreciated his rare talent and proved a kind patron and faithful friend to the great master. The whole of the next year was devoted to his unfinished Triumphs, and by a decree of February 1492, the Marquis bestowed a fresh gift of land upon the painter, "as a reward for the admirable works which he formerly painted in the Chapel and Camera of our Castello, and which in the Triumph of Ctesar he is now painting for us, in pictures which seem almost to live and breathe."2 The works in the Chapel here mentioned were in all probability the noble Triptych now in the Uffizi, containing the Adoration, Circumcision, and Ascension, and the small altar-piece of the Death of the Virgin, with the view of the lake and bridge of S. Giorgio as seen from the Castello. This last-named picture came to England in 1627, with the chief treasures of the Gonzaga gallery, and is described in Van der Doort's catalogue of Charles the First's pictures as "a little piece of Andrea Montania, being the dying of Our Lady, the Apostles standing about with white candles lighted in their hands; and in the landskip where the town of Mantua is painted is the water-lake, where a bridge is over the said water towards the town. In a little ebony wooden frame." This precious little painting, on which Isabella's eyes must often have rested and which bore the words "Mantua piece" in the King's own writing, was
1 W. Braghirolli, in Giorn. cli Enid. Art., i. p. 202. 8 Archivio Gonzaga, Libro dei Decreti, 24, foL 56, quoted by Kristeller, op. cit., App. p. 486.
HIS PORTRAIT OF ISABELLA 91
bought at the sale of his pictures after his execution by the Spanish Ambassador Cardenas, and now hangs in the Prado at Madrid.
By the end of 1492, the Triumphs were finally completed, and Andrea was at length able to execute a commission for Isabella. This was a portrait of herself which she wished to send to Isabella del Balzo, Countess of Acerra, the younger sister of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga's wife, Antonia del Balzo, who was apparently one of her intimate friends.
In January 1493, Isabella d'Este wrote the following letter to Jacopo d'Atri, her lord's envoy at Naples:—
"In order to satisfy the most illustrious Madonna, the Countess of Acerra, whom we love tenderly, we have arranged to have our portrait taken by Andrea Mantegna, and will ask him to send it to you in order that you may present it to her before you leave, and we hope that you will bring back the portrait of the said Countess, since she has asked for ours."
Jacopo dAtri returned to Mantua in April with a drawing of the Countess, which Isabella acknowledged gratefully in the following letter :—
"The sight of your picture gave us the liveliest joy, since you are as dear to us as our only sister Beatrice. If Our Lord God would only grant that we might see you once more and embrace you, it would make us happier than anything in the world. This feeling prompted our urgent desire to possess your portrait and thus in some measure satisfy the longing of our heart. Now that we have your image both on paper and in wax, we shall hold it very dear 92 GIOVANNI SANTI
and often look at it, although, from what Jacopo says and from our own recollection, neither portrait resembles you very much. But we know how difficult it is to find painters who take good likenesses from life, and shall try to supply the artist's deficiencies with the help of the information given us by Margherita, Jacopo, and others who have lately seen you, so that we may not be deceived in our idea of you. We thank you exceedingly for your kindness, and beg you to keep the promise made us through Jacopo, that you will send us another on panel, and we will do the same in compliance with your request. We do not say that you will see a beautiful picture, but at least you will have in your house a portrait of one who is your most loving sister."
But when, a fortnight later, Andrea's portrait was finished, it failed to satisfy Isabella's critical taste.
"We are much vexed," she writes on the 20th of April, " that we are unable to send you our portrait, because the painter has done it so badly that it does not resemble us in the very least. But we have sent for a foreign artist who has the reputation of taking excellent likenesses, and as soon as it is ready we will send it to Your Highness, who will not forget that we are altogether devoted to you."
The foreign master was Giovanni Santi, the father of Raphael, who had been evidently recommended to Isabella by her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Urbino. Elisabetta sent him without delay, and he spent some time at Mantua that summer painting a series of family portraits—probably for the decoration of some hall in one of the Gonzaga villas—and began a picture of Isabella. Unluckily, before it was finished he fell ill