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AT MANTUA 93
of fever, and was compelled to return to the healthier climate of Urbino. Some months passed before Isabella was able to inform her friend that the portrait was ready, and would be sent to her straight from Urbino.
"Most illustrious Madonna and dearest sister, in order to satisfy Your Highness—not because our countenance is so beautiful that it deserves to be painted—we send you, by Simone da Canossa, chamberlain to the illustrious Duke of Calabria, a panel portrait by the hand of Zohan de Sancte, painter to the Duchess of Urbino, who is said to make good likenesses, although from what we hear it seems that this one might resemble us more."*
This Contessa d'Acerra, to whom Isabella was so fondly attached, became the second wife of her uncle Federico, the last king of the house of Aragon who reigned over Naples. After that monarch died in France, his widow came back to Italy with her daughters and ended her days at the court of his nephew, Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara.
1 A. Luzio, / Hitratti tTIsaltella eTEHe in Emporium, 1900, p. 347.
Discovery of the New World—The news reaches Mantua—Birth of the Moro's son—Isabella's journey to Ferrara and Venice— Reception by the Doge and Signory—Her relations with Gentile Bellini—Return to Mantua—Francesco Gonzaga at Venice — Death of Duchess Leonora — Birth of Leonora Gonzaga—Departure of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino —Decorations of Marmirolo and Gonzaga.
While the young Gonzaga princesses were spending the spring days together, singing Petrarch and Virgil to the lute, or playing their favourite game of scartino, great events were happening in the outer world. On the 15th of March Columbus landed at Palos on his return from his first voyage, and told the wondering Spaniards of the New World which had been discovered beyond the seas. Soon the news reached the little blue and gold studiolo looking over the Mantuan lakes, and we can picture to ourselves the breathless excitement with which Isabella and her sister-in-law read the marvellous traveller's tales that came from Spain. On the 22nd of April, Luca Fancelli, the old architect who had spent his last forty years in the service of the Gonzagas, wrote from Florence to tell his lord and master, Marquis Francesco, these wonderful things.
"Your Highness," he says, " may have heard that we have had letters here telling us that the King of Spain sent some ships over the seas, which, after a
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voyage of thirty-six days, discovered certain islands, amongst others a very big one lying east, with broad rivers and terrible mountains, and a very fertile land, inhabited by handsome men and women, who go naked or only wear a cotton leaf round the waist. This country abounds in gold, and the people are very courteous and liberal of their property, and there are quantities of palms of more than six different kinds, and some wonderfully tall trees. There are other islands, five of which have been given names, and one which is nearly as large as Italy. And the rivers there run with gold, and there is plenty of copper but no iron, and many other wonders, and you can neither see the Arctic nor the Antarctic poles."
Further particulars came from two of Francesco's servants, Giovanni dei Bardi and Giambattista Strozzi, who had been sent to buy horses in Spain, and who now wrote from Cadiz, saying: "A Savona sailor named Columbus has landed here, bringing 30,000 ducats in gold, as well as pepper and other spices, and parrots as big as falcons and as red as pheasants. They found trees bearing fine wool, and others which produce wax and linen fibres, and men like Tartars, tall and active, with long hair falling over their shoulders. They eat human flesh, and fatten men as we do capons, and are called cannibals. ... It is certain that these sailors have brought back a great quantity of gold, sandal-wood, and spices, and what I myself have seen—sixty parrots of variegated colours, eight of them as big as falcons—as well as twelve Indians, who have been sent to the King. And in that land they found great forests in which the trees grow so thickly you could hardly see the 96 THE INDIANS IN SPAIN
sky, and if some men had not climbed to the top of the trees they would never have got out again, and many other things of which I have not time to tell."
A few months later, Isabella herself received the following letter from a Cremona scholar at Ferrara named Ponzone: "I hear that a man named Columbus lately discovered an island for the King of Spain, on which are men of our height but of copper-coloured skin, with noses like apes. The chiefs wear a plate of gold in their nostrils which covers the mouth, the women have faces as big as wheels, and all go naked, men and women alike. Twelve men and four women have been brought back to the King of Spain, but they are so weakly that two of them fell ill of some sickness which the doctors do not understand, and they had no pulse and are dead. The others have been clothed, and if they see any one who is richly clad they stroke him with their hands and kiss his hands to show how much they admire him. They seem intelligent, and are very tame and gentle. No one can understand their language. They eat of everything at table, but are not given wine. In their own country they eat the roots of trees and some big kind of nut which is like pepper but yields good food, and on this they live." *
Meanwhile affairs nearer home claimed Isabella's attention. Her mother's ladies wrote long letters from Milan giving full particulars of the birth of Beatrice's son, and of the splendid festivities and rejoicings with which this event had been hailed. Isabella's warm heart glowed with affection when she heard of the bello puttino, and she told her sister how she longed to hold the babe in her arms and cover ISABELLA'S JOURNEY TO VENICE 97
1 G. Berghet, Fonti Ital. per la Storia della Scoperta del Nuovo Mondo, pp. 165, 169.
him with kisses, but she was, not unnaturally, inclined to wish for the same blessing herself, and to envy Beatrice's prosperity. When Francesco Gonzaga, on his return from Venice in April, brought his wife an invitation from the Doge to attend the Ascension-tide festivities in that city and witness the yearly ceremony of the espousals of Venice with the sea, Isabella accepted the offer joyfully. But when, a few days later, she heard from her mother that Lodovico and his wife were coming to Ferrara in May, and that Beatrice was to accompany Duchess Leonora to Venice, she told her husband that nothing would induce her to visit Venice at the same time. And since it was impossible to vie with the splendour of her sister's train, she begged to be allowed to appear without ceremony before the Doge as his humble servant and daughter. Fortunately the Moro's journey was delayed, and Isabella left Mantua early in May and travelled by boat to Ferrara. On her arrival she sent an affectionate note to her sister-in-law Elisabetta, from whom she had parted with much regret.
"When I found myself alone in the boat, without your sweet company, I felt so forlorn I hardly knew what I wanted or where I was. To add to my comfort, the wind and tide were against us all the way, and I often wished myself back in your room playing at scartino !"1
On the same day Elisabetta wrote saying that the weather had been so bad since the Marchesa's departure that she had never left her room, and complaining that she only felt half-alive now that
1 Copialettera d'Isabella, lib. iii., quoted by Luzio, Mantova e Urbino, p. 63.
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