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98 HER RECEPTION
she was deprived of her sister's charming conversation.1 After assisting at the wedding of Guido, the son of the accomplished poet Tito Strozzi, and at a dramatic representation in honour of the occasion, which afforded her great delight, Isabella continued her journey, accompanied by her brother-in-law, the papal protonotary, Sigismondo, and reached Chioggia on the 13th of May. Here she was lodged in the palace of the Podesta, and sumptuously entertained at the Signory's expense. After supper three Venetian patricians who had been present at her wedding— Zorzo Pisano, Zaccaria Contarini, and Francesco Capello — waited on her to bid her welcome in the Doge's name, and escorted her to the palace near San Trovaso occupied by her husband as captain of the Republic's armies. Early the next morning Isabella entered the port of Venice, passing between the forts of Malamocco so quietly that she hardly saw them, and was received at Santa Croce by the Doge and Signory, together with the ambassadors of Naples, Milan, and Ferrara.* The scene that followed is best described in her own words.
"Here I landed and met the Prince and ambassadors coming out of the church, and kissed His Serene Highness's hand and exchanged courteous greeting, after which he led me to his bucentaur, which was loaded with gentlemen and ladies. There were ninety-three of these last, all richly attired and glittering with jewels, and I am sure that not one among them had less than 6000 ducats worth of precious stones upon her person. I sat on the ISABELLA VISITS THE DOGE 99
1 P. Ferrato, Lettere inedite di Donne Mantovane del Secolo, xv. p. 56.
* Luzio e Renier in Arch. St. Lomb., xvii. 366-372.
Prince's right, and so, talking of many things, we rowed up the Canal Grande to the sound of bells, trumpets, and guns, accompanied by such a crowd of boats and people that it was impossible to count them. I cannot tell you, my dear lord, what loving attention and great honour are paid me here. The very stones of Venice seem to rejoice and be glad of my coming, and all for the love which they bear Your Excellency. Not only my own expenses, but those of my whole suite, are liberally defrayed, and two gentlemen have been deputed to provide for us. . . . To-morrow the Doge and Signory are to give me an audience, and I will reply as you desired to the best of my ability. I do not describe the beauties of this place as you have been here so often, and will only say that it seems to me, as it does to you, the finest city which I have ever seen."
The next day forty gentlemen escorted the Marchesa to the Sala del Collegio, and the Doge, taking her by the hand, placed her on a seat on the tribunal on his right hand, while Sigismondo Gonzaga sat on his left. Then, rising and bowing with charming grace towards the Doge, Isabella expressed her joy at being allowed to assure His Serenity of her reverence and loyalty for him and this illustrious Signory under whose shadow and protection her lord wished to live and die, and begged to commend the Marquis, his State, and herself to their protection. The Doge replied in gracious words, and invited her to attend vespers in San Marco, a function which Isabella, tired with the heat and length of these ceremonies, found very tedious. "I know," she wrote to Francesco, "that to-morrow's ceremony will be no less wearisome, but I will bear it cheerfully for the sake of 100 THE BELLINI
seeing so many fine things and doing honour to Your Excellency."
The solemn espousals of Venice with the sea, and the state banquet which followed, proved even more fatiguing than Isabella expected. "Have pity on me," she wrote that evening, "for I was never more tired and bored than I am with all these ceremonies. ... It seems to me a thousand years until I can get back to Mantua! For, although Venice is a glorious city and has no rival, to have seen it once is quite enough for me."1 The concluding days of her visit, however, were spent more pleasantly. She visited Queen Caterina Cornaro in her beautiful home at Murano, assisted at a sitting of the Great Council, and went to the Church of S. Zaccaria to hear the nuns sing. She spent one afternoon with her husband's uncle, the Duke of Bavaria, who was staying in Venice and showed her the most cordial affection; and she visited the ducal palace and saw the noble frescoes which Gentile and Giovanni Bellini were painting in the Council-hall. On this occasion she probably made the acquaintance of the painters themselves, whose sister Niccolosia was the wife of Andrea Mantegna, and saw the wonderful portrait of Sultan Mahomet II. which Gentile had lately brought back from Constantinople. At the same time she expressed a great wish to have a portrait of the Doge Agostino Barbarigo upon which Gentile was engaged, and, after her return to Mantua, she desired Antonio Salimbeni to remind the painter of her request, and to beg that he would send the Marquis plans of Cairo and Venice. On the 1st of October the Mantuan agent informed his lord that Gentile would gladly
1 Luzio e Rcnier, op. tit., p. 371.
ISABELLA RETURNS TO MANTUA 101
oblige him and his illustrious lady, but three weeks later he excused himself on the plea of pressing engagements and begged the Marchesa to write to the Doge herself on the subject. Accordingly Isabella addressed a letter to the Doge, which was duly delivered by her envoy Battista Scalona, begging him to gratify her earnest desire to possess his portrait. "The Most Serene Prince," wrote Scalona, "called one of his secretaries and bade him give the Marchesa the most gracious answer, explaining that Gentile's portrait was already promised to his nephew, but that he would desire the painter to have it copied for her without delay." Since, however, we find no mention of a picture by Gentile Bellini in Isabella's collection, it is doubtful if the work was ever executed. But the plan of Cairo which Gentile had promised "on the faith of a cavalier" to let the Marquis have was really brought to Mantua by Scalona on the 22nd of December, together with an old plan of the Piazza di San Marco and the ducal palace, by the hand of his father, Jacopo Bellini.1
On the 20th of May, Isabella left Venice, and spent the night at Padua. After paying her vows at the famous Basilica of II Santo, she went on to Vicenza and Verona, where she was received with great honour, and entertained at the expense of the Signory. Meanwhile her return was impatiently awaited by Elisabetta, who wrote charming letters to her absent sister, saying how much she missed her sweet companionship, greatly as she rejoiced to hear of the honours which had been paid her in Venice, and begging her to return quickly, lest the 102 THE VILLA OF PORTO
1 Yriarte, Isabel le d'Este et les Artistes de son temps; Gazette des Beaux Arts, xv. p. 216.
excessive heat should injure her health.1 The Marquis was superintending the works at his favourite villa of Marmirolo, and only paid his sister flying visits, so that the Duchess gladly obeyed Isabella's invitation to meet her at Porto, outside Mantua, "where," she wrote, "we may together enjoy the pure country air and tell each other all that has happened since we parted." *
The two princesses spent the next six weeks in this villa, which Francesco had lately bestowed on his wife, and which she was to improve and beautify so much in future years. Here they read and sang together, in the terraced gardens on the Mincio, and Jacopo di San Secondo, the accomplished violplayer, who had been sent from Milan as a special act of courtesy on Lodovico Moro's part, serenaded them with exquisite music through the long summer evenings. Isabella was blissful, and not even the accounts which the Marquis sent from Venice of the splendid f§tes in honour of her mother and sister could make her wish to be there. "To say the truth," she wrote to Duchess Leonora, "all these fetes and ceremonies are very much alike." She was better pleased to hear from her husband of the excellent impression which she herself had made on the Doge and Senators. Wherever he went, the praises of her charms rang in his ears. Everywhere he heard how honourably she had been entertained, and with what infinite tact and skill she had behaved. He himself could not commend her wisdom and discretion too highly, and all he now begged was that his wife would take great care of her health and
i Ferrato, op. cit., p. 85.
2 Luzio e Renier, Mantova e Urlrino, p. 67.