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and the tortuous policy of Leo X., and to preserve his duchy in the face of the most prolonged and determined opposition. Isabella lived to see the fulfilment of her fondest wish, when, in 1531, the newly-crowned Emperor, Charles V., visited Mantua and raised her eldest son to the rank of Duke, while Pope Clement VII. bestowed a Cardinal's hat on her second son Ercole.
But it is above all as a patron of art and letters that Isabella d'Este will be remembered. In this respect she deserves a place with the most enlightened princes of the Renaissance, with Lorenzo dei Medici and Lodovico Sforza. A true child of her age, Isabella combined a passionate love of beauty and the most profound reverence for antiquity with the finest critical taste. Her studios and villas were adorned with the best paintings and statues by the first masters of the day, and with the rarest antiques from the Eternal City and the Isles of Greece. Her book-shelves contained the daintiest editions of classical works printed at the Aldine Press, and the newest poems and romances by living writers. Viols and organs of exquisite shape and tone, lutes of inlaid ivory and ebony, the richest brocades and rarest gems, the finest gold and silver work, the choicest majolica and most delicately tinted Murano glass found a place in her camerivi. But everything that she possessed must be of the best, and she was satisfied with nothing short of perfection. Even Mantegna and Perugino sometimes failed to please her, and Aldo's books were returned to be more carefully revised and printed. To attain these objects Isabella spared neither time nor trouble. She wrote endless letters, and gave the PREFACE ix
artists in her employment the most elaborate and minute instructions. Braghirolli counted as many as forty letters on the subject of a single picture painted by Giovanni Bellini, and no less than fiftythree on a painting entrusted to Perugino. Especial attention has been devoted to this portion of Isabella's correspondence in the present work. The vast number of letters which passed between her and the chief artists of the day have hitherto lain buried in foreign archives or hidden in pamphlets and periodicals, many of them already out of print. All these have been carefully collected, and are for the first time brought together here.
If Isabella was a fastidious and at times a severe critic, she was also a generous and kindly patron, prompt to recognise true merit and stimulate creative effort, and ever ready to befriend struggling artists. And poets and painters alike gave her freely of their best. Castiglione and Niccolo da Correggio, Bembo and Bibbiena, were among her constant correspondents. Aldo Manuzio printed Virgils and Petrarchs for her use, Lorenzo da Pavia made her musical instruments of unrivalled beauty and sweetness. The works of Mantegna and Costa, of Giovanni Bellini and Michelangelo, of Perugino and Correggio, adorned her rooms. Giovanni Santi, Andrea Mantegna, Francesco Francia, and Lorenzo Costa all in turn painted portraits of her, which have alas! perished. But her beautiful features still live in Leonardo's perfect drawing, in Cristoforo's medal, and in Titian's great picture at Vienna. Nor were poets and prose-writers remiss in paying her their homage. Paolo Giovio addressed her as the rarest of women; Bembo and Trissino celebrated her charms x PREFACE
and virtues in their sonnets and canzoni. Castiglione gave her a high place in his courtly record, Ariosto paid her a magnificent tribute in his "Orlando," while endless were the songs and lays which minor bards offered at the shrine of this peerless Marchesa, whom they justly called the foremost lady in the world—"la prima donna del mondo"—"Isabella d'Este," writes Jacopo Caviceo, "at the sound of whose name all the Muses rise and do reverence."
In her aims and aspirations Isabella was a typical child of the Renaissance, and her thoughts and actions faithfully reflected the best traditions of the age. Her own conduct was blameless. As a wife and mother, as a daughter and sister, she was beyond reproach. But her judgments conformed to the standard of her own times, and her diplomacy followed the principles of Machiavelli and of Marino Sanuto. She had a strong sense of family affections, and would have risked her life for the sake of advancing the interests of her husband and children or brothers, but she did not hesitate to ask Cassar Borgia for the statues of which he had robbed her brother-in-law, and danced merrily at the ball given by Louis XII. while her old friend and kinsman Duke Lodovico languished in the dungeons of Loches. Like others of her age, she knew no regrets and felt no remorse, but lived wholly in the present, throwing herself with all the might of her strong vitality into the business or enjoyment of the hour, forgetful of the past and careless of the future.
Fortunate in the time of her birth and in the circumstances of her life, Isabella was above all fortunate in this, that she saw the finest works of the Renaissance in the prime of their beauty. She knew PREFACE xi
Venice and Milan in their most triumphant hour, when the glowing hues of Titian and Giorgione's frescoes, of Leonardo and Gian Bellini's paintings, were fresh upon the walls. She visited the famous palace of Urbino in the days of the good Duke Guidobaldo, when young Raphael was painting his first pictures, and Bembo and Castiglione sat at the feet of the gentle Duchess Elisabetta. She came to Florence when Leonardo and Michelangelo were working side by side at their cartoons in the Council Hall, and she was the guest of Leo X., and saw the wonders of the Sistina and of Raphael's Stanze, before the fair halls of the Vatican had been defaced by barbarian invaders.
Many and sad were the changes that she witnessed in the course of her long life. She saw the first "invasion of the stranger, and all Italy in flame and fire," as her own Ferrara poet sang in words of passionate lament. She saw Naples torn from the house of Aragon, the fair Milanese, where the Moro and Beatrice had reigned in their pride, lost in a single day. She saw Urbino conquered twice over and her own kith and kin driven into exile, first by the treacherous Borgia, then by a Medici Pope, who was bound to the reigning house by the closest ties of friendship and gratitude. And in 1527, she was herself an unwilling witness of the nameless horrors that attended the siege and sack of Rome. Three years later, she was present at the Emperor Charles V.'s coronation at Bologna, and took an active part in the splendid ceremonies that marked the loss of Italian independence and the close of this great period. But to the last Isabella retained the same delight in beauty, the same keen sense of xii PREFACE
enjoyment. She advanced in years without ever growing old, and in the last months of her life, one of the foremost scholars of the age, Cardinal liembo, pronounced her to be the wisest and most fortunate of women. The treasures of art and learning which she had collected were sold by her descendants to foreign princes or destroyed when the Germans sacked Mantua ninety years after her death, and the ruin of her favourite palaces and villas was completed by the French invaders of 1797, who did not even spare the tomb which held her ashes. But Isabella herself will be long remembered as the fairest and most perfect flower of womanhood which blossomed under the sunny skies of Virgil's land, in the immortal days of the Italian Renaissance.
I add a list of the chief authorities on the life and times of Isabella d'Este:—
Notizie di Isabella Esteusc. Carlo d'Arco (Archivio Storico
Italiano, Appendice. Tom. ii.). 1845. Dell'Arte e degli Artefici di Mantova. Carlo d'Arco. 2 torn. 1857. Discorso intorno le Belle Lettere e le Arte Mautovani. Abate
Bettinelli. 1774. Cronaca di Mantova. A. Schivenoglia. 1445-1484. Miiller.
Raccolta. 1857. Storia di Mantova. Mario Equicola. 1610. Storia ecclesiastica di Mantova. Donesmondi. I6l3-l6l6. Diario Ferrarese. Italicarum Rerum Scriptores. xxiv. L. A.
Muratori. 1750. Storia di Ferrara. A. Frizzi. Tom. iv., v. 1791Compendio della Storia di Mantova. Volta. 1807-1838. Lettere inedite di Artisti cavate dall' Archivio Gonzaga. W.