Julia Mary Cartwright Ady.

Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539; a study of the renaissance (Volume 2) online

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Besides paintings, antiques, and medals, the Grotta
of the Corte Vecchia contained the choicest treasures of
Isabella d'Este's library, safely kept on shelves under
lock and key. Here were placed those rare manuscripts
of Greek and Latin authors which she loved to col-
lect, the French and Spanish romances in which she
took so much pleasure, and the richly illuminated and
sumptuously bound volumes of original poems pre-
sented to her by hving writers, and dedicated to her
in flowery epistles.

" Ask Maddalena for the key of the Grotta," she
wrote from Milan, in the summer of 1514, to Gian
Giacomo Calandra, " and take the Car cere d'Amore ^
out of my hbrary and send it to me here." Again,
two years earUer, her friend the Venetian patrician.
Carlo Francesco Valerio, wrote to beg for the Joan of
the Marchesa's two editions of the Cento Novclle, one
of which he had seen in the Grotta, the other in M.
Giacomo Calandra's Camerino."

1 The Spanish romance, La Carcel d'Amor, by Diego di San Pedro.
8 Yriarte, Gazette d. B. Arts, 1895.


[Pholo, rrcin!, Muiitii,


[Tojacc p. 20, vol. u.


Calandra, one of the most cultivated among the
younger Mantuan scholars, acted as librarian for the
Marchesa, and afterwards succeeded his father in the
office of Castellan. In 1516, he wrote to her in
great concern, saying that while he was ill in bed the
lock of the Hbrary had been broken open, and several
volumes taken out of the shelves, while the others
were left in such confusion that it was difficult to
open the doors without hurting the books.^

In July 1501, Isabella wrote to her agent Trotti :
" We wish to have the works of all the best authors
to adorn our studio." This same year she was able to
enrich her collection with the first of those famous
editions of classical authors that were being printed at
Venice by Aldo Manuzio.

On the 8th of July 1501, she wrote to Lorenzo to
inquire about the Virgil which was the first of the
series, and had appeared in April : " Some Virgils
printed in a small size, with minute and almost itahc
type, have lately been brought here for sale, and
please me very much. I hear that the works of
Petrarch and Ovid are also to be published, and
should like to have them both in parchment."

A fortnight later, Lorenzo sent his mistress the
following letter in reply : —

" Most illustrious Madonna, — I saw by your last
letter that you wished me to send you the three
books, i.e. Virgil, Petrarch, and Ovid, in parchment,
and so I went at once to the house of Maestro Aldo,
who prints these books in a small form and in the
finest italic type that you ever saw. It is he who
printed the fiist Greek books, and he is a very dear
friend of mine. At present only Virgil is to be

1 Luzio e Renier in Giorn. St. d. Lett., xxxiii. 5.


had in parchment, so I send it you herewith. The
Petrarch is not yet finished, but they tell me it will
be ready in about ten days. As yet they have only
printed about fifteen copies on this paper, and have
already bound them. This has been owing to the
dearth of parchment, as they have great difficulty in
obtaining the small amount required for the Virgils
as well as for the Petrarchs. But Your Signoria shall
have Petrarch, which is not yet bound. M. Aldo
has promised me to choose a copy for you leaf by
leaf, so that yours shall be the finest of all, and the
said Maestro will do this all the more gladly because
he has been helped in his work by M. Pietro Bembo,
who is most devoted to Your Signoria. He it is
who has had these poems printed from a manuscript
which Petrarch wrote with his own hand, and which
I also have held in my hand. It belongs to a Paduan,
and is so precious that they have printed the book
letter by letter, after the original, with the greatest
possible care. As soon as it is finished I will send it
to you, as they wish yours to be the first that appears,
and hold this to be of good omen, and feel sure the
work will obtain a great success since Your Excellency
will have had the first copy. After the Petrarch,
Dante will be printed, in the same shape and type,
and after Dante, Ovid, which I think they will begin
towards the end of September, but the Dante in
about twenty days ; and I beg you to seek for some
goat-skin paper, which should be clear and very white
and fine and even, not thick in one place and thin in
another, because formerly I have seen beautiful paper
in Mantua. The great difficulty is to find good paper
for the Dante and Ovid. They will be of the same
size as the Petrarch, with the slieet whole. Your


Highness may trust me to do my utinost. I mean
you to have something as rare and incomparable as
Your Most Excellent Highness herself. And nothing
in the world pleases me more than to obey your
orders, remembering the kindness which you have
ever shown me. The Virgil and Petrarch, they say,
will cost no less than 3 ducats apiece. — Your servant,
Lorenzo da Pa via." ^ Venice, July 26, 1501.

The Marchesa was delighted to think of the
honour that Maestro Aldo was about to pay her,
and wrote back to say she was eagerly expecting the
Virgil, which, however, her servant Franceschino had
been unable to bring, and promised to send to Parma
for the fine carta pecora, of which there was none in
Mantua. True to his word, on the 3rd of August
Lorenzo sent his mistress the promised Petrarch,
unbound, saying he has no doubt she will prefer to
cover it with some precious material and adorn it
with silver clasps. But he has lately seen, in the
hands of a merchant who has just arrived from
Flanders, the finest binding and silver clasps in the
world, and has obtained a promise from him that he
will take a Virgil and Petrarch with him to Flanders
to be bound in the same fashion and return them
before Christmas. The Marchesa eagerly accepted
the merchant's offer, and her two copies of Petrarch
were sent to be bound in Flanders. But, instead of
sending them back at Christmas, the Flemish binder
kept them till Whitsuntide, and Lorenzo confessed
that he was not altogether satisfied with the suc-
cess of his experiment. " I send Your Excellency

^ Baschet, Aide Manuce ; A. F. Didot, Aide Manuce et I'Hellen-
isme a Venise, p. 170; also A. Luzio in Giorn. St. d. Lett., vol.
xxxiii. p. 18, for the correct text.


the two Petrarchs which were bound in Flanders.
They might, it seems to me, have been better finished,
but, to say the truth, I am in the habit of thinking
that a thing for you is never so perfect but that it
might be still more so." But, whatever Isabella
thought of the binding, she was charmed with the
books themselves. These exquisite editions, printed
in handy httle volumes on the finest of paper, exactly
suited her fine taste. In November 1502, she ordered
another Petrarch and Dante, and by degrees the
whole series issued by the Aldine press found their
way into her library. A beautiful little copy of the
Virgil printed in July 1501, bound in dark green and
gold morocco, with illuminated capitals and margins,
is still preserved in the British Museum. It belonged
to Isabella's second son. Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga,
and bears the date 1527, in his own handwriting.

In 1503, the great printer himself wrote straight
to Isabella, begging her to intercede with her husband
for a certain Federico Ceresara, a Mantuan by birth,
who had killed his own brother in a fit of rage, and
had been in prison for this crime during two years, to
the great distress of the unhappy mother, who was
thus deprived of both her sons. The request was
granted, and, partly out of gratitude to the Marchesa,
but still more in token of his admiration for her love
of letters, Aldo sent her a new volume which he
published in July 1504, with the following epistle in
elegant Latin : —

"Aldus to Isabella, Princess of Mantua, sends
greeting. .During these last days I received a visit
from Battista Scalona [the Marquis's secretary, whom
Isabella had sent to Venice, and charged to bring back
Bellini's Presepio with him] — a youth distinguished


by his rare learning. As we conversed together, we
spoke of you, and naturally dwelt on the favour shown
to all scholars and men of excellence by Your Majesty,
who are yourself as learned as you are saintly and
virtuous. My respect and admiration for you is now
even greater than it was before, and I desire, as soon
as possible, to render you a further act of homage
by dedicating one of my books to Your Majesty.
Meanwhile, allow me to send you as a gift the Life
of Apollonius of Tyana, with the Tract of Eusebius
against Hierocles in Greek and Latin, and the verses
of Gregory Nazianzen in a Latin translation, which
have been lately published by me and are not un-
worthy to be read by you, hoping they will please
Your Majesty. And, although I know they are not
worthy to come into your divine hands in their
present unadorned condition, I send them none the
less, encouraged by my dear Scalona and trusting to
your indulgence, since, as you are aware, those who
have no incense to offer on the altar of the Gods are
allowed to bring milk, salt, and flour. They will at
least be a token of my respect for Your Majesty."^

On the 16th of May 1505, Isabella begged Aldo
to send her copies of all the Latin books which he
had printed in this small edition, excepting the Virgil,
which she had already. " And when you print fresh
volumes," she adds, " do not forget to print some on
fine paper for us, and that as quickly as possible.
Please let us know the price, and we will send you
the money at once."

Aldo replied on the 23rd : " I have received
Your Excellency's letter saying that you wish to
have all my little books on vellum. At present I

^ Baschet, Aide Manuce.


only have these: Martial, Catullus, Tibullus, Pro-
peilius, unbound, and Horace, with Juvenal and
Pcrsius, bound and illuminated. If Your Highness
pleases, I will send you these immediately. As to
the future, I will obey Your Illustrious Highness's
commands." ^

But the insatiable Marchioness still asked for
more. On the 27th she wrote again : " Messer
Aldo, — You would give us singular pleasure if you
would send us a copy of all your little editions
on vellum, not bound, like the Petrarch, which is
exceptionally fine ; and if they suit us, we will send
you the money, and, if not, return them at once. If
you will do this, we should be infinitely obhged.
Remember, whenever you print any more works in
this form, always to print one for us on vellum, as
we have written before."

On the 9th of June, Aldo sent Isabella all the
books which he had in stock printed on vellum, by
the hands of a kinsman of his wife, Giovanni d'Asola,
with a note informing her of their different prices.
" Martial, Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, and Lucan un-
bound ; Horace, Juvenal, and Persius bound together,
with illuminated capitals. This last volume is priced
at 6 ducats, or at least 4." Martial, " 4 ducats, or at
least 3." Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, "3 ducats,
or at least 2j " ; and Lucan, " 3 ducats, or at least 2^."
But, much as Isabella liked the books, she did not
choose to give the price which Aldo asked. She
sent them back on the 30th of June, with the follow-
ing curt note : —

" M. Aldo, — The four volumes on vellum which
you have sent us, are pronounced by every one who

1 D'Arco, Arch. St. It., App. ii. 312.


has seen them, to be twice as dear as they ought to
be. We have given them back to your messenger,
who does not deny the truth of this, but excuses
you, saying that your partners will not take less.
All the same, when you print any more, at a fair
price, and on finer paper, with more careful correc-
tions, we shall be glad to see them, and hope still
to be served by you."^

A fortnight later a strange adventure befell the
great printer on Mantuan territory. On the 17th of
July 1506, as he and Federico Ceresara were return-
ing from Milan, where Aldo had been examining
certain manuscripts before he undertook the publica-
tion of Virgil's smaller poems, they were arrested at
Castelromano on the Mantuan frontier. Federico
fled, and managed to cross a river near Asola on
foot, leaving his horse and a bag containing Aldo's
clothes and precious manuscripts in the hands of the
Mantuan sentries.^ Two thieves had, it appears,
lately escaped from prison, and the soldiers took
Aldo and his companion for the missing criminals.
In vain the scholar protested that he was Aldo
Romano, the printer of Venice, a person well known
both to the Marquis and Marchioness of Mantua, and
honoured by the favour of the Emperor Maximilian.
He was thrown into a damp and pestilential
dungeon, where he languished during four days,
unable to discover the reason of his arrest, when, as
he remarked in the letter which he addressed to the
Marquis, " he ought rather to have been protected on
Mantuan territory than ill-treated, since he was en-

^ A. Baschet, Aide Manuce ; A. F, Didot, Aide Manuce et
FHellenisme a Venise, pp. 275, 276.

2 Luzio in Giom. St. Lett. It., vi. 276.


gaged in seeking to bring new glory to the Mantuan
poet, Virgil." lUit the officers of justice were deaf to
his appeals, and it needed the powerful intercession of
the Venetian Governor of Asola, of the French Vice-
Chancellor of Milan, and of Aldo's old pupil and patron,
Alberto Pio of Carpi, who was fortunately at Mantua
that week, before his release could be finally effected.
On the 25th of July, having at length recovered
his freedom, he addressed a reproachful letter to the
Marquis, saying : '* If I had remained two days more
in the horrid place where I was shut up, I must have
died. But, thank God, I see in this grievous injury
a punishment for my old sins against Heaven." The
Marquis, to do him justice, sent the printer a full
and ample apology for the unfortunate mistake which
so nearly cost the great scholar his life, and restored
Aldo's manuscripts and clothes, with renewed assur-
ances of his favour. Isabella was at Sacchetta at the
time, owing to the plague, and probably never heard
of Aldo's imprisonment until he was set at liberty.
But when, four years later, the wars of the League
of Cambray desolated Venetian territory, and forced
Aldo to suspend his works, she proved a good friend
to him, and was able to restore his wife's property at
Asola, which had been confiscated by the Mantuan
authorities. On this occasion, the Emperor Maxi-
milian addressed a Latin letter to the Marchesa, who
was governing Mantua during her husband's imprison-
ment at Venice, recommending " our dear and faithful
servant, Aldo Roip .no," to her favourable notice, and
expressing his conviction that the gi-eat printer was
equally beloved by her on account of the splendid
services which he has rendered to letters.^

^ A. F. Didot, op. cit.


Messer Aldo died in 1515. His friend Lorenzo
da Pavia only survived him two years, and kept up
an active correspondence with Isabella to the end of
his life. In March 1514, he wrote to tell her of the
fine clavichord which he had just finished for Pope
Leo X., and which he was about to take to Rome

" Most illustrious Madonna, — Your Highness
must forgive me if your instrument is not yet ready,
but I have been very busy and have had much anxiety.
However, I am still alive, and know my illustrious
lady wiU be glad to hear that I have finished the
large and splendid clavichord which was ordered by
Pope Leo, and is eagerly desired by His Holiness.
It is ready now, and I hope after Easter to go to
Rome with the said instrument. It really is the
finest instrument that I have ever made. Here
indeed is true harmony ! What a joy it would be if
only you could hear it ! I enclose a copy of certain
verses which are carved in Roman letters on the said
instrument. One set was composed by Navagero,
the other by Zoan Aurelio, but I have chosen those of
Navagero, as they seem to me the most appropriate.
When I am in Rome, I will do my best to find some
fine antiques for Your Highness." ^

Lorenzo's journey to Rome finally took place in
June. Before his departure he wrote to tell the
Marchesa that he was intending to visit her daughter,
Leonora, the young Duchess of Urbino, on the way,
and congratulated her on the birth of her grandson,
which had taken place on the 2nd of April.^

" In a few days' time I hope to go to Rome, and

1 Dr. Carlo dell'Acqua, Lorenzo Gusnasco da Pavia, p. 26.

2 LitU Famiglie ; Dennistoun. " Dukes of Urbino," vol. iii. 82.


intend to stop at Urbino and pay my respects to
our illustrious Duchess. I rejoice sincerely with
Your Highness over the birth of her son, and her
good health. And I am taking her several fine
things, as well as those which you ordered. Fare-
well. — Your Lorenzo of Pa via." June 1514.

We do not hear whether Lorenzo was still in
Rome that autumn when the Marchesa paid her first
visit to the Eternal City, but no doubt she saw the
wonderful instrument which he had made for her old
friend, Pope Leo X. Two years afterwards we learn
from a little note which the Marchesa addressed
during a brief absence from home to the Neapolitan
musician, Andrea Cossa, that this faithful servant and
true artist had passed away.

"We thank you very much for sending us the
embroidered cap, which has reached us safely, and
also for giving us certain information of the death
of Messer Lorenzo. The news had already reached
Mantua, but we did not yet know if the report
were true." ^ Vegliana, May 4, 1517.

^ C. deir Acqua, op. cii.



War of the League of Cambray — Defeat of the Venetians at
Vaila — Capture of the Marquis of Mantua near Legnago
— His imprisonment at Venice — Isabella administers the
Government — Her efforts to obtain Francesco's release —
Leonora goes to Urbino — Presents of Isabella to the Bishop
of Gurk and Queen of France — The Pope grants absolution
to Venice and obtains the release of Francesco Gonzaga —
Federico sent as hostage to Rome — His life at the Vatican
and visits to Bologna and Urbino.

On the 10th of December 1508, the secret treaty
known as the League of Cambray was concluded
between Pope JuHus II., the Emperor, Louis XII.,
the Duke of Ferrara, and the Marquis of Mantua.
The express object of the allies, as stated in the
treaty between these powers, was to resist the insati-
able ambition of Venice, and compel the Signory to
restore their conquests in Romagna and Lombardy.
Ever since his accession, Julius II. had openly de-
clared that he meant to cut the claws of the Lion
of St. Mark, and now the time for action was ripe.
In April 1509, the French army crossed the frontier,
and at the same time the papal troops, under the
Duke of Urbino, invaded Romagna.

On the 14th of May, the Venetians were com-
pletely defeated on the plains of Ghiar' Adda or
Vaila, a day as disastrous to the Republic, in the
words of contemporary writers, as the battle of


Cannse. The power of the Republic was crushed
at a single blow. " In one day," says MachiaveUi,
" the Venetians lost all that they had acquired with
so much labour in 800 years." ^ Not only were they
compelled to surrender their conquests in Romagna,
but all the Venetian towns on the mainland, even
the strongly fortified cities of Verona, Vicenza, and
Padua, opened their gates to the victors.

Meanwhile the Mantuan territory was overrun by
ill-disciplined French troops, whom Francesco Gon-
zaga found more tiresome than open enemies. And
Isabella, writing to thank him for a present of
partridges, on the 22nd of June, remarked, laugh-
ingly, that even this heat cannot make her thin,
but that, if she suffered as much fatigue and worry
as he had done from these French rascals {poltroni
di francesi), perhaps she would no longer be so
plump. A month afterwards her high spirits re-
ceived a sudden check. On the 17th of July, the
Venetians succeeded in recovering Padua, and on
the 9th of August, Francesco Gonzaga was himself
surprised and taken prisoner at I sola della Scala,
a village near Legnago, on the Adige. He was in
the act of taking a company of horse to join the
imperial artillery in the siege of Padua, and was
spending the night in perfect security at Isola, when
a Venetian force, commanded by Luca Malvezzi,
secretly sun*ounded the farm-house where he slept.
As soon as the alarm was given, the Marquis
escaped through a back door, but was found by
four peasants hiding in a field of maize and taken
prisoner, first to Legnago, and afterwards to Venice.
The joy of the captors was great, especially as

^ Discorsi, iii. 31.


Francesco's camp, with aU his silver plate, his sump-
tuous hangings and pavilions, his rich furniture
and splendid suits of armour, fell into their hands,
together with "some of the finest horses in the
world." ^ Both in Rome and Mantua the consterna-
tion was great. The choleric old Pope flung his
cap on the ground, and cursed St. Peter aloud.
The loyal subjects of the Marquis were filled with
a sense of dismay, approaching to panic, when they
heard that their lord had been borne by his captors in
triumph to Venice, and imprisoned in the strong tower
of the Ducal Palace, known as the Torresella, which
was provided with new bolts and bars for the occasion.^
But Isabella's courage and fortitude rose to the oc-
casion. In the first pang of her grief she sought the
prayers of the spiritual advisers in whom she most
relied — Prior Francesco Silvestri, and her Carmelite
friends in Mantua. And she also asked the help
and advice of an old Ferrarese lawyer, Prisciani,
whom she had known from childhood, and who was
learned in the arts of astrology. Like all her con-
temporaries, Isabella had a superstitious behef in
astrology, and ordered her actions and movements
by the courses of the stars. Her horoscope had
been cast by a learned astrologer when she visited
Urbino in 1494, and she had been especially told
not to mount a horse, a warning which she obeyed
for some time, until her love of riding proved too
strong for her good intentions. She still clung,
however, to certain deeply rooted prejudices, con-
sulted astrologers as to the future, and refused to
set out on a journey or begin an undertaking at

* Luigi da Porto, Lettere storiche, p. 106.
2 Lorenzi, Monumenti per la storia d. Pal. ducale, p. 150.


certain conjunctions of the moon and stars. Now
in her distress she implored the help of the wise
old philosopher, who replied in a long letter, in
which Christian faith and superstitious trust in
occult powers are curiously blended.

He begins by describing how, as he lay awake
at night grieving for her sorrows, a sudden voice
told him where to turn for help. He got up, lighted
his candle, and, opening his books, discovered that
a remarkable and long-expected conjunction between
the star of Jove and the Dragon's head would take
place on Saturday evening, the 18th of August, at
three minutes before half-past seven. *' At that pre-
cise moment," he continues, " kneel down, and, with
hands clasped and eyes raised to heaven, repeat the
Confiteor^ and ask God earnestly to restore your
most dear husband safe and well to your side.
Repeat this prayer three times, and in a short time
the blessing you seek will be granted. And your
httle sons and daughters might at the same time
kneel down and ask for the same grace, so that
your prayers may be heard." ^ August 15, 1509.

After this, Isabella dried her tears and faced
this new emergency with her wonted energy and
presence of mind. She administered public affairs,
made preparations for the defence of the realm, and
exerted all her powers of diplomacy to obtain her
husband's release. She sent envoys, not only to
Louis XII. and MaximiUan, but even to the Sultan,
who readily promised to use his influence with the
Doge on Francesco's behalf. But her chief trust
was placed in the Pope, and since the best means
of enlisting His Holiness's efforts in her cause was

1 Luzio in Giorn. St. d. Lett., 1900,


to hasten the union of her daughter Leonora with
his nephew, the marriage was fixed to take place
in the following autumn. In November Duchess
Elisabetta herself came to Mantua to fetch the bride,

Online LibraryJulia Mary Cartwright AdyIsabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539; a study of the renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 32)