Julia Mary Cartwright Ady.

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

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taking part, and that prelate charged his secretary to
assure his compare, the Marchesa, that he was as
absolutely ignorant of the matter as the Grand Turk
himself, and remained as ever entirely devoted to
herself and her family. Bibbiena took occasion of
this opportunity to tell Isabella that he had been
supping that evening with her charming son, and was
surprised to find him quick and clever, as well as
wise and serious beyond his years. " O Madonna ! "
he exclaims,^ "you have indeed a rare son, and I
think you will find more comfort in him than in
anything else in the world." This accomplished
courtier, it is plain, knew the best way to Isabella's

^ Luzio, op. cit., p. 15.




The Po})e's campaign against Ferrara — Isabella's anxiety to
restore peace — The Bishop of Gurk at Mantua — Bologna
captured by the French — The Duke of Urbino murders
Cardinal Alidosi — Dangerous illness of the Pope — His re-
covery ascribed to Federico's influence — Death of Isabella's
pet dog. Aura — The Holy League against France — Victory
and death of Gaston de Foix at Ravenna — The French driven
out of Italy — Federico at the Vatican — The Belvedere ApoUo
and Tiber statue — Visit of the Duke of Ferrara to Rome.

The release of her husband, and the good accounts
which she received of her absent son, brought back
new happiness into Isabella's life. Duchess Elisa-
betta and her other friends in Rome satisfied her that
the Pope, in spite of his violent bursts of anger, was
kindly disposed towards herself and her husband,
while Federico inspired him with genuine affection.
But the fury with which Julius II. now attacked her
brother, and his resolve to conquer Ferrara at all
costs, caused her fresh distress. She grieved to see
her husband and son-in-law in command of the forces
which invaded Alfonso's territory, and used all her
influence to bring about the restoration of peace.
The Duke of Urbino succeeded in taking Modena
and Mirandola, and the Pope satisfied his warlike
spirit by chmbing the walls on a scaling ladder, and
entering the city through the breach made by his
guns. But, in spite of these reverses, Alfonso still


kept the papal forces at bay, and the advance of a
large French army, under the veteran Trivulzio, to
his rehef, compelled the Pope to retire to Bologna.
A truce was now proclaimed, and, at Isabella's sug-
gestion, ambassadors from England, France, Spain,
and Germany met at Mantua to discuss terms of
peace.^ Here the Emperor's favourite minister,
Matthaus Lang, Bishop of Gurk, arrived early in
March, and was splendidly entertained by the

This haughty German prelate is described by
Paride Grassi, papal master of ceremonies, as a tall
and handsome man with long fair hair, and the
manners of a barbarian.^ He assumed royal airs,
wore lay dress, and sat down in the Pope's presence
with his biretta on his head. But he was by no
means insensible to feminine charms, and before long
was completely captivated by the clever Marchesa.
"The illustrious Signora Marchesana," wrote Guido
Silvestri from Mantua to his master. Cardinal
d'Este, "is bent on obtaining this peace, although
that wretch Casola told her the other day, before us
all, that Cupid's arrows were the only weapons she
ought to fear, which sent us into fits of laughter I
So now we are rejoicing at the prospect of peace,
and hope to see all this ruin and misery end happily
for the honour of your princely house." ^ And
Casola himself, a comic poet in the service of
Cardinal d'Este, sent his master the following strange
account of an interview between the German bishop
and the Marchesa. "The other day the Bishop of

' Pastor, " Hist, of the Popes," vi, .344.
* Paride Grassi, Diarii, ed. Frati, 260, &c
^ Luzio e Renier in Giorn. St. d. Lett., 19OO.


Gnrk paid the Marchesa a visit, when I caused great
amusement by acting as interpreter, and we all
laughed till our sides ached." That day poUtics were
not even mentioned. 'J'he whole talk was of kissing
and romping, merry songs were sung and witty
sayings repeated, and all manner of gay fooling went
on between the German envoys and Isabella and her
ladies. Unfortunately, when Lang proceeded to
Bologna, the Pope quite refused to listen to the
Emperor's proposals of peace, and the bishop left
suddenly, with no attempt to conceal his disgust.
Hostilities were immediately resumed, and hardly
had the Pope left Bologna, than Trivulzio surprised
and defeated the Duke of Urbino's army and seized
the town. On the 23rd of May, the Bentivogli
returned in triumph, Michel Angelo's bronze statue
of Julius II. was overthrown by the mob, and the
bronze melted down by Alfonso d'Este and cast into
a cannon, which he christened La Giulia. The
next day the papal legate. Cardinal AUdosi, was
openly stabbed in the streets of Ravenna by the
Duke of Urbino, who accused him of treacherously
surrendering Bologna to the foe. A month after-
wards the old Pope returned to Rome, broken in
health and worn out with fatigue and anxieties. His
armies were defeated, his hopes disappointed. Bologna
was lost, and his favourite had been brutally murdered
by his own nephew almost before his eyes. But his
spirit was as high as ever. He checkmated the
revolted Cardinals, who, supported by the Emperor
and Louis XII., had summoned a general council at
Pisa, by himself proclaiming a general council, to
meet at the Lateran in April 1512. And he entered
into negotiations with Spain and Venice to form a


leao^ie in defence of the Church and to drive the
French out of Italy.

At the same time he instituted legal proceedings
against his nephew for the murder of Cardinal
Alidosi. But his displeasure with the Duke had not
diminished his affection for Francesco Maria's young
brother-in-law. The boy was his constant companion,
both at his meals in the Vatican and in his daily
walks and rides. When any of the Cardinals came
to dinner, they sat at other tables in the same hall,
and Federico alone always ate at the Pope's little
table. In the evenings they played backgammon
together, or else went out to supper with Agostino
Chigi in the gardens of his beautiful new villa in

During that summer Julius the Second's own
portrait was painted by Raphael, who introduced
His Holiness, wearing the beard which he had vowed
not to shave off till the French were driven out of
Italy, in his fresco of Pope Gregory IX. giving the
Decretals, to the right of the window in the Camera
della Segnatura. And, on the 16th of August,
Grossino informed Isabella that His Holiness had
desired Raphael " to introduce Signor Federico's por-
trait in a room which he is painting in the palace, and
in which he has drawn His Holiness with his beard,
from life." In obedience to the Pope's command,
Raphael introduced the boy's portrait in his great
fresco of the School of Athens. Federico's head
appears in the group on the left, behind the Oriental
philosopher generally called Averroes, while the
young man in a flowing garment of white and gold
is said to be his brother-in-law, Francesco Maria.

Early in August, the Pope took Federico with


him to Ostia for a few days' hunting, a sport which
he thoroughly enjoyed, and Grossino describes the
delight of the old man when he caught a big pheasant :
"He laughed loudly, told us all proudly what he
had done, and showed his prey to every one." ^ On
the Eve of the Assumption he was back in Rome,
and attended the solemn function at Vespers, in the
Sistine Chapel, when the central portion of Michel
Angelo's frescoes on the vault was unveiled." Three
days afterwards, he fell ill with a severe attack of
fever, but, with characteristic obstinacy, refused to
take either the food or medicine ordered by his
doctors. On the 23rd, the Pope was said to be dying.
He made his will, and absolved the Duke of Urbino,
who had hastened to Rome on hearing of his uncle's
iUness. '* His Holiness is passing away," wrote the
Venetian ambassador. " Cardinal Medici tells me he
cannot live through the night. The city is in a tur-
moil. Every one is taking up arms." ^ Within the
Vatican all was confusion, the servants had disappeared,
the rooms were already stripped of their furniture and
valuables. At this critical moment Federico's in-
fluence over the Pope was shown in a remarkable
way, and, according to his attendants, he saved the
irascible old man's life. " Throw those cursed medi-
cines out of the window," he cried, and railed at his
nephew Francesco Maria and the other relatives who
vainly tried to induce him to take nourishment.
"Every one was in despair," wrote Stazio Gadio to
Isabella, " and His Holiness refused to take anything,
but Signor Federico took a cup of broth with two

1 Luzio, Federico, p. 21.

2 Pastor, op. cit.

* M. Sanuto, Diarii, xii. 482.


yolks of eggs beaten up in it, and carried it himself to
the bed of His Holiness, begging him to drink it for
his sake and that of our Lady of Loreto. . . . And
it is said in Rome that Pope JuHus will live, thanks
to Signor Federico." ^

Fortunately the iron will and robust constitution
of the sick man triumphed over the state of prostra-
tion in which the fever had left him, and he began to
eat and drink and scold his servants as vigorously as
usual. Three days later, Gadio wrote that his illness
was already forgotten.^

While all Rome was in confusion, and the news
of the Pope's death was hourly expected, Isabella
and her courtiers at Mantua were plunged in grief
for a pet dog. The Marchesa's darling Aura, which
never left her side, and which she had loved above all
others, " the handsomest and most amusing little dog
that was ever knovim," had been killed by falUng over
a cliff in flying from the pursuit of a bigger dog.
" Her Excellency was seen to shed tears at table this
evening," wrote Calandra to Federico, on the 30th of
August, " and she cannot speak of Aura without a
sigh I " The poor little dog was laid in a leaden
casket, and a fine tomb was prepared for her in a new
Loggia which the Marchesa had built that autumn.
Meanwhile, not only at Mantua, but in Rome
and Ferrara, elegies, epitaphs, sonnets, and epi-
grams were poured out by the best poets of the
day, and the tragic fate of the "chaste and noble
Aura " was lamented in Latin and Italian verses, by
Tebaldeo and Scalona, Equicola and Celio Calcagnini,

^ Luzio, op. cit, p. 22.

2 Sanuto, xii. 482, &c, ; Paride Grassi, D?am; Pastor, op. cit.,
vi. 370, &c.


and a score of well-known humanists. Federico
shared his mother's grief for this lost favourite, and
sent her I.,atin verses in praise of Aura, composed by
M. Filippo Beroaldo and others, which are preserved
among a host of similar tributes in the Gonzaga
archives.^ But graver cares and heavier sorrows soon
came to darken Isabella s Ufe. Francesco Gonzaga's
health had suffered from his prolonged captivity and
the hardships which he had endured in the winter
campaign against Mirandola, and after this he was com-
pelled to give up active service. This enforced inac-
tivity, so contrary to his usual habits, and the incurable
malady of which he was a victim, affected his whole
being, and made him weak and irresolute, as well as irrit-
able and unhappy. During the remainder of his life,
he depended more and more on his wife, and Isabella
had a large share in the management of public affairs.
" Here you may rest assured," wrote Equicola to
Duke Alfonso, "that everything is referred to
Madonna, and not a leaf is allowed to stir without
her knowledge and consent." But the task was by
no means easy, and she had to steer her way through
many perilous rocks. On his recovery, Juhus II.
resumed his former plans with fresh energy, and in
October 1511, a Holy League between Spain,
Venice, and the Pope was proclaimed in Rome.
Towards the end of January 1512, the Spanish and
papal forces under Raymond de Cardona, Viceroy of
Naples, besieged Bologna, and the Venetians took
Brescia. But this town was quickly recovered and
cruelly sacked by Louis the Twelfth's nephew, Gaston
de Foix, after which this dashing young soldier
followed up his success by invading Romagna. On

1 Luzio in Giom. St. d. Lett, 1899, pp. 44.-4().


Easter Day, the two armies met on the plains near
Ravenna, and after a fiercely contested fight, the
superiority of Alfonso d'Este's artillery decided the
fortunes of the day. The army of the League was
completely defeated, and Cardinal Medici, the Pope's
legate, two of his generals, Fabrizio Colonna and the
Marquis of Pescara, were made prisoners, with all their
guns and banners. But the victorious general, Gaston
de Foix, fell in the thick of the fight, and there was no
one left to take his place. The army was demoralised,
and their leaders soon began to quarrel. Alfonso
d'Este retired to Ferrara, and the Duke of Urbino,
who had refused to move hitherto, now advanced
with fresh forces to his uncle's help, and once more
received the baton of command, while, at a summons
from the Holy Father, a strong body of Swiss, under
Cardinal Schinner, descended on Milan. On the
3rd of May, only three weeks after the disastrous
defeat of Ravenna, the Pope, whose indomitable
courage never quailed, opened the Lateran Council,
and pronounced the Council of Pisa to be null and
void. A month later, the Milanese rose in arms, and
once more threw off the hated yoke of France. The
French generals withdrew their troops beyond the
Alps, and Bologna opened its gates to the papal
legate. The Pope's triumph was complete, and he
ordered solemn processions and thanksgivings
throughout the churches for the deliverance of

Meanwhile, Isabella's precious boy was stiU living
in the Vatican, and, much as she longed to clasp him
in her arms, she was too keenly sensible of the im-
portance of keeping the Pope in good humour to
urge his return. Since Julius the Second's recovery



from his illness, Federico's ascendancy with the old
man had become greater than ever. He accompanied
His Holiness to the opening of the Lateran Council,
wearing a sword and cuirass over a suit of white satin
and gold brocade, embroidered with the Greek letters
alpha and omega, which his mother had sent him
for the occasion, and a velvet cap with a gold medal
of Hercules, by Caradosso. The Pope, Stazio reports,
was highly amused at the sight of Federico's warlike
aiTay, and flourished his stick at him, calling out :
" Are you ready to fight me ? " But, after mass had
been sung, the young prince escaped from the long ora-
tions and tedious ceremonies which followed, and was
conducted by Agostino Chigi to dine at the Convent
of San Gregorio on the Aventine, and Hsten to the
Aretine's comic recitations. Many were the splendid
entertainments which the wealthy merchant gave in
Federico's honour, feasting him, as Gadio tells
Isabella, with an abundance of delicate viands, the
best wines and most excellent melons and fruits in
the world, and bringing peasant children ' from his
native Siena to act pastoral plays before him. One
day he took him to see his alum quarries at Civita-
vecchia, and spend Sunday at a hunting lodge in
the forest, where the immense quantities of fish and
game with which the table was loaded amazed the
honest Mantuan tutor, who could not understand
how such luxuries should spring up in these wild
and desert places.

On the Feast of St. Sebastian, Federico visited
the basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, to obtain certain
indulgences attached to a crucifix before which St.
Bridget prayed, and which is still preserved in a side-
chapel. After dining with the Benedictine Fathers,


he was taken over a ship, manned by galley-slaves
in the Tiber, by the Genoese captain of the Pope's
galleys. A salute was fired and trumpets blown in
honour of his visit, but the sight of the poor gaUey-
slaves filled him and his companions with compassion.
" I have never seen galley - slaves before," wrote
Grossino to the Marchesa, " but I think few persons
would not be grieved to see these poor men chained
by the leg and wearing hardly any clothes. They live
on bread and water, and their skin is blackened with
exposure. Poor fellows ! I think they must envy the
dead I Their only pastime is to make ropes when they
are resting." Yet these unhappy men mingled their
shouts of joy with the discharge of the artillery, and
Signor Federico, the secretary hastens to add, gave
many of them money. Grossino proceeds to relate
how he visited the Church of St. Sebastian on his
way back, and saw the marble block with the print of
our Lord's feet, and how, in spite of a heavy down-
pour of rain, aU Rome seemed to be there. In the
same letter, Grossino describes a visit which he paid,
on the Feast of St. Agnes, to the well-known church
of that name, two miles without the gates. " This,"
he writes, " is a most ancient sanctuary, as old as any
in Rome, and full of fine antiques." He describes
the six carved and finely polished candelabra of white
stone, the rich marbles of the long flight of stairs
leading up to the church, and the ancient chapel of
S. Costanza, containing the porphyry sarcophagus
which was, he remarks, once sacred to Bacchus, but
now holds the ashes of a saint. This porphyry tomb,
adorned, as Grossino tells his mistress, with reliefs of
Cupids gathering in the vintage, is now in the Vatican,
as well as the six candelabra, but the fourth-century


mosaics of genii picking and pressing the grapes,
wliich he (les('ri])es as the oldest and some of the
finest in Rome, may still be seen on the vaulted
roof. The Mantuan secretary ends his letter by
giving Isabella a long and minute description of the
famous statue of the river-god Tiber, with the wolf
suckling Romulus and Remus, which had just been
dug up in a house close to the Dominican Convent of
Sta. Maria sopra Minerva. The discovery attracted
crowds from all parts of Rome, and the marble group
was promptly bought by the Pope, and placed in the
Belvedere, together with a Sleeping Nymph, generally
known as Ariadne, but which Grossino calls a Cleo-
patra, and which was celebrated as such in an elegant
set of Latin hexameters by Castiglione. In an earher
letter, of July 12, 1511, Grossino also mentions the
famous Apollo, " a statue," he writes, " held to be
no less fine than the Laocoon," which had been
discovered some years before on a farm at Grotta-
ferrata, belonging to Pope JuUus when he was still
Cardinal della Rovere, and was now removed to the
Vatican. Another of Grossino's letters gives a curious
description of the so-called Feast of the Jews at
carnival, when twelve Jews ran a race on foot from
the Piazza di S. Pietro to the Castel Sant' Angelo.
Messer Rabi, the Pope's Hebrew doctor, presided at
this fete, and one hundred armed Jews rode before him,
while fifty others marched at his side, bearing olive
boughs and banners with the Pope's arms, and those
of the city of Rome, S.P.Q.R. The scarlet pallium
was presented to the winner by the Senator, amid
shouts of Julio I and the Jews who took part in the
race were entertained at Messer Rabi's house.
Federico also attended the bull-baiting and horse


races on the Piazza di S. Pietro, and a splendid
masquerade in the Campo dei Fiori, when Isabella's
uncle, the handsome Cardinal of Aragon, and several
other Monsignori, appeared on Arab horses in mag-
nificent Hungarian costumes, blazing with gold and
silver and jewels, with belts and scimitars, boots and
spurs to match.^

The Marchesa, we may be sure, appreciated these
details fully, and was still better pleased to hear how
diligently Federico studied Greek and mathematics
with Raphael's friend, the learned old humanist, Fabio
Calvi of Ravenna, whose frugal habits and devotion
to his studies filled his pleasure-loving contemporaries
with amazement. Her maternal pride was highly
flattered when Filippo Beroaldo composed an ode in
honour of Federico, and she wrote back that she
hoped this would encourage him to still greater
efforts, even though she could hardly believe that he
possessed all the excellent gifts which the poet
ascribed to him. She now resolved to make use of
Federico's influence with the Pope to pave the way
for a reconciliation between His Holiness and her
brother Alfonso.

The Duke, finding himself abandoned by his
French allies, humbly asked leave to come to Rome
and obtain absolution from the Pope. He had a
powerful friend at the Vatican in the person of
Fabrizio Colonna, Elisabetta Gonzaga's brother-in-
law, whom he had taken prisoner in the battle of
Ravenna, and released without ransom. At his
intercession, Julius consented to grant the Duke a
safe conduct for his journey, and Alfonso came to
Rome in July, accompanied by Isabella's Latin

^ Luzio, op. cit., pp. 28-34.


teacher, Mario Equicola, and took up his abode in
the house of Cardinal Gonzaga, near S. I^orenzo in
Lucina. Federico obtained leave to entertain his
uncle at a banquet in the Vatican, and afterwards
gave a concert in his honour, at which the best
singers and musicians in Rome performed. Before
dinner, the Duke visited the Borgia apartments,
where he greatly admired Pinturicchio's frescoes, and
afterwards expressed so much anxiety to see the vault
of the chapel which Michel Angelo was painting, that
Federico sent to ask Buonarroti, in the Pope's name,
if his uncle might ascend the scaffolding. The desired
permission was given, and "the Duke," writes Gros-
sino, "went up into the vault with several gentle-
men of his suite. One by one they came down again,
all but the Duke, who could not satisfy his eyes with
gazing at these figures, and remained up there for a
long time talking to Michel Angelo, and ended by
begging him to paint him a picture, for which he
offered a large sum, and the master promised that he
w^ould do this. Meanwhile, Signor Federico, seeing
that His Excellency remained so long in the vault,
took his gentlemen to see the Pope's rooms, and those
which Raphael of Urbino is painting, and when the
Duke came down he wished to show him the Pope's
room, and the stanze which Raphael is painting, but
His Excellency refused to go there, and his gentlemen
told me that he had too much respect for the Pope to
enter the room where His Holiness slept." ^

The next day, Fabrizio Colonna introduced the
Duke into the Pope's presence, while immense
crowds assembled at the Vatican gates, hoping to
see the redoubted victor of Ferrara do penance as

^ Luzio, op. cit., p. 37.


Barbarossa of old at the feet of His Holiness ; but
the Pope's first greeting was friendly enough. He
welcomed Fabrizio as one of the deliverers of Italy,
and gave Alfonso absolution in private only, desiring
him to visit the four principal churches in Rome, and
agreed to appoint a Commission of Cardinals to settle
the terms of his reconciliation.^ Before the Duke
left, he asked him to release his unfortunate brothers,
Ferrante and Giulio, who had implored the Holy
Father to save them from their misery, but could
obtain no satisfaction on this point, and Alfonso's
uncle, the Cardinal of Aragon, declared that he
thought they were dead. But when the terms of the
agreement were discussed, it appeared that the Pope,
who had already taken possession of Modena and
Reggio, demanded the cession of Ferrara itself, and
offered the Duke the town of Asti in exchange.
When Alfonso indignantly refused to accept these
terms, the Pope broke out into one of his most
furious passions, and Fabrizio Colonna, fearing for his
guest's safety, helped him to leave Rome by night
and escape secretly, first to his castle of Marino, and
afterwards to Ferrara.^ After this, the Pope's anger
knew no bounds. He began proceedings against the
Duke as a rebellious vassal, threatened Colonna with
vengeance, and stormed at every one around him.
When Alfonso sent Ariosto to try and appease his
wrath, he only raged the more, and bade the poet
begone from his sight, or he would order him to be
drowned in the Tiber.^ But this time the fiery old

^ Sanuto, xiv. ; Pastor, op. cit. ; Bro'=;c!i, op. cii., 352.

2 Paride Grassi, Diarii, British Museum MSS. ; Pastor, op. cit.

3 F. Vettori, Arch. St., App., vi. 288 ; Guicciardini, Opere Inedite,

Online LibraryJulia Mary Cartwright AdyIsabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539; a study of the renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 32)