THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
DUCHESS OF MILAN
JULIA CARTWRIGHT (MRS HENRY ADY)
During the last twenty years the patient researches of successive students in the archives of North Italian cities have been richly rewarded. The State papers of Milan and Venice, of Ferrara and Modena, have yielded up their treasures; the correspondence of Isabella d'Este, in the Gonzaga archives at Mantua, has proved a source of inexhaustible wealth and knowledge. A flood of light has been thrown on the history of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; public events and personages have been placed in a new aspect; the judgments of posterity have been modified and, in some instances, reversed.
We see now, more clearly than ever before, what manner of men and women these Estes and Gonzagas, these Sforzas and Viscontis, were. We gain fresh insight into their characters and aims, their secret motives and private wishes. We see them in their daily occupations and amusements, at their work and at their play. We follow them from the battle-field and council chamber, from the chase and tournament, to the privacy of domestic life and the intimate scenes of the family circle. And we realize how, in spite of the tragic stories or bloodshed and strife that darkened their lives, in spite, too, of the low standard of morals and of the crimes and vices that we are accustomed to associate with Renaissance princes, there was a rare measure of beauty and goodness, of culture and refinement, of love of justice and zeal for truth, among them. As the latest historian of the Papacy, Dr. Pastor, has wisely remarked, we must take care not to paint the state of morals during the Italian Renaissance blacker than it really was. Virtue goes quietly on her way, while vice is noisy and uproarious; the criminal forces himself upon the public attention, while the honest man does his duty in silence, and no one hears of him. This is especially the case with the women of the Renaissance. They had their faults and their weaknesses, but the great majority among them led pure and irreproachable lives, and trained their children in the paths of truth and duty. Even Lucrezia Borgia, although she may not have been altogether immaculate, was not the foul creature that we once believed. And the more closely we study these newly discovered documents, the more we become convinced that this age produced some of the most admirable types of womanhood that the world has ever seen. When Castiglione painted his ideal woman in the pages of the "Cortigiano," he had no need to draw on his imagination. Elizabeth Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, and Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua, were both of them women of great intellect and stainless virtue, whose genuine love of art and letters attracted the choicest spirits to their court, and exerted the most beneficial influence on the thought of the day. Isabella, whose vast correspondence with the foremost painters and scholars of the age has been preserved almost intact, was probably the most remarkable lady of the Renaissance. The story of her long and eventful lifea theme of absorbing interestyet remains to be written. The present work is devoted to the history of her younger sister, Beatrice, Duchess of Milan, who, as the wife of Lodovico Sforza, reigned during six years over the most splendid court of Italy. The charm of her personality, the important part which she played in political life at a critical moment of Italian history, her love of music and poetry, and the fine taste which she inherited, in common with every princess of the house of Este, all help to make Beatrice singularly attractive, while the interest which she inspires is deepened by the pathos of her sudden and early death.
If in Isabella we have the supreme representative of Renaissance culture in its highest and most intellectual phase, Beatrice is the type of that new-found joy in life, that intoxicating rapture in the actual sense of existence, that was the heritage of her generation, and found expression in the words of a contemporary novelist, Matteo Bandellohimself of Lombard birthwhen with his last breath he bade his companions live joyously, "Vivete lieti!" We see this bride of sixteen summers flinging herself with passionate delight into every amusement, singing gay songs with her courtiers, dancing and hunting through the livelong day, outstripping all her companions in the chase, and laughing in the face of danger. We see her holding her court in the famous Castello of Porta Giovia or in the summer palaces of Vigevano and Cussago, in these golden days when Milan was called the new Athens, when Leonardo and Bramante decorated palaces or arranged masquerades at the duke's bidding, when Gaspare Visconti wrote sonnets in illuminated books, and Lorenzo da Pavia constructed organs or viols as perfect and beautiful to see as to hear, for the pleasure of the youthful duchess. Scholars and poets, painters and writers, gallant soldiers and accomplished cavaliers, we see them all at Beatrice's feet, striving how best they may gratify her fancies and win her smiles. Young and old, they were alike devoted to her service, from Galeazzo di Sanseverino, the valiant captain who became her willing slave and chosen companion, to Niccolo da Correggio, that all-accomplished gentleman who laid down his pen and sword to design elaborate devices for his mistress's new gowns. We read her merry letters to her husband and sister, letters sparkling with wit and gaiety and overflowing with simple and natural affection. We see her rejoicing with all a young mother's proud delight over her first-born son, repeating, as mothers will, marvellous tales of his size and growth, and framing tender phrases for his infant lips. And we catch glimpses of her, too, in sadder moods, mourning her mother's loss or wounded by neglect and unkindness. We note how keenly her proud spirit resents wrong and injustice, and how in her turn she is not always careful of the rights and feelings of her rivals. But whatever her faults and mistakes may have been, she is always kindly and generous, human and lovable. A year or two passes, and we see her, royally arrayed in brocade and jewels, standing up in the great council hall of Venice, to plead her husband's cause before the Doge and Senate. Later on we find her sharing her lord's counsels in court and camp, receiving king and emperor at Pavia or Vigevano, fascinating the susceptible heart of Charles VIII by her charms, and amazing Kaiser Maximilian by her wisdom and judgment in affairs of state. And then suddenly the music and dancing, the feasting and travelling, cease, and the richly coloured and animated pageant is brought to an abrupt close. Beatrice dies, without a moment's warning, in the flower of youth and beauty, and the young duchess is borne to her grave in S. Maria delle Grazie amid the tears and lamentations of all Milan. And with her death, the whole Milanese state, that fabric which Lodovico Sforza had built up at such infinite cost and pains, crumbles into ruin. Fortune, which till that hour had smiled so kindly on the Moro and had raised him to giddy heights of prosperity, now turned her back upon him. In three short years he had lost everythingcrown, home, and libertyand was left to drag out a miserable existence in the dungeons of Berry and Touraine.
"And when Duchess Beatrice died," wrote the poet, Vincenzo Calmeta, "everything fell into ruin, and that court, which had been a joyous paradise, was changed into a black Inferno."
Then Milan and her people become a prey to the rude outrages of French soldiery. Leonardo's great horse was broken in pieces by Gascon archers, and the Castello, "which had once held the finest flower of the whole world, became," in Castiglione's words, "a place of drinking-booths and dung-hills." The treasures of art and beauty stored up within its walls were destroyed by barbarous hands, and all that brilliant company was dispersed and scattered abroad. Artists and poets, knights and scholarsLeonardo and Bramante, Galeazzo and Niccolowere driven out, and went their way each in a different direction, to seek new homes and other patrons. But the memory of the young duchessthe Donna beata of Pistoja and Visconti's songlived for many a year in the hearts of her loyal servants, Castiglione enshrined her name in his immortal pages, Ariosto celebrated her virtues in the cantos of his "Orlando Furioso," and far on in the new century, grey-headed scholars spoke of her as "la più zentil Donna d'Italia"the sweetest lady in all Italy.
And to-day, as we pace the dim aisles of the great Certosa, we may look on the marble effigy of Duchess Beatrice and see the lovely face with the curling locks and child-like features which the Lombard sculptor carved, and which still bears witness to the love of Lodovico Sforza for his young wife.
In conclusion, I must acknowledge how deeply I am indebted to Signor Luzio, keeper of the Gonzaga archives at Mantua, and to his able colleague, Signor Renier, for the assistance which they have lent to my researches, as well as for the help afforded by their own publications, in which many of Isabella and Beatrice d'Este's most interesting letters have already been given to the world. The State archives of Milan and Mantua are the principal sources from which the information contained in the present volume is drawn, and a list of the other authorities which have been consulted is given below.