Isabella d'Este Historical Profile

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ISABELLA D'ESTE
Historical Profile
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ISABELLA D'ESTE STATS
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Name: Isabella d'Este
Born: 18 May 1474
Home town: Ferrara
Died: 13 February 1539
Position: Marchesa of Mantua
House of: Este
Nickname: First Lady of the World
Personality type: Cultured, graceful, fashionable, intelligent, proud, refined, persistent
Famous for: Prominent patroness of Renaissance art, leading lady of the Renaissance during the late 15th and early 16th century
Strength(s): Level-headed, far-seeing, intelligent - educated in the humanist tradition, politically allied with both the Borgias and the noble houses of northern Italy, wise grasp of diplomacy, acute political sensibilities
Weakness(es): less wealthy than she would have liked to be, jealousy of Lucrezia Borgia as Duchess of Ferrara
Quirks:



"La prima donna del mundo"
- Niccolo da Correggio

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ISABELLA D'ESTE BIO
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Isabella, being naturally gifted and intellectually precocious in her youth, received an excellent education. As a child she studied Roman history, and rapidly learned to translate Greek and Latin (the former would become her favourite language). Because of her outstanding intellect, she often discussed the classics and the affairs of state with ambassadors. Moreover, she was personally acquainted with the painters, musicians, writers, and scholars, who lived in and around the court. Besides her knowledge of history and languages, she could also recite Virgil and Terence by heart. Isabella was also a talented singer and musician, and was taught to play the lute by Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa. In addition to all these admirable accomplishments, she also was an innovator of new dances, having been instructed in the art by Ambrogio, a Jewish dancing master.She was described as having been physically attractive, albeit slightly plump; however, she also possessed "lively eyes" and was "of lively grace".

In 1480, at the age of six, Isabella was betrothed to Gianfrancesco, the heir to the Marquis of Mantua. Although he was not handsome, Isabella admired him for his strength and bravery; she also regarded him as a gentleman. After their first few encounters, she found that she enjoyed his company and spent the next few years getting to know him and preparing herself to be the Marchesa of Mantua. During their courtship, Isabella treasured the letters, poems, and sonnets he sent her as gifts.Ten years later on 11 February 1490, at age 15, she married Francesco Gonzaga, who had by then succeeded to the marquisate. Isabella became his wife and Marchesa amid a spectacular outpouring of popular acclamation. Besides Marquis, Francesco was also Captain General of the armies of the Republic of Venice. She brought as her marriage portion, the sum of 3,000 ducats besides valuable jewellery, dishes, and a silver service.Prior to the magnificent banquet which followed the wedding ceremony, Isabella rode through the main streets of Ferrara astride a horse draped in gems and gold. As the couple had known and admired one another for many years, their mutual attraction deepened into love; marriage to Francesco allegedly caused Isabella to "bloom".

At the time of her wedding, Isabella was said to have been pretty, slim, graceful and well-dressed. Her long, fine hair was dyed pale blonde, and her eyes, "brown as fir cones in autumn, scattered laughter". Francesco, in his capacity of Captain General of the Venetian armies, was often required to go to Venice for conferences which left Isabella in Mantua on her own at La Reggia the ancient palace which was the family seat of the Gonzagas. She did not lack company, however, as she passed the time with her mother and sister, Beatrice; and upon meeting Elisabetta Gonzaga, her 18-year-old sister-in-law, the two women became close friends. They enjoyed reading books, playing cards, and travelling about the countryside together. Once they journeyed as far as Lake Garda during one of Francesco's absences, and later travelled to Venice. They maintained a steady correspondence until Elisabetta's death in 1526. Almost four years after her marriage in December 1493, Isabella gave birth to her first child out of an eventual total of eight; it was a daughter, Eleonora, whom they called Leonora for short.



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CONTEMPORARY VOICES
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ISABELLA D'ESTE QUOTES
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  • "The discontent of the people is more dangerous to a monarch than all the might of his enemies on the battlefield." - in a letter to her husband, February 1495.
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ISABELLA D'ESTE TRIVIA
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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND MATERIALS
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BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS WEBSITES & MEDIA
  • The Bed and the Throne: The Life of Isabella d'Este (George R Marek, 1976)
  • Leonardo's Swans (Karen Essex)
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