Showing posts with label Baldassare Castiglione. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baldassare Castiglione. Show all posts

3 January 2024

Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the
19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.

The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.

Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years, designing elaborate festivals for the Sforza family as well as painting and sculpting.

Ludovico became Duke of Milan after Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, seemingly of natural causes. However, it was rumoured at the time he had been poisoned by his uncle.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Ludovico Sforza, to whom
Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Beatrice found herself at the centre of court life in Milan, where she was much admired for her beauty, charm, and diplomatic skills.

As well as associating with Da Vinci and the architect, Donato Bramante, she spent time with poets such as Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò da Correggio. Her husband seemed to have been genuinely fond of her, despite having a string of mistresses, and once described her as ‘happy by nature and very pleasing.’

Beatrice was trusted to represent her husband as an ambassador to Venice and she also attended a peace conference, along with many powerful political figures of the day, including Charles VIII, King of France.

She gave birth to two sons, Massimiliano, who was born in 1493, and Francesco, who was born in 1495. They each, in turn, went on to become the Duke of Milan.

Beatrice was on course to make Milan one of the greatest Renaissance capitals of Europe when her life ended abruptly.

Pregnant for the third time, she seemed to be in good health when she was seen out in her carriage on January 2, 1497.

Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her
tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
She waved to the crowds on her way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Da Vinci was in the process of painting his famous masterpiece, The Last Supper, known in Italian as Il Cenacolo, on the wall of the refectory.

After saying her prayers in the church, Beatrice returned to the Castello Sforzesco, where she was said to have taken part in dancing during the evening. Afterwards, she started to suffer stomach pains and she gave birth to a stillborn son. She never recovered from the birth and died half an hour after midnight, on January 3.

Later that day, her heartbroken husband wrote about the sad news to his brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, who was married to Beatrice’s sister, Isabella. He asked for no visits of condolence, saying he wanted to be left alone to grieve. He remained locked in his apartment for two weeks and when he reappeared, he had shaved his head and was dressed in black, wearing an old, torn cloak.

The beautiful Beatrice has been immortalised in sculptures and paintings and has gone down in history as ‘a virago who showed the courage of a man’, during a time when Milan was at war.  

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years
old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1450. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several of the rooms. The castle was built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco Sforza was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.  The Cairo metro station is opposite the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco, which is about a 20 minute walk from Milan’s Duomo.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he painted on the wall of the refectory
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he
painted on the wall of the refectory
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan, is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo, which is on the wall of the refectory where the monks used to eat their meals. Entrance to the refectory is now limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes and it is necessary to book a visit in advance.  In addition to Il Cenacolo, the church also has a chapel decorated with the frescoes Stories of Life and The Passion of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari and other works by Ferrari, Titian and Bramantino. Titian’s painting, The Coronation of Thorns, once hung in the same chapel as the Ferrari frescoes but is now in the Louvre, in Paris.

Also on this day:

106BC: The birth of Roman politician and philosopher Cicero

1698: The birth of opera librettist Pietro Metastasio

1785: The death of composer Baldassare Galuppi

1877: The birth of textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani

1920: The birth of singer-songwriter Renato Carosone

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini


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13 February 2019

Isabella d’Este – Marchioness of Mantua

‘The First Lady of the world’


Titian's portrait of Isabella d'Este, housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Titian's portrait of Isabella d'Este, housed
at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Isabella d’Este, who was a leading cultural and political figure during the Renaissance, died on this day in 1539 in Mantua.

She had been a patron of the arts, a leader of fashion, a politically astute ruler and a diplomat. Such was her influence that she was once described as ‘the First Lady of the world’.

Her life is documented by her correspondence, which is still archived in Mantua. She received about 28,000 letters and wrote about 12,000. More than 2000 of her letters have survived.

Isabella grew up in a cultured family in the city of Ferrara. Her father was Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and her mother was Eleanor of Naples.

She received a classical education and had opportunities to meet famous scholars and artists. She was reputed to have frequently discussed the classics and affairs of state with ambassadors who came to the court.

When Isabella was just six years old she was betrothed to Francesco, the heir to the Marquess of Mantua.

At the age of 15 she married him by proxy. He had succeeded his father and become Francesco II and she became his Marchioness.

A charcoal sketch of Isabella by Leonardo for a portrait that was never completed
A charcoal sketch of Isabella by Leonardo for
a portrait that was never completed
In 1493 Isabella gave birth to a daughter, Eleonora, the first of her eight children.

About 12 years into her marriage, Lucrezia Borgia, who had married Isabella’s brother, Alfonso, became the mistress of Isabella’s husband, Francesco, yet Isabella continued to bear Francesco’s children throughout their long affair.

After Francesco was captured during battle in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, Isabella took control of Mantua’s forces and held off the invaders until his release in 1512.

She was hostess at the Congress of Mantua, held to settle questions concerning Florence and Milan. Francesco was said to have been humiliated by his wife’s superior political ability and their marriage broke down.

After Francesco's death, Isabella ruled Mantua as regent for her son, Federico II. She played a part in getting Mantua promoted to a Duchy, had another son, Ercole, made a Cardinal and negotiated skilfully with Cesare Borgia.

Many of the famous artists of the time worked for her, most notably Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna, Raphael, Titian and Michelangelo.

She was in contact with many writers, including Ludovico Ariosto, Pietro Bembo and Baldassare Castiglione. She sponsored musicians and employed woman as professional singers at her court.

As a ruler, Isabella followed the principles of Machiavelli
As a ruler, Isabella followed the
principles of Machiavelli
Isabella’s style of dressing, wearing caps and displaying plunging décolletage, was imitated throughout Italy and at the French court.

She worked hard as a devoted head of state following the principles in Niccolò Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, and was respected by the people of Mantua.

In retirement, she made Mantua a centre for culture, started a school for girls and turned her apartments into a museum containing the finest art treasures.

When she was in her mid-sixties she returned to political life and ruled Solarolo in the Romagna until her death at the age of 64.

She was buried with her husband, Francesco II, in the Gonzaga Pantheon in the Church of Santa Paola in Mantua.

Pietro Bembo once described Isabella as ‘one of the wisest and most fortunate of women,’ while diplomat Niccolò da Correggio called her ‘The First Lady of the World.’

The home of the State Archives of Mantua, where Isabella's surviving letters are preserved in digital format
The home of the State Archives of Mantua, where Isabella's
surviving letters are preserved in digital format
Travel tip:

It is possible to view Isabella d’Este’s letters, which are preserved in digital format, at the Archivio di Stato di Mantova in Via Robertó Ardigo, Mantua. The building, previously a Jesuit convent, also houses the Gonzaga archive, which is one of the most complete archives belonging to a family that has governed in the modern age, and the Castiglioni archive acquired by the descendants of Baldassare Castiglione, including parchments, maps, drawings and documentation of the noble Mantuan family from the 13th to the 20th century. For more information on the Isabella d’Este Archive visit www.archiviodistatomantova.beniculturali.it.

Stay in Mantua with Booking.com

The Church of Santa Paola in Mantua. where Isabella and Francesco are buried in the Gonzaga Pantheon
The Church of Santa Paola in Mantua. where Isabella and
Francesco are buried in the Gonzaga Pantheon
Travel tip:

The 14th century Church of Santa Paola in Mantua, where Isabella d’Este was buried is in Piazza Quazza Romolo. The church and adjoining monastery were built according to the wishes of Paola Malatesta, wife of Gianfresco Gonzaga, to accommodate a group of Poor Clares. Isabella and Francesco’s daughter, Livia, who became prioress there, commissioned frescoes for the interior after her mother’s burial. Giulio Romano later painted scenes for the funeral of Isabella’s son, Federico II, of which some traces remain.

More reading:

Machiavelli's premise that 'the ends justify the means'

Lucrezia Borgia - the notorious beauty who inspired poets and painters

Titian, the giant of Renaissance art

Also on this day:

1571: The death of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini

1816: Fire destroys the Teatro di San Carlo opera house in Naples

1912: The birth of poet Antonia Pozzi

1960: The birth of football referee Pierluigi Collina

(Picture credits: State Archives building and Church of Santa Paolo by FranzK via Wikimedia Commons)

(Paintings: Da Vinci's sketch of Isabella is in The Louvre in Paris; Santi di Tito's portrait of Machiavelli, Palazzo Vecchio collection, Florence)

6 February 2019

Girolamo Benivieni – poet

Follower of Plato, Dante and Savonarola


Girolamo Benivieni, pictured as an old man in a painting attributed to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio
Girolamo Benivieni, pictured as an old man in
a painting attributed to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio
The poet Girolamo Benivieni, who turned Marsilio Ficino’s translation of Plato’s Symposium into verse, was born on this day in 1453 in Florence.

His poem was to influence other writers during the Renaissance and some who came later.

As a member of the Florentine Medici circle, Benivieni was a friend of the Renaissance humanists Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Angelo Poliziano, commonly known as Polician.

Ficino translated Plato’s Symposium in about 1474 and wrote his own commentary on the work.

Benivieni summarised Ficino’s work in the poem De lo amore celeste - Of Heavenly Love - These verses then became the subject of a commentary by Pico della Mirandola.

As a result of all these works, Platonism reached such writers as Pietro Bembo and Baldassare Castiglione and the English poet, Edmund Spencer.

Benivieni later fell under the spell of Girolamo Savonarola, the fiery religious reformer, and he rewrote some of his earlier sensual poetry as a result. He also translated a treatise by Savonarola into Italian, Della semplicità della vita cristiana - On the Simplicity of the Christian life - and he wrote some religious poetry of his own.

Benivieni's tombstone behind the statue of Savonarola in the Church of San Marco
Benivieni's tombstone behind the statue of
Savonarola in the Church of San Marco
He took part in Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities and documented the destruction of art works worth ‘several thousand ducats’ at the time.

Lucrezia de’ Medici supported him in his writing and they shared an interest in the works of Dante Alighieri. In 1506 Benivieni published an edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy with maps by Antonio Manetti and commentaries by Benivieni and Manetti.

He drafted a letter for Lucrezia to send to her brother, Pope Leo X, seeking his assistance in bringing Dante’s body back to Florence from Ravenna where he was buried.

Benivieni also used his connection with Lucrezia to advance his ideas on church reform with her brother, and later with her cousin, Pope Clement VII.

In 1530 he wrote a letter to Pope Clement in defence of Savonarola, seeking to have his reputation restored within the Church.

He died in 1542, a few months before his 90th birthday and was buried in the Church of San Marco in Florence next to his friend, Pico della Mirandola.

The Church of San Marco in Florence is close to where the fiery priest Girolamo Savonarola lived
The Church of San Marco in Florence is close to where
the fiery priest Girolamo Savonarola lived
Travel tip:

The Church of San Marco, where Girolamo Benivieni and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola are buried together, is in Piazza di San Marco to the north of the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michalangelo’s David. The original tombstone is in Latin. It says: ‘Here lies Giovannni Mirandola; known both at the Tagus and the Ganges and maybe even the antipodes. He died in 1494 and lived for thirty-two years. Girolamo Benivieni, to prevent separate places from disjointing after death the bones of those whose souls were joined by Love while living, provided for this grave where he too is buried. He died in 1542 and lived for eighty-nine years and six months.’ Next to the church is the convent of San Marco, now the Museo Nazionale di San Marco, where Savonarola and the painters, Fra Angelico and Fra Bartolomeo, once lived.


The tomb of Dante Alighieri adjoins the Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna
The tomb of Dante Alighieri adjoins the
Basilica of San Francesco in Ravenna
Travel tip:

A tomb built for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence still remains empty. Dante died while living in exile in Ravenna in about 1321. He was buried at the Church of San Pier Maggiore in Ravenna and a tomb was erected there for him in 1483. Florence has made repeated requests for the return of Dante’s remains to the city but Ravenna has always refused.


More reading:

The Bonfire of the Vanities - preacher Savonarola's war on Renaissance 'excesses'

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola – the philosopher who wrote the 'Manifesto of the Renaissance'

Pietro Bembo - the poet and scholar who became Lucrezia Borgia's lover

Also on this day:

1577: The birth of Roman heroine Beatrice Cenci

1778: The birth of the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo

1908: The birth of six-times Italian prime minister Amintore Fanfani


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