|Isabella d'Este, a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, possibly made for a painting|
One such woman was Isabella D'Este, Duke of Ferrara Ercole I D'Este and Eleanor of Naples. Isabella was influential in the political and cultural landscape of the Italian Renaissance, a major patron of arts and an inexhaustible letter-writer, which allows us a glimpse into the society of her time.
|Young Isabella d'Este (anonymous painter)|
Although she was at first betrothed to, Gianfrancesco, the heir to the Marquis of Mantua, she married his successor ten years later, Francesco Gonzaga. The two deeply admired and respected each other and those feelings eventually grew into real love. Since her husband was often away in Venice as the Captain General of the Venetian armies, Isabella often ruled as his regent.
|Isabella's husband, Franceso Gonzaga|
She also developed a very close friendship with her sister-in-law, Elisabetta Gonzaga, and the two would go on to be lifelong friends, as their many letters to each other attest to. Four years after her wedding, Isabella gave birth to her first daughter. In total, she and Francesco would have eight children.
When her brother Alfonso married the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, Isabella hosted the festivities but soon turned cold towards her new sister-in-law. She had a reason - jealousy. Lucrezia went on to have a torrid and passionate affair with Isabella's husband, Francesco, which lasted quite a while and only ended at the time of his death from syphillis. During the years of the affair, however, Isabella continued to bear her husband children.
Besides her political and diplomatic acumen, Isabella was a great patron of the arts and literature, as well as a leader in fashion. She loved music and played musical instruments herself. Among the great artists she sponsored were Titian, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Bellini. Through her letters we know that she repeatedly asked Leonardo da Vinci to paint her portrait. While there is a knowing drawing of her by Leonardo, the complete painting was not discovered until much later.
|Isabella in her 60s, by Titian|
After becoming a widow, Isabella continued to participate in the politics of Mantua and was well loved and respected by her people. In her later years, she turned Mantua into the center of arts and culture, creating a museum and even opening a school for girls. She also collected antiquities.
She died on February 13th, 1539 in Mantua, leaving a great legacy behind her.