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memorial of Leonardo's intercourse with Isabella is preserved to us. This is the admirable cartoon in the Louvre, said, for many years, to represent an unknown person.
As early as the month of March, 1501, the Marquis of Mantua had given away his wife's portrait, a fact which obliged her to ask the artist to provide her with another sketch. 1
The Mantuan gallery appears to have contained another portrait by Leonardo. A letter written in 1531 refers to “quello (quadro) di Leonardo Vinci che donò il Conte Nicola (Maffei).” In 1627 an inventory mentions“ un quadro depintovi une testa d'una donna scapigliata bozzata, opera di Leonardo da Vinci," valued at 180 lire.?
Leonardo's departure did not interrupt his relations with the learned and witty Isabella. Though I break the chronological order of my story, I will forthwith trace the incidents of a friendship which honours the princess as much as the artist. It was limited, indeed, to an exchange of correspondence. Leonardo's nature was such that the work undertaken by him for his various patrons rarely passed beyond the sphere of platonics.3
With characteristic pertinacity the Marchesa pursued, for years her fixed idea—to induce Leonardo to paint a picture for her study, the “studio” in which the compositions of Mantegna, Perugino, and Lorenzo Costa, were to hang. On March 22, 1501, she manifested this desire to her Florentine correspondent, Fra Pietro da Nuvolaria : “ Most Reverend Father,—If Leonardo, the Florentine painter, is now at Florence, we beg you will let us know what kind of life he leads—that is to say, whether he has any work in hand (as we have been told), what kind of work it may be, and if he is to remain long in the city. Your Reverence might be kind enough to inquire, as for yourself, whether he would be willing to undertake a picture for our
1 “Apresso lo pregara ad volerne mandare un altro schizo del retracto nostro, perrochè lo III. S. nostro consorte ha donato via quello che'l ce lassò qua, che'l tutto haveremo non mancho grato de la R.V. che da esso Leonardo. Mantuæe, xxvii. martij, 1501."
? Archivio storico dell'Arte, 1888, p. 184.
3 Charles Yriarte has translated and made learned comments (in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1888—vol. i., p. 123–131) on the correspondence between the Marchesa and her agents as to Leonardo. Signor Luzio, on his side, has published the Italian text in I Precettori d'Isabella d'Este, Ancona, 1877. Cf. l'Archivio storico dell'Arte, 1888, p. 45–46.
cabinet (“studio”). If he accepts the offer, we would leave the composition and the time of execution to him. But if he were to object, you might at least persuade him to paint us a little picture of the Madonna, full of faith and sweetness, just as his nature would enable him to conceive her. For all this, we should be grateful to your Reverence, and to the said Leonardo.”
Meanwhile the Marchesa appealed to Leonardo's sagacity for an opinion on certain precious vases, purchase of which was suggested to her by her Florentine agent, Francesco Malatesta. “We desire,” she replies to him March 3, 1502, “ that you show these vases to some competent person, such as Leonardo da Vinci, the Milanese painter, who is our friend, if he is at Florence, or to any other person you may think fitting, and consult him as to their beauty and quality.”
In 1504 the Marchesa makes fresh attempts to get the picture. On May 14 she writes to her agent, Angelo del Tovaglia : “ As we very eagerly desire to possess some work by Leonardo da Vinci, whom we know, not by reputation only, but personally, as a very remarkable painter, we write him, in the enclosed letter, a request that he will paint us a figure of the Child Christ, in his twelfth year. You will present our missive to him, and will add such commentary as you may judge most likely to persuade him ; we will pay him well, and if he seeks to excuse himself on the score of the work on which he is now engaged for the Signory, you can say this will be a diversion, which will rest him after the history.” 2
Enclosed in this letter was another, intended for the artist himself : “Master Leonardo,—Hearing you are settled in Florence, we have conceived the hope of realising our desire . ... When you came to this country, and drew our portrait in charcoal, you promised you would one day paint our picture in colours : but understanding that it would be difficult for you to fulfil your promise, since you would have to come here, we beg you to be good enough to keep your engagement with us, by replacing our painted portrait by a Child Christ, at the age of about twelve years—that is to say, the age at which he disputed in the Temple—and to carry it out with that charm and sweetness which characterise your art to such a high degree. If you will grant our
1 Christ among the Doctors. 2 The Battle of Anghiari, on which Leonardo was then engaged.
desire, apart from the payment, which shall be fixed by yourself, we shall remain so deeply obliged to you, that we shall never be able to acquit our debt.”
Leonardo, however, put off the Marchesa with promises. “Your letter came to hand, and with it Leonardo's,” Tovaglia replies. “He has promised me he will execute the work in certain hours which he will endeavour to snatch from that which he is doing for the Signory. I will not fail to stir up Leonardo and also Perugino. They both, truly, have promised me to act, and their will seems good, but my feeling is that it will be a struggle as to which comes in last. I hardly know which will win, but I should be inclined to wager it will be Leonardo."
On October 30, the Marchesa returns to the charge. “You have sent me word by Signor Angelo,” she writes to the artist, “ that you would very willingly satisfy my great desire. But the numerous orders you have make me fear you may have forgotten ours. We have therefore thought it fitting to write MEDAL OF THE MARCHESA ISABELLA you these few words, to beg you, when you are weary of Florentine history, to seek relaxation in this little figure.”
In 1506, Isabella took advantage of a traveller's presence in Florence to renew her pressure. A relative of the artist's, Alessandro degli Amatori (probably the brother of Ser Piero da Vinci's first wife), undertook, as is shown by his letter dated March 3, to plead ceaselessly with his nephew. “Here, in Florence, at every instant, I represent the interests of Your Highness with Leonardo da Vinci, my nephew, and I never cease pressing him to give you satisfaction with regard to the figure you have requested from him. . . . He has promised me he will begin the work soon . . . . and if, up till the time I leave Florence, you will be pleased to specify to me whether you prefer to have one figure or another, I will do everything to ensure his carrying out your will."
Leonardo, as Fra Pietro da Nuvalaria had predicted, won the laggard's prize at last, and the Marchesa, thoroughly disheartened, put away her hopes. From 1506 onwards, no trace of any correspondence between her and the all too unpunctual Florentine is to be found.