Guest Author - Helen B. Wharton
Isabella d'Este has been compared to Jackie Kennedy for her contribution to the culture of her day. Born in 1474 in Ferrara, the eldest child of Ercole d'Este and Leonora of Naples. Her father was Duke of Ferrara and saw to it that all of his children were well educated, not just his sons. When Isabella married Francesco Gonzaga, at age 16, she could speak and translate Latin and Greek, was an accomplished musician, and could debate politics and Renaissance ideas with people much older than she was.
Francesco Gonzaga was Marquis of Mantua and during his absences Isabella was a capable ruler in his stead. From 1509 to 1512 Isabella's husband was held as a political prisoner in Venice, by King Charles VII of France. Through Isabella's efforts Mantua was successfully protected by the city's forces. She then negotiated with her husband's captors and obtained his release.
Upon Francesco's return to Mantua he realized that Isabella had ruled very well during his absence and was popular with the people. As a result of his jealousy he alternately ignored and berated her. To escape this treatment she went to Rome, to the court of Pope Leo X. While in Rome she met many artist, architects and great minds. When her husband died, in 1519, Isabella d'Este returned to Mantua to assist her son, who was only 19, in ruling.
Through her influence the court of Mantua attracted some of the most influential artists, writers and thinkers of the time. She was a great patron of the arts and was a subject for such artists as Titian and Leonardo da Vinci. She commissioned art by Andrea Mantegna, Raphael and Perugino, among many others. She surrounded herself with the greatest musicians, composers and writers of the time, including Furioso, Castiglione and Macchiavelli.
During her later years she founded a school for girls. This is amazing when you stop to think that most people did not educate daughters. Women were only valued as wives and mothers, but Isabella knew from her own experience the value of education.
Isabella d'Este was a true Renaissance woman, a wife, mother of seven children, ruler, patron of the arts and voluminous letter writer.