Da Vinci’s Muse

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Isabella d’Este

Isabella d'Este

Isabella dEste, (May 18, 1474– February 13, 1539), known as the “The First Lady of The Renaissance,” was Marchesa of Mantua, an inventor, political ruler, patron of the arts, mother of seven children and musician. As a well-educated noblewoman, she played an influential role in the cultural and political development of the region. Throughout her life, she served not only herself but also others and helped to better the standards of living everywhere. She became a passionate collector as well as a patroness of the arts. Along with her husband, she sponsored writers and sculptors, collecting their works and attracting other important artists, writers, thinkers, and musicians to the city. By her words and actions she is revered and has become one of the most influential people in renaissance history. She was not only a patron of the arts, but an inspiration to great artists of the time. Titian and Da Vinci both created renditions of her in paint and pen and ink, respectively. This woman was able to use her education, her position, and her passion to forward the cause of an entire cultural movement and to inspire the artists of her time to bring their best work to light.

As Isabella grew she received a royal schooling. As a child she studied Roman history, and rapidly learned to translate Greek and Latin. Because of her intellect she often discussed the classics and the affairs of the day with ambassadors. Moreover, she knew the painters, musicians, writers, and scholars, who lived in and around the court. Besides history and language, she could recite the works of Virgil and Terrence from memory, and was an expert with lute, singing, and an innovator with new dances.

During the time of her children’s birth her husband, Captain General of the united forces, was battling with the French King Charles VIII to keep him from taking territory in Italy. In 1509, after the Duke of Orleans had become King Louis XII of France, her husband Marquis Francesco Gonzaga was captured in his sleep and taken to Venice. Made regent by the state, Isabella took command of the city’s armies and successfully held off the enemy hosts. In 1512 a peace treaty was signed and her husband was released.

Her life after that however would be changed forever. Her husband was weak and ill after he was released, and became jealous of her power. Consequently he started ignoring her, and found fault with everything she did. Noticing her husbands’ change of attitude toward her she decided to travel to Rome. Once in Rome she went to the court of Pope Leo X, where she lived like a queen and was the center of public attention.

After conflicts died down, IDE left Rome, and in her 60’s returned to Mantua and made it a cultural center, started a school for girls and created her ducal apartments into a museum, which housed the finest art. Nevertheless this was not enough for Isabella so she continued her life long quest and ruled a tiny part of Romagna, Solarlo until her death in 1539.

As a woman, a wife, a mother, a diplomat, and a creative soul, IDE served as inspiration to those around her. We hope that all women can recognize their own grace, light, and strength as did Isabella d’Este to bring powerful transformation in the world.

Isabella d’Este was born on May 18, 1474

Each of us has a story steeped in family tradition and historical context, creating a personal mythology that gives insight into who we are, why we are here and where we may be headed in our respective journeys. In the lost traditions of holy days of the ancient Europeans,  May 18th  signifies, in the Greek tradition, the Feast of Pan and on this day women and men celebrate Men. Pan is all that is male in the Universe. He is the son of the Earth. Pan, the God of shepherds and flocks, who appears as half man, half goat is celebrated through parties with wine, song and women.

We are All Muses for Pan.


49 responses so far ↓

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  • 5 Karen // Oct 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    An exceptionally good read of the relationship between Isabella d’Este and her sister Beatrice is “Leonardo’s Swan” by Karen Essex; long but well worth the read and while it’s a fictionalized account between the two sisters, it is extremely well researched, as are all books by Ms. Essex. I love her writing.

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