Tuesday, November 8, 2011


(Bust of Isabella d'Este, Gian Cristoforo Romano, 1500, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

My heart was jumping when Bob and I walked into the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth.

The Kimbell, though small in size, has a stellar reputation in the world of art.

This museum contains exquisite examples of art from many of the most talented artists who have lived on this planet.

Putting it simply, the Kimbell doesn't mess around with inferior stuff.

So, was I surprised when I saw "Renaissance Woman" Isabella d'Este staring at me face to face with her no-pupil eyes?

No......I wasn't.

But I was pleased as punch to see her again.

Isabella is an old friend

I've been running into her in my history books for years.

And a gazillion art museums as well.

Ms. Isabella was quite the Italian chick-a-dee.

She was intellectually gifted and a natural talent from the get go.

As a young girl, Isabella could read and translate Greek and Latin at the speed of light.

She learned to play the lute, sing and create new dances.

During her girlhood, she enjoyed discussing classic literature and the affairs of state with visiting ambassadors.

As an adult, Isabella loved pursuing cultural interests.

That may be the understatement of the year.

She collected art, of course, because she had the necessary funds to do so.

But she also sponsored a variety of philosophers, poets and painters of her day including the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Giovanni Bellini.

All heavy hitters in the world of art

It has been said that Isabella asked Leonardo to paint her portrait.

That particular request was never fulfilled.

But Leonardo eventually whipped up a drawing of her profile.

(Drawing of Isabella, Leonardo da Vinci, 1500, Art Renewel Center)

Nevermind that her husband gave the sketch away.


I'm thinking that may not have been the smartest move he ever made.

Here's another thing about Isabella:

She was politically brilliant.

When her husband was captured in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, Isabella swung into immediate action.

She directed Mantua's military troops and successfully held off that city's invaders until her husband's safe return in 1512.

That same year, she served as the official hostess at the Congress of Mantua.

The Congress was convening to discuss political issues between Florence and Milan.

Isabella  was a definite superstar in the political arena.

When her husband was advised of her many accomplishments,  it was said that he was angry and humiliated because Isabella's assertive leadership and political competency outshown his own.

Eventually, husband Francesco died.

Isabella became a dedicated head of state.

Taking this office seriously, she studied the problems facing her as ruler of Mantua.

Her great desire was to study those subjects that would have the most lasting benefit for her people.

She dug into the study of architecture, agriculture and industry.

In addition, she became a devotee of Machiavelli's, "The Prince," and personally adopted the principles outlined for rulers therein.

Oh, I almost forgot......

Back in 1500, she met up with French monarch,  Louis XII, in Milan who was visiting the area on a diplomatic mission.

On that occasion, she convinced Louis not to send in his troops against Milan.

It is said that the people of Mantua loved and respected Isabella.

I think we're beginning to see why.

Let's see now......

What else could this Renaissance Woman do?

She was a leader in the fashion world of her time.

She dressed in sumptuous gowns that were covered in rich embroidery.

That's pretty standard stuff for a woman of her position and financial means.

But Isabella was a fashion innovator as well.

She adored boyish caps and frequently adorned her head with them.

Eventually, these unusual but beautiful caps became her signature style.

Isabella's manner of dress was imitated all through Italy and France.

Anne of Brittany, a fan of Isabella's fashion sense, had a doll made in her likeness.

Well, now.

I hope I've managed to convince you that Isabella d'Este was indeed a Renaissance Woman.

But just in case you need a little nudge, I'd like you to know that Isabella started a school in Mantua for young girls.

And she converted her private apartments into a museum containing some of the finest art of the day.


That should pretty much do it.


Here's a fun fact for you:

Isabella d'Este created and mixed her own perfumes, wore them herself and gave them away as gifts.

I'm not a perfume lover myself - they give me headaches - but I am fascinated by that little tidbit about Isabella.

During her life and after her death, VIP's of all sorts paid tribute to Isabella.

Pope Leo X asked her to treat him with "as much friendliness as you would your brother."

The pope's secretary, Pietro Bembo, described Isabella as "one of the wisest and most fortunate of women."

Author of the day, Matteo Bandello, wrote that she was "supreme among women."

Not to be outdone, diplomat Niccolo da Correggio called Isabella "First Lady of the World."

Good night nurse!!!

I don't know about you, but just thinking about Isabella's beefy resume makes me feel like a complete slacker.

Here's a final fact for you:

There was a chink in Isabella's resplendent armor.

That chink was cause for much of Isabella's suffering.

We'll check out the chink next time.

I promise.

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