Isabella d' Este: Great Woman of the Renaissance

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Historians and scholars often overlook the part that women played in the Renaissance. Did women have a Renaissance? The period did not occur in a male only vacuum; women played an important part in the changes taking place across Europe. No matter a woman’s station in the class system, women, were still considered the sinful daughter of Eve, the downfall of man. Into this world stepped Isabella d’Este, one of the great women of the Renaissance.

Isabella d’Este left behind not only the great works of art that she collected and commissioned during her lifetime but a treasure trove “amounting to upwards of two thousand letters, which have fortunately been preserved.” Through these letters, scholars learn what kind of woman Isabella was, and what she expected from her patronage. One such example of Isabella’s correspondence is the “chronicles of [her] efforts between 1496 and 1505 to obtain the Battle Between Virtue and Vice from Pietro Perugino.” The Marchesa undoubtly, one of the great art patrons of her time, she lived among the masters of Renaissance art.

Isabella became a powerful woman at a time when women were still mostly cut off from learning and art. She surpassed both her husband and her father in patronage of the arts as well as any other women on the playing field. Clifford Brown writes, “it is even more difficult to attempt to explain the factors that motivated these pursuits, for it was by no means a foregone conclusion that an individual of Isabella’s rank and station in life would have so singlemindly attempted to excel in areas only infrequently associated with her gender.”

Chapter One: Early Isabella

Born in 1474, the eldest child of the Duke Ercole I and his Duchess Leonora of Aragon. All of Ferrara rejoi...

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...wright Ady. New York: Dutton & Company, 1905.

Gonzaga, Isabella D'Este to Zorzo Brognolo. Letter, Fall 1490. Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua. Edited by Julia Mary Cartwright Ady. Boston: Dutton And Company, 1905.

Gonzaga, Isabella D'este to Zzorzo Brognolo. Letter, undated. Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua. Edited by Julia Mary Cartwright Ady. Boston: Dutton And Company, 1905.

Meyer, Edith Patterson. First Lady of the Renaissance: A Biography of Isabella d'Este. Boston: Little, Brown And Company, 1970.

Plumb, J.H.. The Italian Renaissance. First Mariner Books edition 2001. Boston: Mariner Books, 1961.

Robin, Diana, Anne B. Larsen, and Carole Evans, eds. Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France and England. Santa Barbara: Abc Clio, 2007.

Vinci, Lenardo Da. Portrait of Isabella d'Este. Paris, France, Louvre, 1499. Charcoal drawing on paper.

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