ESTE, Isabella d'

(1474-1539)
Isabella d'Este distinguished herself during the Italian Renaissance as a con­summate politician and an avid patron of the arts. Isabella was born in the independent city-state of Ferrara, which was ruled by the Este family; her ar­ranged marriage to Francesco Gonzaga, the son and heir to the ruling dynasty in Mantua, served to gain an advantageous political alliance for the state of Ferrara.
During her lifetime, Isabella successfully steered the Gonzagas' fortunes through the many political upheavals that resulted from the Italian Wars (1494­1559), as the French house of Valois competed with the Spanish house of Habs­burg for control of the Italian peninsula. Always on the lookout for an alliance that might prove expedient for the Gonzagas, Isabella cultivated the good will of the most influential figures of her time. Isabella followed the policy that Mantua would remain neutral no matter what the political situation was. In doing so, she prolonged the survival of Mantua as an autonomous state in spite of the conflicts that ravaged the Italian peninsula.
Isabella had the satisfaction of seeing Holy Roman Emperor Charles V* be­stow a dukedom upon her eldest son, Federico II Gonzaga.* On behalf of her second son, Ercole, Isabella received from Pope Clement VII the office of a cardinal. Her third son, Ferrante, chose a military career, serving in Charles V's army. Charles's German mercenary forces eventually gained control over the Italian peninsula.
Just as influential in her patronage of the arts as she was in her role as a political activist and advisor, Isabella amassed with the help of numerous agents a private collection that comprised antiquities as well as contemporary master­pieces. Isabella supported the new printing industry, ordering and purchasing books from Aldus Manutius's acclaimed Aldine Press in Venice. Manutius, the humanist turned printer, made classic works by Ovid and Petrarch available to an educated public. A lover and patron of the arts, Isabella also delighted in works by contemporary authors, taking special pleasure in the poet Ludovico Ariosto's* work. In recognition of her patronage, Ariosto paid Isabella a visit to present her personally with a copy of his famous poem Orlando Furioso (1532).
Variously referred to as a "Machiavelli* in skirts" and as the "First Lady of the Renaissance," Isabella d'Este endeavored to live her life on her own terms. Cultivating the recognition and admiration of popes, statesmen, artists, and writ­ers, Isabella pursued her passion for political intrigues and cultural patronage with exceptional vigor.
Bibliography
J. Cartwright, Isabella d'Este: Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539, 2 vols., 1923.
G. Marek, The Bed and the Throne: The Life of Isabella d'Este, 1976.
Debbie Barrett-Graves

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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