Isabella d'Este was a woman of great intellect and stainless virtue, whose genuine love of art and letters attracted the choicest spirits to their court, and exerted the most beneficial influence on the thought of the day. Isabella, whose vast correspondence with the foremost painters and scholars of the age has been preserved almost intact, was probably the most remarkable lady of the Renaissance.
Her younger sister, Beatrice, Duchess of Milan, as the wife of Lodovico Sforza, reigned during six years over the most splendid court of Italy. The charm of her personality, the important part which she played in political life at a critical moment of Italian history: her love of music and poetry, and the fine taste which she inherited, in common with every princess of the house of Este, all help to make Beatrice singularly attractive, while the interest which she inspires is deepened by the pathos of her sudden and earlv death.
If in Isabella we have the supreme representative of Renaissance culture in its highest and most intellectual phase, Beatrice is the type of that new-found joy in life, that intoxicating rapture in the actual sense of existence, that was the heritage of her generation, and found expression in the words of a contemporary novelist, Matteo Bandello himself of Lombard birth when with his last breath he bade his companions live joyously, “Vivete lieti!”
Thirteen Reasons Why Beatrice d'Este Should Be Your 15th Century Girl Crush
1. Beatrice had a well-earned reputation as the sweetest lady in all of Italy. She was known for her high spirits and love of laughter, and she was “absolutely fearless” in the presence of danger. The contemporary chronicles are filled with evidence of Beatrice’s beauty, and while it’s true that she was blessed with sparkling dark eyes, jet black hair, and a smile that could light up all of Milan, it was her vivacious nature and sweet spirit that made her so beloved: “She was endowed with so rare an intellect, so much grace and affability, and was so remarkable for her generosity and goodness that she may justly be compared with the noblest women of antiquity.”
2. When your older sister is the formidable Isabella d'Este, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that you’re going to spend a large part of your childhood being overshadowed. Despite this, Beatrice was a remarkably well-adjusted child, and after she returned to her family home in Ferrara after a lengthy stint in her grandfather’s kingdom of Naples, she spent her days among the lemon trees of the Schifanoia villa, where she read Provençal poetry from rare volumes, “sumptuously bound in crimson velvet with enameled and jeweled clasps and corners.” It was here that she became familiar with the tale of Rinaldo of Montalbano, the knight who was pelted with roses and made captive by Cupid’s dames. This chanson de geste would later prove to be a rich source of enjoyment for Beatrice, who spent many an hour engaged in playful banter about it in her court in Milan, but for the present, she was content to partake in the water parties at Belriguardo, where she would happily float down the river to the distant sounds of the court violins.
3. This idyllic childhood ended when, after lengthy negotiations and various delays, Beatrice married Ludovico Sforza in 1491. Her wedding gown, sewn with pearls and glittering with jewels, did little to disguise her extreme youth, but her new husband soon found that he had been blessed with the “best and most devoted of companions.” Galeazzo di Sanseverino was not alone when he observed that Beatrice “perseveres in showing Signor Ludovico an affection which is truly beyond all praise, and, to put it briefly, I am satisfied that there is such real attachment between them, that I do not believe two persons could love each other better.”
4. Although Beatrice delighted in the constant round of amusements that made up court life, she hid an iron will beneath her porcelain doll exterior, and when she discovered that her beloved husband had a mistress, her “whole being rose up in arms.” She demanded that Ludovico choose between herself and the rival; deeply impressed by his wife’s spirit, Ludovico had his mistress promptly sent from court. Marital bliss was soon restored, and it was a common sight to see Ludovico, after a long day’s work, seated in his wife’s boudoir as she read aloud from the Divine Comedy.
5. As duchess of Milan, Beatrice was widely renowned as a patron of the arts, and in 1496, Gaspare Visconti presented the duchess with an extraordinarily beautiful book of his sonnets. The volume was bound in silver-gilt boards that had been enameled with flowers, and the poems were written in silver and gold letters on ivory vellum, offset with exquisite miniatures. The only one worthy of such a sumptuous volume was, of course, Beatrice d'Este, and Visconti accordingly dedicated the work to her.
6. But even Beatrice’s munificence paled in comparison to her most celebrated role: 15th-century fashion plate. The chronicles of the time overflow with descriptions of her finery; Once, at a fête in Milan, she appeared to charming advantage with a feather of rubies in her dark hair and a crimson satin robe embroidered with her trademark ribbons. Even her riding attire was splendid, and she would appear on horseback sitting as “straight as if she had been a man,” with her hair hanging down in a long coil, adorned with pearls and silk ribbons. She had riding-habits of rose-tinted cloth, and often wore large jewels in her silk hunting hats, instead of feathers. Her closets were crammed with sumptuous editions of her favorite books, as well as porcelain dishes, crystals, and perfume. At her summer palace in Vigevano, her rooms were filled with 424 dresses. When Beatrice’s mother came to visit her, she remarked that the rich satin and brocade in her daughter’s wardrobe made her feel as if she were “in a sacristy looking at priests’ vestments and altar frontals.”
7. However, it was Beatrice’s jewelry collection that was a constant source of envy to her sister Isabella, who did not have access to such riches back in Mantua. The bodices of Beatrice’s gowns were constantly laden with diamonds, pearls, and rubies, “both in front and behind,” and her jealous sister had to endure dispatches from court that described Beatrice’s pear-shaped pearls as “like your own, only larger.” One can easily imagine Isabella’s indignation when she heard that Beatrice was casually wearing a priceless ruby known as El Spigo as a simple “pendant" attached to a diamond necklace.
8. Beatrice’s youth and high spirits occasionally led her to indulge her playful side in a manner that was not entirely proper for a woman in her position. In letters to Isabella d'Este, Ludovico described Beatrice’s antics with relish. He was always ready to indulge his charming young wife, and he was particularly amused by an incident in which Beatrice and Isabella of Aragon set out in the pouring rain and walked through the streets of Milan with towels on their heads. When women in the street began to shout rude remarks at Beatrice for her impertinent behavior, she "fired up and replied in the same manner, so much so that they almost came to blows.” When Beatrice returned home, Ludovico was startled by her muddy and bedraggled appearance, but she was none the worse for wear. And on one particularly memorable hunting trip, a wounded stag gored Beatrice’s horse, lifting her up into the air “a good lance’s height from the ground.” Her frightened husband rushed to her side, but Beatrice “was not in the least frightened” and laughed merrily about the whole incident.
9. In a letter to Isabella, Ludovico described a typical lark of Beatrice’s where he found her and her ladies dressed in Turkish costumes: “These disguises were invented by my wife, who had all the dresses made in one night! [Isabella of Aragon] could not contain her amazement at seeing my wife sewing with as much vigour and energy as any old woman.” In typical fashion, Beatrice cheerfully informed the shocked Isabella that “whatever she did, whether it were jest or earnest, she liked to throw her whole heart into it and try and do it as well as possible.”
10. Beatrice’s youth, combined with her divine clothes and her delight in elaborate court entertainments, caused many to view her as nothing more than a charming, slightly frivolous girl who was not meant to be taken seriously. But when the French eventually came knocking at Milan’s door, Ludovico panicked, and it was up to his wife to “act like a true Sforza.” Beatrice assembled the nobility of Milan and roused them to defend their city, and it was a surprise to everyone when she coolly took command of the situation. As she stood inspecting the city’s ramparts, “her hair bound in pearled ribbon and her pretty mouth red with specially commissioned Florentine rouge,” her people realized how gravely they’d underestimated the duchess, and it was Beatrice’s cool and level head that ultimately managed to buy her people more time.
11. When Beatrice died in childbirth at the age of 21 in 1497, “everything fell into ruin. [The Milanese] court, which had been a joyous Paradise, became a dark and gloomy Inferno.” The whole realm of Milan was plunged into the blackest hell, and no one was more devastated than her husband, who roused himself from his grief-induced stupor to put pen to paper: “This cruel and premature end has filled me with bitter and indescribable anguish, so much so that I would rather have died myself than lose the dearest and most precious thing that I had in this world…This most cruel event snatches from us one who, by reason of her rare and singular virtues, was dearer to us than our own life. You will understand what our grief is and how difficult it is to bear this irreparable loss with patience and reason.” When the Ferrarese ambassador, Antonio Costabili, arrived in Milan shortly after Beatrice’s death, he found Ludovico lying prostrate on the bed, “more overwhelmed with grief than any one whom I have ever seen.” As Costabili noted with quiet respect, Ludovico lamented his beloved wife “in language so true and natural that it would have moved the very stones to tears.” Overcome by sorrow, Ludovico solemnly declared that he “would never cease praying” that one day he would see Beatrice again, since he had loved her “better than himself.”
12. For all their petty rivalries, Isabella’s own sorrow was great when she learned of her sister’s death. “When I think,” she wrote to her father on the 5th of January, “what a loving, honoured, and only sister I have lost, I am so much oppressed with the burden of this sudden loss, that I know not how I can ever find comfort."
13. In the end, Beatrice’s legacy was perhaps summed up best by the Emperor Maximilian in a Latin epistle written soon after her death: "As for her, although she was one of the few women worthy of perpetual regret and eternal remembrance, this premature death is no true cause of sorrow, and we take comfort in the thought that, since we must all die, they are most blessed who die young and who, having lived happily in their youth, escape the innumerable calamities of this miserable world and the evils of a weary old age. Your most fortunate wife enjoyed all that makes life good; no gift of body and mind, no advantage of beauty or birth, was denied her. She was in every respect worthy to be your wife and to reign over the most flourishing realm in Italy.”
“Pala Sforzesca”: La Vergine col Figlio, quattro Dottori della Chiesa (San Girolamo, Sant'Agostino, Sant'Ambrogio e forse papa Leone Magno) e ai loro piedi la famiglia di Ludovico il Moro (Beatrice d'Este, Massimiliano Sforza e Francesco II Sforza, ancora in fasce)
Beatrice d'Este (29 June 1475 – 3 January 1497), duchess of Bari and later of Milan, was the wife of the Milanese ruler Ludovico Sforza (known as “il Moro”). She was one of the most beautiful and accomplished princesses of the Italian Renaissance. A member of the Este family, she was the younger daughter of Ercole I d'Este and the sister of Isabella d'Este and Alfonso d'Este. Along with her sister, Beatrice was noted for her excellent taste in fashion and for having invented new clothing styles.