This is a guest post from Sarah Cockram, author of Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga: Power Sharing at the Italian Renaissance Court
My book Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga: Power Sharing at the Italian Renaissance Court has come out just in time for those wanting to know more about the subject of a new painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. The portrait of Isabella d’Este (marchesa of Mantua, 1474–1539) has just been discovered in a Swiss bank vault, in a story that would not be out of place in a Dan Brown novel.
A sketch of the Italian Renaissance noblewoman by Leonardo da Vinci is well known and can be seen in the Louvre but it was
believed that, despite Isabella’s wishes, the sketch was never worked up into a painted portrait. The new painting, claimed to be by Leonardo and his assistants (although, if so, unusual in being on canvas rather than wood), shows Isabella as an enigmatic figure, and comparisons are already being drawn to the Mona Lisa.
Isabella would certainly have enjoyed the controversy and being linked to the famous artist. Isabella strove to be recognised as the foremost woman of her times. Renowned today as the leading female patron of art in Renaissance Italy, Isabella was also an eminent supporter of music and literature; a trendsetter and fashion icon; and a sharp politician.
As my new book shows, the marchesa worked together with her husband Francesco Gonzaga to keep their state afloat in a turbulent age, and she was not above intrigue and double dealing. She held her own against the Borgias and has aptly been described as ‘Machiavelli in skirts’.
Sarah D.P. Cockram is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Her book casts new light on a long misunderstood relationship and, drawing on largely unpublished archival material, reveals a world of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity; network-building; sexual politics and seduction; court rivalries; Machiavellian intrigues and assassinations.