Isabella d’Este (1474–1539), daughter of the Este dukes of Ferrara and wife of Marchese Francesco II Gonzaga of Mantua, co-regent of the Gonzaga state, art collector, musician, diplomat, dynastic mother, traveler, reader, gardener, fashion innovator, and consummate politician, was also, as this volume attests, a prolific letter writer with a highly developed epistolary network. Presented here for the first time in any language is a representative selection from over 16,000 letters sent by Isabella to addressees across a wide social spectrum. Together, they paint a nuanced and colorful portrait of a brilliant and influential female protagonist of early modern European society.
Deanna Shemek’s translation of 830 letters of Isabella d’Este does not disappoint. She has selected letters that demonstrate the variety of Isabella’s interests and document a life that was both long and extraordinarily dramatic. We see the marchioness evolve intellectually, politically and culturally, against the backdrop of a volatile political climate and a rapidly changing diplomatic scene, to become a shrewd political actor and an ever more discerning patron of the arts. Shemek has produced an epistolary voice for her subject that is a welljudged amalgam of dignified formality and colloquial ease. The translation captures just how well the marchioness communicated with a very large cast of correspondents and for a huge range of purposes. This collection provides rare insight into the social, cultural, and political world of the Italian Renaissance — as seen through one powerful woman’s eyes.
Associate Professor of Italian Studies, Monash University