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history meme | [2/6] women: isabella d’este

Isabella d’Este (18 May 1474 - 13 February 1539) was Marchesa of Mantua and a major political and cultural figure during the Italian Renaissance.

As a child she developed an interest in classical studies; often discussing this with visiting ambassadors. She could recite Virgil and Terence by heart and was a gifted singer, dancer, and musician. Isabella also collected art and sponsored many philosophers, poets, and painters; her portrait by Leonardo da Vinci is pictured above.

When her husband Francesco Gonzaga was captured in 1509, Isabella took control of Mantua’s army and held off invasion until his release in 1512. Humiliated by his wife’s superior political abilities, Francesco began to resent Isabella and she soon lived independently from him until his death in 1519.

Ruling as a regent for her son Federico, Isabella’s political importance grew - she promoted Mantua to a Duchy, secured a cardinalate for her son Ercole, and showed great political sagacity when negotiating with figures such as Cesare Borgia.

During the sack of Rome, Isabella converted her house into an asylum for refugees, also securing them safe passage when she left Rome. On returning to Mantua, Isabella turned her city into a capital of culture; opening a school for girls and turning her apartments into a museum for rare art. This, however, was not enough to satisfy Isabella’s interest, so she returned to politics and ruled over Solarolo (southeast of Bologna in the region of Romagna) until her death in 1539.


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