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Constructing Isabella d'Este's musical decorum in the visual sphere


  • Most of the work on this study was completed with the help of an AHRC Doctoral Award. I am grateful to a number of scholars who have generously read and commented upon various versions of this study, including Bonnie Blackburn, Lisa Colton, Jeffrey Dean, Flora Dennis, Melanie Marshall, Philip Weller, Peter Wright and the anonymous reviewers. My thanks also to Philip Weller and Gregorio Bevilacqua for checking my translations from Italian and Latin. Translations not otherwise credited are my own.


Over the course of her life as Marchesa of Mantua, Isabella d'Este won fame as a leader in fashion and taste, and as an enthusiastic employer of artists, musicians, poets and scholars. Her motivations in this respect were, inevitably, neither entirely personal nor entirely philanthropic, but served the purpose of presenting to the world an appropriate image of the noblewoman at leisure. In this study I will discuss aspects of her image-making in visual, as well as literary and poetic, spheres that relate directly to Isabella's music patronage, and particularly to her own musicianship. I will characterize the persona thus manifested as a social construction, grounded in and shaped by the realities of its performance.

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