Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beatrice d'Este: "Happy by Nature and Very Pleasing"

Beatrice d'Este (born 29 June 1475)


By and large in the posts I'm making this year, I'm focusing on women who do rather than women who simply are--but today I am noting the birth of Beatrice d'Este, the younger sister of Isabella d'Este, whom we've met before.

Beatrice d'Este,
a detail from the
Sforza altarpiece, , 1495
Unlike her elder sister, Beatrice did not live long enough to become a formidable political actor. In 1491, she was married to Ludovico Sforza, then regent of Milan for his nephew Gian Galeazzo, but, by then, equally well on his way to replacing his nephew as duke. (His nephew conveniently died in 1494.)

Beatrice's marriage festivities were designed and directed by Leonardo da Vinci. The fifteen-year-old bride became the center of lavish court life in Milan, noted for her beauty, her fashion, her taste, and her zest for life. An important part of this courtly life were the poets, intellectuals, and artists with whom she associated, including the courtier, diplomat, and writer Baldassare Castiglione, the poet and courtier Niccolò da Correggio, the architect Donato Bramante, and, of course, Leonardo. In her husband's words, she was "lieta di natura et molto piacevolina"--or, as I have translated above, "happy by nature and very pleasing." 

What she might have become, had she lived longer, is glimpsed in 1492, when she acted as an ambassador to Venice on her husband's behalf, and again in 1495, when she attended a peace conference at Vercelli between the French king, Charles VIII, and notable Italian political figures, including her husband. 

But those glimpses are all we have. Beatrice d'Este died in childbirth on 3 January 1497, just twenty-one years old. Her two sons, Massimiliano (b. 1493) and Francesco II (b. 1495) each took a turn in a precarious role of duke of Milan. 

Tomb effigy of Beatrice d'Este
There is only one biography of Beatrice d'Este, Julia Carthwright's 1907 Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Milan, 1475-1497. You can buy this in a variety of print-on-demand reprints, and you can also download a free Kindle version. You will also find it in a variety of formats at Project Gutenberg.