Songs for Isabella d’Este

Miniature of a young Isabella d’Este


Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, was known in her own time as “First Lady of the World.” She was particularly skillful in using her patronage of the arts to project an image of glamour, sophistication, liberality, and magnanimity. In 1490 she married the military hero, Duke Francesco Gonzaga (1466-1519). The Gonzagas of Mantua were also brilliant in their use of the arts for political advantage. They left behind a legacy of patronage, prosperity, and portraiture: those of Francesco and Isabella, and of their sons Federico (1500-1540), who became the first Duke of Mantua, and Cardinal Ercole (1505-1563), who almost became Pope.

I would like to offer you a gift—not of madrigals and motets, but rather of frottole – in the form of a short film  made last year in Mantua, Italy by Anne MacNeil, entitled Ad tempo taci: Songs for Isabella d’Este. Her goal in making this film was to associate music, performance, architecture, literature, historical research, and what she thinks of as “paper culture”—early printing and manuscripts—in a meaningful way that mimics the fluid, conversational style of Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier. Named for the phrase that Isabella d’Este’s secretary, Mario Equicola, ascribed to her musical symbol, the impresa di tempi e pause (“at times, hush”), the film’s release coincides with Mantua being named the Capitale Italiana della Cultura 2016.

isabella coin 1507 3 pt 9 cm NGA mantua

In Ad tempo taci, you will find the incomparable musicians Marco Beasley and Franco Pavan discussing music and performing frottole by Marco Cara and Bartolomeo Tromboncino in Isabella d’Este’s apartments in the Corte Vecchia of the Ducal Palace. Professor Molly Bourne, Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Renaissance Art at Syracuse University in Florence, offers a guided tour of the art and architecture of various rooms in the Ducal Palace, and Dr. Daniela Ferrari, former Director of the State Archives in Mantua, introduces the historical figure of Isabella d’Este and takes us to the glorious rare books rooms of the Teresiana Library and into the stacks of the Archive. The interiors where we shot the film are generally unavailable to the public, and this is the first time that music has been recorded in Isabella d’Este’s apartments. They hope you will enjoy this offering, join in its conversation, and share it with your students and friends.

Isabella d’Este
The painting appears to be a completed, painted version of a pencil sketch drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in Mantua in the Lombardy region of northern Italy in 1499 The painting, which depicts Isabella d’Este, a Renaissance noblewoman, was found in a private collection of 400 works kept in a Swiss bank by an Italian family who asked not to be identified.

You can look at this film and others on the IDEA website. IDEA (acronym for Isabella d’Este Archive), is a project created by a group of researchers of the University of North Carolina, the University of California, the Archivio di Stato di Milano and the Archivio di Stato di Mantova, in association with many others Institutions.

~ Link to Ad Tempo Taci film:  AD TEMPO TACI, Songs for Isabella d’Este”, a short movie with Marco Beasley, singer and reader, Franco Pavan, lute and with Daniela Ferrari, Director of the Archivio di Stato di Milano and Molly Bourne, Syracuse University in Florence.

~ Info on IDEA at:

~ A link to the very interesting video “The illustrated Credenza” made by Valerie Taylor about a replica of Isabella d’Este’s ‘maiolica istoriata service’ by Nicola d’Urbino:




Ad Tempo Taci | Songs for Isabella d’Este

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