Impresa of Isabella d’Este

When Isabella d’Este first arrived in Mantua, she began having a set of rooms (camerini) built to showcase her books, artworks, and musical instruments, and to provide her with spaces for reflection, contemplation, and intimate music-making. Her first camerini were in the Castel San Giorgio in Mantua, adjacent to the Camera degli Sposi, which is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna. The room Isabella dedicated to the display of paintings was called her studiolo, and the room dedicated to music was the grotta. The grotta features a gilded, barrel-shaped vaulted ceiling, a shape that creates a warm acoustical environment, which is decorated throughout with Isabella’s musical symbol, the impresa di tempi e pause.

impresa di tempi e pause

Her tutor wrote this about her and it gives us an idea of the origin of that impresa:

…the most prudent Isabella d’Este, marchesa of Mantua, with all the rests of musica practica [that is, music as practiced, as opposed to music theory], which admonish and almost aloud say: “at times, hush.” Seneca commanded Lucilius to be slow to speak; Menandro wrote that there is nothing better than silence; and Tullio V exhorted his brother to diligently keep his tongue in check. – Mario Equicola, Libro de natura de amore (ms) (Biblioteca Italiana, 2003), V: 4


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