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Isabella instructs Perugino

Isabella instructs Perugino

The letter below, written January 19, 1503, came after negotiations had already been under way, intermittently at least, for several years.

Our poetic invention, which we greatly desire you to paint, is a battle of Chastity against Lasciviousness, that is, Pallas and Diana fighting manfully against Venus and Cupid. And Pallas should appear almost to have defeated Cupid, having broken the golden arrow and cast his silver bow underfoot, holding him with one hand by the band which the blind one wears over his eyes, and with the other lifting her lance which is poised to wound him. And Diana in conflict with Venus must appear to show herself to be equal with her victory; Venus has been struck by her only on the surface of her body, on her crown and garland, or in some little veil she might have around her; Diana has been burned in her clothing by the torch of Venus, but in no other part will either of them have been wounded. After these four divinities the most chaste nymphs who follow Pallas and Diana, with various poses and gestures as seems pleasing to you, have to fight bitterly with a lusty throng of fauns, satyrs, and thousands of diverse Cupids. And these amori must be smaller than the first, with neither bows of silver or arrow of gold but with some baser material like wood or iron or whatever you think. And to add more expression and ornament to the picture, beside Pallas let there be the olive tree dedicated to her, where her shield with the head of Medusa shall be placed, and with an owl placed in its braches since this is the bird proper to Pallas. Beside Venus shall be the myrtle, as the tree most pleasing to her. But for greater loveliness a commodious landscape is needed, that is a river or the sea, where fauns, satrys, and more cupids can be seen coming to the aid of Amor; some can be observed swimming, others flying or riding on white swans, all coming to join in such a great amorous enterprise. On the shore of this river or sea are Jove with other gods, as the enemy of Chastity, transformed into the bull which carried off the beautiful Europa, and Mercury like an eagle circling his prey flies around a nymph of Pallas called Glaucera, who holds a chest in her arms which bears things sacred to that goddess. And Polyphemus the Cyclops with a single eye is making for Galatea, and Phoebus for Daphne already transformed into a laurel, and Pluto, having seized Proserpina, is bearing her off to this infernal realm, and Neptune has seized a nymph who has been transformed almost entirely into a raven. I am sending you all these details in a small drawing, so that with both the written account and the drawing you will be able to consider my wishes in this matter. But if it appears to you that there are too many figures for one painting, it is left to you to reduce them as seems fitting, as long as nothing is removed from the principal scheme, which is those first four: Pallas, Diana, Venus, and Amor. If no inconvenience occurs I shall consider myself satisfied. You are free to reduce the figures, but do not add anything to them. Please be content with this arrangement.


Translation in Stephen J. Campbell, The Cabinet of Eros: Renaissance Mythological Painting and the Studiolo of Isabella d’Este (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), pp. 172–3.