Mantegna complains to Lodovico Gonzaga
Mantegna was noted for a somewhat prickly personality, and his querulous letter, coming after almost twenty years of service, should be taken with a grain of salt. The marquis’ response was polite and measured.
Your Excellency: you remember how you sent Lucca Tagliapietra to me with letters of credence when I was in Padua in 1458; the said Luca declared many things to me by word of mouth on Your Excellency’s behalf: principally how much you desired to have certain works by my hand and how well disposed Your Excellency was towards me, suggesting that if I was not satisfied with the terms you offered me that I should say so, and making many other generous offers. Wherefore in spite of the many persuasions of others to the contrary, I decided wholeheartedly to enter the service of Your Excellency, with the intention of so working that you could boast of having what no other Lord of Italy has: thus I did. But because it can be seen from the letters Your Excellency wrote to me containing such generous promises that if I bore myself in the manner of which Your Excellency was confident, you would make sure that the initial terms would be the least of the rewards I should receive from you, I have been in great hope, increasing all the time I have served Your Excellency, which is nearly nineteen years. And seeing the great remuneration of property, houses and other assets which have been lavished on your servants, I meanwhile still wait deservingly and neglected; it is five years since your Lordship promised to pay me with that property, which I do not reckon a good sign. I hoped that in that time your Excellency would have paid me with the said possession, that is the 800 ducats, and would have helped me further to pay the 600 ducats, as Your Excellency promised; and I still had hope that you would help me build the house as was promised. I find my affairs much more burdensome than I did when I came to settle with Your Excellency, with sons and daughters, one of whom I have to provide for in marriage, and seeing myself grow older every day, and thus is the state of my affairs…. Regarding the offers of Your Excellency and in the opinion of many in Italy, it appears that I swim in milk [i.e., am in milk and honey] under the shadow of your Serenity, to whom I humbly recommend myself.
Mantua, 13 May 1478
From your most dedicated servant
Translation in David S. Chambers, Patrons and Artists in the Italian Renaissance (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), pp. 119–20.