Sing along with the Duchess

A charming moment described by Galeazzo da San Severino (c. 1460-1525) in a letter to Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), in which he recounts a journey in the company of her sister, Beatrice d’Este (1475-97), and Beatrice’s dwarf-jester Dioda, which they whiled away by singing songs together. 

Musical ability was a common feature of a jester’s qualifications, with musicians sometimes being the talent pool from which a jester could emerge.    

Questa matina, che è venerdi, la Duchessa cum tute le sue done e io in compagnia siamo montati a cavalo a xv ore et siamo andati a Cuxago; et per advixare bene la S.V. de tuti li piaceri nostri, la advixo che prima per la via a me me bixognò montarein careta insiema cum la Duchesa et Dioda, et qui cantasemo più de xxv canzone molto bene acordate a tre voce, cioè Dioda tenore et io quando contrabasso et quando soverano, et la Duchessa soverano, facendo tante patìe ch’ormay io credo de havere fato questo guadagno de essere magiore pazo che Dioda. 


This morning I started out on horseback with the Duchess and all her ladies for Cusago, and in order that your Highness may be freely understanding of our amusements, I will tell you that I was required to ride in a carriage with the Duchess and Dioda, and as we rolled along we sang more than twenty-five songs arranged for three voices, that Dioda took the tenor part, and the Duchess the soprano, whilst I sometimes sang bass and sometimes soprano and so many tricks I really think I was more foolish than Dioda.


Source: Letter, 11 February 1491, from Galeazzo da San Severino (c. 1460-1525) to Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), quoted in A. Luzio and R. Renier, ‘Delle relazioni di Isabella d’Este Gonzaga con Ludovico e Beatrice Sforza’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, Ser. II, VII (1890), p. 39.  Translation in Evelyn Welch, ‘Painting as performance in the Italian Renaissance court’, in Campbell, Stephen J. ed., Artists at Court: Image-making and Identity 1300-1550 (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2015), p. 29

Image credit: portrait of Beatrice d’Este, c. 1494-95, detail from the Pala Sforzesca, in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, public domain

Image credit: portrait of Beatrice d'Este, c. 1494-95, detail from the Pala Sforzesca, in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, public domain

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