Beatrice d'Este

Beatrice d'Este
Ambrogio de Predis - Portrait of a Woman - WGA18378.jpg
Portrait of Beatrice d'Este by Ambrogio de Predis, 1490
Born 29 June 1475
Ferrara, Italy
Died 3 January 1497(1497-01-03) (aged 21)
Milan, Italy
Noble family House of Este
( m.  1491)
Father Ercole I d'Este
Mother Leonora of Naples

Beatrice d'Este (29 June 1475 – 3 January 1497), was duchess of Bari and Milan by marriage to Ludovico Sforza (known as "il Moro"). She was reputed as one of the most beautiful and accomplished princesses of the Italian Renaissance. A member of the d'Este family, she was the younger daughter of Ercole I d'Este and the sister of Isabella d'Este and Alfonso d'Este.



The Ferrarese house of Este and the Milanese house of Sforza had always been on friendly terms and in 1490, in order to cement an alliance, Ludovico Sforza formally asked Ercole d'Este to give him the hand of his daughter in marriage. Ludovico, who was then duke of Bari and regent to the duke of Milan, had originally requested a betrothal to Isabella, Beatrice's older sister, but because she was already promised to Francesco Gonzaga, Ercole offered him Beatrice instead.[1] Il Moro made no objection to the arrangement and Beatrice was married to him in January 1491.

The official nuptials were to have taken place in 1490 in a double wedding with Beatrice marrying Ludovico and Isabella marrying Francesco at the same time, but the Duke of Bari postponed it more than once.[2] Finally, around a year later, they were wed in a double Sforza-Este wedding: Ludovico married Beatrice, while Beatrice's brother, Alfonso d'Este, married Anna Sforza, the sister of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. Leonardo da Vinci orchestrated the wedding celebration.

Duchess of Milan

Tomb of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d'Este by Cristoforo Solari.

Beatrice had been carefully educated, and availed herself of her position as mistress of one of the most splendid courts of Italy to gather around her learned men, poets and artists, such as Niccolò da Correggio, Bernardo Castiglione, Donato Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others.

Her patronage contributed to a number of buildings, including the Sforza Castle in Milan and Certosa di Pavia.[3]

Detail from the Pala Sforzesca, ca. 1494-1495. Currently in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

The Renaissance-era chronicler Francesco Muralto noted her beauty and love of dancing, further describing her as an "inventor of new clothes".[4]

In 1492 she visited Venice as ambassador for her husband in his political schemes, which consisted chiefly of a desire to be recognized as duke of Milan. On the death of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Ludovico's usurpation was legalized, and after the Battle of Fornovo (1495), both he and his wife took part in the peace congress of Vercelli between Charles VIII of France and the Italian princes, at which Beatrice showed great political ability.

However, her brilliant career was cut short by death through childbirth, on 3 January 1497 at the age of 21. In a letter written hours after her death, Ludovico informed his brother-in-law Francesco Gonzaga that his wife, "gave back her spirit to God" half an hour after midnight. Their child had been born at eleven at night and was a stillborn son.[5]


  • Massimiliano Sforza (25 January 1493 – 4 June 1530), duke of Milan 1512–1515.
  • Francesco II Sforza (4 February 1495 – 24 October 1535), duke of Milan 1521–1535.
  • Stillborn son (3 January 1497).


Beatrice d'Este belonged to the best class of Renaissance women, and was one of the cultural influences of the age; to a great extent, her patronage and good taste are responsible for the splendour of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, the Certosa of Pavia, and many other famous buildings in Lombardy. Her tomb is preserved in the Certosa di Pavia where she is buried beside her husband Ludovico Sforza.

Ritratto di dama

Beatrice d'Este is very often mistaken as the sitter of Ritratto di dama by Ambrogio de Predis at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Investigations between 2010 and 2013 by Martin Kemp/Pascal Cotte [fr] and a German researcher brought to light strong evidence that the true sitter of the painting is not Beatrice d'Este but Anna Sforza.[6] A historically confirmed profile portrait of Beatrice d'Este can be found in the Pala Sforzesca. Another authentic document of Beatrice d'Este's appearance can be found in a bust by Giovanni Cristoforo Romano in the early 1490s.

Literature and Music

  • In The Second Mrs. Giaconda, a novel by E. L. Konigsburg, her dull appearance is crucial. "She's small and dark and perfectly plain", the main character says when he first sees her; when they meet she is "trying to get the sun to make me blond and beautiful"; when she meets Leonardo da Vinci she laments her "plain brown wrapping"; and so on.[7] She overcomes her looks and after death one of her insights becomes a cause of Leonardo's Mona Lisa.[clarification needed "One of her insights becomes a cause"?]
  • In the novel Duchess of Milan author Michael Ennis explores Beatrice d'Este's tenure as Duchess of Bari and eventually as first lady of Milan as well as her friendship and rivalry with Isabella of Aragon.
  • The French composer Reynaldo Hahn evokes her court in his 1905 suite for winds, piano, winds, two harps, and percussion, Le Bal de Béatrice d'Este.





External links

Media related to Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Milan at Wikimedia Commons