A fascinating, if laborious, study of a woman who stood--both spiritually and politically--at the vanguard of the Italian Renaissance, the Marchesana of Mantua, Isabella D'Este. This fictionalized autobiography bears the stamp of an author not only steeped in the early 16th century, but imaginative enough to re-create the workings of an extraordinary woman's mind--""a woman at once so simple and so insidious."" Born in Ferrara, Isabella would marry Francesco Gonzaga and spend some 40 years of her life in Mantua, presiding over one of Europe's most famous courts, coddling her lusty husband, raising three sons--one for Mantua, one for the Church, and one for the legions of Emperor Charles V. As Italy became brawling Europe's ""chessboard"" and as alliances between France, Germany, Spain, and the Papal States shifted daily, Isabella charted tiny but strategically placed Mantua's independent course. Borgias and Medicis came and went; a long succession of popes sat on the throne of St. Peter's; Francesco was held prisoner first by Venetians, then by the deadly French disease; and Isabella's beloved son, Federico, proved himself untrue. Still, the Marchesana endured, surrounded by her collection of clocks, and remaining throughout her life the silent but not unintrigued receiver of love letters from the Englishman, Robert de la Pole. Bellonci's canvas is busy and broad, but it contains only one fully-realized character--Isabella. In it, history is a pageant, not a drama, which may disaffect fans of the traditional historical but won't deter those interested in the subject here, one of the great women of the past.