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In cooperation with the

Ministry of Culture in the Republic of Italy (MIC), State Archive of Mantua


The IDEA Letters team dedicates this project to the memory of Daniela Ferrari, Director of the Archivio di Stato di Mantova (1990-2015), whose brilliant leadership, tireless commitment, and constant friendship

made it possible and continue to inspire.


IDEA’s Letters Platform features high-resolution images of over 28,000 letters sent and received by Isabella d'Este. Spanning from her 1490 arrival in Mantua as bride of Francesco II Gonzaga to her death in 1539, the correspondence ranges over topics from government and politics to family life, literature, art patronage and collecting, music and theater, friendships, fashion, travel, health, food, and more. As a collection, the letters offer extraordinary views into Italian Renaissance life from the perspective of one, remarkable female protagonist of the period.

The organization of IDEA Letters reflects that of the Gonzaga Archive within the State Archive of Mantua, where the vast majority of Isabella d'Este's correspondence resides. Letters are filed in boxes ("buste") which contain either letterbooks, into which the Gonzaga chancery copied outgoing correspondence before sending it on its way; or filed originals (actual letters received by Isabella or other members of the Gonzaga court). Isabella's outgoing correspondence thus survives mostly within the letterbooks, while letters she received from others are generally in the form of loose originals. The Archive also holds a number of letters featuring text or signatures in Isabella's own hand; these are filed as autograph letters.

The authoritative print source for this organization is Alessandro Luzio and Pietro Torelli, L'Archivio Gonzaga di Mantova Vol.1 (Ostiglia: Mondadori, 1920). Also indispensable is Anna Maria Lorenzoni, "Contributo allo studio delle fonti isabelliane dell'Archivio di Stato di Mantova," Atti e memorie 47 (1979), 97-135, publsihed by the Accademia Virgiliana di Mantova. Need help in using the Search tools? See alos our our Guide, which is accessible from the menu at left.

Searching and Viewing

The IDEA Letters platform allows both browsing and searching (by archival collocation, by lexical elements found in the body of letter transcriptions, or by sender, recipient, or date where these have been entered by an IDEA user). Please consult our Guide (found within the Letters Project) for help in using the Search tools.


The lexical element (word search) tool searches transcriptions currently available in IDEA. As users add transcriptions, the platform's searchability will increase. Our research team is continuously working to expand the index of senders, recipients, and dates as well as transcriptions. Explorers in IDEA Letters have several options for navigation. Isabella's letterbooks were penned by secretaries in the Gonzaga chancery who copied much of her outgoing correspondence before sending it on its way. The letterbooks are navigable in two ways. Users may page through a book by clicking forward and backward, page by page; or search more systematically by typing in an archival collocation. Note that in the upper-right corner of the letterbook visualization page, you may choose between viewing by letter or by page. Viewing by letter will produce an image in which a particular letter is "illuminated," isolating that single missive on less, or more, than a single page. If you prefer to leaf through the letterbooks without isolating single letters, click on "page" instead of letter. For visual instructions about navigating the platform, see our User Guide.


Letter transcription in IDEA Letters is an ongoing process and new transcriptions are being added on a continuous basis. Registered users are free to try their hand at transcription and to save, revise, or discard their own transcriptions as well as to suggest revisions to existing ones. Transcriptions that have been approved by IDEA's scholarly moderators are marked as "official" and locked.

If you are interested in transcribing within IDEA Letters, even on a trial basis or for practice, you must register for an account. We ask that you also consult the project's Criteria for Transcription.



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