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surpassed only by Correggio who learned it from him.
Perhaps the most imaginative of the Italian painters
of the Cinquecento, he handles religious and secular
themes alike from the romantic standpoint. He is
unequal, and strangely careless as a draughtsman, and

of 1520, " il fratello di Dosso" was working under Raphael in Rome.
D08SO himself seems to have been personally acquainted with Raphael,
who, in March, 1520, wrote to ask him to make his excuses with the
Duke for not having executed the picture he had promised him.
Campori, Notizie incdite di Raffaello da Urbino, pp. 137, 138,


his treatment of the human form is uncertain and
superficial. There is no really beautiful nude figure
in all his work ; even the Circe, in Mr. Benson's
picture, is ungraceful in her pose, and the sleeping
woman in the so-called " Vertumnus and Pomona,""
belonging to Lord Northampton, is lacking in ideality.
But his romantic treatment of landscape, with its play
of light and shadow amidst the quivering foliage of
woods and forests, fascinated his contemporaries even
as it does ourselves. At times, the very trees seem
imbued with a mysterious poetry, as though themselves
impregnated with the fantastic or solemn nature of the
scene over which they watch, taking life almost as in
Rossetti's Song of the Bower, where : —

''The trees wave their heads with an omen to tell."

Among Dosso'*s earliest pictures are the Nymph
and Satyr of the Pitti, formerly attributed to
Giorgione, and, perhaps, Mr. Benson's Circe already
mentioned. The beautiful St. Sebastian, now in the
Brera, was painted for a church in Cremona, possibly
during the artist's residence at Mantua. Mr. Berenson
is, I doubt not, right in regarding as a comparatively
early work of Dosso's the smaller Immaculate Con-
ception at Dresden (usually erroneously called the
" Coronation of the Blessed Virgin," or, no less ques-
tionably, the " Four Church Fathers ") : one of those

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pictures in which, as very frequently with this painter,
" the groups are so arranged that, in looking at the
landscape, one seems to be looking out upon it from
within a cavern." ^ In this beautiful picture, the
golden-haired, white-robed Madonna kneels on the
clouds before the Eternal Father, who is about to
touch her head with the mystical wand, the sceptre of
Ahasuerus. Below in a garden, beyond which is
Dosso's characteristic landscape with its little Italian
town, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose
anticipate the discussion of the mystery, while St.
Anselm, seated apart, actually beholds it with assured
certitude.^ The whole rendering of the theme is far
more poetical than in Dosso''s later treatment of the
subject, the one unsatisfactory passage being the banal
figure of the Eternal Father, who, as Signor Venturi
remarks, has the attitude of a music-master.^ Accord-
ing to Morelli, the gorgeous Circe of the Villa Borghese,
in which the artist's romantic spirit is seen at its zenith,
was probably painted in the second decade of the
sixteenth century. I should be disposed to place it
among the numerous paintings executed by Dosso for
the ducal palace at a later epoch. In any case, while,

1 Berenson, op. cit., p. 33.

2 For the part played by St. Anselm in the iconography of the
Immaculate Conception, cf. above, p. 110.

3 La Qalleria Crespi, p. 35. But I cannot follow him in attri*
butiug the picture to Battista Dossi,


perhaps, lacking the fresh poetry of Mr. Benson''s

example, it far surpasses it in sohdarity of execution,

bearing much the same relation to it as the larger and

later Immaculate Conception at Dresden does to the

smaller picture of the same subject just considered.

One of the most fascinating of Dosso's works, and

probably of comparatively early date, is the huffone,

or jester, at Modena, which may be said, to some

extent, to hold the same position in his art as the

"Monna Lisa" does in Leonardo's. Against a tree

trunk, with an idyllic landscape beyond, a young man

with long dark hair, in red dress and feathered cap, is

cuddling a lamb, and all his face breaks out into a

laugh of perfect delight. It is like the laugh of

Shakespeare in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.

This is no idealised Gonnella,^ the historical buffoon of

an earlier sovereign of Ferrara, but a jester of a poet's

dream, to stand by Feste and Touchstone. A rare

fellow, indeed, doubtless as swift and sententious as the

motley-minded gentleman whom Jacques met in the

Forest of Arden. Gonnella was but " a barren rascal,""

one of " these set kind of fools,*" but Dosso's jester was

I Cf. Leandro Alberti, Descrittione ditutta Italia, f. 312 ; Baruffaldi,
I. pp. 285, 286 ; Bertoni, Buffoni alia Corte di Ferrara (in Jiivista
d'ltalia, vi. fasc. iii-iv). The inscription has been alternatively read
Rs Sic Gienius and Ser Gierius. A young man is likewise cuddling a
lamb in Bernardino Loschi's fresco of Alberto Pio and his Court at
Carpi, and we find a similar motive in Costa's " Triumph of Poetry '*
iu the Louvre.


never met with out of an enchanted forest. Surely, if
we gaze long enough into that background, we shall
discover Rosalind with her Orlando, Phebe timidly
wooed by Silvius. There Amiens will be singing and
Jacques moralising over the wounded deer, while the
banished Duke's merry men " fleet the time carelessly,
as they did in the golden world.""

Generally, Dosso's religious pictures represent little
more than the heroes and heroines of this fantastic
golden world, parading in devotional garb. The St.
Sebastian of the Brera, and the St. William of
Hampton Court, are conceived in the spirit of
Ariosto's Paladins. In the Brera, we see with surprise,
almost with incredulous wonder, that the arrows are
doing their cruel work indeed, and that the Saint is
really suffering mart}Tdom ; one would have expected
him to prove invulnerable, like Orlando in Messer
Lodovico's epic. At Hampton Court, St. William
is laying aside his armour ; but his renunciation scarcely
carries back our thoughts to the canonised Count
of Orange in Dante's Paradiso, but rather to the
gloomy Frederick of Js You Like It, " converted both
from his enterprise and from the world."" It is the
kind of conversion to be effected in Arcadian regions ;
and, while Dosso does not exactly make us question
the genuineness of the religious life that his hero is
going to put on, he lets us feel, with Jacques, that we


s'^iould like to know more about it : " Out of these
convertites there is much matter to be heard and
learned."" In the Holy Family with the Cock in the
same collection (a much later work in which Dosso
was probably assisted by Battista), with its splendid
landscape and once gorgeous colouring now blackened
by restoration, the Madonna wears a magic robe not
milike Circe's, and her whole countenance and bearing
tempt the beholder to believe that the sorceress herself
has taken upon her this sacred disguise for the con-
fusion of the faithful. The fantastic St. John the
Evangelist, in the picture from Sta. Maria in Vado at
Ferrara, records his vision like a court painter about to
sing his patron'*s praises, or, at the best, one of those
young humanists thronging the halls of the Ferrarese
Studio, where the professor "readeth Plato in the
TimaeiLS on feast-days with a very great audience."'' ^
He naturally grew into the old man whom Ariosto'*s
Astolfo met in the Moon, still taking the part of men
of letters in Paradise :—

*' Gil scrittori amo, e fo il debito mio ;
Ch' al vostro mondo fui scrittore anch* io.

» • >> <»

Perhaps the finest of Dosso's altarpieces is the

1 Letter from Ariosto to Aldus Manutius. Cappelli, LetUre di
Lodovico Ariosto, lett, I.

2 " 1 love writers, and so I should, seeing that I, too, was a writer
iu your world " {Orlando /'<tr/o,fo, ixxv. 28).

Aiidiisoii Dosso Dossi



iTo face payt 154


Madonna and Child with St. George and St. Michael,
now in the Gallcria Estense at Modena. This splendid
picture is conceived in a more serious spirit than is
usual with him, the romantic figure of the St. George,
especially, being full of the heroic possibilities and
ideals of Christian chivalry.^ Another work of sin-
gular charm is the Holy Family in the gallery of
the Capitol, a beautiful and unconventional picture,
formerly ascribed to Giorgione, but much damaged by
restoration ; the Blessed Virgin is represented as inter-
rupted in reading the prophecies, by the Child, whom
they concern, leaping up from the arms of St. Joseph
to clasp her neck ; beyond, we see a stormy sky of
clouds over the sea. A fine altarpiece in which
St. Sebastian is the most prominent figure, rather
darkened in colour, with expressive but somewhat
unrefined types, is still in the Duomo of Modena, for
which it was painted for the comuna, an association of
the priests serving the cathedral, in 1522.^ The
St. John Evangelist and St. Bartholomew, now in
the Palazzo Chigi at Rome, was painted in 1527, for
the altar of the della Sala family in the Duomo of
Ferrara ; it is a poetically conceived work, with two

1 The head of the St. George is said to have been repainted by

« Touimasino de' Bianchi, Cronaca Modenese, I. pp. 395, 396 ;
Pietro Cavedoni, DdV altare di Sun Sebaatiano nel Duomo di Modena^
Modeuu, 1858.


splendid portraits introduced of the donor, Pontichino
della Sala, and another of his family/

In 1527, in consequence of the sack of Rome,
Duke Alfonso recovered Modena, which had been
taken from him by Julius II. in 1510; and its
possession was finally assured to the Estensi by the
decision of Charles V., in 1531. Dosso and Battista
were now much employed in producing altarpieces
for Modenese churches. The curiously wooden and
uninspiring picture in the Carmine, of St. Albert
trampling upon the fiend in the form of a woman
clad in a parody of the mystical colours of the three
theological virtues, was painted at the commission of
Gianmaria della Porta, the secretary of the Duke of
Urbino, in 1530 ; but the execution is mainly that of
Dosso's assistants. A far nobler work of 1532, by
Dosso himself, is the larger Immaculate Conception,
painted for the confraternity of the Conception in
Modena, and now at Dresden. The thinner handling
of the upper part of the picture, where the Eternal
Father, the Immaculata, and the Seraphim appear in
the clouds, contrasted with the solid modelling and
rich colour of the four Latin Fathers and the landscape
below, admirably suggests the vision ; but a con-
temporary assures us that the painter's intention was
to give the upper scene an unfinished appearance,

1 BaruffaUli, I. p. 277.


because the doctrine was not yet defined/ The
composition is very similar to the smaller and earlier
picture, but with St. Gregory substituted for St.
Anselm, and St. Bernardino of Siena introduced as
a witness. Duke Alfonso, in order to celebrate his
recovery of the city, was having a chapel built in the
Duomo, dedicated to St. Philip the Deacon, on whose
feast, June 6, he had entered Modena in triumph in
1527; this was completed in July, 1532, and
decorated with frescoes by a local painter, Girolamo
Vinola (some remains of whose work can still be seen),
but it seemed to the citizens hardly worthy of the
occasion.^ The altarpiece, the Nativity now in the
Galleria Estense, in which an Angel brings down from
heaven the ducal crown and sceptre, was executed by
the two Dossi, apparently in the intervals left from
other work, and finished in 1536, two years after
Alfonso's death. Although the composition, and the
group of four figures questionably said to represent

1 Under Saturday, November 23, 1532, Tommasino de' Bianchi
writes : " La tavola de la compagnia de la Conceptione fata per
mane de M^o. Doso, che al presente st^ con la Ex^ia. del Duca de
Ferrara, la quale h belissima, e stata posta al suo altare in Domo
Bpresso la scala che va in Vescov^ a di 20 del present* ... e la
Nostra Dona con Dio Patre non sono finite, perch^ la questione
de la conceptione non h finita, e cossi lui I'ha fatta non tinita."
(Op. cit, IV. p. 114.)

a " La capella dell* Illmo. Bnca de Ferrara e finita de fare in el
Domo de Modena, la quale non e troppo bela." Tommasino de'
Bianchi, op. cit., IV. p. 24. C/. also IV. p. 68.


Alfonso and the new Duke, Ercole II., with two of
their courtiers, may have been designed by Dosso, the
greater part of the picture is unquestionably Battista'*s,
the Madonna with the veil under her chin being his
favourite type, and the Angels and the landscape
entirely in his manner.^

In the same year, 1536, Dosso painted the Find-
ing of Christ in the Temple, for the chapel of the
Madonna della Neve in the Duomo of Faenza, with
the portrait of the donor, Giovanni Battista Bosi,
introduced ; a copy was substituted in the eighteenth
century, and the original has long since disappeared.^

The great altarpiec*e formerly in Sanf Andrea at
Ferrara, for which it was commissioned by Antonio
Costabili, is said to have been left unfinished at
Dosso's death, owing to the malicious interference of
Battista who concealed his brother\s brushes and de-
signs, and to have been completed by Garofalo.^ But

1 Tommasiuo de' Bianchi, op. cit., V. p. 195, writea that the pic-
ture was set up on November 29, 153G, au«l was "fatta de mane
di M^'o . . . fratello de M^o, Dobso eximio depintoie." He says
nothing about the supposed portraits. Cf. Cavedoni, DeW altare di
San Giuseppe nel Duomo di Modeiui, Modena, 1857, and (Jaiupori,
La CappeUa Estenite nel Duomo di Modena. The latter shows that
in the Libro di entrata e speaa of the ducal administration there
are records of payments made for this picture to Dosso in 1534, as
also for a similar picture for another chapel that the I Duke was
founding in the Duomo of Reggio.

2 Cf. Andrea Strocchi, Mevwric istoricke del Duomo di Faenza^
Faenza, 1838, pp. 47-49. 3 Of. Baiutfaldi, I. pp. 287, 288.


no traces of the latter's hand can be discerned in it.
It is, perhaps, the most sumptuous altarpiece of the
sixteenth century, and, even in its present ruined state,
though lacking the charm of the painter's earlier work,
is almost overwhelming in its effect of splendour.
The St. Cosmas and St. Damian in the Villa
Borghesc, formerly in the Spedale di Santa Anna at
Ferrara — two physicians in consultation over a sick
man, with a robust woman, full of vitality, looking out
of the canvas — is usually accepted as one of Dosso's
latest works; the colour is striking, especially the
effect of the coppery green of the woman's dress on the
rosy flesh of her shoulders; but it is not otherwise

According to Vasari, the two Dossi were invited to
Pesaro by the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della
Rovere, to join with Girolamo Genga, Angelo Bronzino,
and others, in the decoration of the villa (now be-
longing to Principe Albani) on Monte Imperiale
outside the city. He tells us that the Ferrarese
brothers began by blaming the other painters, and
ended by acquitting themselves so badly that the Duke
had all their work destroyed, and replaced by com-
positions by Girolamo Genga. Nevertheless, the hands

1 It has also beea attributed to Sebastiano Filippi. The theory
(Morelli, op. cU., I. pp. 215, 216) that the letters on the medicine
pot represent Dosso's signature, in punning fashion, is somewhat


of the two Dossi can still be recognised in the frescoes
of the Sala delle Cariatidi, where, in an extensive
landscape panorama, figures of nymphs or dryads
support the vaulting of the room. A series of ceiling
paintings, representing the Coronation of Charles V.,
and episodes in the life of the Duke of Urbino, was
perhaps designed by Dosso and executed by Girolamo
da Carpi/ These works seem to have been painted
about 1531, or shortly afterwards. Between 1532
and 1534, the two Dossi worked for the prince-bishop
of Trent, Cardinal Bernardo Clesio, in his Castello del
Buon Consiglio, where some remains of their frescoes
still exist, including one by Dosso himself, representing
the Cardinal with his patron Saint before the Blessed

Most of the decorative work executed by Dosso and
Battista for the various ducal palaces in Ferrara has
perished, and very few of the pictures recorded in the
administration of the Camera Ducale can now be
identified. It was probably for some palace chamber
of Duke Alfonso that Dosso himself painted the larger
Circe and the " Pomona and Vertunmus,"' already
mentioned, as also the Apollo of the Villa Borghese,
a work that would be as splendid in colour as the

1 Cf. Henry Thode, Bit Villa Monte Imperiale hci Pcsaro ; G ruy er,
II. pp. 272-275 ; Giulio Vaccaj, Fesaro, Bergamo, 1909, pp. 62-68.

2 Cf. Gruyer, II. pp. 275, 276.

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others but for the varnish, and is as romantic in
treatment. The god of song, laurel-crowned, is seated
in an autumnal landscape, playing the violin in an
erotic frenzy, while, far away, the white-robed Daphne
becomes a laurel. The very trees seem to have caught
the hopeless passion of a god, who strikes the last
note of his music before the storm, which is already
breaking over the little town in the background : —

" For \o, the thunder Imshing all the grove.
And did Love live, not even Love could sing."

Some details of the decorations of a hall, probably
in the Castello Vecchio, are preserved in the pictures
at Dresden. They are late works, executed under
Ercole IL, in which Dosso was assisted not only by
Battista, but by various pupils and apprentices, among
whom was Girolamo da Carpi. The St. Michael
and the St. George, apparently from the designs of
Raphael, several of which had been for many years
in Ferrara, were painted in 1539 or 1540; the
former is entirely from Dosso's hand, and translates
RaphaePs Roman style into romantic Ferrarese.^ In

1 I take it that these are the " quadii grandi de 8*°. Michiele
c de Sto. Zorzo" specified in Venturi, ojj. cit., doc. 241 (March 13,
1510). Morelli regarded the St. George as a much earlier work of
Dosso, while Mr. Berensoii ascribes it to Girolamo da Carpi. Tho
Dukes of Ferarra possessed several of the cartoons for Raphael's
pictures, but that of St. George is not mentioned among them.
Id tending the cartoon of the St. Michael to Duke Alfonso, in



the allegorical figures of the Virtues, there is less of
Dosso''s own work, save, perhaps, in that of the Justice.^
Remains of another decorative scheme, in large part
by Dosso himself, survives in the Galleria Estense
at Modena, in the diamond-shaped panels with groups
of half figures of men and women, the subjects of
which cannot now be distinguished.

Vasari speaks with high praise of a Bacchanalian revel
painted by Dosso for Alfonso, in a room of the Castello
Vecchio where the similar pictures by Giambellino and
Titian hung.^ Three small Bacchanals are still shown
on the wall of a cabinet in the Castello, representing
the Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne, the Vintage,
and the Triumph of Bacchus, respectively, of which
the first and third are generally attributed to Dosso.
It seems, however, that this cabinet was constructed
after the fire of 1554, which would make the attribu-
tion to Dosso impossible, unless they were transported
from another part of the palace, of which, owing to
the way in which they are framed into the wall, it is
1518, Kaphael had particularly asked the Duke "not to have it
coloured, since the King of France has had it coloured by his
hand." (Letter from Beltrando Costabili, September 21, 1518, in
Campori, Notizie inedite dl Raffaello da Urhino, p. 120).

1 Battiata Dossi painted "uno quadro de una Justitia," for the
Corte Vecchia, in 1544 (Venturi, op. cit., doc. 333).

a " Una Baccanaria d'uomini tanto buona, che, quando non avesse
mai fatto altro, per questa merita lode e nome di pittore eccellente'
( VI. p. 474), It does not seem that this is the Bamhoceiata no^ in the


impossible to judge.^ The Triumph of Bacchus is
precisely the same composition that Garofalo painted
on a large scale in the picture now at Dresden,
which Vasari declares to have been from a design of
Raphael, and the attribution to Dosso of any of
these three works seems, from every point of view,

There is documentary evidence that Dosso and
Battista, with their assistants, were painting in the
Torre di Santa Caterina in the Castello in 1536.^
Three large halls, in this and the adjoining tower, have
ceilings covered with frescoes which are at least of their
school. Those in the Sala de' Giganti (or Sala del
Consiglio), representing the athletic sports of the an-
cients, are too coarsely painted to be attributed to
Dosso. In the Sala di Napoli, the central scene, with
the Dance of the Hours, may well be from his hand.
In the third, the Sala delP Aurora, we see an allegory
of Time in the centre, and round beneath it the four
divisions of the day. Dawn, Noon, Evening, and Night.
This ceiling, though by no means among his best
creations, was probably entirely Dosso's in design, and,
to some extent, his in execution.^ Below, running all
round, is a lovely frieze of putti driving little chariots

1 Cf. Cittadella, 11 Castello di Ferrara, pp. 46 et seq.

2 Venturi, op. cit., docs. 177, 178.

3 Cf. Cittadella, op. cit.f pp. 42-15 ; Ella ^Noyes, 27ie Story of
Perrara, pp. 290-'J94.


to which all manner of strange beasts and birds are

A tiny room in the Corte Vecchia, the older palace
of the Estensi, probably the so-called "camerino
adorato " or *' gilded cabinet,"" is covered with paintings
on panel with a gold background. These are attributed
to Dosso's pupil, Camillo Filippi, and the latters son,
Bastianino ; ^ but the hand of Dosso himself is universally
recognised in the beautiful figure of Apollo over a
window, and may, I think, be traced elsewhere, as in the
similar figure representing Ceres, or Fertihty, on the

left wall.

Dosso was employed on several occasions to paint
the scenery for the comedies, performed before the
Duke and his court, in the sala grande of the Corte
Vecchia.'^ In this he was closely associated with
Ariosto, who, in the later years of his life, was the
chief oriraniser of such entertainments. Under the
poet's direction, a permanent stage was erected in
imitation of the supposed fashion of the ancients, with
a fixed scene, probably by Dosso himself, which seems
to have represented an ideal city of the epoch. This
scene was used for the performance of the Captivi of
Plautus and the Cassaria of Ariosto in the carnival of

1 Of. Cittadella, op. cit.t p. 11.

2 e.g., in February, 1526, and February, 1528, Venturi, op. eit.,
docs. 62 and 121.


1531, and Giroldmo da Sestula wrote of it to Isabella
d'Este : ** The scene is so beautiful that it makes
everything appear beautiful."*' ^ It was destroyed by
fire in the night of December 31, 1532, causing such
distress to the poet that he never recovered from the
illness that ensued.

We have lost many portraits from Dosso's hand, such
as those of the two daughters of the dispossessed Queen
of Naples, painted in 1524;^ two of the hereditary
prince, afterwards Ercole II., of 1 527 ; and one of his son,
the little Don Alfonso, afterwards Alfonso II., painted in
1540.^ The posthumous portrait of Duke Ercole I. at
Modena, a fine reconstruction of a noble personality, pro-
bably from contemporary materials, was executed in
1524.* Thatof Alfonso I. in the Uffizi, probably after the
lost original of Titian, was ascribed to Dosso by Morelli,
but is now given by Mr. Berenson to Girolamo da
Carpi. The portrait of the Venetian admiral, Giovanni
Moro, at Berlin, is a masterpiece. At Dresden, the
much damaged portrait of a scholar, once known as
" Correggio's physician," was tentatively assigned to

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Online LibraryEdmund Garratt GardnerThe painters of the school of Ferrara → online text (page 10 of 15)