Edmund Garratt Gardner.

The painters of the school of Ferrara online

. (page 2 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

may have aseibted riaanollo in the frescoes in Sant' Auastasia at


schools of Renaissance painting. Such a master arose
in the person of Cosimo Tura.

Vasari represents a certain Galasso as the master of
Cosimo Tura and the true founder of the Ferrarese
school. In his first edition, he says that the sight of
the honour and remuneration won by Piero de**
Franceschi in Ferrara inspired Galasso to devote
himself to painting, with such zeal that "he gained
the reputation of a good and excellent master,"" and
that he went to Venice and brought back thence the
practice of painting in oils ; but, in his second edition,
he makes this Galasso an earlier and less significant
artist, who worked with Cristoforo and the Bolognese
at Mezzaratta in 1404/ It seems probable, as
Morelli first suggested, that two different artistic
personalities are confused under the name of Galasso :
an earlier painter, who may be the author of the
Trinita, signed with a double G, in the pinacoteca at
Ferrara, and the Adoration of the Magi, with a
similar signature, belonging to Mr. Stogdon at Harrow ;
and Galasso di Matteo Piva, who worked for the
Ferrarese court from 1449 to 1453." The latter

1 rite, ed. cit, II. pp. 140-112, III. pp. 89-92.

2 Cf. Campori, op. cit.., pp. 545, 546. Various other pictures exist
■with the apparent signature of the interlaced G's. The cynical
Btory concerning Galasso, in Ariosto's Satire to Annibale Malaguzzi,
is well known (but the painter's name is not given in the earlier


afterwards went to Bologna, where, shortly before
1455, he painted for Cardinal Bessarion, then legate,
a picture of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, in
San Giovanni in Monte, with a life-like portrait of
the Cardinal introduced. The painting no longer
exists ; but the contemporary chronicler of Bologna,
the Dominican friar, Girolamo Borselli, writing under
1455, describes the author of it as Galasms Fer-
rariensis ingeniosus juvenis} He is said to have died
before April 25, 1473.^ In the unsigned Pieta with
Franciscan nuns and friars, attributed to him at
Ferrara (a much restored, but still impressive picture,
in spite of the repellent types of the chief figures, and
the grimace which stands for religious emotion on the
faces of the Saints), there is manifest a certain in-
congruous blending of a purely primitive style with an
anticipation of the uncouth vigour of the succeeding
Ferrarese masters. The painter is evidently treading
in the same path as Cosimo Tura, but without a trace
of Tura's genius, and probably without the advantage
of his Paduan training.

Contemporaneous with Galasso di Matteo Piva, was
Michele Ongaro, a Hungarian by birth, who worked in

1 Annales £ono)iienscs Fratris Hieronyml de Bursdlis {Rer. It.
Script, xxiii), col. 888.

2 That is, if the •' Andreas de Galassio filius quondam Magistri
Galasaii civis ferrariensis," in a document of that date, h his son
(Cittadello, Kotizir relative a Ferrara, p. 57^).


Fcrrara during the forties and fifties of the century,
and who is mentioned as dead in a document of
July 28, 1464/ In an allegorical picture representing
Ceres, at Buda Pesth, signed Michele Payinonio, ap-
parently painted for Borso, he seems, like Galasso, a
painter striving, also with weaker powers, to tread in
the path that Tura was to make his own. Several
works of the same kind, evidently belonging to the
Ferrarese school of the middle of the Quattrocento, are
tentatively attributed to him. We may find traces of
the same artistic spirit in the few extant, paintings of
Suor Caterina Vigri, better known as St. Catherine of
Bologna (where she died in 1463); a noble and
inspired woman, who is more significant in the annals
of mysticism than in the history of art.

1 Cf. Gruyer, II. pp. 37. 38.



CosiMO, or Cosme, Tura, who has been called the
Mantegna of the Ferrarese school, was the son of
Domenico di Tura, a shoemaker, and was born in 14S9
or 1430/ Nothing is known of his early training.
We first hear of him in 1451, as working in Ferrara
with Bono and Galasso.^ The vast expenses incurred
by Borso in connection with his elevation by the
Emperor to the rank of Duke of Modena and Reggio,
in 1452, had probably exhausted his exchequer, and
compelled him for some years to restrict his patronage
of art. There was consequently a migration of
Ferrarese painters to other cities. Bono went to
Padua, Galasso to Bologna, and, after some un-
important commissions from the Duke, Tura, between
1453 and 1456, seems to have followed Bono to

At Padua the greatest of the realists, Donatello, had

1 Of, Venturi, in Arch. Sior. dell 'Arlc, VII, (1891), pp. 62. 53, for
document showing that he was au infant in 1431.

2 Venturi, J prlmonU. p. 61 i. Cf. Campori, o/). cit., doc. 11,


but lately completed his mighty statue of Gattamelata
and his monumental works in Sanf Antonio ; the school
of Squarcione, with its passion for antique sculpture
and its archaeological enthusiasm finding vent in rich
decorative details, was at its zenith ; Mantegna and
his colleagues were just beginning the frescoes of the
Eremitani. To the young painter from Ferrara,
Donatello must have come as a revelation of the
meaning and the possibilities of art. In the severe
training of Squarcione's school, with its founder's
collection of treasures from the antique world, he found
what he needed for the complete expression of his own
personal bent in painting. He may possibly have
taken some part in the minor decorations of the chapel
in the Eremitani, where the figure of one of the four
doctors of the Church, the St. Augustine, has been
tentatively ascribed to him.^ There is reason to think
that he made some stay in Venice as well, for, in after
years, he left a portion of his goods to the poor of that
city ; but Venetian influence has left no trace in his
work. It is not necessary to suppose that the two
pictures now at Venice — the richly coloured Pieta in
the Museo Civico (in which the ape, so common in
Ferrarese painting, is seen climbing a fruit-tree), and
the Madonna with the sleeping Child in the Accademia
— were painted at this time. But, indeed, there is
1 Cf. Venturi, in V ArU (1908), r- 422.


little progression to be traced in Tura's art. Fusing
the inspiration caught from Donatello's sculptures, and
the severe, would-be classical teaching of Squarcione,
with the native robust and vigorous temper of the
^ Ferrarese people, not untouched by the influence of
Mantegna's own earliest works, Tura formed for himself
a style, lacking in charm and grace, with little appeal
to merely sensuous pleasure, but original, austere, and
strenuously virile.

Mr. Berenson has finely noticed the strangeness
of the destiny by which both Raphael and Correggio
must be numbered among Tura's artistic descendants : —

"Nothing could be more opposed to the noble
grace of the one, or the ecstatic sensuousness of the
other, than the style of their Patriarch. His figures
are of flint, as haughty and immobile as Pharaohs, or
as convulsed with suppressed energy as the gnarled
knots in the olive tree. Their faces are seldom lit up
with tenderness, and their smiles are apt to turn into
archaic grimaces. Their claw-like hands express the
manner of their contact. Tura's architecture is piled
up and barocque, not as architecture frequently is in
painters of the earlier Renaissance, but almost as in
the proud palaces built for the Modes and Persians.
His landscapes are of a world which has these many
ages seen no flower or green leaf, for there is no earth,
no mould, no sod, onlv the inliospitable rock every-

» •
• ••

».• •

» • • * •

' »' » »



National (iallcry

Id ft ICC inigt 18


where. He seldom finds place even for the dry
cornel tree which other artists, trained at Padua, loved
to paint." ^

Only the supreme genius of a Mantegna could give
life to a world peopled with creations like these ; and
Tura, with all his high artistic gifts and real artistic
feeling, was a lesser man.

Tura returned to Ferrara in 1456, and, in the
following year, was appointed painter to the court in
succession to Angelo da Siena. In 1458, he painted
a Nativity for the Duomo, which is lost. To ap-
proximately the same date belongs his St. Jerome,
now in the National Gallery, for the Duke's new
foundation, the Certosa of San Cristoforo. Borso
himself cared less for art than his brother and pre-
decessor, Leonello, had done, and regarded it as little
more than a useful adjunct to the pomp and parade
with which he loved to dazzle his subjects and impress
the rest of Italy with his own magnificence. He at
first employed Tura mainly in preparing designs for
tapestries, in ephemeral decorations for court festivities,
in painting pennons, bards and trappings for horses,
ornamenting cloths and armour for use at state tourna-
ments. And, indeed, throughout tlie history of

1 Xortk Italian Painters of the Rcnaiisance^ p. 56. But there are
exceptions in his work ; we have th^ soa-bhore in his St. Anthony afc
JfocIenR, and a pleasant city and cnnal scene in the background of his
imaller AUdonnft iu th« Natioual Qalltrj.


Ferrarese art, we find this a recognised part of the
work of even the greatest painters. Between 1465
and 1467, Tiira was at Mirandola, working for Gian
Francesco Pico, Count of Concordia (the father of the
famous scholar and mystic), whose library he decorated
with panels representing Poetry, the seated figure of a
woman with her face visible beneath a transparent
flame-coloured veil, surrounded by smaller figures of
Orpheus, the Muses, and the chief poets of antiquity.
Like so many other great decorative schemes carried
out by Ferrarese painters, these works have perished.
They are described at length by Lilius Gregorius
Giraldus, in the dialogues on the history of the poets,
which he represents as having been held in 1503
between himself, the younger Gian Francesco Pico
(the Count's grandson), and the humanist Piso — the
latter declaring that he had seen other paintings by
Cosme in which he was thought almost to rival those
of antiquity.^
N^ In the latter part of 1467, furious dissensions

having broken out in the Pico family after Gian
Francesco's death, the painter left Mirandola and
returned to Ferrara, where he was henceforth con-
tinuously engaged for the rest of his life. Commissions
poured in upon him, and the few pictures from his

1 Zilii Qregorii Gyraldi Ferrariensis Hhtoriae Poeiayum, Dial, I,
Opera (Bn?le, 15S0), TT. pp. 2, 3.


hand that have come down to us, mostly small in size
and somewhat monotonous in subject, represent but a
comparatively insignificant part of his achievement.

We find him in 1468 painting frescoes for the
Sacrati family in San Domenico, which, together with
the Annunciation and the St. George slaying the
Dragon, panels of large size executed in the following
year for the organ-shutters of the Duomo (where they
now hang in the choir), are the only works of his that
Vasari seems to have known.^ In 1469, he undertook
with the assistance of two pupils to decorate Borso's
chapel in Belriguardo, one of the Estensian palaces a
few miles outside the city : " to paint the chapel of
Belriguardo in oil with the subjects that shall most
please his Excellence "" ; the whole work to be finished
within five years. The Duke sent him to Venice for
gold and colours, and also to Brescia to study the
chapel recently decorated by Gentile da Fabriano in
the Broletto of that city.^ These paintings, with
Belriguardo itself, have perished ; they were completed
in 1472 for Borso's successor. On Borso's death in
August, 1471, four months after he had obtained the
longed-for title of Duke of Ferrara from Pope Paul II,
Tura was engaged in the decorations for the funeral in

1 Vite, III. p. 92.

2 The whole agreement in Venturi, Cosma Tura genannt Oosmi
{Jahrhuch der Tcoiiiglich prenssiichoi Kunstsainmlungen, IX.),
pp. 13-16.


the Certosa, and painted the catafalque, over which the
Bishop of Adria preached the funeral oration, while
the new duke, Ercole L, and his courtiers stood around,
and the mercenary soldiers kept the doors of the
church and lined the way from the palace, for fear
of an attempted coup cTetat on the part of the rival
claimant to the throne, Leonello^s banished son Niccolo.^
Under Ercole, Tura still kept his place as chief court
painter until a few years before his death. In this
capacity one of his chief functions was painting por-
traits of members of the ruling family — portraits which
the etiquette of court life demanded should be
presented, or exchanged, on occasions of betrothals
and the like. When the Duke was about to marry
Leonora of Aragon, the daughter of the King of
Niples, we have the curious record, among the court
expenses of 1472, of payment " for two heads designed
and coloured by the hand of the painter Cosme, one of
the most illustrious Duke our Lord, the other of
Madama Lucrezia, daughter of his Excellence, the
which heads were sent to Naples to the most illustrious
Duchess, Madama Eleonora, consort of our foresaid
Lord."*'^ ITiis Lucrezia was the illegitimate daughter
of Ercole, by a certain Lodovica Cantelmieri, or

1 Of. Dulcca and Poets in Firrara, pp. 118-121.

2 Venturi, Varte ferraresf nd periodo d^£reolt I d*£at(\ H
p. 356n.


Condolmieri, and it is a strange reflection on the moral
sense of the epoch that the Duke should have thought
her portrait, as well as his own, a suitable present for
his future wife. The marriage was celebrated at Ferrara,
early in July, 1473, with extraordinary pomp and
ceremony. Tura had designed the nuptial bed, with
its coverings and canopy, which French and Flemish
embroiderers interwove in wool and silk on a white
field. For the same occasion he designed a sers'ice
of silver plate, which was executed by Giorgio Alle-
gretto da Ragusa, a \'enetian goldsmith, and which
seemed to Lodovico Sforza to have such " una dignita
a vederli cosi belli et ben lavorati '"* that he afterwards
importuned Ercole for the design.^ In 1475, Tura
painted an ancona for the Duke's private room, with
small figures against a gold background, of which the
central panel, the little Madonna with the Child in her
arms, is now at Bergamo, and one of the side wings, a
beautiful and nobly modelled figure of a Dominican
friar in prayer, is in the Ufllzi.^ In 1477, the baby
son of Ercole and Leonora (" il no.stro dolcissimo
puttino,'' as the proud father calls him), Alfonso, not
yet a year old, was betrothed to Anna Sforza, the
sister of the young Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo, a

1 Venturi, op. cit, II. pp. 355-358.

2 C/. Campori, op. cit., doc. 15. The St. Antliony of Padua in
the Louvre, and tho Saints Sebabtian and Christopher at Perlin. a'so
foiiued pHii of tUi? picture.


little girl of two, and Tura had to paint the portrait
of the baby bridegroom to give to the ambassadors of
the Duchess Bona, the regent of Milan. A little later,
we find him painting seven nude figures of women,
possibly allegorical figures of the seven virtues, for
Ercole's study/ He painted Lucrezia's portrait again
in 1479, as a gift from Ercole to Giovanni Bentivoglio,
the ruler of Bologna, to whose eldest son, Annibale, she
was married a few years later. He likewise painted the
portraits of the Duke's two legitimate daughters, Isabella
and Beatrice, who were married to the Marquis of
Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga, and Lodovico Sforza, titular
Duke of Bari and afterwards Duke of Milan, in
February, 1490, and January, 1491, respectively.

Tura was closely in touch with the humanists in
Ferrara. Lodovico Bigo Pittori, a disciple of Battista
Guarin', who won renown first as a poet and then as a
preacher, but whose conversion was said to have spoiled
his art," addressed an epigram to him, rallying him on
his reiterated professions of friendship which were unac-
companied with deeds, and composed an inscription for
one of his altarpieces.^ Tito Strozzi, the first Latin

» Venturi, op. cit., 11. p. 363n.

2 Of. L. G. Gyra'dus, Be Poetis NoUrorum Temporum, Opera, ed.
c'it., II. p. 389.

3 Lodovici Bigi Piclorii Ferrariensit poclae Tumult uariorum
carmina (Modena, 1492): "Imago Virginis exoitantis Filium"
(Lib. TIT.) ; "Ad Cosmum " (Lib. IV.).


poet of the age and one of the most influential servants
of the court, whom the people " hated worse than the
devil '^ for his extortions, sat to him for his portrait,
and sent him a poem in elegiacs concerning another
portrait of his, representing one of the fickle beauties
of the city/ It is a grievous loss to the lover of art
and the student of Ferrarese history alike that, with
the solitary exception of the figure of Lorenzo Roverella
(to be mentioned presently), no authentic portrait from
Tura's hand has yet been discovered.

The two most important extant works by Tura are
altarpieces which were probably executed in the earlier
years of Ercole's reign. In both we find in a marked
degree the painter's chief characteristics : his vigorous
but unlovely types, with their curious clawing fingers
and over-emphasised knuckles ; his drapery with strongly
marked folds like bent sheets of beaten metal ; his
peculiarly rich, yet somewhat inharmonious and not
entirely pleasing colouring. In both, too, we notice
the composition that became traditional in Ferrarese
art down to the pupils of Lorenzo Costa : the open
space in the pedestal of the Blessed Virgin's throne,
through which we catch a glimpse of the landscape
beyond, in the Berlin picture, or gaze out into the
unbroken expanse of pure sky, in the National Gallery
example. In both, the decorations of the throne con-

i Strozii jpoetae ]pat€r et Jilius (Venice, 1513), p. 66.


nect religion with classical mythology in the spirit of
the early Renaissance, and the inscriptions in Hebrew
remind us of Duke Ercole's broad-minded protection
of the Jews in his dominions — a course which he
abandoned later under the influence of Savonarola/

It is not possible to decide the exact date of
the Berlin picture, which was painted for the church
of San Lazzaro outside the walls of Ferrara. It shows
Tura's usual Madonna with the sleeping Child across
her lap, enthroned between St. Apollonia and St.
Catherine of Alexandria (the latter an unusually
beautiful type) on a richly ornamented tabernacle, with
St. Lazzarus (as bishop of Marseilles) and St. Jerome
below. The throne is adorned with painted basreliefs,
tliree scriptural scenes with below them the labours of
Hercules, clearly intended as a compliment to the Duke,
while two prophets are seen in the spandrils above.^

The picture in the National Gallery is the central
panel of an altarpiece painted for I^orcnzo Rovorella,
the bishop of Ferrara, for the chapel of his family in
San Giorgio (which, until the eleventh century, was the
cathedral), some time before 1475.^ Our Lady is

1 Cf. Dukes and Poets in Ferrara, pp. 162, 15?., 325.

2 Cf. Bode, La Rcnaistance au Musie de Brrlin, in the Gazette (hi
Beaux-Art.^, (1889), pp. 116. 117.

^ Cf. Venturi, in Arch. Utor. ddVArte, VII. pp. 90-93 ; Barotri,
Scrie de' Vesmvi ed Arcivcacovi di Ferrara (Ferraru, 1781), pp. 91-9C.
Lui'eiizo RoVerella died iu 1474.

1,. 5 » »




To fuce paije 36


enthroned with the Divine Child sleeping against her
arm. The throne is decorated with bronze figures of
the Evangelists and winged genii under an elaborately
ornamented arch. The rich yet quaint combination
of hues in the robes of the six angelic musicians is a
delight to the eye, in spite of an unpleasing green
that pervades the whole scheme of colour. The deep
blue of heaven is above and below ; and, notwith-
standing the austere ugliness of the types, the effect
is singularly impressive and unearthly, as of a vision,
seen on the ramparts of God's house, of the throne set
up on some temple pinnacle in sheer ether. The
right wing of the picture, now in the Colonna palace
at Rome, shows Roverella himself kneeling^ (an
admirable piece of realistic portraiture), under the
patronage of St. Maurelius and St. Paul — the former
a typical Italian prelate of the epoch. The left wing
is lost. The whole was crowned by the Pieta, now in

1 For this picture, Lodovico Bigo Pittori wrote the following
distich {Tumultuariorum carminnm Liber tertius) :

Imago Virginis excitantis Filium;

Surge, puer. Rovorella fores gens pulsat. Apertum
Redde aditum. Pulsa, lex ait : intus eris.

According to Baruffaldi, I. pp. 77-80, a slightly modified version of
these lines was legible in his days on the base of the organ in the
central panel ; but, if so, they must have i^ince been obliterated, n-<
Ihey are invirtible in the picture as it hangs iu the National Gallery


the Louvre, in which the same pecuhar green is
observable as in the National Gallery panel, and a
slight tendency to exaggerate facial expression so as to
border upon mere grimace.

Another ancona of Tura's, formerly over the altar of
St. Maurelius in San Giorgio and now likewise dis-
persed, was composed of five to}uJi, representing the
trial and martyrdom of the Saint, the Adoration of
the Magi, the Circumcision, and the Flight into Egypt.
The first two are in the pinacoteca of Ferrara ; the
Flight into Egypt is in the possession of Mr. Benson ;
while the remaining two, first identified by Signor
A'enturi in private collections in Rome,^ have since
crossed the Atlantic. In the Adoration of the Magi,
the golden-haired Madonna has far more ideal charm
and grace than we find in any other of Tura's

From the Santini collection at Ferrara, there
recently came to Modena the striking full-length
figure of a Franciscan friar, usually called San Giacomo
della Marca, but in reality St. Anthony of Padua.
He is at Rimini, with his back to the sea, about to turn
and preach to the fishes when the unbelievers would
not hear him " dispute concerning the faith of Christ
and the Holy Scripture."^ Painted almost in mono-

1 Cf. Arch. Star. delV Arte, VII. p. 94.

2 Fioretti dl San Francesco, cap. 40.

- . ..* - •

»' » *»t "» to*

. / ntlergon


Cambridge, U.S.A.

To face page 28



chronic, this appears to be one of Tura's latest works,
and probably formed part of an altarpiece executed for
Francesco Nasello, the ducal secretary, in 1484, for
a chapel in San Niccolo in Ferrara.

Tura's official connection with the court seems to have
ended about 1485. Although his various wills point
to his having become a comparatively wealthy man,
we find him, on January 9, 1490, \mting to Duke
Ercole, complaining that he is unable to support
himself and that he is not being paid for his
labours : —

" I do not know how I can live and maintain myself
in this fashion ; for I have no occupation or means to
support me with my household, save what I have
earned as payment, day by day, with my works and
my profession of painting — especially now that I
find myself ill of such a malady that I cannot re-
cover without very great expense and length of

Six years ago (he adds) he painted an altarpiece for
Francesco Nasello, the secretary of his Excellence, in
San Niccolo at his own expense, for which sixty
ducats are owing, and likewise a St. Anthony of Padua
for the Bishop of Adria, for which twenty-five ducats
are due. He cannot get his money from either, and
appeals to the Duke. " They are powerful and have
easily the means to satisfy me, and I am poor and



impotent, and cannot afford to lose the fruits of my
labours." ^

Tlie painter died five years later. A Ferrarese
chronicler of the beginning of the sixteenth century
writes: "In the month of April, 1495, died the
noble and excellent man, maestro Cosimo dal Tura,
a most excellent painter. He was buried at San
Lorenzo across the Po, in a tomb near the door of the
campanile of that church." ^

Cosimo Tura is the true founder of the school of
Ferrara and Bologna. His influence was supreme over

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15