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The painters of the school of Ferrara online

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all the painters of the dominions ruled by the House
of Este in the latter part of the fifteenth century, and
reached onwards even to Raphael and Correggio.
Among the numerous pictures by unidentified followers
of his, must be mentioned the Charity with three 'putt%
in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli at Milan, a finely coloured
work in which the chief figure, at least, has little of
the master's characteristic uncouthness ; and the well-
known Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, which, from the
Guggenheim collection at Venice, was obtained for the
Dresden Gallery in 1896. The latter picture was
originally ascribed to Lorenzo Costa, by reason of an
inscription which it bears, in Hebrew, declaring it the

1 Veuturi, Qotuia Tura genannt Come, p. 31 ; Varte ferrarese nel
j)eriodo d-E/'cnh I, II. pp. 368, 360. He shows tliat the St. Anthony
at l^Iodena \^ n part of the oUfirpieoe for San Niocol5.

« CftmpoH, op. cit.j p. 562.

1 » »

(> . » >


Scnooi. OK TURA


I'dl li I'lzzoli ^hisfuiii

7'« fail- j>ii!/i- 30


work of that painter. It was first attributed to Tura
by Morelli. It exhibits none of Tura's uncouth
vigour ; its colouring is somewhat unHke his, and the
treatment of drapery, as seen in the martyr'*s loincloth,
is not the same. With Signor Venturi,^ I find it
hard to recognise this curious picture as an authentic
work of Tura's. It appears to me not impossible that
it may be, after all, a very early work by Costa,
painted when under the influence, perhaps actually in
the school, of the older master.

1 Cf. Z'Jre<{1908), p. 422.



Comparatively little is known of the master who signs
himself Francesco del Cossa, and who may be regarded
as the second founder of the Ferrarese school. He was
probably born in 1438, some eight or nine years after
Tura, and was the son of Cristoforo del Cossa, a
military architect in the service of the House of

Francesco del Cossa closely resembles Tura in the
austere character of his art. It is clear that he was
deeply influenced by his older contemporary, though
there are no grounds for supposing that he was
actually his pupil. Unlike Tura, he probably never
studied at Padua, but drew his chief inspiration from
the works of Piero de' Franceschi, then in their first
freshness on the walls of the Corte Vecchia and Sanf
Agostino. His feeling for movement and power of re-
presenting it are considerably greater than Tura's ; his
figures and types, though still lacking in charm and

grace, arc generally less uncouth, and his drapery is



disposed in less stiff and more natural folds; Indeed,
Mr. Berenson seems to me to overstate the matter a
little, when he says that " Cossa took over Tura''s
world bodily, and, when possible, exaggerated it." ^

We first hear of Cossa in 1456, when a contract by
which he pledges himself to paint three half-figures
representing a Pieta, and other decorations in imitation
of marble round the high altar of the Duomo, is drawn
up with his father — he himself being not yet of age.^
Two of his works for Ferrarese churches are extant.
One is the smaller St. Jerome in the pinacoteca at
Ferrara, hitherto attributed to Tura, but which Signor
Venturi has recently restored to the younger painter.^
The other is the dispersed altarpiece, perhaps painted
for San Domenico, in honour of Saint Hyacinth, the
Dominican evangelist of Poland. Of this the central
panel, now in the National Gallery, represents the Saint
preaching on the Redemption, while Christ appears
above with Angels bearing the emblems of the Passion ;
in the background are the ruins which Cossa loves,
and other architectural details, with men in the
costume of the period and soldiers keeping the gate of
the city. In the predella, which has been identified

1 But cf. his whole fine characterisation of this painter, op. cU.,
pp. 60-63.

2 Cittadella, Kotizle, p. 52; Venturi, Varte a Ferrara nd periodo
ill Borso (T Este, p. 722.

a Cf. VArte (1908), p. 421.



with the picture once ascribed to Benozzo Gozzoli in
the Vatican, four of Hyacinth's miracles are depicted,
with a reahsm and power of narrative which anticipates
the frescoes of the Schifanoia. The two side-panels are
in the Brera ; behind the stately figures of the Baptist
and St. Peter, we see similar architectural details with
pleasant episodes, doubtless direct transcripts from the
Ferrarese life of the time.

To see this life pictured on a larger scale, a veritable
recreation of the hel vivere of the Quattrocento, we
must turn to the frescoes of the Palazzo Schifanoia.
The palace was built by the Marquis Alberto d'Este
(Borso's grandfather) in 1391 as a hunting-lodge, and
completed for Borso shortly after 1466, by the archi-
tect, Pietro Benvenuti, who added the first floor.
Borso used it as a kind of unofficial residence during
part of the summer months. By his orders the walls
of the chief hall on the first floor were covered, between
1467 and 1470, with a series of frescoes intended to
represent the pacific and blissful state of a country
ruled by a just and benevolent sovereign, with whose
philanthropical labours the celestial influences were pro-
pitious in bringing back the golden age for his fortunate
subjects, as, month by month, the year moved through
its course.

Certain lines from Boiardo's CanrMuiere,, written
during the very years in which these paintings were


executed, seem to express the spirit of the decorations
of the Schifanoia : —

" Piovea da tutti e cieli Amore in terra,

E ralegrava I'anime gentili,

Spirando in ogni parte dolcie foco ;
E i giovanetti arditi e i cor virili,

Sanza alcun sdegno e sanza alcuna guerra,

Armegiar si vedean per ogni loco ;
Le donne in festa, in alegreza, in gioco.

In danze perregrine^ in dolci canti ;

Per tutto leti amanti,

Zente lezadre, e festegiar giocondo.
Non sara piu (che io creda) e non fu avanti

Fiorita tanto questa alma cittade,

Di onor e di beltade,

E di tanto piacer guarnita a tondo." ^

In three superimposed zones, which originally went

all round the hall, these frescoes set forth the twelve

months of the year, figured in the triumphal pageants of

the presiding deities of antiquity, and illustrated in the

occupations of men and women in each ; the signs of

the zodiac and allegorical figures connected with them ;

1 Canz. cxlv. (ed. Solerti, Le poesie volgari e latine di M. M.
Boiardo, p. 207). " Love rained on earth from all the spheres, and
gladdened gentle souls, breathing sweet fire in every part ; and
daring youths and manly hearts, without any wrath and without
any war, were seen everywhere donning arms ; the ladies in festivities,
in gladness, in sport, in winsome dances, in sweet songs ; everywhere
happy lovers, gallant folk, jocund merrymaking. This goodly city
will be no more, methinks, and never was before so flowering with
honour and beauty, and decked round with such delight."


and scenes from the daily life of Borso himself, in

which he is glorified as the ideal ruler, the father of

his people. Only fragments remain of the paintings

on the southern and western walls, representing October,

November, December, Janueiry and February. Those

to the east and north, dealing with the seven months

from March to May, and from June to September,

respectively, are better presened. Worked into this

scheme of decoration are admirably rendered scenes from

the Italian life of the epoch, in the country and the

city, the camp and the court. We are shown the

peasants pruning the vines, mowing the hay, ploughing,

sowing, reaping, thrashing, and the like ; we watch the

harvest and the vintage, follow the condottieri as they

lead the ducal mercenaries (i provmonati di Sna

Eccellenza) through the land to protect the ducal

subjects from foreign aggression, or the courtly trains

passing to and from the chase. A state marriage is

celebrated — possibly that of Borso*'s half-sister, Bianca

Maria d'Este, to Galeotto Pico della Mirandola — while

ecclesiastics (under tlie shadow of Jupiter) exhort the

soldiers to undertake a crusade against the Turk, or, it

may Ix? (Borso not having yet obtained liis coveted

ducal cap from tlic Pope), to take arms on behalf of

the Holy See against Florence. Through all this

pictured pageantry rides the old Duke himself, clad in

cloth of gold, serene and gracious, on his way between

Mm » • ^


Francesco del Cossa


F I' I vara

To face page 36


the palace and his beloved hunting-ground, or standing
under a portico to administer justice or exchange
courtesies with the ambassadors of the other potentates
of Italy. Many of the courtiers that surround hira are
doubtless portraits, but all the proposed identifications
are conjectural — the only exception being that of the
handsome young man with a falcon on his wrist, riding
at the Duke's side in the month of March, as Borso's
favourite, Teofilo Calcagnino, described by Francesco
Ariosti as " the ducal delight, that worthy and gentle
cavalier."" ^

The whole scheme was evidently devised by one of
the humanists of the court — who, most probably, was
Pellegrino Prisciano, astrologer, poet, and historian,
who became tlie librarian and archivist of Borso's
successor.^ There is still much question concerning
the painters by whom the frescoes were executed.
When first recovered from under the whitewash in
1840, they were attributed to Cosimo Tura, as the
chief master of the epoch, the name of Francesco del
Cossa being then almost unknown. Though his
actual share in the execution is still disputed, it is
now generally recognised that the younger painter is
the leading spirit throughout.

I Cf. Dukes and Poets in Ferrara, p. 111.

* For Pellegrino Prisciano, see Bertoni, La BthlioU>ea TUsff^^e e la
eoltwra ferrarese, passim, and LueIo and Reniw, Zu colPuru t. Lt
rela:io7ii Utterurie di hahdla d'Este (xoit€aga, 2, pp. 252 et seq.


We find Francesco del Cossa, on March 25, 1470,
addressing a letter to Borso, which is not only of the
first importance for the question in hand, but a
singular document as to the whole condition of artist
life in Ferrara at the epoch : —

" Most illustrious prince and most excellent lord,
my very special master :

" Some days ago, together with the other painters,
I made supplication to your Excellence concerning the
payment for the hall of Schifanoia; to which your
lordship replied that we must await the reports.
Most illustrious prince, I would not be the man to
make myself troublesome to Pellegrino Prisciano or to
others. Therefore I have decided to appeal alone to
your lordship, because you perhaps think, or have
been told, that I am one of those who can be quite con-
tented and are overpaid at the rate of ten holognini ;
and humbly to remind you that I am Francesco
del Cossa, who, by myself, have painted those three
fields towards the antechamber. If it were the will
/ of your most illustrious lordship not to give me more

than ten holognini the foot, albeit I should lose
continually forty or fifty ducats thereby, and I live by
the work of my arms, I should be quite content and
take it quietly. But, since there are other circum-
stances, I should be greatly aggrieved and distressed
inwardly ; especially considering that I, who have at


least begun to have some little reputation, should be
treated and judged on the same level with the most
worthless apprentice of Ferrara ; and that my con-
tinual study and zeal should not at this time receive
any greater reward, and especially from your most
illustrious lordship, than one who has done nothing of
the kind. Certainly, most illustrious prince, I could
not fail to be distressed inwardly and aggrieved
thereat, and, further, it would seem to me passing
strange that my work, done on trust as I have done
it, and my adorning with gold and good colours,
should be deemed of the same price as certain parts of
the others which have been executed without such
labour and expense. And this I say, my lord, be-
cause I have worked almost entirely in fresco, which
is finished and good work, as is known to all the
masters of the art. All the same, most illustrious
lord, I place myself at your feet. You might, per-
haps, object that you will not do this for me, because
you would be obliged to do the same for the others ;
but, my lord, you could easily say that the work had
been so estimated. And, if you do not wish to follow
the estimates, I beseech you to give me, of your grace
and benignity, if not the whole which perchance
would be due to me, at least what portion seems
good to you ; and I will accept it as a gracious gift
and speak of it as such. I commend myself to


your most illustrious lordship. Ferrara, March 25,

" Your most illustrious lordship's servant, albeit the
lowest, Francesco del Cossa."^

The three compartments mentioned, "those three
fields towards the antechamber," are manifestly the
spaces devoted to the months of March, April, and
May : in short, the whole eastern wall. The first
two of these are much the finest of the series. For
March, we have the triumph of Minerva in her chariot
drawn by unicorns, with women weaving at the looms,
and the jurists and professors in council ; in the
intermediate zone, the sign of the ram, and two figures
perhaps symbolising activity and idleness ; while, in
the lowest zone, Borso first administers justice, and
then rides to the chase, and in the background the
contadini prune the vines. The uppermost zone of
April, where Venus triumphs in her barge drawn by
swans and an armed warrior kneels before her, is like
a page from Boccaccio. To the sound of lutes and
vioLs, lovers meet and embrace, or linger in amorous
dalliance. On either side of Taurus, maternal love

1 Letter first published by Venturi in Der Kunttfreund, no. 9
(Berlin, 188o), coll. 130, 131 ; also in Campori,op. cit., doc. 13. For
the whole subject of the frescoes of the Schifanoia, with the various
views as to their authorship, cf. especially Gruyer, I. pp. 419-468,
II. pp. 575-596 ; F. Harck, QLi affrewhl del palazzo di Schifanoia in
Ferrara; Venturi, in Atti e vnemorU della R. Deputazione di Storia
Patria per Roinayna. ?erie8 111. vol. 3.


(a charming group of mother and child) arid violent
lust are contrasted. Below, on the return from the
hunt, Borso unbends with his jester Scocola, that
" nobile, facetissimo, e soavissimo bufFone '**' ^ ; while
(corresponding with the pruning scene in the previous
fresco) we see the races, both of horses and of men and
women, with which the Ferrarese loved to celebrate the
feast of St. George. "No Greek bas-relief or vase,''
writes Mr. Berenson, " can show a design more swift.'' ^
It is impossible to follow him, however, in restricting
Cossa's handiwork to this single episode. Even if we
do not take the painter's declaration to Borso quite
literally, and admit the work of pupils in the portions
that he claims to have executed, it is hard to believe
that the master would have contented himself with
one insignificant scene in the background. A large
part of these March and April frescoes may, I think
safely be regarded as Cossa's own. In those dealing
with May, which represent the triumph of Apollo
(the lowest zone has been destroyed), while the design
is midoubtedly his, the execution is largely, if not
entirely, that of his assistants.

There is no external evidence as to the painters
of the northern wall, and the ground is clear for
conjecture. Mr. Berenson's theory, that they were

1 Cf. Bertoni, Buffom alia CorU di Ferrara (Rivista d' Italia,
VI. fasc. iii-iv). 2 Op. eit., p. 62,


executed by artists under Cossa's influence, does not
find favour with other students of the Ferrarese school.
A general consensus of opinion recognises Cossa''s style
in a small portion of the lowest zone of the month of
July, in which Borso is apparently receiving petitions.
For the rest, the comparative inferiority of the work,
and the fact that he was at this time fully engaged
elsewhere, seem to exclude all direct participation of
Cosimo Tura himself. Most probably, they were
executed by various minor painters of the day, Tura's
pupils m Ferrara, of whom none, save a certain Ettore
de' Bonacossi, an indifferent artist noticeable for the
staring eyes of his figures, can be definitely identified.^
The least agreeable part of the whole, though by no
means the worst executed, is the triumph of lust in a
chariot drawn by monkeys (in September, the month
devoted to Saturn), with its hideous children and
bestial Cyclopes. The lowest zone of this month,
representing the vintage, with Borso riding out with
hawks and hounds, and then in his palace receiving
ambassadors, is on a higher level, and may be assigned
to one of Tura's better pupils. A noble figure in the
foreground, clad in cloth of gold, is probably Borso's
destined successor, Ercole I.

Shortly after the completion of the work, the
Duke''s half-brother, Baldassare d'Este, who had just

1 cy. Venturi, in L'Arlc (1908), p. 424.


come to Ferrara from Milan where he had won high
renown as a portrait painter, was commissioned to re-
paint the heads of Borso and some of the other figures
throughout the room/ It is, therefore, probable that all
the various representations of the Duke, and perhaps some
of the other portraits, are his work. He may possibly
also be the author of the remains of the frescoes, in a
somewhat different style from the rest, on the southern

Borso''s answer to Cossa was, in effect, that he must
be contented with the tariff fixed.^ The aggrieved
painter promptly shook the dust of Ferrara off his feet,
and retired to Bologna, where he spent the rest of his
life. Here he found abundant employment, both from
Giovanni Bentivoglio and from churches and confra-
ternities among the citizens. His earliest work at
Bologna is believed to be the Annunciation, for the
Osservanza, now at Dresden, a carefully finished and
brilliantly coloured picture, but somewhat uncharac-
teristic and lacking his usual vigour. Two stained
glass windows in San Giovanni in Monte have been
recognised as from his design, and a St. Jerome in San
Petronio is more questionably attributed to him.
For Giovanni Bentivoglio, in 1472, he repainted tlie

1 Cf. below, p. 48.

2 " Quod velit esse contentus taxa facta, nam facta est per
electos prospeciis singulis."


venerated Madonna del Baraccano, and added Angels
and a frescoed background ; but the work, in its
present condition, is perhaps more interesting from the
historical than the artistic standpoint/

The most noteworthy production of Cossa's stay at
Bologna, and in many respects the most important
work of his that has come down to us, is the large
picture in tempera on canvas painted for Alberto
de** Catanei and Domenico degli Amorini, the judge and
notary of the Foro de' Mercanti (what we should now
call the Chamber of Commerce), in 1474, and signed
Franciscus Cossa Ferrariensis. It is a stately and
austere composition, in which the Madonna and the
Divine Child are enthroned between St. Petronius and
St. John the Evangelist, while Alberto de"* Catanei
kneels at the side of the throne, and the Annunciation
is seen above. The types are uncompromisingly grim
and ugly, but the modelling of the heads of the two
Saints is admirable, particularly that of St. Petronius,
who is probably the portrait of some eminent church-
\nan of the time.

This is the last of Cossa's works that can be
identified. He died in 1480 or thereabouts. Before
his death he appears to have taken part in the decora-

1 Cf, Gruyer, II. pp. 116, 117; Ricci, Guida di Bologna, p. 51. It
is doubtful whether the portraits of Bente Bentivoglio, the ori/rinal
donor of the work, and Maria Vincij^uerra, who began the devotion
to this Madonna, are by Cossa.

• • . •

J ,* J » »

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tion of the palace of Giovanni Bentivoglio, doomed to
popular destruction in 1507. A few portraits are
attributed to him, but their authenticity is rightly
disputed. Those of Giovanni Bentivoglio and his
wife, Ginevra Sforza, in the possession of M. Gustave
Dreyfus, ascribed to Cossa by Dr. Bode, are probably
by a later hand. The youth in red, seen in profile,
signed A. F. P., in the Museo Civico at Venice, like-
wise ascribed to Cossa by Dr. Bode and tentatively
accepted by Mr. Berenson, seems unlike his usual colour-
ing, too weakly modelled and superficially characterised ;
the tradition attributing it to Ansuino da Forli, one of
the painters of the chapel of the Eremitani, may still
be provisionally adopted. There remains the portrait
of a young nobleman, belonging to Mr. Drury-Lowe,
which was first attributed to our painter by Mr.
Claude Phillips. It suggests the manner of Piero
de"* Franceschi, while recalling the portraits introduced
into the Schifanoia frescoes, and may plausibly be
accepted as Cossa''s work.

1 Gazette des Beaux- Arts (Period 3, tome 9) (1893), p. 226.



Contemporaneous with Cosimo Tura and Francesco del

Cossa was a third Ferrarese painter, abready mentioned,

more highly esteemed by the court than either of the

other two, but of whom no work can now be identified

with certainty. Baldassare d'Este, known also as

Baldassare da Reggio from the place where he was

born, was an illegitimate son of the Marquis

Niccolo III, and therefore the half-brother of Dukes

Borso and Ercole.^ The precise date of his birth is

unknown, but he was evidently one of the children of

Niccolo's old age. At an early age, he either went of

his own accord, or was sent by his brothers, to try his

fortunes in Lombardy. We first hear of him in 1461

as a painter, in a Milanese passport dated January 16

of that year ; but it is doubtful whether he was then

going into Lombardy for the first time, or merely

1 cy. Venturi, in Arch. Stor. dell' Arte, I. pp. 42, 43, and my
Pukes and Poets in Perrara, p. 9 In.



taking a temporary leave of absence/ At tlie Milanese
court, he won renown and favour, and, early in 1469,
painted portraits of the Duke and Duchess, Galeazzo
Maria Sforza and Bona da Savoia, in the castello
of Pavia. In the June of the same year, he came to
visit Borso at Ferrara, with a warm letter of recom-
mendation from Galeazzo Maria, praising him highly
as " acconza persona et da bene,'" who " is worth much
in his art, in which in many things he has satisfied
us right well, and has gained great commendation
therein." 2

At Ferrara, he won the heart of Borso, who
welcomed him as a brother and expressed the greatest
delight at his presence. " We rejoice with your
Excellence,'" wrote Galeazzo Maria, " over the brother-
hood which you have at last found again with maestro
Baldassare of Reggio.'' ^ So pleased was Borso that,
on the painter's return to Milan, he prevailed upon
Galeazzo Maria to allow him to transfer his services to
himself, and, when the Milanese duke had reluctantly
consented, he sent a ship to Pavia to convey Baldassare
with his family and goods to Ferrara.

Settling at Ferrara, Baldassare became the chief
painter of portraits to the Duke, and is designated in
documents as "nobil pittore e famigHare di Sua

1 Erailio Motta, 11 Pittore Baldassare da Ecggio, p. 404.

2 Letter of June 5, 1 169. Ihid., p. 405.

3 Letter dated Pavia, October 7, 1469. Ibid,, p. 406.


Eccellenza/"' At Borso's orders, he was set to repaint
or restore {acconciare) a number of the portraits in the
recently executed frescoes of the Palazzo Schifanoia,
including thirty- six heads of the Duke himself. He
also painted a large picture of Borso with his half-
brother Alberto d'Este, Count Lorenzo Strozzi, and
Messer Teofilo Calcagnino, all on horseback ; and,
among many smaller portraits, likewise for Borso, one
of Teofilo''s wife, Madonna Marietta Strozzi, to be sent
to Milan as a gift to Beatrice d'Este, the wife first of

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