Between Painting and Illumination

Written by  Anna Maria Visser Travagli
A new exhibition is to assess the influence of Cosmé Tura and Ercole de' Roberti on the illuminators of their day.
On the 25th of November 1995, in the Salone dei Mesi in Palazzo Schifanoia, a solemn ceremony was held to open the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the deaths of Cosmé Tura (c. 1430 - 1495) and Ercole de' Roberti (c. 1450 - 1496). The celebrations included a long and intense programme of meetings and visits, which in the course of two six-monthly sessions focused on and furthered our knowledge not only of the personalities of the two major exponents of the Ferrarese Workshop but also the many-sided and complex topic of the arts in Ferrara during the second half of the 15th century.

And as a matter of fact it is one of these arts, perhaps the greatest of them all, illuminating - with its refined, cultured techniques - that will round off the celebrations of the fifth centennial of the masters Cosmé Tura and Ercole de' Roberti in the spring of 1998, with a great exhibition to be held from the 1st of March to the 31st of May in Palazzo Schifanoia.

Tura and de' Roberti had an enormous influence over the artists of Duke Borso's (1450-1471) and his successor Ercole I's day (1471-1505) and according to some critics these painters worked directly on illuminated illustrations; the exhibition will deal with the new relationship between painting and illumination and alongside the hundred odd illuminated codexes there will also be some important panels painted by the masters of the Ferrarese school on loan from the National Art Galleries of Bologna and Florence, the Collezione Cini of Venice, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli of Milan, the Galleria Colonna in Rome, and others.

The frescoes of the Salone dei Mesi where Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de' Roberti worked under the expert guidance of Cosmé Tura will constitute a sort of exhibition within the exhibition, enhancing the works on display with a continuous series of cross references to the paintings and decorations forming the main exhibition.
Significantly, the conclusion of the celebrations for Cosmé and Ercole coincides with the events held in commemoration of 1598, a turning point in Ferrara's history. On this date certain important pictures and some illuminated books were lost, but fortunately the codexes of the order of the Olivetan monks of Saint George remained in the city as did the three-volume Bible and the great choir books of the Charterhouse, commissioned by Borso d'Este, now in Palazzo Schifanoia, the magnificent choir books of the Cathedral and the codexes and statutes, which illustrate civil documents, now in the Biblioteca Ariostea.

This extraordinary, but little known, legacy of great artistic value will be on show in the salons of Palazzo Schifanoia as part of an expositional scheme essentially intended to focus on illumination at the time of Borso and Ercole I, characterized by the many-coloured narrative richness of a language that had been completely renewed under the influence of the contemporary painting of the great Ferrarese masters and was to lead to the prelude to the exquisite "modern manner" of the fine liturgical books executed for the court at the beginning of the 16th century, during the reign of Duke Alfonso I (1505 - 1534).

In order to realize this ambitious design, numerous manuscripts and incunabula have been loaned by the most important Italian and foreign institutions: from Modena, Padua, Venice, Rome, and Montecassino, to Warsaw, Zagreb, Innsbruck, Basel, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles thus allowing visitors to admire works whose artistic value is beyond question.
It will be a unique opportunity to admire a collection of illuminated codexes and paintings that will converge on Ferrara from museums and the silence of the libraries and archives, whence they will return to be sheltered from the light, after the three months splendour generated by Miniatura a Ferrara.