Ferrara: the City of Simultaneous Ages

Written by  James Rosen
«Beneath her veil and beyond the stream, she seemed more to me to surpass her ancient self... than to surpass others when she was ancient self.»

Ferrara is not about effects - laborious effects hastily collected and negligently scattered by idle minds. In some instances, like the frescoes of June and July in the Palazzo Schifanoia, works have suffered more from solicitude than neglect. The Ferrarese, in my estimation, have never exhausted the beautiful looking for the novel.

The Castello has the stamp of institution; the Palazzina di Marfisa d'Este the authenticity of the individual. Ferrara is comprised of unintended simultaneities. A walk down corso Ercole I d'Este finds neo-classical structures bordering splendid renaissance palaces bordering Art-Deco façades. One walks across time - from order to entropy and a step back again.

Plotinus writes "Beauty IS the harmonious relationship OF parts - but what OF light? - which has NO parts AND which we call beautiful." I think of the roseate light of Sant'Antonio in Polesine, an architectural group including a virgin cherry tree: at its blooming the tree furthers the roseate evanescence between surfaces.

"Things" are what we make of surfaces and thing are like thoughts stopped half-way, the light one experiences at Sant'Antonio in Polesine is made of non thing - nothing. It is an exacting light. An entelechy. A realization rather than a thing. It is a place of the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The Ferrarese, as I know them individually, have a "sense OF place"; that is to say, each invests sufficient feeling in the spaces of the city to make in "a place" - as if it were an intrinsic fifth chamber of the heart. An evening, a stroll 'round the Duomo and down via Voltapaletto tends to collect thoughts in pools bright with the light of ancient stars. And emerging ones.
The unique and the general form a gradient at whose extremes the possibility of Ferrara vanish: maker and observer, citizen and visistor alike are faced with the antithesis between a micro-structure like the facets of Palazzo dei Diamanti where no two surfaces and no two actions are alike, and macro-structure like the geometry of the grids designed by Biagio Rossetti where nothing appears to move and all surfaces are alike.

Nearly everything about Ferrara is contrived to force us to perceive it as a unique object occupying one place at one time in Italy and having unusually integral properties of material, form and significance.
I recall my meeting "The UNIQUE" at the Musei Civici d'Arte Moderna which bid for my attention, with the illusion that each painting or sculpture was a single point in space, time and feeling and further masked the historical and aesthetic reality of that work: a reality different from illusion of uniqueness.

The restrained energies of a Biagio Rossetti's arched window cornice and the Alberti arch are fragments of some larger or longer unit (which includes the crumbling edge of the now new): one understands and negotiates Ferrara as a bundle of components of different ages intricately related to longer and shorter durations to form earlier and later, and influences incoming and outgoing.

Ferrara was born from the Po: it has depended upon many schemes and conventions for selecting and shaping from the immense complexities of time. Events like Ferrara may be treated as a separate event at rest in a cross section of relationships. This synchronous view holds that events like structures are either densely or sparsely arrayed; for example, the paintings of the Metaphysical School or the "castello" painting of Giorgio De Chirico.
My experience of Ferrara suggests that the city is an event of many events undergoing increasing change in motion or flow. I recall walking the saving stones of via Bersaglieri del Po on my way to the Istituto d'Arte Dosso Dossi. Each has a different set of durations but lives simultaneously in the same body: Ferrara.
Is this any different from your blood cells and eye lashes - each of which has a different biological age - existing simultaneously in the same body? I believe Ferrara lives and wants to go on living diachronously - across time - in the flow of its beneficient durations: la città, little jewel of the Po, changes less than the solutions devised for its life.

In the Certosa, one discerns Ferrara as separate and composite evolutions of Renaissance, Baroque, Mannerism and Twentieth Century: one step brings them into an ordered relationship, the next step throws them into entropy, and the third step establishes an unexpected flow of forms which floods the skewered chronologies of history. One of these lessons history teaches us is that history, in its fixities of time, often teaches us the wrong lessons.

I see Ferrara as an array of simultaneous sequences and durations, each of which has a different systemic age: the homes of Ludovido Ariosto and Biagio Rossetti are now museums housing a range of components from beams of woods to bricks of clay. The experience of Ferrara is potentially analogous to Ariosto's Orlando Furioso: many actions beginning at different times but extending throughout the book to become one story, one poem.

The conclusion is but a beginning. I love Ferrara as I love the semplicity and complexity of sky with its cluster of traits: light, colour, brightness, lustre, temperature, agitation, calm, foreboding and hope. Ferrara is an event which occurs before it makes its appearance - like an ancient source of light making its way across the patina of time.