Stranger who, Watching Silent Colours...

Written by  Sergio Raimondi
The disappearance of the portraits of the members of the Este family from Ferrara's Castle.
We know everything about Ferrara Castle: from the most secret details related to the modified building structure to the people who lived there through the centuries, from the famous guests who stayed there to the events which have taken place since 1385.

During this year, Nicholas the Second of the Este family, a Marquis, ordered his architect, Bartolino Ploti da Novara, to build the Castle in order to defend the town and his family from the enemies. The small fortress, which is supported by four towers, was first modified in 1470, when, under Hercules the First, the courtyard was restructured and the fortress was connected to his noble residence through a way which is called "Via Coperta". Then, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Castle was extended, for the construction of the kitchen and the hanging garden, while the so-called "Via Coperta" was raised and has remained the same until now.

Thanks to these restructuring works and the relative extensions, the ancient castle-fortress is classed as one of the nicest works (which amount to nineteen) which have been built in the dukedom. The structural "improvement" of the ancient castle-fortress was made by another architect, Girolamo da Carpi, in 1554, making several changes in the ancient building, radically changing its architectural aspect (which is the aspect that is still appreciated, even after the restorations following the earthquake which took place in 1570). The Castle first belonged to the Este family, then to the Pope's State, to Ferrara municipality and, in 1874, to provincial government.
Under Ferrara masters, the Castle became a famous cultural centre and a centre of collection of works of art. Those who reigned after the members of the Este Family, from Clerical people to Napoleon's rulers, placed the works of art elsewhere, even if most of them had already been "taken" by Cesar, when he left the Castle to escape to Modena.

Sometimes, artistic wealth or other kinds of wealth are wasted by time and wear. This is proved by the portraits which were painted on the walls of the Castle courtyard under the dukes of Este to perpetuate the memory of the rulers of their dynasty, from Lombardic rulers to Alfonso the Second. The perpetuation of ancestor memory is a temptation which is as ancient as men, therefore even reigning houses couldn't abstain from doing this, in order to bring honour to their dynasty, regardless of expense and means.

The members of the Este family were second to none and their policy aimed at enhancing the dynastic wealth they represented. Therefore, it is not surprising to read that two hundred portraits of the ancestors were painted on the walls of Ferrara Castle inner courtyard under this or that prince. It must be said that the painting traces which can still be found on the outer walls of the above-mentioned "Via Coperta" prove that these kinds of frescos have been previously painted outside the Castle.
The life-size portraits of the sixteen princes who reigned in Ferrara, starting from Azzo the Fourth, were also painted on the walls of the Gran Loggia della Delizia in Copparo under Hercules the Second.

But, even if frescos were painted on the walls of the Castle courtyard before the beginning of the sixteenth century, now it is proved that it was Hercules the Second who ordered the artists to start or go on painting those frescos, according to the circumstances, in order to save previous paints, to update the list or to make sure that the portraits were painted there for the first time. A group of painters, including two brothers, Bartolomeo and Girolamo Faccini, Ippolito Casoli and Girolamo Grassaleoni, went on and finished painting the above-mentioned frescos under Hercules the Second's son, according to an accurate and wider plan in order to celebrate this dynasty.

Documents found in Modena State Archives, prove that even Leonardo da Brescia and Ludovico Settevecchi, a Ferrarese artist, painted those frescos. We heard that Ludovico Settevecchi worked hard and that he did his work using the sketches provided by Pirro Ligorio, a famous painter and architect, who was invited to come to Ferrara by Alfonso the Second in 1568. After having successfully worked in Rome, Pirro Ligorio came to Ferrara becoming "duke's antiquarian". We do not know how many and which sketches have been used to paint the frescos.

It seems that the sketches which were used to paint the three works which have been preserved up to now, even if they are in bad condition, were not made by Pirro Ligorio. The first painting, as you probably remember, represents Henry the Ninth and Obizzo the Fourth, as regards the second painting, you can hardly identify Foulques the Third and Boniface the Fourth, while the third painting depicts two unrecognisable persons.

Talking about these paintings, which, as all the others, depict two brothers or a father and a son, I went back to the memory of those who remember that they have previously seen them in the Castle, as, in 1969, they were taken and moved to Ferrara National Picture Gallery, where they are still present, to save the remains. Today, owing to the recent restoration of the courtyard, the traces of painting process have been totally removed.

Apart from the three paintings in bad condition stored in the cellar, we just have the written proofs of those who, for different reasons, were interested in those frescos. Even Tasso mentioned them in the Dialogues and in the Rhymes ("Stranger who, watching the silent colours ..."), stating that the stranger, after having admired these pictures, stupefied by the greatness of the people who are depicted, realises that time is dimming their glory and that only poetry can perpetuate their memory in the world.