Written by  Marco Borella
The private rooms of Alfonso I d'Este on the via Coperta of the Castello Estense in Ferrara
The via Coperta is a long group of buildings which runs from south to north between the former Palazzo Ducale to the Castello Estense, consisting of fifty metres of variously-orientated buildings, some based in the public piazza and some in the former castle moat. In the summer of 1471 the court architects Santo da Novolini and Pietro di Benvenuto degli Ordini were requested to design an open walkway, some three metres wide, above the arches in the walls which linked the palazzo to the courtyard of the fortress.
Shortly thereafter, on the orders of Duke Ercole, this original bridge was covered and a second level built above it, in order to create a long tunnel which, at this level, connected the ducal palace to the first floor of the castle. The upper corridor led to those rooms where Eleonora of Aragon, wife of Ercole from 1473 to 1496, chose to locate her apartments, thus conferring a residential function upon what had been previously considered simply a passageway. The son of Ercole and Eleonora, Duke Alfonso I, completed this process of evolution. Following his investiture in 1505 Alfonso was determined to create a new set of ducal apartments for himself, enlarging this bridge over the piazza from three to eight metres in width.
A new section was built on to the ducal palace in the direction of the old fortress, an architectural 'hinge' which linked the Este buildings of Duke Borso's old court to the castle and to the Padiglione garden. These alterations heralded the decisive transformation of the castle into a palace during the sixteenth century.
The recently restored rooms of Alfonso I on the via Coperta are of particular significance for art historians given the extraordinary value of the art collection which the d
uke assembled in these rooms. Vasari, in his Lives of Girolamo da Carpi and Titian referred to the paintings collected by Alfonso I d'Este in his own studio. The historian Giuseppe Campori, in the late nineteenth century, identified these 'Alabaster Rooms' as the original locations of important paintings by Titian and of sculptures by Antonio Lombardo. Alfonso called upon artists like Bellini, Titian, Raphael, Dosso Dossi and Antonio Lombardo to decorate these walls, thus establishing a collection which developed into one of the most unusual and valuable of the Renaissance.
When the exploratory works began in January 2002, only two marble portals inscribed ?Alfonsus Dux III? were uncovered along the via Coperta with its fabulous chambers. Of the gilded ceilings, of the polychromatic inlaid marble floors, the fireplaces and braziers and the marble benches so lavishly described, not a trace remained. In 1598 the palace was stripped of its art treasures and abandoned by the Este family, becoming the official residence first of the Papal Legates, and subsequently of the regional Prefects of the Kingdom and then Republic of Italy.
The restoration of the rooms making up Alfonso I's apartments was based on two fundamental objectives. Firstly, it sought to re-establish one of the most important locations in the urban history of Ferrara; secondly to renew the link between art collections and the Este residence, in one of the most artistically important parts of the castle, where architecture and the decorative arts combine to stunning effect.
All six of the rooms in the apartment have been restored: the antechamber, the first salon, the second salon (or resting room), Alfonso's bedroom known as the Golden Chamber, the Room of the Marbles and the Chamber of paintings (or of the bacchanals). The paintings and sculptures originally intended for these last rooms have been returned to them, not least to illuminate the intimate bond between architectural conception and artistic creation.

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