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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Artists and Patrons

Alberti, Leon Battista

(b Genoa, 14 Feb 1404; d Rome, April 1472). Italian architect, sculptor, painter, theorist and writer. The arts of painting, sculpture and architecture were, for Alberti, only three of an exceptionally broad range of interests, for he made his mark in fields as diverse as family ethics, philology and cryptography. It is for his contribution to the visual arts, however, that he is chiefly remembered. Alberti single-handedly established a theoretical foundation for the whole of Renaissance art with three revolutionary treatises, on painting, sculpture and architecture, which were the first works of their kind since Classical antiquity. Moreover, as a practitioner of the arts, he was no less innovative. In sculpture he seems to have been instrumental in popularizing, if not inventing, the portrait medal, but it was in architecture that he found his métier. Building on the achievements of his immediate predecessors, Filippo Brunelleschi and Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, he reinterpreted anew the architecture of antiquity and introduced compositional formulae that have remained central to classical design ever since.

Paul Davies, David Hemsoll

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Anjou, House of

French dynasty of rulers, patrons and collectors. The first House of Anjou was founded by Charles of Anjou (1266–85) and was active mainly in Italy, notably as kings of Naples and Jerusalem. Members of the second House of Anjou lost Naples to the house of Aragon but continued to style themselves as kings of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem until the death of Charles, 5th Duke of Anjou, in 1481, when the titular kingdom passed to Louis XI, King of France.

Joan Isobel Friedman

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(b ?Mantua, c. 1460; d Gazzuolo, 1528). Italian sculptor. An expert in goldsmith work, bronze sculpture and medals, he earned his nickname ‘Antico’ because of his ‘astonishing penetration of antiquity’ (Nesselrath). He achieved lasting fame through his small-scale re-creations (often also reinterpretations) of famous, but often fragmentary, statues of antiquity (e.g. the Apollo Belvedere, Rome, Vatican, Mus. Pio-Clementino, and the Spinario, Rome, Mus. Conserv.). Most of these bronze statuettes were made for the Gonzaga family, notably for Ludovico, Bishop of Mantua, and for Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco II Gonzaga, 4th Marchese of Mantua. Antico also restored ancient marble statues and acted as an adviser to collectors.

Charles Avery

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Appian of Alexandria (c. 95–165) was a Greek who wrote a 24-volume Roman History. The most important of its surviving sections address the civil wars before the ascendancy of Augustus.

Aragon, House of

Spanish dynasty of rulers, patrons and collectors, active in Italy. The county of Aragon was established as a kingdom in 1035 under Ramiro I (reg 1035–63), son of Sancho III the Great, King of Navarre (reg 1000–35). In the 13th century James I the Conqueror, King of Aragon (reg 1213–76), extended the kingdom by taking control of Valencia and the Balearic islands. His son, Peter III, King of Aragon (reg 1276–85), also became King of Sicily in 1282, following a revolt against the rule of the House of Anjou. Separate branches of the Aragonese dynasty, which included Peter IV, King of Aragon (reg 1336–87), ruled the two kingdoms until 1409, when Martin, King of Aragon (reg 1395–1410), succeeded to the kingdom of Sicily. On his death in 1410 both kingdoms were given to his nephew, Ferdinand (reg 1412–16), son of John I, King of Castile (reg 1379–90). Ferdinand’s successor, Alfonso (who ruled as Alfonso V, King of Aragon and Sicily), was the adopted heir of the Queen of Naples and seized control of the kingdom of Naples in 1442, becoming Alfonso I. He and his descendants (who reigned until 1504), including Ferdinand I and Alfonso II, embarked on extensive programmes of building in the city, the most notable work being the improvements to the fortress of Castelnuovo.

Joan Isobel Friedman

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Ariosto, Ludovico

(b Reggio Emilia, 8 Sept 1474; d Ferrara, 6 July 1533). Italian poet. His father was a captain in the service of the ruling Este family at Ferrara, and Ariosto studied Latin literature and philosophy at the studium (university) there. From 1503, he served first Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este and then his brother, Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, in various administrative and diplomatic capacities, finally retiring around 1526. His supervision (1526–33) of the ducal theatre at Ferrara enabled him to collaborate with, among others, Dosso Dossi and Battista Dossi, who designed sets for several of his comedies. Despite the brilliance of these and of his seven Satires (1517–25), Ariosto’s fame rests on his romance-epic in Italian, Orlando furioso (Ferrara, 1516, 1521, 1532). The poem, begun in 1502 and completed only shortly before his death, uses Charlemagne’s war against the Saracens as a backdrop to explore typical Renaissance themes such as love, madness and fidelity.

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(b Stagira, 384 BC; d Khalkis, 322 BC).

Ancient Greek philosopher. Born to a physician at the Macedonian court, Aristotle travelled to Athens in his 18th year to study philosophy at Plato’s Academy. He remained for nearly twenty years until Plato’s death in 348 BC; he was then forced to leave Athens: probably he had come under suspicion because of his Macedonian connections. He went first to Assos, then to Mytilene, doing the original biological research on which his later scientific writings are based. During this period, he spent some time as tutor to the young Alexander the Great (reg 336–323 BC); the relationship does not seem to have been a warm one. Returning to Athens in 335 BC, he set up his own philosophical school, later called the Lyceum. From the colonnaded path, or peripatos, attached to the building, his followers were later called ‘Peripatetics’. Here he taught, and wrote most of his surviving works. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, anti-Macedonian feeling once again forced Aristotle to leave Athens; he died in exile of a stomach ailment about a year later.

Martha C. Nussbaum

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Revelry, originally associated with the wine god Bacchus.

Bellini, Giovanni


(b ?1431–6; d Venice, 29 Nov 1516). Painter and draughtsman, son of Jacopo Bellini. Although the professional needs of his family background may have encouraged him to specialize at an early date in devotional painting, by the 1480s he had become a leading master in all types of painting practised in 15th-century Venice. . . . His increasing dominance of Venetian art led to an enormous expansion of his workshop after c. 1490; and this provided the training-ground not only for his numerous shop-hands and imitators (generically known as Belliniani) but probably also for a number of major Venetian painters of the next generation. . . . It was thanks to Giovanni Bellini that the Venetian school of painting was transformed during the later 15th century from one mainly of local significance to one with an international reputation. He thus set the stage for the triumphs of Venetian painting in the 16th century and for the central contribution that Venice was to make to the history of European art.

Peter Humfrey

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Book of Hours

Late medieval prayerbook containing, as its principal text, psalms and devotions (primarily invoking the Virgin Mary) for the eight canonical hours of the day: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. They were intended for private reading and meditation by the laity, forming a shorter version of the cycle of daily prayers and psalms recited from the breviary by members of religious orders. Each office is usually no more than a few pages long, and the books are generally small and portable, often of octavo size. Most surviving Books of Hours were made in the 15th century and early 16th, and they were produced in such numbers that they still form the most common surviving group of European illuminated manuscripts.

Christopher de Hamel

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Botticelli, Sandro

[Filipepi, Alessandro (di Mariano di Vanni)]

(b Florence, 1444–5; d Florence, 17 May 1510).

Italian painter and draughtsman. In his lifetime he was one of the most esteemed painters in Italy, enjoying the patronage of the leading families of Florence, in particular the Medici and their banking clients. He was summoned to take part in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, was highly commended by diplomatic agents to Ludovico Sforza in Milan and Isabella d’Este in Mantua and also received enthusiastic praise from the famous mathematician Luca Pacioli and the humanist poet Ugolino Verino. By the time of his death, however, Botticelli’s reputation was already waning. . . . From that time his name virtually disappeared until the reassessment of his reputation that gathered momentum in the 1890s.

Charles Dempsey

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Castiglione, Baldassare

Castiglione, Baldassare [Baldesar], Conte

(b Casatico, nr Mantua, 6 Dec 1478; d Toledo, 2 Feb 1529).

Italian writer, humanist, diplomat and soldier. He was educated from 1490 to 1499 at the court of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, where he met Leonardo da Vinci and Giovanni Cristoforo Romano. He was in the service of Francesco II Gonzaga, 4th Marchese of Mantua, in 1499–1504, after which he was at the court of Urbino until 1516, serving first Guidobaldo I, Duke of Urbino, and afterwards his successor, Francesco-Maria I della Rovere. There he met Pietro Bembo, Ludovico da Canossa (1476–1532), Giuliano de’ Medici, Duc de Nemours, and Raphael, with whom he developed a strong friendship. In 1508 Castiglione began Il libro del cortegiano, for which he is best remembered. It was finished in 1518 and revised and published in 1528. In these fictitious dialogues, set in the palace rooms of Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, the courtiers, all historical persons, discuss the proper education for the ideal aristocrat. Castiglione dated the dialogues to 1506, when he was in fact in England representing Guidobaldo at the installation ceremony of the Order of the Garter. Il libro del cortegiano is divided into four books. In Book I, in the guise of Ludovico da Canossa, its interlocutor, Castiglione, expressed his views on sculpture and painting.

Doris Fletcher

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Shaped like a round shield, from the Latin word for that type of shield.


A mercenary soldier whose armies and soldiers were available for hire. Many, like Federigo da Montefeltro and Sigismondo Malatesta, were talented military strategists.


(b Correggio, ?1489; d Correggio, 5 March 1534). Italian painter and draughtsman. Apart from his Venetian contemporaries, he was the most important northern Italian painter of the first half of the 16th century. His best-known works are the illusionistic frescoes in the domes of S Giovanni Evangelista and the cathedral in Parma, where he worked from 1520 to 1530. The combination of technical virtuosity and dramatic excitement in these works ensured their importance for later generations of artists. His altarpieces of the same period are equally original and ally intimacy of feeling with an ecstatic quality that seems to anticipate the Baroque. In his paintings of mythological subjects, especially those executed after his return to Correggio around 1530, he created images whose sensuality and abandon have been seen as foreshadowing the Rococo

David Ekserdjian

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Cossa, Francesco del

(b Ferrara, c. 1435; d Bologna, 1476–7). Italian painter. Together with Cosimo Tura and Ercole de’ Roberti, he was one of the most important painters working in Ferrara and Bologna in the second half of the 15th century. With them he shared an expressive use of line and solidity of form, but he also had a gift for decorative and anecdotal scenes, most evident in the frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.

Kristen Lippincott

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Costa, Lorenzo

(b Ferrara, c. 1460; d Mantua, 5 March 1535).

He was the son of a painter, Giovanni Battista (?)Costa, and he received his early training in the studio of Ercole de’ Roberti in Ferrara. Probably in the early 1480s he moved to Bologna, where he became the favoured artist of Giovanni II Bentivoglio. Major commissions for Bolognese churches suggest that at one time he was the most sought-after artist in Bologna.

Maria Cristina Chiusa

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Dosso Dossi and his less talented younger brother Battista Dossi were the leading painters at the court of Ferrara under Alfonso I d’Este and Ercole II d’Este. Most of their documented work for the court was ephemeral in character and is now lost. It included frescoes for the various ducal residences; designs for tapestries, theatre sets, festival decorations, banners, coins and tableware; the decoration and varnishing of carriages and barges. However, there survives a considerable number of easel paintings attributable to the brothers, either singly or in collaboration; and a relatively high proportion of these are allegorical or mythological in content, in a way that clearly reflects the wider cultural interests of the Ferrarese court. Although responsive to a wide range of outside influences, the most important of which were probably those of Giorgione in Venice and Raphael in Rome, Dosso was an artist of great originality with a strong feeling for effects of light and of glowing colour, and for the poetic quality of landscape.

Peter Humfrey

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Equicola, Mario

(b Alvito, nr Frosinone, c. 1470; d Mantua, 1525). Italian writer. He was a courtier and man of letters, first in the service of the Cantelmo family of Sora, then at the Este court in Ferrara, and finally, for many years, at that of the Gonzaga in Mantua. His writings, not numerous but varied in subject, reflect the interests and manners prevailing in the Italian courts during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Marco Collareta

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Este, Alfonso I d’

3rd Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio

(b Ferrara, 21 July 1476; reg 1505–34; d Ferrara, 31 Oct 1534). Son of Ercole I d’Este. In 1502 he married Lucrezia Borgia and became a ruler of notable military and diplomatic ability. His chief claim to fame as patron was his employment of the poet Lodovico Ariosto, but he also patronized some of the outstanding artists of his day. His most important artistic commissions involved the decoration of his rooms in the so-called Via Coperta, the block linking the Palazzo del Corte (now Palazzo Comunale) with the Castello Estense in Ferrara, which he enlarged.

Charles Hope

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Este, Baldassare d’

[Baldassare da Reggio]

(b Reggio Emilia, bapt 20 June 1432; d after 29 Jan 1506).

Italian painter and medallist. He was brought up as the adopted son of a certain Giovanni Bonayti, but a document of 1489 records him as the (illegitimate) son of Niccolò III d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara. In most documents, however, he is called ‘Baldassare da Reggio’. Baldassare is first recorded as a painter in a document of 16 January 1461 from the Visconti Sforza ducal registers in Milan, in which he is given permission to travel for two years. This suggests that he had been working for the Dukes of Milan for some time.

Kristen Lippincott

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Este, Borso d’

1st Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio

(b Ferrara, 1413; reg 1450–71; d Ferrara, 20 Aug 1471).

Son of Niccolò III d’Este. He held many important mercenary military commands from 1430 to 1450. His art partronage was strategic, pragmatic, centralizing and intimate. Unlike his brother Lionello d’Este, he had only a rudimentary education and little empathy with the thought and literature of the ancient world. His main interest was the development of the Ferrarese state, and his control of the terms in which he wished to be seen by contemporaries and by posterity was absolute. Artists and scholars to him were functionaries, concerned with propaganda and entertainment, undeserving of special consideration, and arts and letters were tools of propaganda, which, shrewdly manipulated, would produce his image as a powerful, just, pious and magnanimous ruler. Borso returned to Ferrara in 1445 to assist Lionello in the administration of the Este territories. In 1452 he was invested as Duke of Modena and Reggio by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III.

Gordon Marshall Beamish

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Este, Ercole I d’

Marchese of Este, 2nd Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio

(b Ferrara, 26 Oct 1431; reg 1471–1505; d Ferrara, 25 Jan 1505).

Son of Niccolò III d’Este. From 1445 to 1463 he served as Lieutenant-General under three successive rulers of Naples: Alfonso, Ferdinand and John of Anjou. Borso d’Este recalled him to Ferrara to assist in governing the Este territories and made him ruler of Modena. He was a shrewd and effective statesman, and his experience of the Neapolitan court had influenced his vision of his role and power. He was also compelled by virtue of his position to maintain a grand public image. To this end he held lavish parties and ceremonies and was a generous patron—of the theatre, of literature, music (Josquin Desprez wrote two masses for him), and of the visual arts.

Gordon Marshall Beamish

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Este, Isabella d’

Marchesa of Mantua

(b Ferrara, 18 May 1474; d Mantua, 13 Feb 1539).

Daughter of Ercole I d’Este. She was brought up in the cultivated atmosphere of her parents’ court at Ferrara, where she studied with tutors, including the humanist scholars Giovanni Battista Guarino and Mario Equicola. Her intelligence was particularly noted by the envoys sent to assess her by Francesco II Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua, whom she married in 1490, when she was 16. Her private quarters in Mantua were in the tower of the Castello di S Giorgio, part of the complex of buildings which make up the Ducal Palace. The apartment included her first studiolo and the cave-like grotta beneath, which housed her collection of antiquities. Her fame as a patron is due to the decorations she commissioned for her studiolo, a set of paintings of Classical and allegorical subjects, rather than the religious works associated with other female patrons.

Clifford M. Brown

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Este, Lionello d’

13th Marchese of Ferrara

(b Ferrara, 21 Sept 1407; reg 1441–50; d Ferrara, 1 Oct 1450). Son of Niccolò III d’Este. During his brief rule he used the revenue from family properties and taxes to give lavish support to art and scholarship. His interest, which had developed under the influence of the humanist Guarino da Verona, who came to Ferrara in 1429, and the condottiere Braccio Fortebraccio (1368–1424), was genuine and discriminating. He established Ferrara as a virtually unrivalled centre for humanism. . . . The Marchese appears from this to have favoured poetry and drama above the other arts.

Gordon Marshall Beamish

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Este, Niccolò III d’

12th Marchese of Ferrara

(b Ferrara, 1383; reg 1393–1441; d Milan, 26 Dec 1441).

Nephew of Niccolò II d’Este. He became ruler before his tenth birthday, and over the years he added Modena, Rovigo, Reggio and other smaller cities to the Este territorial holdings. Politically astute and praised for his commitment to learning, he could also be cruel and implacable. He made distant pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Vienne (south of Lyon) and Loreto; when at SS Annunziata in Florence, he gave (1435) a large wax relief that represented him on horseback. In 1429 he invited the humanist Guarino da Verona to teach at the University of Ferrara, bringing fame to that institution.

Patrick M. de Winter

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Francesco di Giorgio Martini

Francesco (Maurizio) di Giorgio Martini (Pollaiolo) [Francesco di Giorgio]

(b Siena, bapt 23 Sept 1439; d Siena, bur 29 Nov 1501).

Italian architect, engineer, painter, illuminator, sculptor, medallist, theorist and writer. He was the most outstanding artistic personality from Siena in the second half of the 15th century. His activities as a diplomat led to his employment at the courts of Naples, Milan and Urbino, as well as in Siena, and while most of his paintings and miniatures date from before 1475, by the 1480s and 1490s he was among the leading architects in Italy. He was particularly renowned for his work as a military architect . . .

Francesco Paolo Fiore, Pietro C. Marani

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Ghirlandaio, Domenico

(b Florence, 1448–9; d Florence, 11 Jan 1494).

Painter, mosaicist and possibly goldsmith. He was head of one of the most active workshops in late 15th-century Florence. He developed a style of religious narrative that blended the contemporary with the historical in a way that updated the basic tenets of early Renaissance art. Domenico’s documented material situation—prosperous, land-owning—conflicts with Vasari’s description of him as unconcerned with wealth and business, and he emerges as an enterprising, versatile craftsman, the artisan and bourgeois nature of his life making him perfectly suited to satisfying the tastes and aspirations of his patrons.

Jean K. Cadogan

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Gian Cristoforo Romano

Gian [Giovanni] Cristoforo Romano

(b Rome, c. 1465; d Loreto, 31 May 1512).

Italian sculptor and medallist. He was the son of Isaia da Pisa. Some scholars have followed Vasari in suggesting that he was trained by his father or by Paolo Romano, but Isaia stopped work and Paolo died too early to have had any significant influence on him. It is likely that he studied with Andrea Bregno, who worked in Rome from 1446 to 1506. He may have been in Urbino before 1482, working at the Palazzo Ducale with the Lombard master Ambrogio d’Antonio Barocci. Several doorframes in the palazzo have been attributed to him. He then probably went to the Este court at Ferrara. In 1490 he carved a portrait bust of Beatrice d’Este (Paris, Louvre), the daughter of Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, for her betrothal to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The attribution of this bust derives from a letter of 12 June 1491 from Isabella d’Este, requesting that Ludovico send Gian Cristoforo, who had done Beatrice’s portrait, to Mantua to work for her.

Andrea S. Norris

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[Zorzi da Castelfranco; Zorzon]

(b Castelfranco Veneto, ?1477–8; d Venice, before 7 Nov 1510).

Italian painter. He is generally and justifiably regarded as the founder of Venetian painting of the 16th century. Within a brief career of no more than 15 years he created a radically innovative style based on a novel pictorial technique, which provided the starting-point for the art of Titian, the dominant personality of the 16th century in Venice. Although he apparently enjoyed a certain fame as a painter of external frescoes, Giorgione specialized above all in relatively small-scale pictures, painted for private use in the home. A high proportion of his subjects were drawn from, or inspired by, mythology and secular literature. Landscape played an important role in many of his compositions, and particular attention was often paid to the representation of storms, sunsets and other such natural phenomena. Giorgione was evidently also prized as a painter of portraits, many of them ‘fancy’ portraits, or views in close-up of the kind of poetic or mythological figure also seen in his narratives. His exploitation of a taste for such works within a circle of aesthetically sophisticated Venetian patricians in turn provided the context for the creation of an entirely novel range of pictorial images.

Peter Humfrey, Martin Kemp

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Gonzaga, Francesco II

4th Marchese of Mantua

(b Mantua, 1466; reg 1484–1519; d Mantua, 29 March 1519).

Son of Federico I Gonzaga. He made his career and reputation as a condottiere and was involved in turbulent political and military events. When Charles VIII, King of France, invaded Italy in 1494, Francesco assisted in the formation of a league to defeat him, and, as commander of the league’s forces, joined battle with Charles at Fornovo on 6 July 1495. He gained the victory but only with heavy loss of life. Despite skilful diplomatic manoeuvring, the security of Mantua was under threat from the French until Francesco’s death. Francesco’s patronage of the arts, which was surpassed by that of his wife, Isabella d’Este, was supported by state revenues and military stipends. It was essentially strategic and pragmatic in nature, a characteristic most strongly expressed in the sculpture, music and the applied arts that Francesco patronized.

Gordon Marshall Beamish

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Gonzaga, Ludovico II

2nd Marchese of Mantua

(b Mantua, 5 June 1412; reg 1444–78; d Goito, 12 June 1478).

Son of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga. He was educated at the school run by Vittorino da Feltre at the Casa Giocosa, Mantua. Da Feltre esteemed his intellectual and political abilities highly, an opinion later shared by Bartolomeo Sacchi (il Platina) who tutored Ludovico’s children and afterwards became the overseer of the Vatican Library. Ludovico was certainly one of the most intellectually gifted of the Gonzaga rulers; he associated with scholars, employed scribes and illuminators—for example Andrea da Lodi (fl 1458–64), who illuminated Boccaccio’s Filocolo for Ludovico (Alexander)—and purchased items for the Gonzaga library. In 1433 he married Barbara of Hohenzollern (1422–81), niece of Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, with whom he had five sons and five daughters. From 1445 until the Peace of Lodi (1454), Ludovico, an accomplished soldier, was involved in the power struggle between Milan, Venice and Florence.

Rodolfo Signorini

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Gothic: International Gothic style, c. 1380–c. 1440

The expressions ‘Courant international’ and ‘Gothicité international’ were first employed by Courajod with reference to analogies between French and Italian sculpture of the period around 1400. He intended to demonstrate Franco-Netherlandish impulses for the Renaissance and to establish the existence of a universal late medieval Gothic style. Von Schlosser (1895) also described the formation of a European-wide ‘höfische Kunst’ marked by widespread occurrences of the same subject-matter, notably in the more mobile medium of tapestry. What became known as the International Gothic style (or International Style) was seen as the product of courtly patronage and eclectic, supra-regional, stylistic and iconographic preferences. Many of its formal qualities were held to persist well into the 15th century in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Bohemia and Italy.

Paul Binski

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Guarino da Verona

(b Verona, 1374; d Ferrara, 4 Dec 1460).

Italian humanist and educator. He was one of the great humanist teachers of the 15th century. Having studied in Verona, Padua and Venice, Guarino was among the first Italian scholars to visit Constantinople, where he studied Greek from 1403 to 1408, living part of the time in the household of the neo-Platonic philosopher Manuel Chrysoloras (1350–1415). Laden with Greek manuscripts, Guarino returned to Italy via Rhodes and Chios in 1409, stayed in Venice for a short period, moved to Verona (1409–10) and finally settled in Florence, where he was employed as a Greek tutor (1410–14). Between 1414 and 1419 he was teaching in Venice and in 1419 he opened a private school in Verona. In 1429 Guarino was summoned to Ferrara by Niccolò III d’Este as tutor for his son Leonello. He remained there until his death.

Kristen Lippincott

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From the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian (AD 76–138), who was noted for this love and knowledge of Greek art and culture. Copies of Greek works made for Hadrian are believed to be more faithful to their originals than most other Roman copies.

Halcyon days

In Greek myth, Alcyone threw herself into the sea after her drowned husband and both were turned into kingfishers. The stormy seas calmed for two weeks each year so they could nest.


In painting, the attempt to make images that seemingly share or extend the three-dimensional space in which the spectator stands. . . . For imagery, the painter may represent a flat surface from which planes jut and recede to a slight depth—the range of effects properly known as trompe l’oeil—or alternatively sky and great distance: in both cases the effects of parallax are minimized. The illusion will be stronger if the image is lit in the same way as its location, and in murals it may also share the same architecture, extended into painted vistas.

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Decorative wood technique in which the design or pattern is made by assembling small, shaped pieces of veneer. The term, which derives from 15th-century Italy, is commonly used on the Continent to describe both marquetry, in which the entire surface is veneered, and inlay, in which the pattern pieces are laid into a solid ground.

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Laurana, Francesco

Laurana [de la Vrana], Francesco

(b Vrana, nr Zara [now Zadar, Croatia]; d Marseille, before 12 March 1502).

Italian sculptor and medallist. He was one of the most significant and most complex sculptors of the 15th century—complex because of his activities within varying cultural circles and his exposure to differing influences. His best works evolved in the workshop tradition in collaboration with other artists. His portrait busts reveal a creative individuality that was seen as particularly fascinating in the late 19th century. Though it is impossible to chart his stylistic development, his later work made in France shows some assimilation of northern realism, which is absent from the work executed in Italy.

Hanno-Walter Kruft

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Lippi, Filippino

(b Prato, c. 1457; d Florence, 18 April 1504).

Son of Filippo Lippi. He was a painter of altarpieces, cassone panels and frescoes and also an exceptional draughtsman. His success lay in his ability to absorb, without slavishly following, the most popular trends in contemporary painting. He worked in Florence and Rome at a time when patrons were beginning to intermingle personal, religious, social and political ideals in their ambitions for palaces and chapels: with the support of wealthy and erudite patrons, such as Lorenzo de’ Medici (‘il Magnifico’) and Filippo Strozzi, he won important civic and private commissions. Lippi’s most distinguished achievement was the decoration of the Strozzi Chapel in S Maria Novella, Florence.

Marilyn Bradshaw

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Mantegna, Andrea

(b Isola di Carturo, nr Padua, 1430–31; d Mantua 13 Sept 1506).

Italian painter and printmaker. He occupies a pre-eminent position among Italian artists of the 15th century. The profound enthusiasm for the civilization of ancient Rome that infuses his entire oeuvre was unprecedented in a painter. In addition to its antiquarian content, his art is characterized by brilliant compositional solutions, the bold and innovative use of perspective and foreshortening and a precise and deliberate manner of execution, an aspect that was commented on during his lifetime. He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries for his learning and skill and, significantly, he is the only artist of the period to have left a small corpus of self-portraits . . . His printmaking activity is technically advanced and of great importance, although certain aspects of the execution remain to be clarified. Due to the survival of both the Paduan and Mantuan archives, Mantegna is one of the best-documented artists of the 15th century.

Gabriele Finaldi

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Matthias Corvinus

King of Hungary

(b Klausenburg [now Cluj-Napoca], 1443; reg 1458–90; d Vienna, 1490).

Hungarian patron and collector. He was the son of Governor John Hunyadi (d 1456) and took over both the political and cultural affairs of Hungary with great energy and determination. The buildings, collections and workshops set up by him testify to his powers of organization and co-ordination. His patronage was concerned with art as an enhancement of his nation’s glory and he also exploited the decorative arts to represent the power of the state through pageants and festivals, delegations and sumptuous gifts. Owing to his patronage, Hungarian art became pre-eminent in the cultural development of central Europe, with the early introduction of Renaissance ideas and styles drawn directly from the great Italian centres, Florence in particular.

Győngyi Tőrők

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Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

(b Wiener Neustadt, 22 March 1459; reg 1493–1519; d Wels, 12 Jan 1519).

Son of Frederick III. Through his marriage and those of his children and grandchildren, he contributed substantially to the territorial aggrandisement of the Habsburgs in the Netherlands, Spain and eastern Europe. His patronage tended largely to the glorification of the dynasty, notably in portraiture and in the large statues of his family and ancestors he commissioned for his tomb in Innsbruck. His autobiographical literary works reflect his medieval courtly ideals and were illustrated by major contemporary artists. He was also probably the greatest patron of armourers in the late 15th century.

Rosemarie Bergmann

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Piece of metal (or sometimes other material) that is usually coin-like, with an image and/or inscription, usually on both sides. It is generally a commemorative object. Large ancient Roman presentation pieces of bronze, silver and gold, produced between the 2nd and the 5th century AD, are generally called medallions; the term is also somewhat loosely applied to particularly large Renaissance and later medals. Medals are usually discs of gold, silver, copper alloy (bronze or brass) or lead, bearing images. . . . Traditionally, the images included on the obverse a portrait with identifying inscription, and on the reverse a text or some sort of figure or scene associated with the subject of the portrait. . . . The medal’s primary function is to honour, commemorate, glorify, criticize or even satirize its subject through an extended pictorial and verbal message that usually covers both of its surfaces. It is reproduced in varying numbers and distributed, in the manner of a book or print, to what may be a large public.

Stephen K. Scher

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Medici, de’

Italian family of merchants, bankers, rulers, patrons and collectors. They dominated the political and cultural life of Florence from the 15th century to the mid-18th. Their name and their coat-of-arms showing five to nine spheres were not derived from medical ancestors, since the family had always been merchants. However, they appropriated this interpretation, making the physicians Cosmas and Damian their patron saints. International trade in wool, silk, metals and spices made them one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Italy.

Marlis von Hessert

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Medici, Lorenzo de’

Lorenzo the Magnificent [Lorenzo de’ Medici; Lorenzo il Magnifico], Lord of Florence

(b Florence, Jan 1449; reg 1469; d Florence, 8 April 1492).

Son of Piero de’ Medici. In 1469 Piero organized a joust to celebrate Lorenzo’s marriage to Clarice Orsini, and in the same year the succession passed, without discord, to Lorenzo. The Pazzi conspiracy (1478) and the following war challenged Medici predominance, yet Lorenzo’s leadership was consolidated by constitutional changes and by his securing peace with the papacy in 1480.

Lorenzo was both ruler and scholar. A distinguished vernacular poet, he was also passionately interested in Classical antiquity and became the centre of a humanist circle of poets, artists and philosophers, which included Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano, Botticelli, Bertoldo di Giovanni and Michelangelo. His taste in architecture was formed by Leon Battista Alberti, with whom he had studied antiques in Rome in 1465 and whose treatise he read repeatedly. He showed great interest in the architectural projects of his day; this has stimulated a debate on whether he may have been an amateur architect. Even if Lorenzo was not a practising architect, there is no doubt that Giuliano da Sangallo, whom he saw as able to revive the glories of antiquity, worked in close collaboration with him.

Lorenzo’s interest in antiquity is further underlined by the keenness with which he built up an expensive collection of antiquities, including sculptures, gems, cameos, vases and large-scale marble sculpture. . . . Moreover, he established a sculpture garden at S Marco, where he encouraged Michelangelo to study from the Antique, and before 1492 Michelangelo had carved his Virgin of the Steps and the Battle of the Centaurs (both Florence, Casa Buonarroti). Both Bertoldo and Michelangelo formed part of Lorenzo’s household, and this treatment of artists as the equals of humanist scholars and poets was unprecedented in Republican Florence. It introduced a new type of patronage and was associated with an increasing emphasis on the production of collector’s pieces.

Mary Bonn

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Montefeltro, Federigo II da

Federigo [Federico] II da Montefeltro, 1st Duke of Urbino

(b Gubbio, 1422; reg 1444–82; d Ferrara, 10 Sept 1482).

He was the illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro, Count of Urbino (reg 1404–43). In his youth he spent two years at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, attended the humanist school of Vittorino da Feltre and served as a condottiere from 1437. He became Count of Urbino after the assassination of his half-brother, Oddantonio (reg 1443–4). Federigo’s mastery of warfare was renowned throughout Europe. In 1444 he served the Sforzas of Milan and was later employed by Florence and Naples (1451). He was infrequently engaged after the peace of Lodi (1454), although various city-states retained the promise of his service. In 1469 he headed the alliance of Naples, Milan and Florence against Pope Paul II (reg 1464–71). In 1474, however, he was created Duke of Urbino by Sixtus IV (reg 1471–84) and granted the rights to land in Romagna. He fought for the papacy against Florence in 1479.

Roger J. Crum

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Oil painting

Method of painting using pigments dispersed in oil. It is not known how oil painting was first developed, but in Western Europe there are indications of its use from at least the 12th century AD, and it was widely used from the Renaissance. . . . Egg tempera was the main paint medium of the Middle Ages before the advent of oil paint. The use of drying oils as a varnish for paintings was described by the medical writerAetius in the 6th century AD, but the earliest reference to mixing oil with pigment to make paint was not until the 12th century, in the manual De diversis artibus (c. 1110–40) by Theophilus. . . . In the northern countries, particularly the Netherlands, the transparency of oil paint was fully exploited from the outset, and a technique was developed in which layers of glazes were built up from a detailed underdrawing, like sheets of coloured glass. . . . The tempera tradition was, however, well established in southern Europe, thus the introduction of oil paint was a gradual process, with many painters continuing to work in egg and animal size during the 15th century.

Catherine Hassall

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(b Sulmo [now Sulmona, Abruzzi], 20 March 43 BC; d Tomis [now Constanţa, Romania], AD 17–18).

Roman poet. His work is an important source for mythological subjects in Western visual art. He studied in Rome and held minor judicial posts there before becoming a poet. For two decades he was the leading poet in Rome, but in AD 8, for unknown reasons, the Emperor Augustus banished him to Tomis on the Black Sea, where he remained. The principal works of his maturity are the Metamorphoses, stories from mythology related in a historical frame, and the Fasti, a poetical treatise on the Roman calendar.

Willem F. Lash

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[Vannucci, Pietro di Cristoforo]

(b Città della Pieve, c. 1450; d Fontignano, ?Feb 1523).

Italian painter and draughtsman. He was active in Perugia, Florence and Rome in the late 15th century and early 16th. Although he is now known mainly as the teacher of Raphael, he made a significant contribution to the development of painting from the style of the early Renaissance to the High Renaissance. The compositional model he introduced, combining the Florentine figural style with an Umbrian use of structure and space, was taken up by Raphael and became widely influential throughout Europe.

Sylvia Ferino Pagden

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Petrarch, Francesco

Petrarch [Petrarca], Francesco

(b Arezzo, 20 July 1304; d Arquà, nr Padua, 19 July 1374).

Italian poet and humanist. He was the central figure of Italian literary culture in the mid-14th century. The son of an exiled Florentine notary who moved to Avignon in 1312, Petrarch led a peripatetic career as a man of letters; after studying law at Montpellier (1316) and Bologna (1320), he alternated residence between France and the Italian courts until 1353, when he finally settled in Italy. He often acted as an ambassador and orator on state occasions. His work largely initiated the transition from the fragmentary humanism of the late Middle Ages to the more systematic classicism of the Renaissance. His observations on art were sporadic and usually marginal, but they are crucially important for the understanding of the development of a critical vocabulary for art, and for revealing the way in which an appreciation of the visual arts began to be absorbed into the concerns of literary humanism. Petrarch also has an important place in art history owing to his known connections with contemporary artists, the visual interpretation or illustration of his work in the Trecento, and the unusually large number of portraits made of him during or just after his lifetime.

John Richards

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Italian city in Tuscany, 50 km south of Siena. The small hamlet of Corsignano (birthplace of Pius II) was transformed into the beautiful city of Pienza during one of the most intense periods of urban renewal in Renaissance Italy. The newly elected Pope made a return visit there in February 1459 and found it peopled by individuals who were ‘bowed down by old age and illness’. He determined to ‘build there a new church and a palace . . . to leave as lasting as possible a memorial of his birth’. In June 1462 Pius requested the senate in Rome to rename the town Pienza (a name deriving from his own) and to raise it to the level of a city state. During the mid-15th century the town was officially in the possession of the Sienese, but with its elevation and change of name it effectively came under the rule of Rome.

Anabel Thomas

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[Pisano, Antonio]

(b Pisa or Verona, by 1395; d ?c. Oct 1455).

Italian painter, draughtsman and medallist. His richly decorative frescoes, courtly and elegant painted portraits and highly original portrait medals made him one of the most popular artists of the day. He travelled extensively and worked for several Italian courts, at Mantua, Ferrara, Pavia, Milan and Naples. Many of his paintings have been lost or damaged, making a reconstruction of his career difficult. He is now better known as a medallist.

Renzo Chiarelli, J. G. Pollard

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Pius II, Pope

[Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini]

(b Corsignano [now Pienza], nr Siena, 18 Oct 1405; elected 1458; d Ancona, 15 Aug 1464).

Born of a Sienese noble family in exile, he studied classics and law in Siena, and travelled north of the Alps as secretary and diplomatic envoy to the cardinals at the Council of Basle, the anti-pope Felix V and the emperor Frederick III. He took holy orders in 1446, and returned to Italy to become bishop of Trieste (1447), bishop of Siena (1450) and cardinal (1456). A humanist gifted with an insatiable curiosity for history, travel and current events, with a penetrating eye for character and a love for landscape, he felt compelled to record his experiences and the results of his topographical studies in elegant Latin. Of all his many literary works, the Commentaries, written like Caesar’s in the third person, remain the most vivid source for his life and times.

Ruth Olitsky Rubinstein

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Titus Maccius Plautus (254?–184 BC) was the greatest Roman comedic playwright. His approximately 130 plays (of which some twenty survive in more or less complete form) present stock characters such as the crafty slave in plots involving love triangles, mistaken identities, and improbable resolutions. The Menaechmi inspired Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.


(b Khaironeia, c. AD 50; d Delphi, after 120).

Greek priest and author. Plutarch’s prolific writings include many metaphors drawn from art and artistic production, but his principal contributions to art history are two antiquarian works on Greek and Roman religious customs, Quaestiones graecae (Gr. Aitia hellenika) and Quaestiones romanae (Gr. Aitia romaika). Cast in dialogue question-and-answer form, these works attempt to offer mythological or historical explanations for some of the arcana of Greek and Roman cultic observance, incidentally providing interpretations of religious iconography and much specific information on the layout of shrines and temples which would otherwise be lost.

Dominic Montserrat

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(b Athens, ?c. 400 BC; d Athens, c. 330 BC).

Greek sculptor. His career spanned the 370s to the 340s BC. He was the foremost Attic sculptor of the Late Classical period, son (or possibly son-in-law or brother) and pupil of the sculptor Kephisodotos and father of the sculptors Kephisodotos the younger and Timarchos. Praxiteles’ affluence is attested by his practice of fashioning models for statues without having to depend on commissions and by his expensive gifts to his favourite model, the courtesan Phryne.

Olga Palagia

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Predis, Giovanni Ambrogio de

(b Milan, c. 1455; d after 1508).

Painter and illuminator, half-brother of Cristoforo de Predis. He began his career as an illuminator, working with Cristoforo. . . . From 1479 he artist worked in the Milanese mint, together with his brother Bernardino. For some years Giovanni Ambrogio also worked at the court of Ludovico Sforza (‘il Moro’), especially as a portrait painter. This is borne out by the charcoal drawing of Bianca Maria Sforza (1492; Venice, Accad.), which dates from a period before her marriage to Emperor Maximilian I. The portrait was ordered by her future husband, through Frederick III, Duke of Saxony, to give him an idea of her appearance.

Enrica Banti

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Term used to describe images and information produced and disseminated for social, ideological or religious purposes. For some scholars almost any art, including monumental art and even entire cities, can be regarded as a form of propaganda. The word is most commonly associated, however, with the deliberate manipulation of narrative art and graphic symbols to alter public opinion, a strategy adopted in modern times particularly by totalitarian regimes in the Western world seeking to engineer democratic support.
Kendall Taylor

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[Santi, Raffaello; Sanzio, Raffaello]

(b Urbino, 28 March or 6 April 1483; d Rome, 6 April 1520).

Italian painter, draughtsman and architect. He has always been acknowledged as one of the greatest European artists. With Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian, he was one of the most famous painters working in Italy in the period from 1500 to 1520, often identified as the High Renaissance, and in this period he was perhaps the most important figure. His early altarpieces (of 1500–07) were made for Città di Castello and Perugia; in Florence between 1504 and 1508 he created some of his finest portraits and a series of devotional paintings of the Holy Family. In 1508 he moved to Rome, where he decorated in fresco the Stanze of the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace—perhaps his most celebrated works—as well as executing smaller paintings in oil (including portraits) and a series of major altarpieces, some of which were sent from Rome to other centres. In Rome, Raphael came to run a large workshop. He also diversified, working as an architect and designer of prints.

Nicholas Penny

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Roberti, Ercole de’

Roberti, Ercole (d’Antonio) de’ [Grandi, Ercole (di Giulio Cesare) de’]

(b Ferrara, c. 1455–6; d 18 May–1 July 1496).

Italian painter and draughtsman. He was, together with Cosimo Tura and Francesco del Cossa, one of the most important painters working in Ferrara and Bologna in the 15th century. Although many of his works have been destroyed, those that survive show that he raised the depiction of human emotion and narrative drama to remarkable heights. From 1486 he worked as court painter to Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

Kristen Lippincott

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Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (236–183 BC) was a Roman general and statesman best known for his victory over Hannibal in the Second Punic War. In the Renaissance he was noted for the clemency and restraint he showed the defeated.

Sforza, Francesco I

[Attendolo], Duke of Milan

(b San Miniato, 23 July 1401; reg 1450–66; d Milan, 8 March 1466).

He was the son of the condottiere Muzio Attendolo and established himself as one of the most important military figures in 15th-century Italy. In 1441 he married Bianca Maria, the illegitimate daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. Following Filippo Maria’s death in 1447 and a short-lived attempt by the Milanese to create a republic (the Ambrosian Republic), Sforza declared himself Duke in 1450. His sponsorship of the arts was primarily directed towards religious and civic building projects. During the first ten years of his rule his patronage was dominated by the need to reconstruct and restore major Visconti fortresses, particularly the Castello Sforzesco, Milan, which had been destroyed during the Ambrosian Republic. Francesco also took up the traditional ducal sponsorship of the building of Milan Cathedral and the Certosa di Pavia.

E. S. Welch

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Sforza, Galeazzo Maria

Duke of Milan

(b Fermo, 14 Jan 1444; reg 1466–76; d Milan, 27 Dec 1476).

Son of Francesco I Sforza and Bianca Maria Sforza. Lacking a juridical right for his father’s conquest of the duchy of Milan, his ten-year rule was dominated by the need to legitimize Sforza control. He emphasized his Visconti descent through his mother by supporting such traditional Milanese projects as the construction of Milan Cathedral and the Certosa di Pavia. His greatest contributions, however, concerned the building of a new residence within the Castello Sforzesco in Milan and the redecoration of the Castello in Pavia.

E. S. Welch

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Sforza, Ludovico

Ludovico (Maria) Sforza [Ludovico il Moro], Duke of Milan

(b Abbiategrasso, 3 Aug 1452; reg 1494–99; d Loches, Touraine, 27 May 1508).

Son of Francesco I Sforza and Bianca Maria Sforza. In 1480, several years after the death of his brother Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1476, he succeeded in gaining control of the regency but did not become duke in name until his nephew Gian Galeazzo Sforza died in 1494. His commissions, both public and private, were divided between Lombard and Tuscan masters. . . . Of the artistsLudovico encouraged to come to Lombardy, an undated letter reveals that he was considering Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Perugino and Ghirlandaio as court artists. About 1482 Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Milan, where he remained as an intimate member of Ludovico’s household for 18 years. As court painter, Leonardo is documented as having portrayed two of Ludovico’s mistresses, Lucrezia Crivelli and Cecilia Gallerani. . . . Much of his work was for such courtly ephemera as the designs for the spectacle Festa del Paradiso, composed in 1490.

E. S. Welch

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Term generally used in 15th- and 16th-century Italy to describe a private domestic room, especially that of a ruler or other distinguished figure. It was not the bedchamber, which usually had a semi-public character, but a smaller, inner room, to which no-one but the owner had automatic access. Earlier studioli were used as studies or libraries. Later examples were essentially private museums. The contents were customarily the owner’s most precious possessions—books, jewels, objets d’art and other artefacts—which would be shown to favoured guests.

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Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 65–130) was a Roman historian whose Twelve Caesars chronicled Rome’s leaders from Caesar to Domition.


[Vecellio, Tiziano]

(b Pieve di Cadore, c. ?1485–90; d Venice, 27 Aug 1576).

Italian painter, draughtsman and printmaker. The most important artist of the Vecellio family, he was immensely successful in his lifetime and since his death has always been considered the greatest painter of the Venetian school. He was equally pre-eminent in all the branches of painting practised in the 16th century: religious subjects, portraits, allegories and scenes from Classical mythology and history. His work illuminates more clearly than that of any other painter the fundamental transition from the 15th-century tradition (characterized by meticulous finish and the use of bright local colours) to that of the 16th century, when painters adopted a broader technique, with less defined outlines and with mutually related colours.

Cecil Gould

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Circular painting or relief carving. It developed as an independent form in Florence in the first half of the 15th century. However, earlier examples of the circular form do exist, for example in France with Jean Malouel’s Pietà (Paris, Louvre) which dates c. 1400. Many of the surviving Italian tondi depict themes that also occurred on the desco da parto, from which the tondo may have evolved. This was a circular or polygonal painted tray made to celebrate the birth of a child and presented to the mother with gifts of sweetmeats and fruit. Tondi paintings were produced in Florence primarily for domestic settings, with the Adoration of the Magi and the Virgin and Child being particularly popular subjects.

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Tura, Cosimo


(b Ferrara, ?1430; d Ferrara, April 1495).

Italian painter. He was court painter to the Este family of Ferrara from 1458 until the mid-1480s. He was the first and one of the greatest representatives of the Ferrarese school of painting, but many of his most important works, including the decoration of the library of Pico della Mirandola (1463–94), have been either destroyed or dismantled, and some of his large-scale altarpieces are divided between collections. His career is well recorded and provides a vivid illustration of the role and duties of a 15th-century court artist.

Kristen Lippincott

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Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 BC) was the greatest poet of the Latin Golden age and author of the Aeneid, which tells the story of the founding of Rome, after long trials, by the Trojan prince Aeneas. Tradition holds that the epic was commissioned by Augustus; it includes Augustan imagery and prophetic lines about the brilliance of Rome’s future under the first emperor. Other works include the Eclogues and the Georgics. Virgil was popular in the Middle Ages; many Christians found him more sympathetic than other ancient writers. Dante made Virgil his guide in Hell and Purgatory.


Italian dynasty of rulers and patrons. As Lords and later Dukes of Milan, they dominated the politics of North Italy from the mid-14th century to the mid-15th, when the related sforza dynasty succeeded to the duchy. From 1311 Matteo I Visconti (d 1322) held the joint offices of Captain General and Imperial Vicar of Milan and gained control of most of western Lombardy. In 1327 his son Galeazzo I Visconti (reg 1322–8) was expelled from Milan by Ludwig of Bavaria. Galeazzo’s son Azzo Visconti recovered the Imperial Vicariate in 1329 and subsequently regained control of the surrounding cities. Azzo was succeeded by his uncles Lucchino Visconti (reg 1339–49) and Giovanni Visconti, Archbishop of Milan (reg 1349–54).

Kay Sutton

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