It is by far the most conspicuous building in all of Ferrara: the Palazzo dei Diamanti. Its northern and eastern facade are made up of over 8.000 blocks of pink and white marble in the shape of pyramids. The tips of the pyramids are either pointing up, forward or down to reflect the light and create rather special visual effects. Since the thousands of marble blocks resemble diamonds, the building is known as the Palace of the Diamonds. The palazzo is the work of Biagio Rossetti (ca. 1447-1516), the court architect of the d’Este family. It was constructed as part of the Addizione Erculea, the expansion of the city of Ferrara ordered by Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara from 1471 until 1505. The palazzo itself was commissioned by Sigismondo d’Este (1433-1507), the Duke’s younger brother. It was built between 1493 and 1503.
Nowadays the Palazzo dei Diamanti is home to the Pinacoteca Nazionale and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna. In this post I will briefly discuss the former museum, which my better half and I visited in July 2017. The Pinacoteca Nazionale was opened in 1836. Its main focus is on painting in Ferrara and the wider Emilia region between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. Since the museum is not particularly large, visitors can stroll through the rooms and discover the paintings at leisure. Some of the most interesting works can be found in a large room in the central part of the palazzo. Here several frescoes from demolished churches in Ferrara are on display.
The frescoes have been detached from their original surface and have been transferred to a more durable background. A fourteenth century fresco attributed to Serafino de Serafini (ca. 1323-1393) about the Triumph of Saint Augustus can be admired here (above left). It used to be in the church of Sant’Andrea, demolished in 1969, and has been transferred to panel. Even older are the frescoes by the so-called Master of San Bartolo, featuring scenes pertaining to Heavenly Jerusalem, the College of the Apostles and stories from the life of the saint (San Bartolo = Saint Bartholomew, the apostle who was skinned alive; above right). The frescoes used to be in the abbey of San Bartolo and were transferred to the Pinacoteca Nazionale in 1973. They were painted between 1260 and 1294. In the same room is a large fresco of the Ascension, also by the Master of San Bartolo, and four separate frescoes of the evangelists (above centre).
Of the medieval art on display, I especially liked works such as the Dream of the Virgin by the Bolognese painter Simone di Filippo, also known as Simone dei Crocifissi (ca. 1330-1399) for his ability to paint crucifixes. The Dream of the Virgin is not a crucifix, at least not an ordinary one, but a cusp-shaped panel painting featuring a sleeping Virgin as the root of the Tree of Redemption and Life. The trunk of the tree seems to grow from the Virgin’s belly and Christ is nailed to the tree’s branches. A pelican mother has made her nest in the treetop and is pecking her own chest to feed her blood to the three little chicks in the nest. The panel used to be in the Corpus Domini convent in Ferrara.
Also of interests are two panels paintings of saints from the Franciscan order, Saint Louis of Toulouse (1274-1297) and Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444). The latter has been discussed multiple times on this website (here, here and here), while the former has been mentioned once or twice. Saint Louis was a scion of the French royal House of Anjou. His father, Charles II, was the King of Naples. When his older brother died in 1295, Louis became heir to the throne, but he chose to become a man of the cloth instead. Consecrated as Bishop of Toulouse in early 1297, he died just a few months later at the tender age of 23. A mere twenty years later, in 1317, Louis was canonised by the French Pope John XXII (1316-1334). His full-length portrait in the Pinacoteca is a work of Michele Pannonio (died ca. 1464), a Hungarian painter active in fifteenth century Italy. The painting shows a young man in a Franciscan habit, with a bishop’s mitre and the French fleur-de-lis on his robes.
One of the highlights in the museum is the Death of the Virgin by the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio (ca. 1465-1525 or 1526). His Morte della Vergine is a large painting, measuring some 242 by 147 centimetres. It was probably commissioned for the high altar of the church of Santa Maria in Vado, but we do not know by whom and why. For his painting, Carpaccio used the traditional iconography of the dormitio Virginis, the Sleep (i.e. the Death) of the Virgin. In the lower part of the painting, Mary lies in state, surrounded by the apostles. In the background are several buildings with towers. These in fact resemble Islamic minarets, especially the one on the left, which is even topped by a crescent-shaped object. Christ can be seen in the upper part of the painting. He is seated inside a curious mandorla made up of putti’s heads. Before him appears a naked Virgin with her hands folded. Carpaccio painted this work in 1508. It can certainly be counted among the highlights of the museum.
The most famous sixteenth century Ferrarese painter is arguably Benvenuto Tisi (ca. 1481-1559), commonly known as Il Garofalo. The Pinacoteca seems to be particularly proud of him and has dedicated a large part of the museum to his colourful work. Although he only worked briefly with the much more famous Raphael (1483-1520) in Rome – if he worked with Raphael at all – Il Garofalo was certainly influenced by the master’s style. He was a prolific painter who produced many works during his long life. In 1550, Il Garofalo lost his eyesight and the last years of his life he was completely blind. The Pinacoteca provides the visitor with much information about the ‘Ferrarese Raphael’ and especially his Raising of Lazarus and his Identification of the True Cross are particularly good (see below).