Mythological Subject Matter

Renaissance Art Final Essay REWRITE

Isabella d’Este and Alfonso d’Este as Patrons of Renaissance Art

The art collections of Isabella d’Este, Marchesa of Mantua and her brother Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara demonstrate critical themes of the Renaissance through their acquisition of allegorical and historic narratives. Both siblings established their legacy through their collections of art and personal emblems. Isabella and Alfonso’s accumulation of works of art not only increased their cultural capital among their aristocracies but also enhanced the prestige of their courts and reflected their perseverance for humanist education. Isabella and Alfonso are both known for their extensive collection of art, however their difference in preference of artists style and technique differed and can be recognized in each of their studiolo. Renaissance art is epitomized with harmony and balance that originated from the humanism idea which succeeded the religious tradition of the medieval spirit. The art collections of Isabella and Alfonso d’Este reflect the shift to a period of highly elaborate and naturalistic style and technique using allegorical and mythological subject matter.

Renaissance art was founded under the basis of humanism which shifted focus from divinity to humanity, something that is familiar and much more fathomable than religious subject matter.There was an emphasis on morality through gestures and actions. For Isabella and Alfonso d’Este, their commission and support for arts and prominent artist led to the development of cultural centers and acknowledged art an integral aspect of education and the influence and impact it can have. Taking advantage of their influence and power in society, both Isabella and Alfonso d’Este promoted the arts as a critical aspect of society by creating a community of artists, writers, and poets.

The sort of art which a patron collected was often telling of the type of person that they saw themselves as or wished to be. The ‘studiolo’ were small rooms in homes dedicated to the collection of art that the owner acquired. The studiolo was vindictive of the style the patron was interested in collecting and was telling of the type of person that they saw themselves as. The rooms were often decorated with commissioned paintings in the style with which the owner preferred. During the Renaissance, the idea of the self and identity was often represented in allegory or mythological subject matter as an attempt for the commissioner to mirror themselves. In analyzing Isabella d’Este and Alfonso d’Este’s studiolo and the art which they had commissioned, their difference in values and self identity will become clear.

Isabella d’Este had the challenge of being a woman in power in a society of male dominance. Her studiolo was built after she became Marchesa of Mantua in 1490. She utilized the space as a platform for inspiration in her leadership roles and a reminder of her morals and values as a mother and individual. he was one of the very few women of the time to collect antiquities. Though she was an extremely powerful leader, she was very much aware of how she was seen in the public eye and was often limiting her role because of her gender. In efforts to shift the gender inequality, she maintained her voice through her renown collection and demanded acknowledgement for her ability to rule equally, if not better than her deceased husband.

Isabella d’Este was frequently expanding her collection of art. Beneath her studiolo was her grotta, which held her extensive collection of antiquities. Her portrait was drawn by several significant artists including Leonardo Di Vinci Portrait of Isabella d’Este 1529 and Titians Portrait of Isabella d’Este (1534 - 1536). However, her most famous acquisition are seven large- scale mythological paintings created for her studiolo between 1497 and 1530 by Andrea Mantegna, Perugino, Lorenzo Costa and Corregio which are interpreted as moralizing allegories design to teach the Marchesa of Mantua exemplary behavior while advertising her own moral integrity.

Andrea Mantegna was associated with Gonganza before Isabella’s support for his work. The series, The Parnassus were completed in 1497 and are a pairing of Mars and Venus and Minerva. It is clear that these are a set because the light of Mars and Venus painting comes from the left and the light from Minerva painting comes from the right. The subject of the story of Mars and Venus is that of love. It celebrates the power of the female artistic abilities and qualities and glorifies that female nude. Minerva mirrors the abilities of a man of the period. Both woman in the paintings are Athena and is recognized as wearing the same jewelry in both. She intentionally has the features of Isabella d’Este. She is defending her people in military uniform and is being made equal to the physical capabilities of a male fighter who will do anything to defend his people. The two works illustrate the two aspects of Isabella d’Este; her compassion and her strength. She is celebrated as a powerful woman.

Isabella also commissioned several works by Peitro Perugino. There is evidence that Isabella sent Perugino detailed instructions on the subject matter which she wanted him to paint. From her instructions, Perugino replied with a proposed painting and sketch for the final work of The Combat of Love and Chastity in 1505. This was Perugino’s third commissioned work for Isabella. The painting depicts the allegorical battle between love and chastity. It can be suggested that Isabella had this subject painted because of the perception of women's incapability to love and remain pure.

Isabella often sent detailed instructions and sometimes even drawings which provide historical evidence to the changes in her preferred subject matter as her priorities and vision for her people changed over time. Her collection holds the history of the period and the history of Isabella d’Este as an individual and female leader. The detailed instructions she would send to artists was vindictive of not only her understanding of the artists abilities but also of her self. The work and specifically subject matter she commissioned often reflects the social concerns of women and the perception of women’s role in society as inferior to men.

Her brother, Alfonso d’Este was also prominent in his role as Duke of Ferrara in 1505 and was famed as a successful commander in his achievement of alliances between Spain and France. He is similar to Isabella in that they were both prominent rulers who supported the arts through their collections however their subject matter was very different. Alfonso’s studiolo contained four large painting which are mythological scenes of indulgence and reward as an outcome to victory. The work he commissioned emphasized the return to mythological writings using ekphrastic techniques.

The first painting Alfonso acquired fro his studiolo wasThe Feast of Gods (1514–1529) by Giovanni Bellini. The scene is of the bacchanal described in the writings of Ovid from Fasti. The story of the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Apollo in the countryside eating and drinking in celebration. All of the figures are indulging in the festivities of drunken revelry.

The other three paintings which Alfonso d’Este commission for his studiolo are by Titian. After Bellini’s death in 1514, Alfonso commissioned Titian, who was Bellini’s student, to complete the next three works for his stuiolo. The subject matter of all three deal with the indulgence and gratification of love.

The Worship of Venus was Titian’s first painting for Alfonso and was completed in 1516. The subject is Love who is the source of fertility. She is highly idealized and looks as though she is a statue. The story of the Worship of Venus is that of the Roman rite of worship honoring Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. On this day, women would make offerings to the goddess is attempt to cleanse themselves of their impurities. She is surrounded by cupids playing and expressing their love for Venus. The mythological subject matter is suggestive of women’s role as expressions of beauty and purity. This work is similar Isabella d’Este’s Mars and Venus, which also tells a story of love but Mantegna’s version uses the subject as an allegory for Isabella’s power as a woman and Titian retells the mythological story as it is written.

Titian was then commissioned to create Bacchus and Ariadne, the mythological story of Ariadne who was left on the Greek Island of Naxos by her lover Theseus who is seen leaving on his ship on the far left. She is discovered on the shore by the god of wine, Bacchus, who is leading a group of revelers in a chariot drawn by two cheetahs. Bacchus is in midair as he leaps out of the chariot to protect Ariadne and turns her into the constellation Corona Borealis the Northern crown represented in the top left of the painting. The story originates from Ovid. Titian focused on bringing the gods back to life by creating classical images which combined sculpture, literary images, and color.

The last painting commissioned by Titian for Alfonso d’Este isThe Bacchanal of the Andrians in 1523. The work depicts the gods participating in acts of indulgence. Bacchus is holding a jug of wine while other characters are in positions of seduction and celebration. It is a scene of pleasure and satisfaction. He places a strong emphasis on the notion on idealizing one another and expressing passion towards each other. This work follows Alfonso’s theme of depicting the mythological stories in which the gods are celebrating themselves and one another.

Alfonso also built an additional space in his studiolo in which he commissioned Dosso Dossi to complete a frieze of scenes from Aeneid by Virgil. The frieze features scenes from the life of Aeneas including Aeneas at the Entrance of the Elysian which is of a group in landscape where couples are engaging in dance. The frieze is illustrative of Alfonso’s love for mythology and his strong belief in using the mythology stories as examples for his duties. The story of Aeneid is one of experience and exploration of the self.

The comparison of the studiolo of the two siblings reflects the difference in their beliefs and values as prominent leaders. Alfonso strongly emphasizes male heroism through lust and love scenes of mythological subject matter and scenes of indulgence. Whereas, Isabella passionately believed in and urged a change in hegemonic gender roles of their society with the intention of one day acceptation women as equal. Though the two siblings commissioned works differ in message, both were vital activists as patrons and used their studioli as platforms to support and strengthen the arts of the Renaissance.

Works cited:

Art, National Gallery of. “A Room of One's Own: The Studiolo.” Italian Renaissance Learning Resources,

“Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5).” Bacchanal of the Andrians, Titian: Analysis,

“The Feast of the Gods.” Art Object Page,

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“Investigating Bellini's Feast of the Gods.” Alfonso D'Este, Duke of Ferrara,

“Isabella D'Este & Art.” IDEA Arte,

Isabella d’Este: Princess, Collector, Correspondent.

Museum, Brooklyn. “Isabella d’Este.” The Brooklyn Museum,,5549.1.

Perugino, Pietro. “Combat of Love and Chastity, 1503 - 1505 - Pietro Perugino.”, 1 Jan. 1970,

“Reconstructing the Dukes Private Gallery.” Reconstructing the Duke's Private Gallery,

The Reign of Comus - Lorenzo Costa - The Athenaeum,

The Cabinet of Eros: Renaissance Mythological Painting and the Studiolo of Isabella d’Este by Stephen J Campbell. The University of Chicago Press on Behalf of the Renaissance Society of America,

Titian. “The Worship of Venus, 1516 - 1518 - Titian.”, 1 Jan. 1970,

“Titian .” The Bacchanal of the Andrians, 1523-24 by Titian,