Painting Affections I

Sacred painting in Ferrara between the 16th and 17th centuries

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1603-1605) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica


In 2019 the Estense Castle hosted the exhibition "Painting affections. Sacred painting in Ferrara between the 16th and 18th centuries". The picture gallery was once belonging to the "Orphanages and Conservatories Management" and now owned by the ASP - Azienda Servizi alla Persona di Ferrara, deposited in the City Civic Museums since 1974. A nucleus of works that document not only a significant slice of the city's art, but also the spirit of solidarity that has characterized its history.

Martyrdom of Saint Margaret (1611) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

Here you may find the first part of the exhibition.

Madonna and Child in glory with saints Barbara and Ursula adored by the spinsters (ca. 1586) by Giuseppe Mazzuoli (called Bastarolo)Musei di Arte Antica

These paintings belonged to religious institutions active in social assistance for orphans, the poor and the needy, or women in distress, and came into the possession of the ASP for various historical or bureaucratic reasons.
The title, Painting the affection, is intended to evoke the charitable vocation of these places, and at the same time, the naturalistic, sentimental and familiar character of sacred paintings in the years that followed the Council of Trent (1545-63): the affections expressed through a simple and immediate painting that shows an unending support for one’s community.

Portrait of Margherita Gonzaga (XVII century) by Franz Pourbus the younger (after)Musei di Arte Antica

The Heraldry of Charity: Scarsellino and the church of Saint Margaret from the Este to the Devolution

One of the city’s most important places of devotion is the church and school and orphanage for girls of Saint Margaret. The institution owes its establishment to the charismatic figure of Margherita Gonzaga (1564-1618), third wife of Duke Alfonso II d’Este, and her reputation for works of charity for homeless orphan girls.In our context, the austere yet sumptuous painting, presents us the features of the benefactor in a commemorative portrait, and documents the ducal interest in works of charity. The canvas is probably a copy from a model by Franz Pourbus, a great court portraitist much loved by Vincenzo Gonzaga, Margherita's brother.

Madonna of Reggio and saints Margaret, Clare and Francis (ca. 1600) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

Next we have the Madonna of Reggio and saints. Made around 1600 by Ippolito Scarsella known as Scarsellino, a protagonist of Emilian art between the 16th and 17th centuries, the canvas originally decorated the choir in the church of Saint Margaret. The saint is pictured together with St Clare and St Francis worshipping the famous Madonna of Reggio, a cult brought to Ferrara by the last duchess and which remained active even after her death and into the Devolution to the Papal State (1598).

Martyrdom of Saint Margaret (1611) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

The great “Martyrdom of Saint Margaret”, made in 1611 also by Scarsellino for the high altar of the church. In this painting you can see why the artist has been compared to Veronese.

A complex scenography masterly describes the martyrdom of the saint: not depicting the final blow, but the moment immediately preceding the beheading. In doing this, Scarsellino appeals to amazement and identification, declining the story on chromatic and pictorial tones that mix the glorious Este tradition of Garofalo and Dosso Dossi with the delicate Venetian colors.

Madonna and Child in glory with saints Barbara and Ursula adored by the spinsters (ca. 1586) by Giuseppe Mazzuoli (called Bastarolo)Musei di Arte Antica

Paintings of the Affections

Geographically and politically, Ferrara has always been a border town, as much underthe Dukes as during the Papal Legation. Although resilient and with an independent tradition for paintings of the highest quality, it i s not impermeable to the changes in taste that gradually led to a simplified pictorial language with a naturalistic and sentimental meaning in the second half of the 16th century.This room offers a glimpse into the dialogue between memory and innovation, between nature and mannerism.

The Adoration of the Magi (1550-70) by Ferrarese artist (Signismondo Scarsella?)Musei di Arte Antica

The tradition of grace and symmetry in art was active even after the mid-16th century, as can be seen in the anonymous painting, “Adoration of the Magi”, possibly by Sigismondo Scarsella…

Saint Lazarus (1569-1570) by Niccolò RoselliMusei di Arte Antica

… and in the iconic “Saint Lazarus” by Niccolò Roselli from 1569–70.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (ca. 1572) by Giuseppe Mazzuoli (called Bastarolo)Musei di Arte Antica

Crucial is Giuseppe Mazzuoli, known as Il Bastarolo, who was very active painting at the Saint Barbara Oratory. Painter capable of crossing the age of Manner as a protagonist, he created the extraordinary "Decollazione del Battista" of about 1572.

Madonna and Child in glory with saints Barbara and Ursula adored by the spinsters (ca. 1586) by Giuseppe Mazzuoli (called Bastarolo)Musei di Arte Antica

Over the years, the artist has changed his language, composing altarpieces of profound religious inspiration, as in the "Pala delle Zitelle" of around 1586, which will be models for artists of the early seventeenth century.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1603-1605) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

But in the orphanages for girls and the nunneries, Scarsellino was without a doubt the favourite painter. His empathetic and emotional universe gave form to the moments of piety and participation not only within that environment, but also for a good part of the bourgeois citizens of the town between the 16th and 17th centuries. Outstanding are the vibrant “Beheading of John the Baptist”, a sort of a delayed response to Bastarolo’s work...

The Deposition (after 1612) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

Scarsellino is also a skilled narrator of emotion and feelings, as happens in this moving "Deposition". Both this and the previous painting come from San Giovanni Battista.

Saint Jerome Emiliani Takes Care of an Orphan (1595-1600) by Ippolito ScarsellaMusei di Arte Antica

A Model Painting

The "San Girolamo Emiliani Receives an Orphan" was painted by Scarsellino and comes from the Orphanage of Mercy. It embodies the spirit of the structure for which it was created. In fact, the moment in which the saint, founder of the Somaschi, takes up the task of taking care of a boy who has just become an orphan is immortalized. In a simple, naturalistic and empathetic way, the primary function of this institute is evoked: to look after, support and train the weakest.

Christ in Glory with Saints Peter and Paul adored by beggars (1615-20) by Carlo BononiMusei di Arte Antica

Between Tradition and Modernity, Carlo Bononi and Others

Despite the Este family’s forced abandonment of the city in 1598 and the arrival of the Papal Legation, Ferrara initially enjoys a moment of great fervour in sacred art at this time.Dominating the room is one of the most important paintings of these years: the monumental “Christ in Glory between Saints Peter and Paul” (1615–20) that once decorated the main altar of the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul of the Mendicants.The painting is by the Ferrarese artist Carlo Bononi (1569?–1632), who at the dawn of the Baroque Age knew how to anticipate many of the expressive formulas typical of the 17th century. 

Despite damage that has occurred over the years, the canvas bears witness to the originality of this master of sentiment and empathy. The refined colours stand out against the dark background, while the sacred figures are worshipped by the poor who are arranged in a semicircle around the altar and crucifix. A work showing 17th century piety, therefore, and the welfare programs offered through religion in the convent of the Mendicant order.

Saint Paul (1615-20) by Giovanni Andrea GhirardoniMusei di Arte Antica

On either side of the altar were two canvases portraying the titular saints of the church. The works by Giovanni Andrea Ghirardoni document the persistence of the Venetian models, from the later Titian and Veronese, that characterized the Ferrara scene in these years.

Saint Peter (1615-20) by Giovanni Andrea GhirardoniMusei di Arte Antica

Saint Rose of Lima receiving the Child from the Virgin Mary (ca. 1759) by Francesco PellegriniMusei di Arte Antica

Credits: Story

"Painting Affections. Sacred painting in Ferrara between the 16th and 17th centuries" was an exhibition held at the Estense Castle in Ferrara between 25 January and 26 December 2019.

Curated by Giovanni Sassu, with the collaboration of Romeo Pio Cristofori and Tito Manlio Cerioli.

Organizing bodies: Comune di Ferrara, Fondazione Ferrara Arte and ASP - Personal Services Company

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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