TuraCosmè (or Cosimo) Tura was the first important Ferrarese painter. He is now thought to have been born in about 1433 (a few years later than previously assumed). He was the son of Domenico di Tura, a cobbler. Vasari says that he was the pupil of a certain Galasso Galassi; but he appears to have been influenced mainly by the school of Squarcione at Padua, especially the young Mantegna, and by Donatello. He also appears to have studied the detailed naturalism and oil technique of Netherlandish painters, such as Rogier van der Weyden who was in Ferrara in 1449.
Tura is first mentioned as a painter in 1451, appraising painted banners with Galasso. He is often presumed to have visited Padua in 1453-56, when he is unrecorded in Ferrara. He may also have visited Venice, since he bequeathed part of his property to the Venetian poor. In 1457 he was appointed court painter to the Este at a respectable salary of 15 lire marchesane a month and given rooms in the Castello. As well as working on mural decorations, altarpieces and smaller devotional pictures, he produced decorations for tournaments, horse races, weddings and funerals, painted and gilded chests and other items of furniture, and made designs for tapestries, altar hangings, tournament costumes and horse trappings, door and bed hangings, horse cloths and mule coverings, intarsia work, silverware and probably portrait medals. Between 1465 and 1467 he was possibly at Mirandola, decorating a library in the castle of Gian Francesco Pico, Count of Concordia (the father of the famous scholar). From the mid-1470s he seems to have replaced Baldassare d’Este (the illegitimate half-brother of Duke Ercole) as court portraitist, but only one of his many panel portraits (the little Portrait of a Nobleman at New York) is thought to have survived. He kept his position as court painter until 1486, when he was succeeded by Ercole de’ Roberti and retired to a tower on the city walls, near the Porta Cosmaria. He died in April 1495 and was buried in San Giorgio at Ferrara.
Tura’s angular, sculptural style – with fantastical effects, contorted and twisted forms, bizarre, often ugly physical types with sclerotic limbs and fingers, and curious bright ‘confectionary’ colours – changed comparatively little during his long career. Since very few of his pictures are securely documented, they are often hard to date. He was the master of no significant artist and founded no school.
Ajaccio (Corsica). Musée Fesch.
Madonna with St Jerome and a Female Martyr. Canvas, 153 x 103.
The female saint, who holds a martyr's palm and lidded porphyry jar, is usually called Apollonia but could be Mary Magdalene. The Child eats cherries – which could symbolise both the sacrifice of Christ's blood and the sweetness of heaven. More cherries appear in the ornate vases above the heads of the two saints. The picture is in very poor condition. It was the central panel of an altarpiece, commissioned (as the inscription states) by a certain Antonio Cicognara, a notary and magistrate. It was first recorded in the Ferrarese church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, but it cannot have been painted for the church, which was not founded until 1501. In the eighteenth century it was attributed to Baldassare d’Este, and in 1834 (when in the Pasini collection in Rome) to Francesco del Cossa. It was recognised as a work of Tura by Roberto Longhi in 1934. While Longhi thought it was a very late work of the 1490s, it is now generally considered very early (late 1450s or early 1460s?). Painted in tempera on unprimed canvas, it has suffered severely from abrasion and flaking and is now so darkened as to appear almost monochromatic. In the early 2000s, it was exhibited in the Louvre.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Madonna and Child Blessing. Wood, 45 x 30.
This elegant Madonna has been cut down substantially at the bottom, and was probably originally the central panel of a polyptych. Various hypothetical reconstructions of such a polyptych have been attempted that have included some or all the panels of saints at Berlin, Caen, Florence, Nantes, New York and Paris. All these panels of saints are similar in width to the Bergamo Madonna and some 30 cm. longer. An altarpiece by Tura from San Giacomo at Argenta (20 miles from Ferrara) is known from a late eighteenth-century source to have had a Madonna as its central panel. Alternatively, the Bergamo Madonna could have belonged to an altarpiece by Tura mentioned in the early eighteenth century in the church of San Lucca in Borgo, near Ferrara. (In his Vita di Cosimo Tura of about 1706, Girolamo Baruffaldi read the date on this altarpiece as 1434, which is impossible and conceivably a mistake for 1484.) Bequeathed by Conte Guglielmo Lochis in 1859. The flesh parts are well preserved, but the Virgin’s blue mantle has deteriorated and the background has been regilded.
Saint Christopher; Saint Sebastian. Two panels, 75 x 30.
The nude St Sebastian, bound to a tree, is pierced by tiny arrows. The giant St Christopher carries the Christ Child on his shoulders across the river. The saints are strange physical specimens, with outsized heads and big eyes and lips. Clearly the side panels of an altarpiece and, to judge from the loose brushwork, probably among Tura’s later works. There are other panels of individual saints, all of similar scale and with gold backgrounds, at Caen, Florence, Nantes, New York and Paris. There has been much discussion of which, if any, of these five panels might have come from the same polyptych as the Berlin pair. Conclusive conclusions have not been reached. Acquired in 1821 with the Solly collection. The backgrounds of both panels have been regilded but the figures are largely free of repaint.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
*Circumcision. Wood, 38 in dia.
On the altar is an unusual horned tablet, with a carved figure of Moses kneeling to receive the Ten Commandments and the head of the Eternal Father in the lunette above. One of a series of three small tondi, all in American museums, representing scenes from the infancy of Christ. The others are at Cambridge (Fogg Museum) and New York (Metropolitan Museum). Longhi (in his Officina Ferrarese of 1934) thought that the three tondi were from the predella of the Roverella Altarpiece (the main panel of which is now in the National Gallery, London). This possibility is still being debated – although an early eighteenth-century source (Baruffaldi) states that the predella showed scenes from the lives of St Bernard Tolomei, founder of the Olivetan Order, and St Benedict. Longhi’s main argument was that the horned tablet on the altar is of the same design as tablets with the Ten Commandments in the main panel of the Rovervella Altarpiece. An alternative suggestion is that the three tondi were from a piece of church furniture or formed part of some shutters or doors. Possibly because of harsh cleaning in the past, the underdrawing of the Circumcision is clearly visible through the thin paint surface. Previously in the collections of Prince Santacroce and Contessa Passeri in Rome; acquired by Gardner (through the dealer Richard Norton) in 1901.
Caen. Musée des Beaux Arts.
*Saint James the Great. Wood, 74 x 31.
The saint, seated on an ornate throne with antique relief decoration on the sides and griffins on the base, holds his pilgrim’s staff in his left hand and makes a blessing with his right. As he is enthroned rather than standing, the panel could have been the central panel of a polyptych rather than one of the side panels. It was acquired (as a work of Mantegna) by Pierre-Bernard Mancel of Caen in 1845, when the Fesch collection was dispersed in Rome, and bequeathed to the City of Caen in 1872. It almost certainly belonged to the same altarpiece as the Saint Anthony in the Louvre and the Saint Dominic in the Uffizi. That altarpiece may have been one painted by Tura for the church of San Luca in Borgo (which is described in early sources as a five-winged polyptych with figures of saints on a gold ground) or one from the church of San Giacomo at Argenta (which would explain the presence of St James). The Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian at Berlin, the Madonna at Bergamo and other panels at Nantes and New York have also sometimes been associated with the Saint James.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Crucifixion. Wood, 49 x 30.
The Virgin and St John mourn at the sides of the cross. In the sky, angels throw out their arms in anguish. In the background, people on horseback and on foot make their way back to Jerusalem along a downhill path and causeway. The paint is extremely abraded, and the gesso ground and extensive underdrawing shows through in many places. The small panel was bought in a much-repainted state by Sir Herbert Cook at Christie’s in 1914 as a work of Andrea del Castagno. After cleaning, it was published as a work of Tura by Tancred Borenius in his 1915 catalogue of the Cook collection. It was bought by the museum from the Cook Trustees in 1947. Possibly a comparatively early work, dating from the 1460s or early 1470s. Analogies have been seen both with Giovanni Bellini’s early Crucifixion in the Correr Museum (particularly the figure of the grieving Virgin) and Mantegna’s Louvre Crucifixion from the predella of the San Zeno Altarpiece (the city and landscape).
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Art Museum.
*Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 39 in dia.
From the same series as the Circumcision (Gardner Museum, Boston) and the Flight into Egypt (Metropolitan Museum, New York). The Circumcision and the Adoration of the Magi came from the Santacroce collection in Rome, the Flight into Egypt from the Benson collection in London. Their original location is uncertain, though Longhi (1934), followed by Salmi (1957), Campbell (1994) and others, have sought to associate them with the Roverella Altarpiece (the central panel of which is in the National Gallery, London). The Adoration has been cut down slightly, to make an approximate octagon, but is better preserved than the panels at Boston and New York.
Cleveland. Museum of Art.
Lamentation. Tapestry, 98 x 192.
An antependium – decorative hanging for the front of an altar. One of two similar tapestries generally believed to be based on designs by Tura. The other is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. One of the two (more likely that in Madrid) could be the Lamentation documented as woven for the Este court in 1475 by a certain Rubino (or Rubinetto) di Francia. Acquired by the Cleveland Museum in 1951.
*Judgement and Martyrdom of Saint Maurelius. Two tondi, 48 in dia.
Saint Maurelius was a seventh-century Bishop of Voghenza (an ancient settlement near Ferrara). According to legend, he was executed by his brother Rivallus, the pagan King of Mesopotamia. These two small circular panels are the only remains of an altarpiece painted by Tura for the chapel of San Maurelio in San Giorgio (once the cathedral of Ferrara). The chapel, on the north side of the choir, housed the martyr’s relics (which were donated to the church in 1106 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V). The main panel of the altarpiece probably showed the saint standing between two kneeling donors (the composition is thought to have been preserved in a woodcut used as the frontispiece to a life of the saint printed in 1489). The altarpiece may have been commissioned around 1479-80, when the church was enlarged. In 1635, it was replaced by Guercino's Martyrdom of Saint Maurelius (now also in the Pinacoteca). Tura's two tondi were bequeathed to the Commune of Ferrara in 1817.
Ferrara. Cathedral Museum.
*St George and the Dragon; Annunciation. Four canvases, 413 x 169.
These famous (but damaged) canvases were painted for the doors of the cathedral organ. The Annunciation decorated the outside and the St George and the Dragon – the right side showing the saint spearing the dragon and the left side the terrified princess fleeing – the inside. The organ was built by Fra Giovanni da Marcatello between 1465 and 1470, and a payment to Tura is recorded on 2 June 1469. (The payment – 48 ducati, 55 soldi, 6 denari – was relatively low.) Originally installed in the chapel behind the choir, the organ was moved almost immediately to a more prominent position over the eighth arch on the left of the nave. It was dismantled in 1712, and the canvases were hung on either side of the choir. They were transferred to the cathedral museum in 1948. Together with frescoes (now lost) in San Domenico at Ferrara, these are the only works of Tura that Vasari seems to have known.
The sculptural reliefs on the walls of the Annunciation represent the planetary deities (though some are difficult to identify). A bird (variously identified as a wall-creeper, pigeon or heron) and a squirrel are perched on iron brace bars between the arches. The small bird fluttering by the Virgin's left ear must represent the dove of the Holy Spirit. Oak leaves, conspicuous in the St George, were a family emblem of Lorenzo Roverella, Bishop of Ferrara, who must have sponsored the organ.
The thinly painted canvases have darkened and suffered from paint losses, and are heavily restored (though much crude old repainting was removed in restorations of 1948 and 1985).
Ferrara. Palazzo Schifanoia.
Salone dei Mesi. Frescoes.
The attribution of these famous frescoes to Tura goes back to Baruffaldi in the early eighteenth century. When they were recovered from whitewash in 1840, the whole cycle was ascribed to him. The idea that he can have played any part in their execution lost favour in the twentieth century; but some writers have continued to believe that, as court painter, he supervised the project and/or made cartoons or drawings for some of the scenes. There is no documentary support for this belief, and Manca (2000) sees ‘only a superficial resemblance to Tura’s style’. The scenes closest to Tura are those on the north wall for the months June to September.
Saint Dominic. Wood, 51 x 32.
The panel has been cut down at the bottom. It almost certainly originated from the same altarpiece as the Saint James at Caen and Saint Anthony at Paris and was presumably the same height originally (ie. 74 cm). First recorded in 1904 in the possession of Marchese Carlo Canonici at Ferrara; acquired by the Uffizi the following year (via Giuseppe Grassi). The gold background has been renewed, but the figure is comparatively well preserved.
Florence. Museo di Casa Martelli.
Saint Luke. Wood, 28 x 32.
There are conspicuous paint losses, but the figure of the Evangelist – seated on the ground writing his Gospel on a sheet of paper placed on his raised left knee – is largely intact. A grape vine grows up the tree on the right. This small panel is probably from the same series as the Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, which is virtually the same size. Restored in 2001. No attempt was made to reconstruct what was missing: the sizeable gaps were filled in using the Italian method of 'chromatic abstraction'.
London. National Gallery.
*Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels. Wood, 239 x 102.
The Virgin is enthroned as Queen of Heaven with the Child asleep in her lap. Her high red marble throne is embellished with extraordinary symbolic ornamentation. On the sides are two stones tablets inscribed in Hebrew with the Ten Commandments. Two bronze cherubs, reclining against the sides of the arch of the throne, suspend on golden ribbons a huge scallop shell behind the Virgin's head. Their feet rest on cornucopias filled with gourds (sometimes read as a symbol of the Resurrection) and hung with bunches of grapes (symbolising the wine of the Eucharist). Small bronze symbols of the Four Evangelists (an angel reading, a winged lion, a winged bull and an eagle) decorate the top of the throne. The pearls on the finials of the Virgin's crown and hung (with coral beads) above her head symbolise her purity. At the sides of the throne, two adolescent wingless angels play treble viols (or rebecs) and two strum lutes. Two more angels, kneeling in the foreground, operate a little portable organ – the angel on the left pressing the keys and the one on the right working the tiny bellows. (Tura may have depicted an actual organ, made by Costantino Tantini da Modena for Leonello d'Este, which is described as having pipes arranged in a spiral.)
This large, tall picture was the central panel of a huge altarpiece painted for an altar belonging to the Roverella family in the church of San Giorgio at Ferrara (sometimes called San Giorgio fuori le Mura because it is outside the walls to the south of the city). The altarpiece has usually been dated around 1474-75, when the tomb of Lorenzo Roverella was commissioned for the church, or around 1479-80, when the church was rededicated and a new campanile built. However, a newly discovered source (Girolamo Maria Ferrarini's Memoriale Estense, first published in 2006) suggests that the altarpiece was not installed until August 1487. The altarpiece was damaged by canon fire in the Siege of Ferrara in 1709 and dismembered. Sir Charles Eastlake obtained the central panel in about 1855 from the Frizzoni collection in Bergamo, and the National Gallery bought it from his widow in 1867. The side panels showed pairs of saints with kneeling donors. The right-hand one is now in the Colonna Gallery at Rome and a fragment of the left-hand one is in San Diego. The lunette is in the Louvre. According to an early eighteenth-century source, there was also a predella with tondi showing scenes from the lives of SS. Benedict and Bernard, which do not seem to have survived.
A few letters of a Latin inscription on the organ case were discovered during a 1951-52 restoration. The full inscription read: ‘Rise up boy, the Roverella clan is knocking at the door. Open up and let them in. Knock, says the law, and you shall enter’. Although the picture appears to be in good condition, the original paint surface has suffered somewhat from flaking (especially in the lower part) and general abrasion.
*Saint Jerome. Wood, 101 x 57.
The penitent saint holds up a stone he has used to beat his bare breast. His usual rocky cave has been replaced with the hollowed out trunk of an ancient tree. On the left his familiar lion walks to a stream for water. An owl sits overhead with a frog in its claws (perhaps symbolising prophetic wisdom or the conquest of sin). The bird on the left may be a wall-creeper (perhaps symbolising the Resurrection). In the background on the right is a kneeling donor (unreliably identified as Borso d’Este in a late eighteenth-century source) with a monk (possibly St Francis, hands outstretched to receive the stigmata). (The donor’s face is damaged and repainted.) The picture is probably a mature or late work (1470s or early 1480s). It has been cut down by around a quarter at the top. A fragment of the missing upper part, a figure of Christ on the cross in the sky, the object of St Jerome’s devotion, is in the Brera. The picture is first certainly recorded in about 1783 in the Rizzoni collection at Ferrara, though there is an old tradition that it came from the Certosa (San Cristofaro) at Ferrara. It was bought by Sir Charles Eastlake in about 1858 from the Costabili collection for £75. His widow sold it to the National Gallery in 1867 for the same price. Greenish-brown varnish and old repaints (dating back to a restoration commissioned by Eastlake from the renowned Milanese restorer Giuseppe Molteni) were removed in 1991-92.
Madonna in Prayer. Wood, 45 x 34.
A fragment of an Annunciation (the rays emanating from the dove are visible on the left). Rather worn, the underdrawing showing through the thinned and abraded paint. (Before restoration in 1991-93, the panel was about 60 per cent overpainted and had sometimes been dismissed as a studio work. A large vertical split, running through the Virgin's face, has been repaired.) Acquired from the Costabili collection at Ferrara by Alexander Barker of London in the late 1850s, and purchased by the National Gallery in 1874 at Barker’s sale for £84 10s.
*Allegorical Figure (Calliope). Canvas mounted on wood, 116 x 71.
The female figure has been variously identified as one of the Seasons (Spring or Summer), Venus, Erato (the muse of erotic poetry) and Polyhymnia (the muse who discovered cultivation), but she most likely represents Calliope (the muse of epic poetry). She is seated, holding a branch of ripe cherries, on a marble throne ornamented with seashells, pearls, rubies and six golden dolphins. She has a fashionably high hairline and plucked eyebrows, and her garment is unlaced at the stomach, perhaps suggesting pregnancy. Bottom right, a tiny figure of a smith (Vulcan?) beats metal in a cave.
The picture is recorded at the beginning of the eighteenth century as one of a series of the ‘Four Seasons’ in the offices of the Inquisition attached to San Domenico at Ferrara. The Autumn or Polyhymnia at Berlin (formerly attributed to Cossa), the Ceres or Thalia at Budapest (signed by the Hungarian artist Michele Pannonio), the Terpsichore(?) at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan (attributed partly to Tura), and two enthroned allegorical figures (Erato and Urania?) at Ferrara probably belonged to the same series. (Indeed there is evidence that they were cut from the very same tree.) They are usually assumed to have come from the celebrated studiolo in the Este villa at Belfiore, which was decorated with paintings of the Nine Muses. The series of Muses was, it seems, started by the rather obscure Sienese painter Angelo Maccagnino and completed after his death in 1456 by Tura, who is documented as having been employed in the studiolo between October 1458 and May 1463.
The National Gallery picture was one of twenty-two paintings acquired by Sir Henry Layard in 1866 from the Costabili collection at Ferrara. Layard sent the picture to his favourite restorer, the Milanese Giuseppe Molteni, who toned down the bright colours with tinted varnish. Then, in 1921, the picture was damaged by a fumigation treatment for woodworm, which caused the paint to blister and flake. Restoration in the mid-1980s removed the brown varnish and old repaint, and repaired the damage done by flaking. Cleaning revealed a very marked craquelure – web of cracks in the original oil paint – which was partly concealed again by retouching.
London. British Museum.
Drawing for an Altarpiece. Paper, 15 x 21.
The Virgin is seated on an elaborate throne with a shell-shaped top and dolphin-shaped arms. St Sebastian (bound to a column and shot with arrows) and St Francis (exposing the stigmata on his side) stand on the left. St Dominic (holding a lily) and St Agatha (naked to the waist and tied to a column) are on the right. The pen-and-wash study – one of very few drawings attributed to Tura – is highly finished, and it might have been submitted to the patron to seek his or her approval of the design for the altarpiece. The word 'horo' ('gold') written many times on the panels in the background presumably indicates those parts of the picture that were to be gilded. The drawing was sold to the British Museum in 1885 with an attribution to Filippo Lippi, but Tura's authorship was already recognised at the time of the sale by the London-based German art historian Jean-Paul Richter.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Saint John on Patmos. Wood, 27 x 32.
In a rocky desert landscape at sunset, the reclining saint, identified by his eagle, leans his elbow nonchalantly on a pillow of rock as he reads. Quite damaged: abraded and extensively repainted. Probably a predella panel. Possibly once in the famous Costabili collection at Ferrara; in the twentieth century it was in private collections in Genoa (Gnecco) and Milan (Marchese dal Pozzo and Del Angeli Frua); acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza by 1976. A partly ruined panel of Saint Luke (Museo di Casa Martelli, Florence) probably belonged to the same series.
Lamentation. Tapestry, 97 x 207.
This rich tapestry, woven in wool and silk and gold and silver threads, is often identified with a Lamentation documented as woven for the Este court in 1475 by a Maestro Rubino di Francia. (Rubino is also documented as having made another Lamentation for the Este in 1476 – perhaps a replica of the one woven the year before.) Tura is not mentioned in the documents but he is generally credited with the design. The tapestry would presumably have adorned the altar of a chapel in one of the Este residences. Two of the mourners (the St John holding Christ’s hand and the woman to his right) have sometimes been identified as portraits of Ercole I and his wife Eleonora . Once in Milan and then in private collections in Germany, the tapestry was acquired by Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1963. A similar tapestry in the Cleveland Museum of Art is usually judged somewhat weaker in manufacture.
Christ on the Cross. Wood, 22 x 17.
A fragment from the upper left-hand corner of the picture of Saint Jerome in the National Gallery, London. It was probably cut from the panel in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Acquired from the Venetian dealer Giuseppe Guetta in 1903.
Milan. Poldi Pezzoli.
Bishop (Saint Maurelius?). Wood, 21 x 12.
This small panel almost certainly came from the same complex (small polyptych, diminutive portable triptych or predella) as the Virgin Annunciate in the Colonna Gallery (Rome) and the Saint George in the Cini collection (Venice). The patron was probably a member of the Este family: the columns are painted in the family’s heraldic colours of red, white and green, and SS. Maurelius and George are patrons of Ferrara. It probably dates from the 1460s. Once in the important Costabili collection, Ferrara; acquired by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli in 1885.
*A Muse (Terpsichore). Wood, 117 x 81.
The picture used to be called ‘Charity’ because of a later inscription (removed in a restoration of 1987). It is likely to represent Terpsichore, the muse of choral dance and song. Only the lower half, showing three putti dancing, appears to be by Tura, who may have finished a painting started by the Sienese painter Angelo Maccagnino. Angelo Maccagnino, Tura's predecessor as court painter, was active at Ferrara from 1447 until his death in 1456, but none of his works has been certainly identified. The panel is similar in size to Tura’s Allegorical Figure (Calliope) in the National Gallery, London, and the two pictures almost certainly came from the same series. They are usually identified as two of the nine Muses commissioned by Leonello d'Este and his successor Duke Borso for a room (studiolo) in their country palace at Belfiore. Four other pictures from the Belfiore series of Muses have been identified, but none is by Tura. The Thalia (previously called Ceres) at Budapest is signed by an obscure Hungarian painter, Michele Pannonio. The Polyhymnia (previously called Autumn) at Berlin was long attributed to Cossa, but is perhaps by the shadowy Angelo Maccagnino, who might also have been responsible for the two Muses (Urania and Erato?) at Ferrara. (Two other panels (Melpomene and Euterpe?) at Budapest have been more doubtfully associated with the Belfiore series; while possibly by the same hand as the Berlin and Ferrara panels, they are smaller in scale and may have come from another set of Muses.) The Poldi Pezzoli picture is first certainly recorded, like the London panel, in the early eighteenth century as one of the (so-called) Four Seasons in the offices of the Inquisition attached to San Domenico at Ferrara. Acquired by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli by 1862.
Modena. Galleria Estense.
*Saint Anthony of Padua. Wood, 178 x 80.
The seascape with fishing boats in the background may be intended to represent Rimini, where St Anthony preached to the fishes after the people had ignored him. The picture is probably one of Tura’s last works. It is believed to have formed part of an altarpiece painted in 1484 for Francesco Nasello, the ducal secretary, for a chapel in San Niccolò in Ferrara. In a letter of 9 January 1490 from Tura to Duke Ercole, the artist complains that he is ill and unable to support his family, and that Nasello still owes him sixty ducats for the altarpiece. The panel (mistakenly called ‘San Giacomo della Marca’) was still in the church in the 1780s. It passed through various Ferrarese collections (Sachetti, Costabili and Santini) in the nineteenth century and was acquired by the Modena Gallery in 1906. Cut down by an unknown extent at the sides and top, but otherwise one of Tura’s best-preserved paintings. Restored in 1990.
Nantes. Musée des Beaux Arts.
Saint Nicholas of Bari. Wood, 74 x 37
The bishop saint is identified by the gold balls he is holding in his right hand. The low viewpoint makes him seem to be standing on the edge of the frame. The panel was acquired by the museum in 1810 from François Cacault of Nantes. It is exceptionally well preserved, damage being confined mainly to the gold background, and retains its hard polished surface. It is probably from the same polyptych as the damaged Saint Louis of Toulouse (?) at New York. The panels of saints at Berlin, Paris, Florence and Caen are other possible, though less likely, companions. The Saint Nicholas seems to be a late work, and it has been conjectured, on stylistic grounds, that it could have formed a side panel of the altarpiece painted by Tura in 1484 for the church of San Niccolò in Ferrara (mentioned in a letter of 1490 from the artist to Ercole I). This altarpiece contained the Modena Saint Anthony as the central panel.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Flight into Egypt. Wood, 38 in dia.
The paint is very thin and the underdrawing is clearly visible. From the same series as the Circumcision (Gardener Museum, Boston) and the Adoration of the Magi (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.). It has been suggested (without conclusive evidence) that the three tondi belonged to the predella of the Roverella Altarpiece, the main panel of which is in the National Gallery, London. In 1869 the Flight into Egypt belonged to Canonico Bignami of Cassalmaggiore, and from 1886 to 1927 it was in the collection of Robert and Evelyn Benson in London. After the Benson collection was acquired in its entirety by Duveen Brothers, the Flight into Egypt was bought for $100,000 in 1927 by the New York banker Jules S. Bache, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1949.
A Franciscan Bishop (Saint Louis of Toulouse?). Wood (transferred), 72 x 40.
The saint wears a greyish brown Franciscan habit under his bishop's cope. Doubts have occasionally been raised about the attribution of this panel, but allowance has to be made for its sorry condition (abraded and restored). It is very close in style, composition and scale to the Saint Nicholas at Nantes and was probably from the same altarpiece. Bought by Theodore M. Davis of Rhode Island in 1902 from the Florentine dealer Constantini, who is said to have got it from a Count in Ferrara. Davis bequeathed his collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 1915. In a radical restoration of 1934-5, the painting was transferred to a new panel and the background (which had been repainted with a landscape) was regilded.
*Portrait of a Young Nobleman. Wood, 28 x 20.
The panel has been cut down and later extended on all sides. Usually considered to be Tura’s only surviving panel portrait (though it could conceivably be a donor portrait cut out of an altarpiece). Possibly the ritratto di nobile giovinetto attributed to Tura in the Costabili collection. In the nineteenth century, it was in the collection of William Drury Lowe at Locko Park, Derbyshire, who loaned it to the Old Masters Exhibitions of 1884 and 1893 at the Royal Academy as a portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta by Piero della Francesca. It was later ascribed to Cossa and regarded as a portrait of Borso or Ercole d’Este. Tura’s name seems to have been first suggested by Berenson in 1932. It was once considered a very early work of about 1450, but has more recently been placed in the 1460s or even 1470s. If the later dating is correct, the sitter could be Gieronimo di Niccolò di Leonello d’Este (who had blond hair).
New York. Pierpont Morgan Library.
Eleonora of Aragon. Parchment, 24 x 16.
The illuminated frontispiece to Antonio da Cornazzano’s De modo di regere et di regnare, which can be dated to 1478-79. Eleonora of Aragon (died 1493) was the daughter of King Ferrante of Naples and the duchess of Ercole I d’Este. She governed Ferrara in her husband's absence, and the disembodied hand giving her a sceptre signifies her status as a ruler. She was said to be unattractive and the artist has probably idealised her profile. (A contemporary portrait medal shows her more middle-aged and fatter in the face.) The miniature was tentatively attributed to Tura by Berenson in the first edition of his North Italian Painters (1907). Most subsequent critics gave it to a follower, but the attribution was revived by Joseph Manca (1991 and 2000). Purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1927 from the estate of Sir George Holford.
A number of other miniatures have been associated with Tura – including four ornamented initial letters in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, a Saint Francis in Washington and a Birth of the Virgin in Berlin. But none of these has been very widely accepted as from the artist’s own hand.
*Lamentation. Canvas (transferred from wood), 131 x 268.
The Virgin, seated on the edge of the sarcophagus, supports the dead Christ on her lap. John the Evangelist (holding up Christ's left hand) and the Three Marys kneel at the sides, while Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus stand behind. This semi-circular panel was the lunette from the top of the Roverella Altarpiece, painted for the church of San Giorgio and dismembered after it was damaged during the Siege of Ferrara in 1709. The central panel of the altarpiece (Madonna Enthroned) is in the National Gallery, London; the right wing (SS. Paul and Maurelius and a Kneeling Donor) is in the Colonna Gallery, Rome; and a fragment from the left wing (Head of St George) is in San Diego. The Lamentation was acquired by the Musée Napoleon III in 1861 with the huge collection of Marchese Giovanni Campana of Rome. It is rather damaged (perhaps partly as a result of a transfer from panel to canvas in 1893) and parts (including some of the faces) are heavily retouched. Although it would have been placed at a considerable height, details – such as the tears on the faces of the mourners and the blood dripping from Christ's wounds – are minutely rendered.
Saint Anthony of Padua. Wood, 72 x 31.
The Franciscan friar holds a lily stem and studies intently a volume of scripture. This well-preserved panel, which also entered the Musée Napoleon III in 1861 with the Campana collection, almost certainly belonged to the same polyptych as the Saint James at Caen and Saint Dominic in the Uffizi.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (John G. Johnson Collection).
Saint Peter; Saint John the Baptist. Wood, 23 x 14/15.
Two exquisite panels, still in their original gilded Gothic frames. Probably early (1460s). It is uncertain whether they were conceived as independent pictures, hinged together as a diptych or formed the wings of a small portable altarpiece. Sold with the collection of Marchese Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona of Florence in 1902, and acquired by Johnson in 1908 from Bernard Berenson.
Rome. Galleria Colonna.
*Saints Paul and Maurelius with a Donor. Wood, 155 x 76.
The right wing of the Roverella Altarpiece. The kneeling bishop donor is being introduced by St Paul to the Virgin and Child in the centre panel (now in the National Gallery, London). The identity of the donor has been much discussed. He could be one of three brothers: Nicolò Roverella (died 1480), who was Prior General of the Olivetan congregation at San Giorgio, Ferrara, where the altarpiece originally hung; Cardinal Bartolomeo Roverella, Archbishop of Ravenna (died 1476); or Lorenzo Roverella, who was personal physcian to Pius II and Bishop of Ferrara (died 1474). His profile portrait is quite like that in Cardinal Bartolomeo’s marble funeral monument by Antonio Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata in the church of San Clemente at Rome. It is possible that the St Maurelius is also a portrait of one of the Roverella brothers. Unusual decorative details include carvings on the capitals of putti carrying cornucopias on their backs, a tiny carving at the top of St Maurelius's crosier of a lamb in a pen, and a tiny profile portrait on the pommel of St Paul's sword. The panel was acquired by the Colonna in 1836 from the collection of the Marchese Giovanni Nagliati at Ponte Lagoscuro (near Ferrara). The panel is well preserved, with only minor restorations towards the bottom and on the left. The left wing of the altarpiece represented St Peter and St George with a kneeling monk.; it is lost, apart from a small, damaged fragment at San Diego depicting St George's head.
Virgin Annunciate. Wood, 21 x 12.
This small panel almost certainly came from the same small polyptych as the Saint Maurelius in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum (Milan) and the Saint George in the Cini collection (Venice). First specifically recorded in the Colonna collection only in 1894. Much abraded and retouched.
*Madonna with Zodiac Mandorla. Wood, 22 x 14.
The signs of the Zodiac (Capricorn on the right and Leo, Cancer, Gemini and Taurus on the left) may allude to Mary as Queen of Heaven. The stone ledge on which the Christ Child is laid may prefigure his tomb slab. It has been suggested (by Salmi) that his unusual pose was inspired by a Roman statue of a river god. This small panel is almost the same size as the Virgin Annunciate in the same collection, the Saint Maurelius in Poldi Pezzoli Museum and the Saint George in the Cini collection; all four panels could conceivably have formed parts of a small altarpiece, though this has rarely been considered in the literature. Unrecorded before 1894.
San Diego. Fine Arts Museum.
Head of Saint George. Wood, 39 x 29.
A fragment from the left wing of the Roverella Altarpiece, painted for the high altar of San Giorgio in Ferrara. The main panel of the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London, and the right wing is in the Galleria Colonna, Rome. According to the Ferrarese historian Girolamo Baruffaldi, writing in about 1706, the left wing represented Saints Peter and George, with a kneeling monk who is knocking at something (presumably demanding entrance into Paradise). The monk is tentatively identified by Baruffaldi as Lorenzo Roverella, physician to Pius II and later Bishop of Ferrara, who died in 1474 and whose magnificent tomb (by Ambrogio da Milano and Antonio Rossellino) is in San Giorgio. He is, however, perhaps more likely to be Lorenzo's brother Nicolò Roverella, Prior General of the Olivetan congregation at San Giorgio, who died in 1480 and was also buried in the church. The Saint George could be a portrait of another, younger member of the Roverella family. The fragment was formerly in the collection of Baron von Lanna at Prague, where it was ascribed to Mantegna, Cossa and Bonsignori. Recognised as a fragment of the Roverella Altarpiece in 1931, and given to the Fine Arts Museum by Anne and Amy Putman in 1944. Previously heavily repainted, it is now much abraded, with a loss of modelling on the face.
*Madonna of the Zodiac. Wood, 61 x 41.
On either side of the Virgin are birds perched on bunches of black grapes. The grapes allude to the wine of the Eucharist (and hence Christ's blood). The bird on the right is a goldfinch, a familar symbol of Christ's Passion. The bird on the left seems to be a wall-creeper – a bird exceedingly rare in religious art, though one also appears in Tura's Saint Jerome in the London National Gallery. It may symbolise the Resurrection. In the background are signs of the Zodiac (those on the right are largely obliterated). The picture is still in its original Renaissance tabernacle frame – in the lunette of which is represented the plaque of St Bernardino (the letters IHS encircled by rays) held by two angels. The theme of the Christ Child asleep in the Virgin’s lap was popular in Northern Italy and is usually interpreted as prefiguring Christ’s death. The worn inscription along the bottom reads: ‘Wake your son, sweet pious mother, to make my soul happy at last’. Often considered a comparatively early work of the 1460s, though Manca (2000) places it in the 1470s. First recorded in the possession of Filippo Bertoldi of Merlata, near Montagnana; acquired by the Accademia in 1896 from Signore Coen Rocco-Luzzato of Venice.
Venice. Museo Correr.
*Pietà. Wood, 48 x 33.
The youngish Virgin, sitting on the edge of the sepulchre, supports the gaunt figure of Christ, his head disproportionately large for his shrunken body, across her knees. Behind them, the Mount of Calvary rises as a spiral formation of rock. In the tree on the left, a monkey eats oranges (symbolising the Fall of Man). This small devotional panel is often considered an early work, painted in the 1460s. An alternative view is that it is comparatively late and Tura deliberately adopted an old-fashioned, rather medieval manner as appropriate to such a devotional work. It formed part of Teodoro Correr’s personal collection, which he bequeathed to the City of Venice in 1830. Retouched in places (particularly along a vertical split down the centre).
Venice. Galleria di Palazzo Cini.
*Saint George. Wood, 21 x 13.
Almost certainly from the same small altarpiece as the Saint Maurelius in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum and the Virgin Annunciate in the Colonna Gallery. (The three panels are the same size and have similar architectural settings.) Recorded in 1836 in the Costabili collection, Ferrara; acquired by Alexander Barker of London by 1871, and later in the collection of Lord Rosebery. Acquired by Vittorio Cini in 1954.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
*Dead Christ supported by Angels. Wood (transferred), 45 x 86.
Three tiny figures of mourning women – presumably the Three Maries – appear in the green landscape on the right. The painted rosettes in the upper corners are later additions. The lunette-shape, low viewpoint and subject all suggest that the painting must originally have formed the top of a small altarpiece; but attempts to link it with other surviving panels by Tura from dismembered altarpieces, such as the Madonna in Bergamo, have not won general acceptance. By 1846 in the Barbi Cinti collection, Ferrara; acquired in 1857. Though twice transferred (from panel to canvas in 1910 and then back to panel), it is one of Tura’s better-preserved pictures.
Washington. National Gallery.
*Virgin and Child in a Garden. Wood, 53 x 37.
The Virgin adores the Child, who is asleep in the folds of the drapery between her knees. The fruit trees (orange or apple) behind may symbolise purity or salvation. The Child’s crossed feet may allude to Christ’s crucifixion, and the marble bench on which the Virgin sits may be intended to recall his tomb. The M-shaped (and brightly restored) gilded scroll of raised gesso above, with tiny figures of the Angel Gabriel and Virgin Annunciate, was part of the original frame. The picture is hard to date: it has been called Tura’s earliest surviving picture and also a late work, but most recent critics have considered it a mature work of the late 1460s or early 1470s. In the collection of Harold I. Platt of New York by 1917; acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1943. Somewhat retouched (particularly the blue background and Virgin’s robe).
*Saint Francis; Saint Louis of Toulouse; Annunciation. Four panels, 30 x 11.
The four panels were originally framed back to back, with the Annunciation on one side and the two saints on the other. They have been thinned to veneers and glued onto new supports, and are rather damaged and retouched (particularly the figures of St Louis and the Virgin). They probably originally formed part of a small altarpiece, such as one known to have been commissioned by Duke Ercole I in 1475 – which included a Madonna and Child and eight other figures, and had an ornate frame carved by Bernardino da Venezia and decorated by the goldsmith Amadio da Milano. In the Cook collection at Doughty House, Richmond by 1888, when the panels had already been divided; acquired by Kress in 1947. Restored in 1985-90.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 37 x 27.
The unknown man, robed in a dark hooded, academic (or academic-style) gown, is shown nearly full face against a blue-black background. The portrait, painted in tempera with almost metallic hardness, has been damaged by cracking of the panel and by blistering of the paint, and parts of the face are repainted. Nothing is known of its history before 1930, when it was published as a work of Cosmè Tura by Adolfo Venturi in L’Arte. Though supported by a good many subsequent critics (including Eberhard Ruhmer in his 1958 monograph and Berenson in his 1968 Lists), the attribution has never won general acceptance. The most favoured alternative candidate (first suggested by Longhi in 1934) has been Tura’s Bolognese contemporary Marco Zoppo. Recently, the portrait has been classed as the work of a follower of Tura (at the 2002 exhibition Painting and Design in Renaissance Ferrara in Boston) or simply as North Italian (in Joseph Manca’s entry in the 2003 catalogue of the Washington gallery’s fifteenth-century Italian paintings). Acquired by Kress from Duveen in 1937.