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Ercole de' Roberti, The Este Diptych

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The Este Diptych


The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Dead Christ were originally joined with hinges to form a diptych – an object made up of two painted panels – that could open and close, creating a visual prayer book. It probably belonged to Eleonora of Aragon, Duchess of Ferrara. An inventory of her possessions records just such a work, covered in cherry-red velvet; traces of red velvet remain on the back of these two pictures. The images portray the beginning and end of Christ’s life but the focus is on his body.

Eleonora was particularly devoted to the Corpus Christi (‘the body of Christ’). She played a prominent role in the annual feast that celebrated the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when Christ instructed his disciples to drink wine and eat bread in commemoration of his blood and body. She was closely connected to a religious group that focused their prayer upon the Corpus Christi and was buried in their church in Ferrara.