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The Este dukes of Ferrara were active patrons of local artists. During the early 16th century, Lodovico Mazzolino and Garofalo built upon the style and motifs of their predecessors at the Este court, with their emphasis on literary subject matter, expressive line and jewel-like colour. Later, exposure to Raphael’s paintings encouraged Garofalo to adopt a more classical style. The most original talent in Ferrara was the court painter Dosso Dossi. His striking interpretations of traditional religious subjects reveal his poetic feeling for effects of light in landscape.

There was much interaction between Ferrara and Bologna. Although Bologna was a papal possession, the local Bentivoglio family dominated its political and artistic life. The Ferrara-born Lorenzo Costa was the favoured painter of the would-be ruler Giovanni Bentivoglio, who imitated his Este ducal neighbours by employing Ferrarese artists. The Bolognese Francesco Francia, a painter and goldsmith, was famed for the pious sweetness and calm balance of his religious paintings.