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The court cities of Northern Italy – including Milan, Ferrara, Mantua and Rimini – promoted their political status by cultivating their reputations as centres of artistic excellence.

Pisanello, who spent his life moving between several Italian courts, was one of the most celebrated artists of early 15th-century Italy. He was famed as a medallist as well as a painter and draftsman. Paintings like The Vision of Saint Eustace reflect his courtly patrons’ love of hunting and chivalry and exemplify his ability to record exquisite and naturalistic details.

Later in the century, Vincenzo Foppa worked for the Sforza dukes in Milan. Lorenzo Costa spent most of his life serving the Gonzagas in Mantua but began his career alongside Cosimo Tura and Ercole de’ Roberti, who were employed by the Este in Ferrara. There was much artistic exchange between these courtly centres. Tura and Roberti’s idiosyncratic, quirky paintings suggest a deep engagement with the inventions of Andrea Mantegna, who spent many years in Mantua, and with Early Netherlandish art, which was known and admired in Ferrara.

In the 16th century, they were succeeded by Ferrarese court artist Dosso Dossi, famed for his luminous colouring and dramatic lighting effects.