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The cities of Ferrara and Bologna flourished as centres of artistic excellence from the late fifteenth and throughout the following century. In Ferrara, the ruling Este dukes cultivated the idiosyncratic talents of several generations of painters, employing a succession of official court artists. The first was Cosme Tura, whose paintings are characterized by melancholic figures, angular draperies and fantastical details. His Virgin and Child Enthroned on display in this room became a blueprint for altarpiece design in the region. 

Tura’s dominion in Ferrara meant that several of his most talented compatriots sought patronage nearby in the great university city of Bologna. Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de’ Roberti worked extensively there. Later, when Ercole returned to Ferrara to replace Tura as court painter, Lorenzo Costa rose to pre-eminence. He and Francesco Francia, a Bologna native, collaborated on prestigious commissions for the ruling Bentivoglio clan. Both were gifted portrait painters too. 

In Mantua, where Costa later became court artist to the Gonzaga dukes, the young painter Dosso Dossi likely came under his tutelage. Dosso went on to a distinguished career as court painter in Ferrara, where his luminous colouring and expressive approach to the figure suited the sophisticated and extravagant tastes of the Este dukes.