Cosmè TURA | Madonna and Child [Madonna col Bambino]

Cosmè TURA
Ferrara? 1413 /1453 – Ferrara 1495

Madonna and Child [Madonna col Bambino] c.1460-65
tempera and gold on wood panel
46.4 (h) x 31.7 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866

Cosmè Tura’s individual creations, his style of intense sensuality and bejewelled intellectualism, were invented in response to the refined, humanistic culture at the court of Borso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, where Tura spent most of his life as principal artist. Tura is known as an ideatore, a conceptual thinker, who drew preparatory ideas for coins, textiles, armour, manuscripts, leather decorations, wedding dresses and jewellery.[1] A considerable part of his work consisted of frescoes in palaces, or designs for marriages and festivals—ephemeral works which do not survive. The great hedonistic fresco cycle in Ferrara at the Palazzo Schifanoia, executed c.1469–1471, contains the only profane frescoes from Borso’s reign—but Tura is only associated with it inasmuch as he was court artist at the time.

The Madonna and Child set against a gold background is delineated in Tura’s inimitable sculptural style. Terms like ‘gothic–baroque’ have been used to define his heightened sense of calligraphic vitality, bright colour and plasticity. His conception of the Madonna was to imagine her as an elegant woman of the Este court, fashionably attired in velvet, with long neck, aristocratic high forehead and coiffure. From the serpentine curls of her hair, through the wavy movement of the folds of her drapery, there is a strong linear playfulness. She holds the Christ Child seemingly with detachment, pensive as to his Passion; while he blesses us with his right hand in anticipation of his future role. When Giovanni Morelli chose this painting for the Accademia Carrara from the collection of Count Guglielmo Lochis, he wrote that what was characteristic of Tura’s style, and confirmed the attribution, were the Madonna’s ‘long cartilaginous ears, and eyelids like nautilus shells’.[2]

The dimensions of the panel have been drastically altered, cut on all sides.[3] It was once part of an altarpiece, a polyptych whose panels are now dispersed across the world. Reconstructions have been proposed: for the high altar of the church of San Luca in Borgo,[4] or the church of San Giacomo in Argenta, or the church of San Niccolò, Ferrara.[5] According to the first hypothesis, the Madonna may once have been accompanied by Saint Louis of Toulouse, Saint Nicholas of Bari and the dead Christ supported by angels.[6] Another hypothesis places her with Saints Anthony of Padua, James Major, Dominic, Christopher and Sebastian.[7] None of these reconstructions has stood the test of time, but almost certainly the Bergamo Madonna once belonged in such an altarpiece setting.

There is a daunting lack of evidence for the commission of devotional images from Tura, even though his patrons included canons of the Cathedral in Ferrara.[8] It is strange for such an attention-seeking artist that, after his death, Tura was largely forgotten until the Risorgimento, when regional schools of painting were again valued—and when the frescoes in the Schifanoia were removed of their obscuring whitewash to reveal again this famous heroic, erotic and intellectually fascinating cycle of the life of the court of Borso d’Este.[9]

Jaynie Anderson


[1] Luke Syson, ‘Tura and the “Minor arts”: The school of Ferrara’, in Stephen J. Campbell (ed.), Cosmé Tura: Painting and design in Renaissance Ferrara, Milan: Electa, 2002, pp. 31–70.

[2]caratteristiche le orrechie lunghe e cartilaginose, le palpebre come conchiglie di nautilo’, from Morelli’s annotated copy of the Lochis catalogue of 1865,
in the Biblioteca dell’Accademia di Belle arti di Brera, Milan, D. III.4.

[3] Stefan Weppelmann, in Mauro Natale (ed.), Cosmè Tura e Francesco del Cossa. L’arte a Ferrara nell’età di Borso d’Este, Ferrara: Arte Spa, 2007, p. 306.

[4] Harry B. Wehle, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine paintings, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1940,
pp. 130–31; followed by Benedict Nicolson, The painters of Ferrara, London: Elek, 1950, pp. 12, 15.

[5] For the most recent reconstructions see Marcello Toffanello, ‘Cosmè Tura: Drawing and its pictorial components’, in Campbell (ed.), pp. 163–69.

[6] Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée municipal, Nantes; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

[7] Louvre, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen; Uffizi, Florence; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

[8] For which he made the famous organ shutters, now in the Museo del Duomo, Ferrara.

[9] Jaynie Anderson, ‘The rediscovery of Ferrarese Renaissance painting in Risorgimento Italy’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 135, 1993, pp. 539–49.