- The ancestry of the d'Este dates back to the Carolingian era. Their name derives from the Castle of Este near Padua. In the late Middle Ages, they gradually took dominion of the Eastern half of the Italian Po Valley, so that, by the second half of the 13th century, they controlled Ferrara, Modena, Rovigo, and Reggio. Strategic marriage alliances with other noble families, like the Sforza and Gonzaga, ensured their hegemony. The d'Este court in Ferrara became a major center of art and culture. Both Jacopo Bellini and Antonio Pisanello worked for Lionello d'Este. Giovanni Bellini and Titian contributed works for Alfonso I's Camerino d'Alabastro. Dosso Dossi worked as Alfonso's court painter and the poet Ariosto as his military and diplomatic agent. Ariosto, in fact, wrote the Orlando Furioso while in his service, an epic poem that celebrated d'Este ancestry and provided inspiration to painters. Poets Torquato Tasso and Giovanni Battista Guarini were active in Alfonso II's court. The d'Este women were also key figures in the history of Italian culture. Iacopina d'Este, the wife of Enrico Scrovegni, was instrumental in obtaining the services of Giotto to fresco the Arena Chapel (1305) in Padua. Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua, and her sister Beatrice, Duchess of Milan, promoted cultural life in their own courts. Isabella patronized artists such as Andrea Mantegna while her sister sponsored Leonardo da Vinci. The d'Este's glory years ended when Alfonso II died in 1597 without heirs. He appointed Cesare d'Este, his uncle's illegitimate son, as his successor, a choice disapproved by the papacy. The d'Este were expelled from Ferrara and Pope Clement VIII turned over the government of the city to a cardinal legate, ending 300 years of rule.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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