Palazzo Schifanoia could be literally translated as the name of the Palace where Nobles would go to do “away with boredom”. It comes from the Italian phrase “schivar la noia”.
In 1469-70 the Ferranese Ruler, Borso d’Este, wanted a huge fresco all around his waiting room to keep his supplicants well occupied whilst they queued for an Audience with him.
At that time Schifanoia, now within the City of Ferrara, was Borso’s favourite Villa in the country.
The wise supplicants would surely have worked out that, the more they studied the messages & symbols about the 12 months of the year the better their cause was likely to go down with the Duke.
Understanding the Pagan past, the rising Astrological signs, and the Astral Gods depicted on these walls was likely to lead to a livelier conversation and hence to a more favourable reception from their Padrone, the recently appointed Duke of Ferrara.
Reviewed in the light of many of the nobles of the period, this illegitimate son of Niccolò III d’Este, Marquess of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, and his mistress Stella de’ Tolomei, appears to have been a somewhat benign ruler.
He wanted to leave the world remembrance of him as a wise ruler and commissioned images of his support for his people and evidence of his good government.
Each Mese (Month) is depicted in a tripartite panel, divided from the following month by a painting of a Corinthian Column. These columns were painted to look similar to those supporting Borsa, and his father Niccolo on their Regal statues in the Municipal Square.
Unfortunately, after the Estense family left Ferrara in 1598 this palace of “delights” changed owners several times, parts of the building were demolished, and as they fell into disrepair these intriguing frescoes were plastered over and lost.
Maggio /May, painted by Francesco di Cossa, shows the astrological sign of the Gemelli (Twins) , The Greek Astrologist Tolemo identifying the twin stars Castor & Pollox, and the Greek Archer Apollo (twin son of Zeus, twin brother of Artemis.)
In June we have an image of the Triumph of Mercury, his carriage pulled by black eagles, with a suspiciously lobster-like crab depicting Cancer and the constellation Orion confirmed by his death from a snake bite. The artist was known by the delightful name of “Maestro dagli occhi spalancati” (“master of the wide-open eyes”) which you can more or less see in the images above.
Luckily, after the town council bought the palace in 1820 the frescoes were re-discovered, and much work has been done to preserve the paintings
As can be seen below in the image for the month of July there was plenty of preservation work to do – and below that is shown a very similar group, also aiding Borso (central figure) in his good works on the better-preserved wall, which introduce his activities during March.
You can also see from the above that they enjoyed hunting with hawks in either season – and their artists were not beyond copying one another!
These classes are informative as well as good fun and customers can take home their artwork as soon as it has dried.