Related cultural and historical assets

 Copy from the portrait of Ercole I d’Este

Edited by

Federica Fanti

The story of this painting is deeply intertwined with the life of Isabella d’Este and her brother Alfonso. The work depicts her father, Ercole I, Duke of the ‘Addizione Erculea’, who was a great lover of the arts and theatre in particular. Ercole died in 1505 and therefore by the presumed date of the painting, the Duke had already passed away. The work was commissioned by Isabella d’Este, who in 1494 commissioned Ercole de’ Roberti to paint a portrait of her father, but the work was still unfinished at the artist’s death, so Alfonso gave the unfinished work to his sister. Some years later, around 1512, Isabella again felt the need for a portrait of her father and decided to commission a new painter, taking the unfinished portrait by de’ Roberti as a model. In the Marquise’s copious correspondence of letters there is a request she made to Alfonso to get her ‘a beretta and a zupone of those he wore at the time he was dying’, the objects must have had a strong sentimental value if Alfonso agreed specifying their immediate return. 

Dossi’s hand has been questioned several times, the rigidity of the composition and the stroke not reflecting his artistic qualities. After different interpretations of the painting’s intricate history, it is currently believed to be by Dossi’s hand, which replicates a figurative model by Ercole de’ Roberti. 

The portrait depicts the Duke in an expression of concentration, his three-quarter-length face turned to the left brings his gaze out of the composition, attentive to what is going on around him. The proud expression is underlined by the clenched fist on the table, depicted in the foreground, a symbol of strength and power. The face is that of a grown man with locks of white hair emerging from a black cap adorned with a gold medal. Ercole wears armour, embellished with a gold brocade corsage, the metallic gleams lending brilliance to the composition otherwise dominated by dark tones in which the figure of the Duke is blurred. Only his illuminated face contrasts with the rest of the composition.


Estense Gallery inv. 471, Modena




c. 1524 - 1528

Technique and dimensions

Oil on canvas, 83 x 69 cm


Giovanni de' Luteri detto Dosso Dossi (da Ercole de’ Roberti)


By - Public domain -