Related cultural and historical assets

Portrait of Borso d’Este

Edited by

Federica Fanti

Duke Borso d’Este is portrayed here by his half-brother, Baldassarre d’Este, the natural son of that Niccolò III who was sung in the rhyme ‘di qua e di là dal Po tutti figli di Niccolò’ (‘on both sides of the Po all sons of Niccolò’) to indicate the large number of progeny he had. Baldassarre was born in Reggio Emilia in 1432 and began working for the Sforza family before moving to Ferrara in 1469, obtaining the title of court painter together with Cosmè Tura. Baldassare was particularly appreciated as a portrait painter and given this predisposition, he was employed by Borso to repaint thirty-six heads of the Duke and other Court figures in the Salone dei Mesi in Palazzo Schifanoia.

The painting in the Civic Pinacoteca in Milan shows Borso portrayed in profile, which alludes to the importance of Roman portraiture on medals for propaganda and power purposes. In this case, however, the Duke’s profile is not idealised, but is shown realistically through his distinctive features such as the greying hair coming out of the tall red cap and the facial features that belong to a person well into his fifties. The image emerges from the dark background of the canvas, the depiction of the Duke is elegant and regal, the preciousness of his clothing is emphasised by the brooch of pearls and precious stones pinned to the brocade giornea with ermine edging. There are not attributes that might suggest that he received the ducal title on the territory of Ferrara. As in many other representations of Borso, e.g. in the numerous portraits of Schifanoia, he is depicted wearing the tall red berretta sometimes embellished with a brooch, a distinctive feature of the magnificent and costly clothing he usually wore.


Sforzesco Castle Picture Gallery, inv P. 546, Milan





Technique and dimensions

Tempera on canvas set on panel, 49 x 38.4 cm


Baldassarre d’Este


Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Attribution,