Link to Bib Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog. Circa 1500. Royal Collection, Windsor, UK.

LORENZO COSTA (circa 1460-1535)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists





ALTHOUGH MEN HAVE EVER practiced the arts of design more in Tuscany than in any other province of Italy, and perhaps of Europe, yet it is none the less true that in every age there has arisen in the other provinces some genius who has proved himself rare and excellent in the same professions, as has been shown up to the present in many of the Lives, and will be demonstrated even more in those that are to follow. It is true, indeed, that where there are no studies, and where men are not disposed by custom to learn, they are not able to advance so rapidly or to become so excellent as they do in those places where craftsmen are forever practicing and studying in competition. But as soon as one or two make a beginning, it seems always to come to pass that many others--such is the fore of excellence--strive to follow them, with honor both for themselves and for their countries.

Lorenzo Costa of Ferrara, being inclined by nature to the art of painting, and hearing that Fra Filippo, Benozzo, and others were celebrated and highly esteemed in Tuscany, betook himself to Florence in order to study their works; and on his arrival, finding that their manner pleased him greatly, he stayed there many months, striving to imitate them to the best of his power, particularly in drawing from nature. In this he succeeded so happily, that, after returning to his own country, although his manner was a little dry and hard, he made many praise-worthy works there; as may be seen from the choir of the Church of San Domenico in Ferrara, wrought entirely by his hand, from which it is evident that he used great diligence in his art and put much labor into his works. In the guardaroba of the Lord Duke of Ferrara there are seen portraits from life in many pictures by his hand, which are very well wrought and very lifelike. In the houses of noblemen, likewise, there are works by his hand which are held in great veneration.

In the Church of San Domenico at Ravenna, in the Chapel of San Sebastiano, he painted the panel in oil and certain scenes in fresco, which were much extolled. Being next summoned to Bologna, he painted a panel in the Chapel of the Mariscotti in San Petronio, representing St. Sebastian bound to the column and pierced with arrows, with many other figures, which was the best work in distemper that had been made up to that time in the city. By his hand, also, was the panel of St. Jerome in the Chapel of the Castelli, and likewise that of St. Vincent, wrought in like manner in distemper, which is in the Chapel of the riffoni; the predella of this he caused to be painted by a pupil of his, who acquitted himself much better than the master did in the panel, as will be told in the proper place. In the same city, and in the same church, Lorenzo painted a panel for the Chapel of the Rossi, with Our Lady, St. James, St. George, St. Sebastian, and St. Jerome; which work is better and sweeter in manner than any other that he ever made.

Afterwards, having entered the service of Signor Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, Lorenzo painted many scenes for him, partly in gouache and partly in oil, in an apartment in the Palace of San Sebastiano. In one is the Marchioness Isabella, portrayed from life, accompanied by many ladies who are singing various parts and making a sweet harmony. In another is the Goddess Latona, who is transforming certain peasants nto frogs, according to the fable. In the third is the Marquis Francesco, led by Hercules along the path of virtue upon the summit of a mountain consecrated in Eternity. In another picture the same Marquis is seen triumphant on a pedestal, with a staff in his hand; and round him are many nobles and retainers with standards in their hands, all rejoicing and full of jubilation at his greatness, among whom there is an infinite number of portraits from the life. And in the great hall, where the triumphal processions by the hand of Mantegna now are, he painted two pictures, one at each end. In the first, which is in gouache, are many naked figures lighting fires and making sacrifices to Hercules; and in this is a portrait from life of the Marquis, with his three sons, Federigo, Ercole, and Ferrante, who afterwards became very great and very illustrious lords; and there are likewise some portraits of great ladies. In the other, which was painted in oil many years after the first, and which was one of the last works that Lorenzo executed, is the Marquis Federigo, grown to mans estate, with a staff in his hand, as General of Holy Church under Leo X; and round him are many lords portrayed by Costa from life.

In Bologna, in the Palace of Messer Giovanni Bentivogli, the same man painted certain rooms in competition with many other masters; but of these, since they were thrown to the ground in the d estruction of that palace, no further mention will be made. But I will not forbear to say that, of the works that he executed for the Bentivogli, only one remained standing--namely, the chapel that he painted for Messer Giovannin in San Jacopo, wherein he wrought two scenes of triumphal processions, which are held very beautiful, with many portraits. In the year 1497, also, for Jacopo Chedini, he painted a panel for the chapel in San Giovanni in Monte, in which he wished to be buried after death; in this he made a Madonna, St. John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, and other saints. On a panel in San Francesco he painted a Nativity, St. James, and St. Anthony of Padua. In San Pietro he made a most beautiful beginning in a chapel for Domenico Garganelli, a gentleman of Bologna; but, whatever may have been the reason, after making some figures on the ceiling, he left it unfinished, nay, scarcely begun.

In Mantua, besides the works that he executed there for the Marquis, of which we have spoken above, he painted a Madonna on a panel for San Silvestro; and on one side, St. Sylvester recommending the people of that city to her, and, on the other, St. Sebastian, St. Paul, St. Elizabeth, and St. Jerome. It is reported that the said panel was placed in that church after the death of Costa, who, having finished his life in Mantua, in which city his descendants have lived ever since, wished to have a burial-place in that church both for himself and for his successors.

The same man made many other pictures, of which nothing more will be said, for it is enough to have recorded the best. His portrait I received in Mantua from Fermo Ghisoni, an excellent painter, who assured me that it was by the hand of Costa, who was a passing good draughtsman, as may be seen from a pen drawing on a parchment in our book, wherein is the Judgment of Solomon, with a St. Jerome in chiaroscuro, which are both very well wrought.

Disciples of Lorenzo were Ercole da Ferrara, his compatriot, whose Life will be written below, and Lodovico Malino, likewise of Ferrara, by whom there are many works in his native city and in other laces; but the best that he made was a panel which is in the Church of San Francesco in Bologna, in a chapel near the principal door, representing Jesus Christ at the the age of twelve disputing with the Doctors in the Temple. The elder Dosso of Ferrara, of whose works mention will be made in the proper place, also learnt his first principles from Costa. And this is as much as I have been able to gather about the life and works of Lorenzo Costa of Ferrara.



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