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First Exhibition to Survey Paintings of Renaissance Artist Dosso Dossi Opens Apri 27 at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Nearly sixty works from the U.S. and Europe are assembled in a touring exhibition Exhibition dates: April 27-July 11, 1999

March 19, 1999

Los Angeles, CA--Dosso Dossi (1486?-1542) was among the most original artists of the Italian Renaissance. Working principally for the illustrious Este court of Ferrara, one of the great centers for Renaissance art and learning, Dosso created images of exquisite lyrical beauty and strong emotive power. His eccentric imagination, poetic sensibility, and playful wit are revealed in the first monographic survey of his work, Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from April 27 through July 11, 1999.

This international loan exhibition examines the richness and quality of the artist's achievement and features exquisite small devotional works, mysterious allegories, and fantastic mythological scenes, often set in extraordinarily lush landscapes. Dosso's paintings were widely dispersed from Ferrara after the last Este duke died without an heir in 1598. The exhibition assembles nearly 60 of Dosso's most significant works, among them rarely lent masterpieces, and provides an unparalleled opportunity to experience the full range of his creativity for the first time in 400 years.

The exhibition was organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali (Gallerie Nazionali di Ferrara, Bologna e Modena), and the Comune di Ferrara/Civiche Gallerie d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The exhibition was recently seen in Ferarra at the Palazzo dei Diamante and is currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through March 28.

"We are proud to inaugurate our program of international loan exhibitions at the Getty Center with Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara," said Deborah Gribbon, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Getty Museum. "One of the principal purposes of our exhibition program is to provide a broader historical and artistic context for outstanding works in our permanent collection. The Museum's paintings by Dosso have been tremendously popular; this exhibition gives our visitors a chance to discover the scope of his achievement."

Born Giovanni Francesco Luteri in about 1486, he acquired the nickname "Dosso" from the name of a small family property near his birthplace outside Mantua. His artistic vision was formed in the early 1500s in Venice, where the work of Giorgione and Titian exerted a profound influence upon him. Dosso soon became highly skilled at using landscape and lighting as expressive vehicles in his art. As he progressed, he drew inspiration from High Renaissance art in Rome, notably the work of Michelangelo and Raphael. His later paintings continued to expand the boundaries of his art, approaching a naturalism that anticipated Caravaggio.

Dosso Dossi settled in Ferrara about 1513. Located in the Po River delta, Ferrara was home to the most splendid court of the Italian Renaissance, long renowned for its patronage of highly expressive and imaginative painters and writers. From 1514 until his death in 1542, Dosso served as court artist to two dukes of Ferrara, Alfonso I d'Este (r. 1505-34) and his son Ercole II d'Este (r. 1534-59). While Dosso's duties included designing banners for tournaments and cutlery for the duke's table, it was his poetic sensibilities as a painter that most appealed to this highly sophisticated audience. Dosso's works joined a collection that included paintings of great beauty and invention by Andrea Mantegna, Ercole de' Roberti, Giovanni Bellini, and Titian, as well as Northern European artists such as Rogier van der Weyden.

Highlights of Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara include a number of his most imaginative and stirring works, among them a romantic rendition of the patron saint of Ferrara, Saint George (about 1531-14), newly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum. With unusual psychological depth, it depicts the legendary warrior fresh from the heat of battle with the dragon. The Three Ages of Man (about 1514-15, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), is an early example of a painting in which landscape dominates the figures. Here, the incidental characters act out a classic theme, revealing Dosso's good-natured humor: children spy on a pair of lovers, while in the background two old men converse. From the Borghese Gallery in Rome comes the extraordinary Melissa(about 1515-16), opulent in color and texture and monumental in scale. It captures the court's taste for the fantastic, depicting an exotic enchantress in the midst of casting a spell in a magical landscape. Dosso's skills as a lyric painter come fully to light in the Jupiter, Mercury, and Virtue (about 1523-24, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) in which he celebrates the art of painting itself by showing Jupiter creating butterflies in paint. His use of contemporary imagery is evidenced in An Allegory of Fortune (1535-38, the J. Paul Getty Museum), in which the goddess Fortune offers a cornucopia of fruit to Chance, who deposits lottery tickets into a golden urn--a reference to the civic lotteries then a popular novelty in Venice.

Setting many of his compositions outdoors and incorporating vibrant depictions of flowers and animals into verdant landscape vistas, Dosso was an immensely gifted painter of nature. Giorgio Vasari, who was always partial to Florentine painting, acknowledged this in his biography of Dosso, concluding that he was the most important landscape painter of his day in northern Italy. The exhibition includes a room devoted to Dosso's achievement with landscape, from virtually independent celebrations of nature to figural scenes in which the landscape plays an active role in establishing mood.

The exhibition also reunites a number of works commissioned by Duke Alfonso for decorative cycles in specific rooms in the Este castle. Aeneas at the Entrance to the Elysian Fields (about 1522, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), The Sicilian Games (about 1522, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, England) and, perhaps the Scene from a Legend (Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast) (about 1517-18, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), are the only surviving pieces of a frieze painted by Dosso for Alfonso's famous Alabaster Chamber, a showplace that included great works by Giovanni Bellini and Titian as well. Also reunited in the exhibition are a series of seven rhomboid-shaped panels that were once housed in the gilt wooden ceiling in the duke's bedroom. They appear to be earthy allegories on the human passions, including Anger (ca. 1515-16, Palazzo Cini, Venice), Drunkenness (ca. 1521-28, Galleria Estense, Modena), and Seduction (about 1525-28). Together, they convey the spectrum of human emotion and present a variety of richly detailed still-life elements.

The Este were not only great patrons of the visual arts, but also employed the most advanced musicians and literary figures of their day. Dosso's years at the court coincided with those of Ludovico Ariosto, Italy's greatest poet of the 16th century, with whom the painter often collaborated on theatrical productions. In Orlando Furioso, the most widely read epic poem of the 16th century, Ariosto combined his local pride and his admiration for Dosso's poetic images by citing him as one of the great artistic figures of the Renaissance, placing him in the company of Raphael, Titian, and Leonardo.

Dosso's paintings underwent close technical analysis in preparation for the exhibition, along with some works by his brother Battista, who trained in the studio of Raphael before joining Dosso at the Ferrara court. Andrea Rothe, the Getty Museum's Senior Conservator for Special Projects, examined virtually all the paintings in the exhibition, and his observations are included in the catalogue. These technical studies, particularly using x-radiographs, revealed that Dosso worked out his compositions as he probed for the most evocative treatment of a subject, changing his mind often as he went along. A large-scale x-radiograph illuminating Dosso's dramatic alterations to Melissa is included in the exhibition. As Rothe explains, "It shows a detailed figure of a knight on the left side of the canvas that Dosso painted over and replaced with a mastiff and suit of armor. By contrast, other x-radiographs show that his brother's approach was different; he rarely, if ever, altered his scheme."

A gallery organized by the Museum's Education Department features not only the x-ray of Melissa, but also a number of other large-scale details of paintings that illuminate Dosso's highly original creative process. It explains Dosso's wide-ranging responsibilities as court artist and sheds light on his character and human qualities. In an adjacent seating area, visitors are invited to browse through the exhibition catalogue.

The impetus for the exhibition began in the 1980s with the acquisition by the Getty Museum of An Allegory with Pan (about 1529-32) and An Allegory of Fortune, which was newly discovered. Dosso had never been the subject of an exhibition, so this seemed an ideal opportunity to highlight outstanding works from the permanent collection and advance scholarship on a richly deserving painter. The Getty Museum approached the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and together the two institutions approached authorities in Ferrara, Modena, and Bologna, to plan an exhibition. In 1996, Getty Museum director John Walsh and Salvatore Settis, then director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, in conjunction with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici di Bologna and the Provincia Autonoma di Trento, initiated two scholarly conferences, in Santa Monica, California, and Trent, Italy, inviting leading scholars to present papers that would advance research on the painter in anticipation of the exhibition and catalogue. The Getty Research Institute published a compilation of the scholarly papers in Dosso's Fate: Painting and Court Culture in Renaissance Italy (1998); (paper, $50). It is available in the Museum Bookstore or by calling: 800-223-3431 (domestic) 310-440-7333 (international).

A full-color, illustrated exhibition catalogue, Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, was made possible in part by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation (328 pages; 103 color plates, 105 black-and-white illustrations). It is available in the Museum Bookstore (paper, $40; cloth, $60) or by telephone (as above). The hardcover edition is also distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ($65).

Dosso Dossi, Court Painter in Renaissance Ferrara has been organized jointly by Dawson Carr, Associate Curator of Paintings, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Andrea Bayer, Assistant Curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Andrea Buzzoni, Direttore, Civiche Gallerie d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Ferrara. Technical research was directed by Andrea Rothe, Senior Conservator for Special Projects, the J. Paul Getty Museum.

A related exhibition, Ercole de' Roberti: The Renaissance in Ferrara, will be seen at the Getty Museum concurrently with the survey of Dosso Dossi's work. It is the first ever devoted to Ercole, the most important artist in this region of Italy in the generation before Dosso. The exhibition includes 12 paintings, nearly half of Ercole's surviving works, and includes loans from Germany, Britain, France, and Italy. This small exhibition is expected to draw significant attention to the rare, little-known work of this artistic genius.


"O Heaven, O Fortune, O My Sweet Lady": Renaissance
Music from the Time of Dosso Dossi
Performed by Musica Viva; James Tyler, Music Director

Saturday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Singers and instrumentalists perform in a lively program of Italian Renaissance music from Ferrara, Mantua, and Venice. Features works by Josquin Desprez, Bartolomeo Tromboncino, Michele Pesenti, and others.

Pre-concert lecture at 1:15 p.m. by Giulio Ongaro,
Professor of Music, University of Southern California.

Tickets are $13 and $18 ($5 parking fee not included). Call TicketMaster at (213) 365-3500. A parking reservation will be made when you purchase tickets. (Ticket purchasers may arrive at the Getty Center as early as 12:30 p.m.)

FREE LECTURES Harold M. Williams Auditorium

Wednesday, April 28, 7:00 p.m.
The Art of Ercole de'Roberti
David Jaffé, Senior Curator, National Gallery, London

Thursday, May 6, 7:00 p.m.
Poetry with Paint: The Art of Dosso Dossi
Dawson Carr, Associate Curator, Department of Paintings, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Thursday, May 13, 7:00 p.m.
Dosso Dossi's Approach to Painting
Andrea Rothe, Senior Conservator for Special Projects, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Thursday, May 27, 7:00 p.m.
Music in Ferrara and Mantua at the Time of Dosso Dossi
William Prizer, Chair, Department of Music, University of California, Santa Barbara

Thursday, June 10, 7:00 p.m.
Painting in Gold: The Genius of Ercole de'Roberti of Ferrara
Denise Allen, Assistant Curator, Department of Paintings, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Thursday, June 24, 7:00 p.m.
The Women of the Este Court: Isabella d'Este, Lucretia Borgia, and Renée of France
Andrea Bayer, Assistant Curator, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Parking and seating reservations required. Call (310) 440-7300 or (310) 440-7305 TTY for deaf and hearing impaired.

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